My name is Kala MacDonald and I am a yogi, a private breath work and yoga coach based in Los Angeles, and founder of the nonprofit organization Yoga to Cope. It has been quite a journey to today, to the present. The highs and the lows throughout my story have taken me on a ride, and it hasn’t always been a pretty one.
I sometimes find it difficult to appreciate my life right now. I don’t know if I would have ended up in this city, doing this work, loving the guy I do, if not for the great tragedies that altered my trajectory immensely and immediately. I was set up to live a perfectly happy life doing work I enjoyed, living with my fiancé in Nashville, TN. I was a less compassionate, caring version of myself then. I was in control, I was making quite a bit of money, I was the decision-maker, the pants-wearer of my life. I did what I wanted when I wanted, and didn’t think as much about how that affected those around me.
Having to Cope
In the Fall of 2013 I was at work nannying for three boys. We were reading upstairs when my dad called me to tell me my brother Jordan was dead. He had been murdered violently at the hands of a lonely drunk man who had been celebrating his birthday alone at the bar and grill my brother worked at. I was reading a Jodi Picoult novel I had checked out from the library that week with the boys. I’ve still never finished that book.
Losing a person is hard. Life ending is so permanent. Learning more and more details of my brother’s death pushed me more and more to take a look at the life I was living and to be really honest in my own head regarding if it was enough for me to be happy for a whole lifetime. If I was really honest, it wasn’t. The easy part was deciding to blow up my whole life in an effort to realize my whole potential, and live all out. The hard part was making the moves toward change. I left that house, that engagement, that job, that whole city to search for true, deep, ten-out-of-ten fulfillment.
Yoga to Cope
Yoga had already been in my life at that point, but my practice turned into something new. It became therapy for me. I needed to go to yoga to get out of the house. I needed to be told to breathe in. I needed to be told to stand tall and to take up space. I found going to yoga classes the best way to be around people and engage in community without having to talk to anyone when I didn’t feel like being social. I couldn’t afford to see a therapist, I didn’t want to be on anti-depressants. Yoga was my way of healing and I dove in to the deep end. I found ways to practice affordably, first for free via YouTube, and then through Groupon deals or clean-for-trade programs. Practicing in a studio environment was important to me, so I made it happen.
I eventually decided that I needed to teach. I found yoga to be so all-encompassing, and there didn’t seem to be an end to what I could practice or preach. Three years in, I still find this to be true. After some moving around and self-seeking, I ended up taking a year off to travel and work and explore the world, and this year was set to end in Bali with my taking a 200-hour Tantric Hatha Yoga teacher training program hosted high up in the Ubud rice paddy fields. That year, I spent 10 days in Telluride, a month in South Korea, four months in Lake of the Ozarks, MO with my dad working and saving money, a week in Nashville for an inversion workshop and to see friends, some time in my hometown of Kansas City, and some in Saint Louis, MO. I ended my year of adventure in Bali learning and crying and loving and eating and scootering to my hearts content. It was an actually life-altering experience. While I was eating alone in a cafe there, I made the decision to move to LA, something I had never envisioned for myself before the exact moment I agreed to rent a room from some friends in Pasadena.
I went home after the training to spend my last three months of 2016 in Kansas City for the holidays, with time to complete my required training book reports and to see my friends and family off before moving. I was literally wandering the world, making decisions as I went based on my gut and my dreams, and had set a date — the day after Christmas — to pack up my car and drive cross-country with my dog, Larry, to my new West Coast home.
I had been home in KC for a few weeks, spending my days at the library writing and my nights socializing or working. I got a cocktail serving job in Westport to make some cash so I didn’t have to dip into my savings before the big move, where I’d be landing with no job and the intention to see what I could make happen on arrival. My mom came into the bar where I was working one late-October night to tell me my brother Brenton had killed himself.
Jordan was 21 when he was murdered.
Brenton was 22 when he committed suicide.
My mom asked me on the way to the hospital to claim Brenton’s body if I was still going to move to LA, and I said yes.
