073 | Your Voice & Story Matters with Johanna Walker

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I’ve had both a challenging and exhilarating relationship with public speaking - from growing up absolutely dreading it and avoiding it at all costs, to discovering that when I am finally up there and doing it, I have a lot to share, and am been able to make a meaningful impact. 

Today’s guest Johanna Walker shares her story of growing up on the more shy and quiet side only to discover the profound presence and power of her voice on stage. She went on to craft a powerful talk about her journey of navigating grief after growing older and one day realizing she would never become a mother. It was through hearing another woman’s story that she could relate to that pulled her out of the grief and into a mission of telling her own story and supporting others to do the same. She now encourages all of us to tell the stories we never thought we would want to tell because of how much they may help someone else. 

There are many powerful take-aways in today’s episode ~ I hope you enjoy it. 

In this episode we discussed: 

  • Johanna’s story of moving through grief after never having children, and how she crafted a moving talk that touched the hearts of many 

  • The power of storytelling in sharing your message 

  • How to tap into charisma and presence 

  • Johanna’s story of growing up as the quiet girl to embodying a powerful stage presence through sharing poetry and talks, to her life now as a teacher for public speaking 

  • Johanna’s process of finding your “genie gem” ~ the essence of what will make your talk most meaningful and memorable 

  • How becoming a powerful speaker influenced Johanna’s relationship to fear 

Stay in Touch with Johanna:


Johanna Walker is the fear-blasting, storytelling maven for coaches, consultants, leaders, and change-makers. She’s the founder of Women Who Speak, a transformational speaker coaching program for female leaders, and she’s the co-founder and co-host of Boulder, Colorado’s popular bi-monthly story slam series, Truth Be Told. In addition to her work as a speaker and coach, Johanna has written and performed solo theater pieces that she’s toured throughout the US and Canada. She holds an M.Ed. from Kent State University, an MFA from Naropa University, and is a certified WholeSpeak Public Speaking Coach. 


A 4-Step Process to Help You Live the Life You Really Want

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What will you do with your wild & precious life?

That was a question I asked myself 5 years ago when I was living in NYC applying to jobs to work behind a computer 40 hours a week. I knew I needed something more, so I followed my intuition and booked a one-way ticket to California.

Following our intuition is a challenging process, but I promise you it's worth working through. I recently wrote a 4 step process to help you live the life you *actually* want and was lucky enough to be featured on Elephant Journal. 

In the comments, I'd love to hear, are you living the life you actually want? If you're struggling to take that next step toward freedom, start today! Set your intention and watch the magic unfold.


All around me, I see women awakening to their gifts, their power and their purpose.

However, I see many of the same women held back by fear, self-doubt and limiting beliefs.

I see women full with creative ideas but lacking the structure and support to fully execute them. I also see women struggling to fully express themselves and believe in their power.

Growing up, I knew I had a big message to share, but I had trouble speaking up and expressing myself. In high school and college, when all eyes were on me, I would freeze and have trouble finding my voice.

Then, five years ago it became more important to me to become a yoga teacher than to let this fear run my life.

Since then, everything has changed.

I left New York City to move to California and I traveled in India for six months by myself. I started sharing my voice and little by little, gained confidence as a teacher and leader.

Now, life is magical. I teach yoga, lead retreats, give speeches and am even writing a book. I find myself finally living beyond fear. Since starting my business, I’ve guided women from all over the world manifest a new vision for their life. What I’ve seen is:

It takes willingness to face a fear, again and again.

As much as I wanted to avoid it, I realized in order to create the life of my dreams, I had to do what scared me.

People who are living their dreams were willing to step outside of their comfort zone. Somewhere along the line, they had to take a risk. It was really scary for me to move to California, start my business and teach yoga and lead workshops. But the thing is, I was able to work up to it. I gave myself small steps to gain confidence.

Here are four keys that helped me along the way...keep reading here.

Permission to Be Fearless

Photo taken at Burning Man, 2015

Photo taken at Burning Man, 2015

Last month on the Winter Solstice, I was invited to sing in front of 150 people. I arrived, a little nervous, but confident in my offering. I sat with my harmonium, poised with a microphone near my mouth and my instrument. I welcomed the group into a meditation and began to sing, "Ong Namo Gurudev Namo."

I finished the song feeling proud. I did it, I thought. The moment I had been anticipating for weeks was over. I did it. The brief moment in time felt so surreal.

I realized that if I had been asked to sing in front of a group this size a year ago, I would have been terrified. Expressing myself through my voice, especially singing, has been one of life's biggest challenges and greatest gifts.

I remember struggling to introduce myself in front of a small group of people in high school and freaking out before presentations in college. I always felt like a deer in the headlights and struggled to find my breath and voice.

The fear of sharing my voice was actually what inspired me to become a yoga teacher. I remember admiring my teacher in New York, gracefully walking across the room while powerfully commanding the yogis from one pose to the next. Could I ever be like that? I thought.

I was introduced to the harmonium by another yoga teacher, Kimber Simpkins, who opened and closed every class singing with the harmonium. As I began to use my voice, I felt the vibration in my body and began to discover the sound inside me. As I watched her, confident and poised, I again asked, Could I ever be like that?

Soon after discovering Kimber's classes, I fell in love with a musician. Watching him sing so beautifully in front of a crowd brought out all the insecurities inside me.

Every time I went to watch him perform, I felt more nervous than he did. I realized this fear was telling me something: maybe it was time for me to share my voice. I then discovered this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.

