Meet Debbie Popiel on the mat for mindfulness

When Debbie Popiel first tried yoga, she didn’t have the greatest experience. “There was weird music playing, nobody explained anything to me, and I didn’t get it. I was like, ‘I can’t do this,’” she says. “Then years later, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I took a class and it was a very different experience. I enjoyed it.” But after her daughter was born, she had two children and didn’t have the time to fit the practice into her life.

While she was director of early childhood education at Temple Chai in Phoenix, yoga once again entered her life. She met Ali Kamen, who had a child at the preschool and also happened to own Zenergy Yoga. Ali offered to come and teach yoga to the kids and lunchtime yoga for the teachers.

Ali told Debbie that she thought she would be great at yoga and told her to come to her studio. Debbie was a runner and training for a marathon and Ali convinced her that yoga would be a good complement to her running and help her keep flexible and injury free. But Debbie made every excuse not to go, including the expense, until Ali made her an offer she couldn’t resist – come to the studio for free.

“She explained every pose, and it became like a way of life for me – it gave me clarity in running and in life, and it helped me quiet my mind and connect in a way I didn’t even know existed,” says Debbie. “I’m a New York Jew. My mind is always going, and I’m always talking, or thinking, or eating. So to be able to like, quiet down, it was a gift.”

As her children became older, she left the preschool world to work at Lululemon. “Lululemon isn’t just about selling stretchy pants,” says Debbie. “They are about accomplishing goals and striving big and reaching your dreams.”

After she had worked there a few years, she found out that they were putting together an in-house yoga teacher training program. They received 150 applications for the 40 spots available in the training, and Debbie received one of those spots.

“So here I was practicing yoga and working at Lululemon and having this opportunity,” remembers Debbie. “It became this goal to do 50 things before I turned 50.” One of the things on that list was to become a yoga teacher. “I got accepted on my 50th birthday. I was in yoga teacher training, and I became a yoga teacher.”

She jokes that although the path leading her to yoga was a crooked one, she believes that it’s the perfect marriage of everything in her life: teaching, spirituality and connection to one’s self.

“I became a yoga teacher and when everything happened with COVID-19, I was able to pivot and create my own business – Debbie Popiel Yoga.” Debbie teaches throughout the Valley, in addition to offering classes on Zoom and one-on-one private instruction.

Debbie says that people are often intimidated to try yoga because of a pre-existing thought about their age or fitness level. “I feel like making it real and making it accessible is something that I strive to do,” she says. “Everybody’s got a thing that keeps them from taking that chance on trying something new. There are always a million reasons not to do something. So helping people find a reason to do it is really my passion.”

Another passion of Debbie’s is traveling and teaching yoga in exceptional settings. She has done two international retreats and four retreats in Sedona.

“I partner with Synchronicity Yoga, and we’re going to Costa Rica June 5-12,” she says. “We didn’t go last year because it got canceled, but the year before, we went to Bali in January, and we took about 20 people.”

During these retreats, the participants have various activities to choose from, but the day always starts with a morning yoga flow and ends with a closing circle. Debbie says that they also plan a theme that they can focus on throughout the week. “It’s extraordinary to see what happens in a week of practicing yoga,” she says.

“What’s so beautiful about yoga is that it keeps you healthy and flexible, physically and spiritually. It keeps you right minded, and I think that that’s a really important piece, especially during COVID times,” says Debbie. “If you can quiet your mind, you can stay calm in these situations that are sometimes not so calm. I think it’s really important to be able to close your eyes and take a few breaths. I do joke, but in all seriousness, if I can meditate, anybody can meditate.”

For more information, or to see the schedule of classes offered, visit debbiepopielyoga.com.

 

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