To acknowledge your upbringing, experiences and faraway dreams is not for the faint hearted. Yet, this MoveMaker has been able to seamlessly master the performing arts, celebrate spirituality and support her community.
When we entered a quaint apartment in Brooklyn, we thought we were meeting Angelica Olstad, Founder of Pop Up Yoga NYC, one of the first pop up events company in New York. Instead, we ended up chatting about homemade chia puddings, learning about the philosophies of yoga, and exploring the realm of race, health and wellness. Let’s just say, it was one heck of an inspirational afternoon.
“I have a lot of things I am proud of that I know come from a Chinese upbringing but there are also setbacks.”
Born to American and Chinese parents in Colorado, Angelica recalls her childhood being defined by a lot of Chinese characteristics. “Personally, I wanted to eradicate my Chinese background because I was really the only ethnic kid around. I have always been hyper aware of my ethnicity and wanted to become as “American” as possible.”
At a young age, Angelica started playing the piano and was forced to keep at it by her mother (The concept of tiger mom was very real!). From competing till the age of 10 in choir, pro singing groups, and a cappella to taking a stab at creative writing as the editor of a publication, Angelica thrived in the performing arts. Hence, it was no surprise that she initially took up voice as her college major and eventually graduated with a performance degree in piano.
“The biggest decision of my life was to come back to play piano as an adult learner.”
With no motivation to pursue a traditional path in classical music, especially at the thought of practicing alone for eight hours, Angelica was lost after pursuing an assistantship in piano from the University of Illinois. Realizing how tough the performing arts world was and that taking a break from playing the piano in a way denounced her ability among her peers, she started feeling depressed and anxious about her future.
Season of Change
Around this time, Angelica stumbled upon a free yoga class being taught at an art gallery on the college campus. “It was an open level class and I vividly remember the instructor. She was nurturing and had this really nice voice. I started going every Friday and I just felt better and healed inside. The more times I took the class, I started thinking about ways to connect ideas in different ways. It was yoga that inspired me to perform experimental piano for a new audience. Yoga allowed me to not be so rigid…it was the only place where I didn’t feel criticized or pushed to do something.”
On Manifesting Positive Thoughts
Following the aftermath feeling of yoga and her newfound goal to perform piano in a novel way, Angelica packed her bags and moved to New York. In addition to working at a finance firm and hustling at a few part-time piano gigs, she decided to enroll in a yoga teacher training program at Three Sisters Yoga. “I went to yoga teacher training with the intent of helping musicians overcome performance anxiety. There is a very high expectation for professional musicians and no one understood that better than me.”
Angelica says her aha-moment was when she learned about the eight limbs of yoga including “Aparigraha,” the sense of non attachment. “The idea is when you attach something to the future, whether it is fear of failure or desire for success, what you do is you actually affect your present. When you are doing everyday things, if you think you are going to fail, you will because you are manifesting it.”
Taking Yoga to the Streets
So, how exactly did this pro pianist and spiritual gangster become a yogi and a businesswoman? Good question! Scarred from her 9-5 corporate job, Angelica quit after earning her yoga teaching certification and was connected to a woman who taught English to teenagers at a juvenile detention center. Forgoing her hesitation, Angelica agreed to teach yoga to these young prisoners with the intent of helping them find peace. After a year at this stint and minimal improvement in the mental health of these kids, mostly because of their view of yoga being exclusively for the privileged in addition to other staffing and internal issues, she left. She does remember the experience being not only a lot of hard work but also highly rewarding.
“Yoga is a way to live life in a way where you are being the square peg trying to fit in a square hole.”
Ironically, at the same time while working as a yoga studio manager in Williamsburg, Angelica realized that classes were being taught at higher than average rates. Seeing this commercialization of yoga along with other social media trends on how modern yogis were monetizing at the expense of compromising true yogic traditions, Angelica decided to start hosting free open level yoga classes in the park. In 2012, her first pop up yoga event was organized at an urban market in downtown Brooklyn with 70 people in attendance! “I wanted to create a fun yoga experience with music and vendors but more importantly, I wanted it to be easy, free and an opportunity for people to find urban wellness.”
“I want people to feel comfortable going to a yoga class but I also want substance to my events.”
As with any business, when your brand evolves, it requires you to evolve with it. After hosting several pop up yoga events, Angelica decided to convert Pop Up Yoga NYC into a full time career option in 2015 with one caveat: she didn’t want to teach anymore. Rather, she self-taught herself the essentials of running a business, all the way from dealing with sponsors to curating social media feeds to managing large scale production events and to becoming the face of the brand.
Her advice? “Self-reliance was something I learned from being immersed in the performing arts. Playing the piano gave me autonomy and helped me trust my instincts. As Pop Up Yoga grew, it became necessary for me to start delegating tasks, and find collaborators who would help me in areas I didn’t need to teach myself anymore.” Using The Law of Success as her bible, Angelica has built a reputation in New York’s wellness community via Pop Up Yoga and is constantly motivating people to celebrate their city. With a combination of ticketed and free events, you can find her alongside our maker, Castel, at a Sound Off yoga event in partnership with the W Hotels or hosting yoga events on a helipad in the middle of New York City.
Looking to attend her next event or collaborate with her on a documentary that may just change the world (watch this space!)? Email us here.