Thank you for signing up!
From Sprinter to Yogi: How Colleen Saidman Found Solace in Yoga
"Yoga has saved my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. It’s come into every realm of my life."
– Colleen Saidman
Colleen Saidman wasn’t always a yogi. She was a sprinter — around the track and through life. It wasn’t until Colleen discovered yoga that she stepped off the merry-go-round and saw the world in a new light.
First encounter with the yoga mat
From a young age, Colleen was a competitive jock and was used to succeeding at any sport she tried — from basketball to boxing to running. (She still holds high school records for hurdles and dashes from 1977.) Colleen became a model at age 19 but continued to devote her time to athletics. Her life was hectic — a whirlwind of modeling, exercising and traveling.
“It was very exciting, but also just a blur of images, experiences and faces. I felt like I was moving so fast that none of it actually sunk in,” Colleen says.
At this point, yoga was still a mystery to Colleen. She had never encountered it and didn’t know much about it. It wasn’t until her friend invited her to a yoga class that she even considered trying it. After just one class, she was hooked. The experience triggered a rejuvenating energy inside of her, and she was impressed by the poses her classmates could do.
“I was very humbled because I was used to being the one who finished every race first,” Colleen says. “Looking around that night, I saw what these people could do — and I couldn’t do it.”
She noticed how yoga worked everything (muscles, organs, bones) in all directions (forward, backward, in, out, side-to-side). Inspired, Colleen decided to embrace yoga with determination and passion.
At first, she practiced yoga to stay flexible for her other sports. But after recovering from back surgery in 1994, she abandoned other athletics altogether.
“In some ways, the back surgery was a blessing,” Colleen says. “Yoga has saved my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. It’s come into every realm of my life.”
From student to teacher
Colleen had no intention of teaching yoga. But after constantly traveling for her modeling career, she yearned for more stability. She decided to attend Jivamukti’s Teacher Training program as a way to gain more focus in her life. And sure enough, she was addicted. She spent all of her time at the yoga school practicing and learning from David Life and Sharon Gannon, co-founders of Jivamukti.
But she still had no desire to teach. She told Sharon and David she couldn’t teach for three reasons: She did not like public speaking, she was tone deaf and thought this might interfere with the chanting, and she was epileptic and worried about having a seizure during one of her classes. Sharon and David’s response surprised her: Those were three good reasons why she should teach. In fact, they scheduled her to teach a 70-person class that evening.
“If it weren’t for Sharon and David, I wouldn’t have taught. If they hadn’t thrown me off the cliff and I had to swim, I wouldn’t have done it,” Colleen says. “They literally pushed every button, and I think that’s what a great teacher does.”
Colleen graduated from Jivamukti’s Teacher Training program in 1998 and knew she would continue on the path of teaching yoga.
Pursuing selfless service
As Colleen advanced in her yoga practice, she combined her passion for yoga with her love for helping others. Philanthropy had always been part of Colleen’s life. Growing up, she’d written letters to Mother Teresa and worked in nursing homes.
A Day in the Life of Colleen Saidman
“It starts with a quiet contemplation and then comes to a realization that the only way to get to peace is through service,” Colleen says. “And the only way to get to service is to know yourself — to realize that that’s what counts.”
Colleen knew serving others was important to her, so she incorporated Seva, selfless service, into her practice. She lived in Calcutta, India working with Mother Teresa at the Home of the Destitute and Dying and studied alternative medicine throughout the world. She also heads the Urban Zen Health and Wellness Initiative, a foundation dedicated to bringing yoga, massage and holistic therapies to hospitals, with her husband Rodney Yee.
The longevity of yoga
Today, Colleen teaches at Yoga Shanti, the famous yoga studio she co-founded in Sag Harbor, N.Y., and leads teacher trainings and workshops around the world. She started Gaiam Yoga Club, an online, self-paced yoga program, with Rodney and is also featured in Gaiam DVDs, including Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Menopause and Smart Start Yoga. Teaching yoga, whether in a studio, online or in DVDs, has allowed Colleen to share with others the practice that has changed her life.
“It allowed me to get out of the competitive realm,” she says. “It really is just me with me, and I’m not trying to win a match or run a race or be better than anybody else,” she says.
Yoga has provided solace for her soul, balance for her body and perspective for her life. And it will continue to offer her a comforting hand as she gets older.
“I’ve never seen the world from this place before,” Colleen says. “And as I move into my 50s, the practice can move with me. Yoga offers that longevity.”