It’s rare that I’ll start an interview with an hour of complete silence, yet there I sat with my tush on a cushion, only a foot away from pro-surfer turned yoga instructor Heather Tiddens and waited. And waited. Quietly.
Heather is not only my meditation partner, but also a force to be reckoned with in a myriad of worlds. Whether she’s deftly handing your ass to you on a ten-foot wave at Rincon, performing sign language with her feet while holding a perfect handstand (Okay, I made the sign language part up, but the handstand holds are true), or leading transformative, healing Native American ceremonies, Heather Tiddens is the most interesting woman you’ve never met.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Heather in her beautiful Carpinteria home over a tremendous breakfast of eggs, asparagus, squash, bison, and Japanese yams, and listen to what is always the most fascinating part of the human story – the journey taken to write it. The road less traveled knows Heather Tiddens well. As she explained:
There’s this model that I grew up with. You know what you’re supposed to do to end up safe. You get a good, well-rounded education, you go to college, you get a job, you get insurance and a 401K. I made it through college and that was about it, but I don’t regret college. I do, though, regret the opportunity that I chose not to take by going to college and not focusing on pro surfing – and going after being the world champion. That was a possibility that is not possible any more.
Heather chose to go to UCSB and study Environmental Studies, graduating and moving on to a nine-to-five job with all of the societal trappings her family upbringing said would be important. After a six-month stint in misery, she quit her job and returned to the ocean and her real love.
For me the surfing initially was a way to get away from my home life, a place to explore feeling – like feeling in my body. I had a super high pain threshold, but I didn’t know how to have a sensual experience in a really open way in my body. I had a lot of resistance to experiencing the sense of life, due to my upbringing. Surfing was one of the few places where I could do all of that while also being physically challenged, mentally challenged, and it really wasn’t with anyone else, it was with the ocean.
I was able to be in relation with the ocean and do this learning dance there, as opposed to with another two-legged being. This really let me experience the sensuality and physicality of being in a human body.
Yoga, surfing, and the martial arts all have an underlying spiritual quality to them, each sport seeming to attract the adventurers, and those looking for a deeper understanding of the human experience. For many it’s a great place to ask some of the bigger questions about why they’re here and what really will fulfill them. For Heather, asking the right questions is paramount to finding the right answers.
You have to ask yourself, where are my blind spots to what’s possible? Where do I have reluctance or resistance to consider other options? I don’t want to operate with any old patterns in place, so there is value in going back and asking myself if the fear I’m feeling now is really a sign that I simply don’t want to take a step in a certain direction. I don’t want to operate with any old patterns in place limiting the work that I’m able to do in the world.
It’s a quest, you know? A quest of who I am and what’s my meaning here. Yet, you have to be careful because doing inner work can often get really self-absorbed! To be truthful, I couldn’t do healing work though, I couldn’t teach unless I didn’t feel in myself that there was some value to that quest. I need that yearning energy, and to be seeking some kind of deeper meaning.
For many people pulled to live with attention on the spiritual aspects of searching and questing, striking a balance between being comfortable engaging in the process of looking and being paralyzed by the journey is a challenge. For Heather, it was the practice of yoga that kept the space in her life available for curiosity and questions.
Read part two of this story, where Heather tells us about the experience of her very first yoga class, as well as sharing her thoughts on the journey of self-discovery – Defying Stagnation: An Interview With Heather Tiddens, Part 2.