Off The Mat: Meet Victoria Smith

Victoria Smith is a 34-year-old lead yoga instructor from Los Angeles, California, who has been working with Y.O.G.A. for Youth N.C. since 2013. Victoria is currently serving as one of the Lead Teachers for the Y.O.G.A. for Youth research project being conducted at Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill. She is also on the Board of Advisors for Y.O.G.A. for Youth N.C. She credits yoga with increasing her connection to nature, helping her feel connected to those around her and helping her with self-awareness and confidence.

Victoria started doing yoga 20 years ago when she was pregnant with her son. “It was a way to help me relieve lower back pain, but I found it also really helped me to relax,” she says of how she came to the practice. As someone who has a degree in psychology, Victoria has always been a self-reflective person, and she says that has made yoga a really good fit for her. “I look at yoga as a lifestyle,” she explains. “It’s not just something I do for 15 minutes or an hour a day; it’s not just that one or two times a week that I go to a yoga class.” When she doesn’t practice, she feels the difference in the quality of her day, describing it as a daily touchstone. “I’ll look back and say, ‘What was different about today?’ Then I realize, oh, yes! I didn’t practice,” she says. “My practice is something that anchors me, something that helps me to not only survive day-to-day, but thrive day-to-day. The spiritual and emotional benefits have been what’s really kept me engaged.”

Victoria first discovered Y.O.G.A. for Youth through Krishna Kaur while she was working as a behavioral specialist in the Los Angeles Unified School District. A Y.O.G.A. for Youth informational sheet came across her desk as a resource for the students she was working with, but she didn’t think much of it until she moved to North Carolina in 2013. “I saw a flyer at a Durham County library for a Y.O.G.A. for Youth teacher training and Krishna Kaur’s picture was on it!” she laughs. “It felt full circle for me.” She decided to take the teacher training, and the rest is history. “I would take it again,” she says, noting that it was not only an informative experience, but also a healing experience. “I would absolutely recommend it to others. I felt like I grew as a person, too. It wasn’t only that I learned how to teach yoga to kids, but it was a way for me to reflect on my own stuff.”

Victoria also credits the Y.O.G.A. for Youth training with expanding her knowledge of how yoga can specifically help children in terms of behavioral, emotional and academic outcomes, and of opening her eyes to Kundalini yoga, a form of yoga she hadn’t yet explored at the time. As for the students. Victoria says it’s been a wonderful experience getting to connect with them in nontraditional ways. “I get to expose them to something that’s very positive, but not mainstream, like math,” she says of what she loves most about her work. “It’s been wonderful to teach something where the expectations are emotional growth. I really enjoy that.”

The children seem to enjoy yoga, too. Victoria remembers one instance in particular when she was going to teach a yoga class at Carrington Middle School in Durham. She was walking up to the cafeteria where the class was being held and noticed the kids watching her from inside the windows. As soon as they spotted her, “They all started cheering, ‘Yaaaaaay! It’s time for yoga!’” she recalls. “That’s when I knew something was sinking in.” –Courtney Cho