Last week in my classes, the ongoing theme was knowing your WHY. Why we do what we do? Why do we choose the city we live in? A particular career? Our friends? Our life partners?

It all started with me trying to decide if I wanted to lead a Fall 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training. I kept searching and asking myself why, as this training is a huge task and I just couldn’t come up with enough answers to excite me. I tend to always need to know the WHY to my choices. At the same time, I was very disappointed in the actions of a friend and I kept asking myself, is this friendship worth fighting for? Why would I choose to fight for this?

I had to make a decision by the end of the week about Teacher Training and I had to answer my friend. I noticed how both choices started to steal my peace. So I decided to feed my mind the right things and see if I could switch my perception. For me this usually means listening to a podcast and walking my furry love, Anjali. I remembered my student Rob, who knows me well, had sent a Ted talk he thought I would like, so I put on my headphones, grabbed Anjali and started walking.

Funny enough, the talk was by Simon Sinek on how all successful people know their WHY. Life is funny like that. I kept walking and kept thinking how I’ve always made decisions in a similar way. I knew at a young age I did not belong in Romania. I had to make a decision at the age of 13 about staying in the United States or returning to Romania to compete in the Olympics. I knew why I wanted to move to Los Angeles from Portland. I know why I choose to teach yoga. So I challenge you to know your WHY in every aspect of your life. It’s important to because if we know anything about life is that change is inevitable. Life will kick our asses and make us question everything we thought we knew. Know what it is that you’re fighting for. Make sure it’s worth it. And be honest with yourself about your choices. About your WHY.

One of the many things students ask in class is “Again? We have to do it again?” My answer is always the same: unless you met your husband/wife/partner on your first date you ever had, than yes, again.

Take a handstand for example. A flawless handstand is a perfect balance of strength and flexibility in the body. A perfect balance of surrender and full concentration of the mind. I remind my students that the mentality of an athlete is all I know, and the only way anyone gets good at something is through repetition. The key is repetition with awareness. Each time you are trying to get better at something, you do so by repeating it. In a handstand it translates into the way you place your hands, the focused gaze, core, shoulders, hamstrings, flexibility, and so on.

In this sense, yoga is life training. Off the mat, how much awareness do you bring into your life? First, you must identify what it is that requires your awareness. Are you looking for a life partner? What red flags have you learned to observe from past experiences? Are you looking to be more positive with your thoughts? How aware are you of the words you use with yourself and others?

Whether you’re looking to become the next Michael Jordan, the next Meryl Streep or Frida Kahlo, I guarantee you that those people got where they did by studying their craft. By repetition with awareness. Better yet, look to become a better version of you!

On my flight back from Norway, I watched Doctor Strange for the third time. Every time I watch this film, something new sticks out for me.

Mordo: I wanted the power to defeat my enemies and you gave me the power to defeat my demons.
The Ancient One: We never lose our demons, Mordo. We only learn to live above them.
(Doctor Strange. Dir. Scott Derrickson. Marvel Studios, 2016. Film.)

For those of you who don’t know my story, watch “Not So Namaste” on my site and you will get a glimpse into my upbringing. I have a lot of demons and I would be foolish to think they will simply go away, but I will be damned if I allow them to run my life. As I’ve started my journey with plant medicine, and combine that with my ongoing yoga practice, I feel like I have enough tools to battle them.

The biggest tool is awareness. Awareness gives me the ability to pause and reflect instead of going straight to reacting. It gives me the gift to live out of intent more and more, and not simply out of habit. I am able to notice when I’m anxious and in my head, and to choose my breath. This gives me the power to choose, the power to trust my path instead of my fears, the power to choose me.

The longer we live, the more we realize life is not simply black and white. We collect a lot of baggage along the way but the power to choose yourself over your demons is always there. Identify your demons. Get to know them. Give them a good kick in the ass and send them on their merry way. Choose you instead. Over and over, rise up above your demons and choose you. Believe you’re worth it.

Well, I can tell you that it’s much easier to remember when you take the time to plan ahead. For me, it always goes back to what kind of teacher do I want to be? I feel a responsibility to my students and I have a good group of regulars so I like to help them work their bodies in different ways. If we did backbends on Monday, I might choose a strength focused class on Wednesday.

I’m also very type A. I type out my classes and super glue them to my notebook, which is color coded. So the brown section is my hamstring-focused classes, green is my arm balance section, and so forth.

This may sound excessive to some, but it is my most prized possession. I can see my growth as a teacher through that notebook. I can see where my head was at in 2011 and how much better I understand sequencing now.

As a teacher, I hope you always remain a student. As a student, how much do you appreciate a good class?

You can tell when a teacher shows up and throws in a million chair poses, chaturanga’s, and then asks you to do 5 rounds on your own while they fidget with the music. I’m sure you can get away with this, but is this truly the kind of teacher you want to be? If you just show up and wing it, does it satisfy you? How does life work out for you when you have no plan? This is your life and you are in the driver’s seat. I leave you with this food for thought.

“Setting an intention is like drawing a map of where you want to go-it becomes the driving force of your higher consciousness. Without an intention, there is no map, and you’re just driving down a road with no destination in mind.” -Chandresh Bhardwaj author of ‘Break the Norms’

On the eve of the Romanian revolution, junior Olympic gymnast Ella Cojocaru tries to escape her government training facility. Official Selection DOC NYC 2015 Directed by Rita Baghdadi & Jeremiah Hammerling Follow Ella on Instagram! @ellavateyoga