SmartyPants recently sat down with Liz Arch. She is the founder of Primal Yoga, a dynamic yoga style that merges Vinyasa yoga and Chinese martial arts. When she’s not teaching hundreds of students how to harness their Qi, Liz puts her trauma-informed teaching to work as the West Coast Director of The Purple Dot Yoga Project. On her rare day off, you can find Liz making silly faces with her dogs Faith and Nalu or posing in Natarajasana with a donkey in the desert. We talked about everything from how to discover the healer within to what’s in her Netflix queue (the answer will surprise you).
SmartyPants (SP): People know you as the founder of Primal Yoga, powerhouse martial artist and yogi, and a dedicated advocate of domestic abuse survivors. So basically, you’re incredible. But who was Liz before all this?
Liz Arch (LIZ): I was a very shy, awkward kid that grew up in Hawaii, born and raised in Oahu. I moved to Los Angeles after high school to study at the University of Southern California (USC) where I graduated with a degree in public relations and marketing. My first job was at a really wonderful PR firm that gave me a great foundation and lots of business savvy for when I eventually started my own business teaching yoga.
But, I realized very quickly that sitting behind a desk wasn’t for me. I was also getting really burnt out working crazy hours and traveling a lot. After a while, I realized that I really wanted to do something that aligned more with my own passion. Over time, I was increasingly drawn to martial arts and to yoga. Martial arts and yoga were really grounding for me and they were the two practices that helped me keep everything together both physically and emotionally. They kept me healthy, balanced, and sane.
So, one day, I had that lightbulb moment of “if this is what I love to do, do it! Just do it!” It was really scary and I definitely went back and forth for a few months. My parents worked so hard to put me through college for this really expensive degree. I had to wonder if I was crazy to leave this cushy corporate job with a 401k and health benefits. In the end, however, my soul just said I had to.
SP: You said before that you created Primal Yoga as a way to bridge your yogic and martial arts practices together. Can you elaborate a bit on how you got into both practices?
LIZ: I started with Aikido when I was young and really loved it. But, as I got older, I wandered away from martial arts and went into other things like gymnastics and track. It wasn’t until I moved back to LA and discovered Vinyasa Yoga that I realized yoga could rival the athleticism of any sport I had ever played. In tandem with my yoga practice, I ended up rediscovering martial arts and started competing in Traditional Northern Style Kung Fu (Chinese martial arts). I ended up breaking my foot pretty severely during a spear class and couldn’t do some of the more physically demanding styles anymore, so I began practicing Tai Chi instead. Tai Chi is such a slow, meditative practice and it was a humbling experience for me. Here I am, in my 20s, very athletic, and always wanting to just go, go go, and then to be forced to slow down…
My injury forced me to tap into the spiritual and energetic side of things. It was after my accident that I really started to explore the healing side of yoga and the internal martial arts like Tai Chi and Qi Gong. They were a way for me to gently and slowly heal and regain my balance. Even though it was the physicality and athleticism that attracted me to yoga and martial arts at first, it was the mental and emotional aspects that turned me into a convert for life.
SP: As a student of Shaolin Wushu myself, I was thrilled to learn that you trained in Northern Fist, Qi Gong, and Yang-style Tai Chi. What is your favorite form to practice? Is there a weapon you prefer?
LIZ: I loved Broad Sword. It was one of my favorite forms. I also love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Wushu was my first love, Jiu-Jitsu my second.
SP: What has been the greatest challenge with Primal Yoga? The greatest success?
LIZ: I think the greatest challenge has been introducing a hybrid style in a very saturated market. LA is filled to the brim with the most amazing yoga. The caliber of yoga teachers here is just phenomenal. It’s part of the reason I love living in LA and it has been a great place to get a solid yoga education. At the same time, it’s really hard to find a voice in the midst of all that. So, my martial arts training was really a blessing in disguise; it helped me develop my own style of yoga that could break through and offer people something different and unique. At the same time, there are yoga purists who have a really hard time with anything new, so it was a challenge to be taken seriously in the beginning.
To me, one of the most beautiful things about Primal Yoga is that it gives people a platform to express themselves and it has attracted both men and women equally. Whereas Primal Yoga was much more about athleticism in the beginning, I have shifted the practice to focus much more on self-healing, energy work, and teaching people how to access their own healer within. I consider it a success when I get messages from students saying how yoga has changed their life or how it has helped them cope with depression or anxiety. I love when my students share how powerful and transformative yoga has been for them.
SP: You’re also an Under Armor athlete. How has that experience been?
LIZ: Being an Under Armor athlete is really a bucket list thing for me. I grew up in Hawaii and Under Armor sponsored our local football team and volley ball team. I would see the logo everywhere. They approached me to work with them during a really transformative time in my life, a time when I really felt like I was finding own my voice and purpose. It was a really great partnership and I love that a big part of their platform is about inspiring women. They have a roster of some of the most incredible female athletes ever, kickass women who are breaking the mold. It was a huge dream come true to be part of that.