After Jordan died, I didn’t just take a hard look at my outside world, I took a look inward. I took stock of how I was treating people around me; and what I was prioritizing; my health, the way I spoke to people, and the way I spoke about myself. I made huge, purposeful shifts in the wake of that loss. I felt like I was really finding myself, learning compassion, shedding some of the negative aspects of myself and birthing a better version of me. I felt fearless and risky. I devoted myself to living big because Jordan no longer could.
When Brenton died, I felt differently. He chose his departure. He left a note, he knew what he was leaving behind; our mom, a sister who had already suffered the loss of a sibling, the rest of his family, and his two young daughters. I was angry, but more than that I was scared. My parents had now each lost a child, and I was what was left. I couldn’t be so risky, I needed to live. I couldn’t be another loss they suffered, I needed to be careful.
My thoughts on moving to Los Angeles were always that I had a place to land, a room lined up with friends in their house. I figured I could find work, as LA is a hotspot for nannying and a great place to teach yoga. Upon arrival, I hooked myself up with a nanny agency and eventually began to book work childcare around town. It wasn’t until my now husband, Zack, encouraged me to really take a chance and pursue yoga like I dreamed of doing that I found myself feeling like I could really be a yoga teacher. He gave me that space, and I took it.
Now, with the space and freedom I’ve been granted, I’ve been able to truly curate a beautiful life I enjoy waking up to every day. It is full of true connection with each client I work with- the time to grocery shop and create beautiful meals; the time to sit on the couch with Zack and Larry and binge-watch our favorite shows; the space to go on a midday, midweek hike; the time to go to the gym; the time to find myself on my mat; time to travel; time to wander. I found myself with so much TIME. And despite the full life I was living that felt so much more aligned that life had previously, I knew there was even more to do.
Out of this time and freedom, Yoga to Cope was born, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide completely free, online, yoga-based resources for people coping through traumas, pre-trauma, grief, depression, and the like. I wanted a way to reach people who are having a hard time, be it short-term or permanent or anything in between, and give them the tools and resources to find light in their dark seasons. Yoga doesn’t just mean going to a studio and rolling out your mat — it’s about support and breathing, it’s about what you put into your body, it’s about your mindset related to self and to others. It’s so all encompassing! I share this with people via free, downloadable guided meditations that anyone can press play and follow, as well as a podcast and a blog.
I’m still navigating these new waters. Yoga isn’t always a thing I do diligently, and sometimes I take weeks away from my mat for no apparent reason. My practice isn’t perfect, and neither am I. I have had to work consciously to remind myself that ebbs and flows are natural, and that the dips do pass. Sometimes I get upset because I’m not bringing in that big nanny salary and I have to rely on my husband to an extent, sometimes more than I’m comfortable with. I feel guilty when I can’t contribute as much because I used to feel so financially independent.
Then, as it tends to do, the mindfulness part of yoga creeps into my soul and reminds me that I can let go and be supported by those around me sometimes. I don’t have to move fast forward or be making six figures to be going in a good direction, and that baby steps are still steps forward. I see the progress my private clients make week-to-week who keep coming back for more, and I get messages from people using the Yoga to Cope resources telling me they’re learning or feeling better or sharing them with a loved one who needs help. That is golden. That is worthwhile. I am in the infancy of my yoga career, and already have so much to be proud of, and so many ideas for where I want to take this organization as well as my private teaching.
I’m so excited to think forward to what could be. If you are seeking private yoga coaching, be that for movement, breath work, or meditation, please feel free to reach out. I see clients in person in you’re in LA, or I work one-on-one with people around the world via Skype. It’s so much fun!
If you or someone you know is experiencing a dark season of life, let me first say I have been there again and again, and I’m here to say that time does heal, and so does yoga and a desire to rise again. Yoga to Cope is a completely donation-based nonprofit organization with resources live on the website right this second that could help you find a few minutes of peace and quiet.
If you’d like to explore what we have to offer, make a donation, or write to us, please visit us at www.yogatocope.org or find us on Instagram @yogatocope.