For a large part of her life, Annaliese Godderz considered her passion for yoga to be a sort of footnote in the grander scheme of things; just a longtime mother-daughter ritual that eventually became a fun way for her to stay in shape throughout college. That is, until a series of events – i.e. the spontaneous pursuit of yoga instruction certification, a just-as-spontaneous move to Brooklyn, a bout of “ballsy” (as she would put it) outspokenness in the middle of a yoga class, etc. – would eventually help pave the way to her trading in her dreams of working a 9-to-5 in the fashion industry for a career guiding students through sun salutations, chaturangas, and savasanas. Here, Godderz, who can be found all around New York leading classes everywhere from Dou Yoga and Equinox to the middle of Herald Square, shares a bit more about how she came to turn a hobby into a passion-driven career.
How did you first get into yoga?
My first experience was when I was little and my mom took me to a restorative yoga class. There were pillows everywhere, it was so dark, and there was this traditional Indian music playing. I was like 10 years old or something, and I remember thinking yoga was basically just adult naptime with nice music.
When did it go from just practicing to wanting to actually teach and share the practice with others?
I had been going to yoga with my mom over the summer down in Jersey and I woke up one morning and just thought, “I feel like I could be a good yoga teacher.” So then we went to do our yoga that day and there was a teacher training, and my mom was just like, “This is what you’re doing this fall, I’m going to front you the money and you’re going to give me free yoga for life!” So I really didn’t even have a strong practice for myself when I set out to become a teacher, and a big part of it was just me wanting to learn how to do it better.
So you did your certification, and eventually you took a chance and made your way to New York. What was that like?
Yes! I left South Jersey and I went to Brooklyn. I had wanted to live in New York forever and there was nothing holding me back. I just packed up my things, and I came. I had a one-month sublet, my suitcase, and I came without a real plan. It was just like jumping off a cliff.
Was your plan to move to New York and work in yoga?
Yoga is tough because it’s a saturated field, and it’s not easy to go that route. So no, I actually came not really planning to do something with yoga. I ended up nannying for a family, and that was amazing and I did that for about six months before I was like, “I’m not a stay-at-home mom.” And at the time, I’d still been taking a lot of yoga and exploring a lot of different studios and things like that. Then one day I was taking this class with an instructor, who I loved, but he did this thing where he kept saying please before every piece of instruction. I don’t know what happened – I was so ballsy – and I just went up to him and totally compliment sandwiched him and was like, “I love your class, I don’t know if you know you do this one thing, but great class!” And we went back and forth on it where he kind of challenged me and I challenged him right back – again, I don’t know what I was thinking! – but he loved it. He asked if I was a teacher and then he gave me a business card and said he was looking for instructors for his yoga company, hOM, and asked me to send him my resume. So I did that and I started subbing, and then more and more opportunities kept coming up.
That’s amazing. So did that evolve into a full-time thing?
Well at that point, I was working in fashion, at Tommy Hilfiger, and I thought that was the path to my passion, really. But there wasn’t much room for upward mobility there so I switched and I went to entertainment PR which was fun, but at the end of the day I was stressing out about blouses and things like that, and I just felt so disconnected. Then hOM came to me and said that they wanted to really make yoga a full-time career, with benefits and salary. I was about to turn 26 and I was like, “Yes, tell me more!” I started and at the time doing 12 classes a week and leading sales for them. We basically worked in luxury apartment buildings bringing group classes there. And I hated doing the real estate. I eventually switched to a marketing role and began teaching eight classes, but it was during that time that I also started working on launching my own business outside of there.
Going out on your own is a huge step, what was it that really motivated you to start thinking along those lines?
Definitely! I think at that point I just wasn’t really vibing with where the company was going, and I felt like it was time to leave. It’s funny, I thought the whole thing was going to be temporary; the idea that I would be a yoga teacher as my main thing just seemed like it wouldn’t be permanent. But I love it so much, and I was like, “You know what – I have this skill, I have experience, I’ve already started working in a few studios, I already have some corporate clients – I can do this.” And I’ve honestly never been happier.
You’re certified in several different yoga forms, but one of the really interesting ones is trauma-informed yoga. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Yoga is a way for people to get in touch with themselves when they might otherwise shy away from talk therapy or a more direct route to self-exploration. Basically, there’s a lot of trauma pent up in the body before the verbal state and the only way to process it properly is through movement. So trauma-informed yoga is a very slow, subtle way of moving. Everything is a suggestion, and all of the words are carefully chosen. Like you would never say, “Lift your pelvis,” for example, because that could be a trigger. So that’s a lens I try to keep on all the time, even when I’m not teaching a trauma-informed class specifically.
In addition to doing “traditional” teaching in studios and the like, you do a lot of work in corporate settings. How is that really different than teaching a regular class?
I mean, I definitely have to tailor it to make it more fitting for them, because these aren’t usually people who would be taking a class otherwise. So I have to use really clear language, and I’m always mindful of the songs I’m putting on my playlist, or whether or not I can touch them during the practice. It’s really just about bringing yourself but also understanding where they’re coming from and never overwhelming them.
You’ve also done some public yoga, which must be a totally different beast, especially in a city like New York. What was that like?
Yeah! I was invited to teach in Herald Square over the summer and I was so thrilled about that. We had the bike lanes going through, we had tourists everywhere, we had people going to and from work – it was nuts. I love teaching in studios but there’s a lot of people that it leaves out. With this, I taught three free classes, and I had students from all of the boroughs, I had people who didn’t speak English, I had small families coming out together, I had one girl who was just rollerblading by and dropped in for a bit. It was just so cool. With that, you’re just really playing with the elements of the city and it’s so beautiful to see people stick to their practice through all of that.
What are some of the most important elements of a strong yoga routine?
Before anything, it’s breath. There’s so many times during the day when we’re not getting a full breath, and your body is going to keep you breathing no matter what but it’s important to think about the quality of your breath. Yoga brings you in touch with that and it connects the breath to the movement. Moving for your body just for yourself is also key. Yoga is a humbling practice – every day is different and it doesn’t really matter what someone else is telling you. All of that needs to be thrown out the window to a certain extent and you need to be sure that you’re giving your body what it needs on any given day.
What about the most important benefit of yoga, in your opinion?
My biggest thing is empowerment. There are so many times in life when we don’t trust in our own abilities and I really feel like I’m here to help show you what you’re capable of. And I think a big part of yoga is getting comfortable with vulnerability, which is so important.
What do you think is one of the coolest parts of what you do as a yoga instructor?
No matter the chaos that happens every single day, I’m helping just bring people back down to earth.