SP: You’re all about empowering and supporting survivors of domestic abuse and that shows through your work as the West Coast Director of The Purple Dot Yoga Project, a non-profit that uses yoga to empower and support survivors of domestic violence. How did you get involved with this amazing organization?
LIZ: Empowering people is such a priority for me because there were so many moments in my life where I felt so radically disempowered. In my 20s, I was in an abusive relationship and I felt worthless, out of control, and without choice. It really ate away at my self-esteem and showed me so many dark sides of myself that were so uncomfortable and difficult to confront. My entire world just narrowed and every day felt like living in this tunnel with shame and fear closing in on me. Being able to leave that relationship was truly the beginning of my journey.
What I learned since then is that healing is not linear. I’m still discovering what my triggers are and learning about trauma and the tools you can use to help you heal. I really want to share those lessons with as many people as I possibly can and share it in a really vulnerable, accessible way. When you’ve been through trauma, one of the most powerful things is to simply know that you are not alone. It’s part of my purpose to let people know that they are not alone – I’ve been there too and I hope my journey can help others in some way.
With Purple Dot, the founder Kate Berlin reached out to me 2 and a half years ago to interview me for their powerful women profile. We hit it off immediately and she asked if I wanted to be involved with the non-profit in a bigger way. It was the easiest yes of my life. Now I’m their West Coast Director and we’re instituting new programs all the time. We just launched a new website and continue to hold trauma-informed yoga teacher trainings. There’s a lot of important work to be done and I’m honored to do that work.
SP: You teach Trauma-Informed Yoga. What does this entail and how is it different than the yoga an average joe like me would think of?
LIZ: There are so many different types of trauma. For example, the type of trauma that a combat veteran goes through will be different than the trauma a sexual assault survivor endures. Trauma-informed yoga is about learning the basics of how to work with each of those individual communities.
For example, with sexual assault survivors, it’s all about creating a space of safe touch, of safety and consent. The same predatory behavior we’re hearing all about in the news nowadays can happen in the yoga studio as well, unfortunately. Even if that’s not the intent of the teacher, it can be perceived as such if your body has been violated in some way. So, focusing on communication and trauma-informed language is very important. The world ‘relax’ is used all the time in yoga – relax your jaw, relax your shoulders, relax your mind – but that word can be very triggering to sexual assault survivors.
It’s all about knowing what those triggers can be so we can be as mindful as possible when working with different groups of people. At the same time, it’s important to know that you’re not going to be able to avoid every single trigger. As a teacher, you just have to do the best you can to create a safe space for your students. Trauma-informed yoga should be how every yoga teacher teaches because everyone has been through some type of trauma.
SP: As an influencer, what do you look for in a brand that wants to collaborate with you? What attracted you to SmartyPants?
LIZ: I get pitched products all day every day, and I pass on 99% of them. I really look for things I genuinely use, authentically love, and incorporate into my lifestyle that helps make my daily life better. It must add to my life. I also love working with companies that have integrity with some sort of social mission in mind, whether it’s being environmentally responsible or having a charitable goal.
That’s part of the reason I love SmartyPants. You guys check off all those boxes.
Your 1-for-1 partnership with Vitamin Angels is amazing and your work with the Movember Foundation is also really cool. It’s truly a brand with an incredible amount of integrity – from the ingredients you use to how you practice transparency – it really makes a difference. That’s more important to me that anything. I’m not going to partner with a company just for a paycheck. I’m only going to partner with people with integrity.
It’s funny, I’m eating my SmartyPants right now. I’ve had 8 of them…I’m only supposed to have 6 of them a day.
SP: Speaking of which…are you eating our Prenatal Complete? Because I hear you’re pregnant! Congratulations! How has your pregnancy been treating you thus far? Do you feel ready? Can you ever feel ready to raise a child?
LIZ: Yes! Haha. Pregnancy has actually been really physically easy thus far. I have a lot of energy, I’m not morning sick. The only thing I can’t do right now is Jiu-Jitsu because I can’t have a bunch of sweaty guys crushing my stomach. Probably not the best for the baby.
I don’t feel ready and I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready, but I’m embracing it. I definitely have fears, but my #1 goal is to make sure that I raise an emotionally resilient and intelligent son (yes, it’s a boy!). My work with trauma has been really helpful in terms of how I want to raise him.
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the state of the world right now and how much bigotry, racism, and misogyny there is. But then, I step back and think, ‘I have the opportunity to raise a really kind, empathetic boy who will hopefully become a very kind, empathetic man who will be an ally of women.’ Basically, I want to raise a little feminist!
I want him to be compassionate and thoughtful. That’s the way we change the future.
SP: What’s currently in your Netflix cue?
LIZ: I actually don’t have Netflix!
LIZ: I think I’m the only person in the world without Netflix. So nothing! I’ve never even seen Game of Thrones!
Posted on December 14, 2017