For exclusive access to all our stories, including sequences, teacher tips, video classes, and more, join Outside+ today.
On a cold, dark winter night six years ago, I was shivering in the backseat of my car, parked behind a Publix Super Market in a northern suburb of Orlando. I was scared and alone. I knew something needed to change because I’d never reached such a low point in my life. I was struggling financially: I didn’t have any savings. Swamped with debt, I could barely pay my bills. I was embarrassed and ashamed. As a single mom, I felt like I had failed my daughter. “How did I get here?” I wondered.
I was homeless.
No one knew at the time. I told my friends and family that I needed time to train for a new job—which was true—but I used that as an excuse to send my daughter to stay with my sister in my hometown of Nashville. This was the first time we were apart, but I wanted to shield her from the stress. Despite this unthinkable situation, deep down in my soul I knew that this was a test and I needed to pass it to unlock the next level of my life. This wasn’t the end of my story.
ON BEING HOMELESS
Then I ended up in Orlando for a new job opportunity, with my daughter in Nashville, and a car for a home. As I returned to sleep in my car every night, I discovered what was missing. I was just existing and not doing anything that made me truly happy.
On a whim, I participated in a yoga challenge on Instagram and then started practicing on my own. While living in my car, I would practice and take showers in the office gym. Eager to learn more about yoga, I found a free vinyasa class downtown. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. After class, several people stayed for acro yoga play. I wasn’t going to stick around because many of the yogis there appeared to be advanced. But something inside of me said, “Cleo, just stay. What is there to lose?”
So, on my first day of a group yoga class I was able to experience vinyasa yoga and acro yoga. I was so tired—and so happy. I had been extremely sad and depressed for a long time, but now I was lit from within. I was already searching for my next yoga class and community meet-up. Four months later, I moved into a new apartment. Soon my daughter returned to Florida with me.
Before yoga, I lived a life full of fear, self-doubt, low self-esteem, and low confidence. People always complimented me on my smile, but deep down I was hurting. As I continued to challenge myself on my yoga mat, I became stronger and more excited. When I began to think, feel, and speak positively about my yoga journey, my life began to change. Some days I was great; some days I struggled. Still, I knew that if I remained consistent and patient, I would continue to make progress.
I thought: If I can make powerful changes within my yoga practice, I can do the same with my finances, too, right? I learned how to budget and save money again. I learned how to invest money, increase my income, pay off more debt, and improve my negative credit history. I reminded myself that it’s not just about learning; it’s about applying what you’ve learned consistently.
I learned that yoga is much more than just poses and cute outfits. It’s about self-love, self-care, and community. It’s about finding inner peace and inner strength so you can grow. My practice—and life—has evolved beautifully. I’ve practiced yoga in multiple cities across the US, Jamaica, and Thailand. Last year, I traveled to Ko Samui, Thailand, to obtain my 200-hour vinyasa yoga and acro yoga teaching certifications through Koya Webb’s Get Loved Up program. I’ve introduced my mother and daughter to yoga, and they love it and are extremely supportive.
I continue to teach my daughter about personal and business finances, and educate her on debt-free college options. I even started my own college scholarship, Debt Free Is the Way to Be Scholarship, to help young students pay for college expenses instead of relying on student loans.
Yoga saved me. My financial journey strengthened me. Now I teach yoga and finance classes, because combining the two is powerful and empowering.
About our Author
CLEO CHILDRESS is a financial educator, yoga teacher, and journalist who shares the benefits of yoga to help others create more fulfilling lives. She teaches financial management to help people break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. Learn more at cleoyogafinance.com.