Carving Out a Life of Wellness
After earning a degree in communications with a minor in studio art at Hood, Alicia Cruz had a years-long career in the graphic design industry in Baltimore and then in New York, but she ultimately felt professionally unfulfilled. When she discovered her personal passion for practicing yoga she decided to make the leap into teaching yoga as a career.
Alicia Cruz '97 transformed her wellness routine into a career
You earned a degree in communication arts from Hood and worked as a designer and art director for the first part of your post-college career. What caused you to transition into a wellness career like yoga, and how do art and wellness integrate in your current work?
I found graphic design work ultimately unfulfilling, for a lot of reasons. The clients watered down designs, the nature of the projects changed over the years, there was no budget for truly unique works on paper. The things I loved, like texture, color, and paper were afterthoughts if considered at all. And to be honest I found no loyalty in giving so much of my time and energy to companies and organizations [that gave no loyalty in return].
I became certified to teach yoga because--first of all--I loved yoga, and I clearly saw and understood the benefits. There were many yoga teachers out there, but only a few that I loved. I wanted to create a connection with people, to give my passion for my practice to others, like the amazing teachers I studied with had done for me.
Being a designer is really being a problem-solver. Mostly you are solving problems visually so others can easily understand potentially complicated information. Being a yoga teacher uses the same principals but instead of designs on a computer you are teaching and explaining poses in class and hopefully their benefits to the students. The way I design my yoga classes is not unlike a well art-directed booklet. It has an over arching theme, it has repetition, it builds on what we did in the beginning of class. I think having a background as a designer informs anything that you do.
Were there any classes, professors or mentors at Hood that made a particular impact on you?
I was somewhat envious of high school classmates going to art schools, but I went to Hood because I felt I needed a liberal arts education. I majored in communications with a concentration in visual communications or graphic design and minored in studio art. Art and design classes were my favorite (obviously), and all my professors encouraged my creativity and design.
Looking back, I’m so glad I have the background of a liberal arts education. I’m glad that I had to continue learning math, science, history, and languages. I’m glad I was around a lot of different people with different interests and backgrounds. I’m glad I learned about the Power of the Nucleus. I’m glad I took a speech class, because I was still very much afraid of speaking in front of others. I learned in my speech class that it’s not about you. If you teach your audience something, and are authentic they appreciate it. It’s something that comes in handy when I am teaching yoga, especially at a new site or with a new class.
I know that my solid education and the knowledge that we as Hood grads are resilient, thoughtful and adaptable give me a foundation where I can grow. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my friendships--the friends I made at Hood have helped me tremendously through my divorce and also the loss of my parents which all happened around the same time. Those friends reminded me that I’m strong, and when I didn’t feel strong they were there for me to lean on. I can’t explain how grateful I am for them. The friends you make in college are really special--try and hold on to them.
What trends have you observed in your practice and your business that hint at the future of wellness careers?
Wellness is a multi-billion dollar business and growing. There’s no reason why I can’t be part of this thriving industry. I personally see yoga as so necessary, especially in the hustle and bustle or New York City. I’m not saying it is easy--between a divorce and the pandemic, there was a lot to deal with when I started. I am very proud to say my schedule is pretty full now, I’m almost to the point where I can turn down work. It’s still hard for me to believe that I am actually carving out a living teaching yoga, when I am so much older and not exactly the 6 foot tall models with no body fat that seem to fill social media. But my classes are popular, my students like my classes and even follow me to take my classes at other locations. I’m finding my way and am proud of how much I’ve accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. For potential clients in NYC, visit https://www.aliciajcruz.com/.
What is your advice to other alumni considering career transitions?
My advice is to actually do what you love to do. I know it sounds cliche. But I was trying to always do the "right thing" so I could get a job, so my parents would be happy, so I could make a living. It took a big leap to try teaching yoga and took even longer to call myself a yoga teacher! But something inside of me said I had to try. And I think the success I’ve found, no matter how small, has been because I love this profession. I bring what I love to my classes. It's a great physical practice, but that is just the beginning. The fact that a good yoga class can clear your mind and allow you to be a better human being is so potent. And when people find their class, or their teacher it’s very gratifying. Chances are once you find the right class you will know and understand why so many are devoted to their yoga practice.
What does “wellness” mean to you personally?
To me, wellness means taking care of yourself over your lifetime. Daily. And living a life where you don’t have to escape your life, but where your life is your wellness routine.