Alicia Sokol, owner of and instructor at barre3 14th Street, never saw herself owning a fitness business, but now is a dedicated member of the Barre3 community. She has lead classes throughout the pandemic via livestream, and talked to us about the importance of being present and modeling self-compassion for her family. Note: This interview is a part of our 20 Masters of Mindfulness, Movement + Connection roundup, which ran in our Winter 2021 issue.
Tell me about your journey and how it brought you to your current role.
I am a serial career pivoter. I studied finance in college and worked as an analyst at an investment bank in my early career. I then worked in public relations, first in financial communications then later in health/medicine. My graduate degree is in public health. It has taken me a long time to find, and trust, my inner voice. I wrote a food blog called Weekly Greens for about five years. It was the first time I truly let a creative process guide my decision making. I left a very stable, lucrative job at a medical association to explore the blog more. I stopped writing my blog in 2015, when I decided to take another sharp left turn and open a fitness studio.
I had enjoyed barre3 classes, particularly appreciating how positive and strong they made me feel. I discovered distance running in college and over time, began to experience pain in my joints. I loved that barre3 provided a sweaty, endorphin-fueled workout that helped my body function better while running (and sitting, standing and chasing my kids). I also felt better overall: calmer, more focused, more settled in my skin. I have struggled with feeling good in my own skin my entire life. I have also struggled with belonging. I never dreamed of teaching fitness or owning a business. And now I do both. When you open your heart and mind to possibilities far beyond “should,” you may be very surprised. I love this work so fiercely because it has allowed me to build community at a time when we need it so badly, and it has helped me teach others how to settle into their own skin as well. My studio is that place of belonging so many people crave, me included.
How are you practicing and prioritizing self-care, especially mid-pandemic?
The last 10 months have been a roller coaster with more valleys than peaks, to be honest. I’m learning to ride this roller coaster with more presence and honesty. When I show up to teach class, I am smiling and the words I use are positive and encouraging. That is my job, and I do my best to make that positivity authentic and warm. But I think it’s important for people to understand I am just a person. I am not always smiling and feeling hopeful. There are days when I have cried a river out of anger, frustration, fear or grief. It’s possible to be at the same time incredibly grateful for all you have, but devastated for all you have lost. Lately, self-care for me looks like this: very little news (Sunday NY Times only, read in a very deliberate order starting with At Home, Book Review or Sunday Styles); time connecting with friends by phone, Zoom or outside; time outdoors every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block and time for quiet. I am a quiet person. I need space to think, time to rest and time to read. I also take an epsom bath almost every single day.
What does self-compassion mean to you, and how do you incorporate it into your practice?
We are so hard on ourselves, aren’t we? I try to think of the voice and actions I use with small children – patient, loving, kind, gentle. This same intention turned toward myself is a good start. It’s a regular practice and I need frequent reminders. Much like the muscles in our bodies, we have to regularly stretch and flex the self-compassion muscle to make it strong and healthy. I have two sons, ages 15 and 12. These are tough ages for kids and they’re tough parenting years too. I feel a real responsibility to model self-compassion at this time. I’m giving myself grace right now to eat foods that bring joy (this means chocolate or ice cream every day, and yes, I’ve gained a few pandemic pounds); let my emotions be fully expressed, especially the difficult and ugly ones; sleep when I need to sleep, even if it means missing out on watching a show with my family or skipping a morning workout and trying to relax (my own self-imposed) “rules.” I love order and routines. Normally, they give me comfort. However, if rules and routines don’t feel right in the moment, I’m learning to let them go. This also takes practice. That can look like doing things in an unexpected order or at an unexpected time – stealing a chapter of a novel in the middle of the day, making an entire dinner of snacks or giving myself time to complete a word puzzle when I “should” be doing something else. The NY Times daily Spelling Bee puzzle has become an obsession. Sometimes it means dessert before dinner – or breakfast.
Learn more at https://online.barre3.com/studio-locations/dc-14th-street and follow @barre3dc14thst.
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