Leah Cullis on Becoming a Yoga Teacher
Yoga Journal: What life events started you on your path to becoming a yoga teacher?
Leah Cullis: I was a college cheerleader and had a pretty severe fall. I sprained my neck and hurt my back. But I dove into school and work rather than trying to heal my body. I graduated and started work on political campaigns, working around the clock and sleeping with my Blackberry on my pillow. A few years in, I held a large fundraising event for a presidential candidate, and ended up in the ER with numbness in my back, legs, and face on the right side. At first, the doctors thought stroke or MS, but I was having severe muscle spasms from my old injury. That was my wake-up call. My body was forcing me to pay attention.
YJ: How did you respond?
LC: I started taking Sundays off work, and that turned into taking weekends off and turning off my phone at night. I did my first yoga teacher training and started teaching. In 2008, the candidate I was fundraising for lost the primary and I was interviewing for other political jobs. Then it hit me: Why not start teaching yoga full-time? The door was opening for me—it was a chance to share what was in my heart and true for me.
Taking Yoga to the White House
YJ: For the last six years, you’ve organized yoga classes for close to 30,000 attendees at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll—what’s that experience like?
LC: It's exhilarating to be able to share a practice that’s been so transformational in my life in the most powerful place on Earth. And it comes with a responsibility to hold true with the teachings that have been shared with me—not just the physical practice, but also living yoga through connection, joy, play, and love. We end every class explaining what Namaste means in a way kids can understand: “I’m awesome and you’re awesome, too!”
Leah Cullis Shares Her Philosophy on Life and Food
YJ: What's one important life lesson you try to share as a yoga teacher?
LC: We always have a choice about how we’re showing up in life. In every moment and in every pose, we can choose to expand or contract. Nothing is fixed because we have that choice. My highest aim is to expand love and light. If I’m committed to that in my practice, in how I eat, in my career and relationships, I’m also sharing that with others. People feel your commitment. We’re all teaching all the time, whether you’re in the yoga room or walking through a grocery store—you’re creating a ripple effect.
YJ: You’re also a holistic health and nutrition coach. What’s your food philosophy?
LC: The two simplest ways you can invite more vitality and energy into your life and body are through movement and food. Your food choices create every cell in your body. We have an opportunity to practice at least three times every day with what we put on our plate! There’s not one right way of eating; we each have a unique path. But I always suggest eating as close to the source as possible, buying from the farmer or locally owned markets. You can change so much about the way you eat by where you shop. When you cut the number of steps between the food source and your plate, you maintain more of the food’s vital energy. And, you’re investing in your own community.
Leah Cullis's Gratitude Practice
YJ: Do you have a personal go-to practice to get you through busy times?
LC: I start off every morning with daily affirmations and a gratitude list before I even open my eyes. For a long time, I used to travel almost weekly, and I would start the day feeling lost. I’d open one eye and think, “Where am I?” So now, regardless of where I am, before opening my eyes, I affirm who I am and what my life is about, connecting with what I’m grateful for and what’s positive in my life. And I communicate that with every cell of my body. Words are powerful. Declaring what you are creates an impact on you, your body, and out into the world.