If you’ve ever taken a class with Laura Mills, you know that she has a warm demeanor and a thoughtful and well-rounded teaching style that is a tribute to her years of experience and knowledge. Laura started teaching at Total Body Yoga in April of 2010 and considers the studio to be her yoga home. Laura heads the Intro to Yoga program (open to beginners and regular practitioners alike) at TBY which focuses on multiple facets of the yoga practice from etiquette, lessons about the props, philosophy and, of course, the poses. Laura says she draws her sense of purpose as a teacher from daily life and her family.
Start by telling us a little about yourself and your family.
My life’s greatest joy is undoubtedly my 7-year-old daughter, Heather, whom I adopted in 2012 after a long period of sadness and waiting. I am beyond grateful to be her mom every day, and she is my constant reminder that good can and does arise from grief and pain.
In addition to Heather and myself, my household currently consists of an 18-year-old cat named Onyx. Most of our family and friends are local, so we are able to see loved ones often. When it’s just me at home (and Onyx is sleeping), I’m usually either working on my computer at my non-yoga job, cleaning something, or napping. When I have extra free time, I read or go for a walk; I absolutely love books, and I love being outside in nature. And as far as guilty pleasures? Wine and the Science Channel…often at the same time after Heather goes to bed. I also adore classic rock.
You’ve been teaching and practicing for quite some time. What first drew you to yoga?
I had always been at least a little curious about yoga. Then, in the summer of 2007, a friend suggested I try it as a way of helping with stress. I was in a really difficult place in my life–in the previous years I had suffered two miscarriages and then undergone unsuccessful fertility treatments, and in the summer of 2007 my then-husband and I were already one year into a long wait to adopt from China. My physical and mental health were suffering terribly. I found a class that met once a week through a local adult education program, and by the third class, I was hooked. I loved how I felt while I was on my mat; for the first time in a long time, I felt physically strong and capable and mentally calm. When that first 8-week session ended, I immediately sought out additional yoga opportunities.
How has your perspective on the importance of practice changed over the years?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s changed too much. From the beginning, “practice” to me has been how yoga meshes with my life, both on and off the mat. It has always been about more than the physical poses themselves…. In my earliest days of practicing I regularly attended classes, occasionally practiced at home, and sometimes even just sat and breathed. I still do those things, but in a much different order: these days I regularly just sit and breathe, occasionally practice at home, and even sometimes–although not as often as I’d like–I attend a class. I guess what’s changed isn’t my perspective as much as my needs. Today, I’m in a much different place than I was when I began my practice. Today I have a 7-year-old and an almost-full-time job (in addition to teaching yoga), plus I’m healthier and happier than I’ve been in a long time.
What inspires you both as a student and as a teacher of yoga?
My biggest inspiration is my day-to-day life. I find that when I’m a student I always bring something to the mat, whether it’s gratitude or joy or sadness or fear…. And the act of being a student helps me process those “somethings” so I can take them back into my life off the mat with a clearer perspective. When I’m a teacher, the vast majority of the ideas behind my classes comes from personal experiences–again: gratitude, joy, sadness, etc.–that I have off the mat and in which I notice a yogic lesson. It’s amazing, actually, how much the teachings of yoga show themselves in and around the home, or the office, or even Target or the eye doctor. As a teacher I hope to help students realize that.
You have a long history of being an educator. Tell us about your past and present life as a school teacher.
My dad told me, when I was a teenager, that he thought I’d make a great teacher. It’s always been my calling, I suppose…. I received my undergraduate degree in Biology and my graduate degree in Secondary Education, and I started my professional life as a high school science teacher. I taught different levels of Biology and Chemistry. For a few years it was fine, but gradually I realized I didn’t want to do that kind of teaching for the rest of my life. I left the high school setting and spent a number of years trying other things (teaching yoga among them!). Then in early 2016–after a complete overhaul of my life in the wake of divorce–I became an adjunct instructor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in the College of Applied Health Sciences. This is pretty much my dream job, as it allows me to dive back into biology and other sciences while assisting with various courses, plus I am, thankfully, able to do most of it online from home, which is a plus as the mom of a young child. And starting in January of 2018, instead of an adjunct I will be an official faculty member, a Clinical Assistant Professor. The work will be similar, but with more responsibility. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and also amazed at how life has evolved to bring me to this place.
You and I were recently having a deep discussion about the ups and downs of being human. What are some of your most cherished ups in life and how have the downs helped you to grow?
My most cherished up is being a mom to my daughter, Heather. As I mentioned before, it took me a very long time to become a parent–10 years exactly, from the time I felt I was ready until the time Heather came home. Every day, no matter what kind of day either one of us has had, I feel profound gratitude for her and for the road that brought us uniquely together.
My second most cherished up is the way I rebuilt my life after divorce. When I first found myself on my own back in 2014, I was lost and terribly scared. Just about everything–from my time with Heather, to my health insurance, to my bank account–had to change, and change in big ways. But little by little, with the support of my family (including my TBY family) and friends, I navigated my way through the process. Today life is much different, but it’s much better in that I am aware of my own resilience, strength, and capabilities. Some days I can’t even believe I’ve come this far. And I know without those downs I never would have had the chance to prove myself to…myself.
When it comes to self care, what are some non-negotiables that help you to maintain balance and health in daily life?
Over the years I’ve realized the importance of rest. It’s funny, because (my parents tell me) as a baby I hardly ever slept and never napped. During my teenage and college years I was an overachiever and multitasker for whom sleep was a last priority. But as an adult, particularly after I was diagnosed with lupus in 2009, and after Heather came home in 2012–I’ve discovered that my day goes much more smoothly when I’m well-rested. It may seem obvious to most people, but to me, this is a relatively new discovery. These days I try to maintain a regular sleep schedule as often as possible, and I also take naps. Lots of naps.
Another non-negotiable, which I guess goes along with rest, is alone time. Sometimes I just need to be on my own, by myself. It’s nothing against anyone, just that a lot of social interaction depletes me quite a bit, regardless of who I’m with. When I am able to have time by myself I re-energize–I nap, yes, but I also read a lot (I love to read), as well as go for long walks. Often I just sit and breathe. These solo activities give me great joy, and they inspire me to be a better woman, mother, teacher, student, girlfriend, friend, citizen, and human being overall.
Tuesday 6:00am Sunrise Yoga
Tuesday 1:00pm Level 1
Tuesday 4:00pm Level 1
Friday 1:00pm Basics
For Intro to Yoga Information: