Yoga was something Liza Estes did by habit—along with working at the salon too many hours, not sleeping enough, partying a lot, eating poorly and taking on toxic relationships. It was part of a randomly conducted lifestyle that had little intention or coherence. When Estes finally took a step back to assess her life, she couldn’t find herself.
“I was asking, ‘Who am I?’” Estes says. “Where do I belong in this world, and how do I show up for that?” Her life-defining questions guided her, and within a short time Estes would turn 30, break up with a boyfriend of four years, get her barbering license and start yoga certification.
“For the first decade of my career, I was terrified to cut men’s hair,” Estes says. “I wasn’t comfortable doing their styles, and I didn’t know whether I could talk easily with guys the way I did with women.” Coincidentally, an upscale barbershop had just opened in her city of Columbia, South Carolina, so Estes asked whether she could shadow one of the two working barbers. At first it was challenging.
“It was a whole different world with clippers and trimmers and facial hair,” Estes remembers. “But they were looking to hire a third barber, so I started working there part-time while also working at a women’s salon.
That energized her professionally but didn’t eliminate her bad habits.
“I was searching for something to change my lifestyle, because I didn’t know how to do it on my own,” Estes says. “I enjoyed yoga as a spiritual practice, so I decided to get my yoga certification. I was training not to teach but to understand my lifestyle. I had no idea how it would change my life. Yoga gets you back in touch with your body; it connects you with you.”
The mind/body nature of yoga synchronized beautifully with her expanded career. Learning yoga poses increased Estes’s stamina and comfort while working behind the chair. Being aware of her body helped her to stop sabotaging her health; she replaced partying and bad food choices with eight hours of sleep and nutrition.
“When you’re aware of your body, you’re more aware of your emotions,” Estes explains. “In yoga we learn about digestion, posture, alignment, eating well, getting sleep. And working one-on-one with men, I started to better understand how men think, which helped me understand how I think.”
Now, three years later, teaching yoga has become a second career. Still barbering and also working at a color salon, Estes is pursuing her second yoga credential, the 500-hour teacher certification. She leads local classes and teaches yoga to women in prison.
Each new venture scared her, but overcoming the simple fear of cutting men’s hair has helped her tackle each new adventure with more courage.
“I sometimes work 11 hours a day,” says Estes, who credits yoga with eliminating the panic attacks she experienced when she was younger. “I counteract that with stretching the front body, strengthening the lower back, focusing on the shoulders and joints, doing simple wrist stretches. But it all starts with breathing. I didn’t know that I’m a chest breather, and that creates a fight-or-flight response when I’m working on hair. Now I stop during my workday to become aware of my breathing. I shift the breathing down so that it becomes diaphramatic or ‘belly’ breath, which is the natural breath. In chest breathing, your breath is short. In diaphramatic breathing, the breaths are deeper.”
No one in the beauty industry is a bigger proponent of proper breathing than Mary Beth Janssen, a frequent speaker at industry events and the author of eight books, including the recently published The Book of Self-Care: Remedies for Healing Mind, Body, and Soul. Janssen teaches yoga at Harper College in suburban Chicago.
“So much can be healed by breathing correctly, from heart conditions to metabolic problems,” she says. Breathing diaphramatically allows for the largest amount of oxygen exchange and detoxes the lungs, kidneys, colon, liver and skin, she adds.
Janssen says yoga brings together mind, body, spirit and environment to form a holistic approach to living.
“Studies show that people who practice yoga are less anxious and more resistant to stress, have lower blood pressure and experience more efficient heart function,” she says, further citing studies indicating that yoga reduces asthma attacks in asthmatic patients, insulin needs in diabetics, coronary artery blockage, back injury pain, arthritis, and sleep problems.
Between classes, students are encouraged to do any sort of movement such as twists or neck movements. It’s about connecting mind, body and spirit to breathing,” Janssen says. “Yoga is a mindfulness practice, helping you become so tuned into your body that you can adjust and adapt the parts that need healing.”
Yoga’s emphasis on posture is important, Janssen notes, and one that’s critical to cosmetologists.
“You are a beauty and wellness professional,” she says. “How you utilize your body is extremely important in helping you have a sustainable career.”
Estes agrees. Recently she began thinking about customizing yoga classes for beauty professionals. In a Facebook group for hairdressers and barbers, she posted this idea to deter-mine whether there was interest. She quickly discovered there was.
In a short time the post had more than 200 likes and lots of comments, including requests to post videos.
“Owners and barbers in my area contacted me to teach at their salons and barbershops,” Estes says.
Estes has already held one-on-one sessions. “I had a session with a male barber, and he loved it!” she says. “I saw where he was tight, and I know where I’m tight. I’m using this experience to plan my in-salon classes. Many people are intimidated by yoga studios, but this will be right in their salon. They’ll all be together—it’s like bringing yoga into their home.”