I began to make small steps to face the fear. First, I started teaching yoga classes. Every time I stood in front of the room as a teacher, I became more confident in myself and my voice. Each step I took to face the fear gave me the courage to go further.

I remember the first time I sang in front of my boyfriend, terrified at what he would think. My fingers were shaking on the guitar. I had him close his eyes because I felt so exposed. It was uncomfortable, yes, but I survived, and in the end, I received praise. I felt proud of myself.

That sense of pride kept me going.

My boyfriend encouraged me to step out of my shell. One night, I asked if he would sing with me around the fire at a friend's house. I felt the nervousness arise as I held the guitar, but I sang anyway. It wasn't perfect, but again, I was praised.

A few months later, I was at a full moon ceremony to release fear. As each person spoke, I knew this was the step I needed to take again and again to develop my strength. In the ceremony, I shared the fears I carried around my voice and did the thing that scared me most: I sang with the harmonium in front of the entire group.

There I was, years later, embodying the teachers I had looked up to most.

Every time I faced my fear and shared my voice, a new door opened from the universe. Opportunities and invitations came, and my confidence grew.  Eventually, I was led to the sacred moment at the Winter Solstice to share my voice with more people than I ever had before.

Every step of the way, I was being prepared.

Every step of the way, I had to trust myself that I was ready.

Through that trust, I have seen the universe open doors for me that I am ready for. I see women all around me answering the call to rise up in their power, their divine femininity and their voice. I have answered the call and am now encouraging other women to feed the flames, discover their power and stand strong in their voices.

If you are out there and have ever felt afraid to speak up, afraid to sing, or afraid to share, know that you're not alone.  I've been there and I can tell you from my experience: when opportunity comes knocking, trust in it. The universe is only going to present you with opportunities you are ready for; you can say yes, even when there is fear.

Your voice is ready.

Deep down, you know it is.  All you have to do is say yes.


It takes courage...

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From the moment I left my stressed out life in New York City over four years ago to get on a plane and start a new life in San Francisco, I realized how much courage it really takes to follow your heart.

Anytime I have slowed down enough to listen, I have had to consciously learn to release self-doubt and trust in the process.  When I went to India by myself on a one-way ticket with a 6-month VISA, it was the same.  When I started my business with no clients and only a few months of rent in my bank account, it was the same.  When I sang in front of my boyfriend (who is a professional musician) for the first time, it was the same.  And in the times I have felt overwhelmed with so much to do, but have consciously stopped to honor my body, stretch, breathe and make a healthy meal to take care of myself, it was the same.

It takes courage to step back from life and do something that nurtures and honors yourself.  tweet it

And today, I want to tell you:  Self-doubt is a natural part of the process.  When you are following your heart, even if it is to simply take care of yourself, self-doubt will be there.

I recently read an amazing blog post from KC Baker about birthing her baby boy.  As she was in the moment of labor saying to herself, "I just can't do this!"  Her midwife turned to her and said, "KC, you ARE doing this."


Tonight, I invite you to explore your dreams and desires and find the courage within yourself to slow down, let go of the to-dos, and listen to those dreams.

This evening marks the Autumn Equinox, and the first class in my 6-week series, Yin Yoga & Harmonium in Sebastopol.  We will be singing, releasing self-doubt and cultivating courage to follow our heart.  There will be live music for the entire class by Michael Zeligs.   I hope to see you there.

And for those of you who would love to be there, but live elsewhere, join my email list below and stay tuned for a surprise I will be sending to you next week...

Love, Meredith


5 Steps I took to face my fear of teaching yoga

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I remember being terrified to teach my final class on the last day of my yoga teacher training.

I sat in the corner doing pranayama while my fellow teacher trainees gathered up their courage to teach.

Ever since my first yoga class, I felt inspired by my teachers, powerfully leading their class through the sequences. The thought of becoming a yoga teacher myself was terrifying, but I also had a little bit of excitement when I imagined it.

Up until my teacher training, my biggest fear was using my voice.

When it came time to give a presentation in middle school or high school, I had trouble finding my breath. I realized it was my body’s way of protecting me from the possible embarrassment of speaking up. However, by college I saw how this fear was holding me back in all areas of my life.

After four years of dedicating myself to my yoga practice, my curiosity and excitement about teaching grew, so I packed up my bags and went to Mexico for my first teacher training, ready to face my fear.

The supportive people in my training helped me begin to unlock the fear, but when my turn came to get up in front of the room to teach, I was shaking.

Fortunately, this time was different. The deep breathing practices I had learned in the training helped me find my breath, and I stood knowing everyone in the room wanted me to succeed. As I began to speak, I surprised myself with how much I knew and how poised I felt in the seat of the teacher. I discovered a new side of myself I didn’t know was there before.

Eleanor Roosevelt says, “The very next thing you need to be doing is what terrifies you the most.”

Over the years, I’ve taken this to heart and learned that when I feel fear (and a little bit of excitement), life is presenting me with an opportunity to grow.

I learned that we experience fear when we encounter an unfamiliar experience. When I faced my fear over and over again, it became easier each time.

Not only did it become easier, but it became enjoyable.

Unfortunately, after my training, my familiar fears crept in and I felt like I was right back where I started. I had a little bit of courage knowing I had done it before, so I decided the only way to get rid of my fear of teaching was to simply go out and do it, again and again.

I now teach five of my own classes each week. Facing this fear has prompted me to face other fears in my life, knowing I am fully capable.

I know how hard it can be to start out teaching, so I compiled this list to share the most important steps I took that helped me break through my initial fear. 

1. I Spoke the Fear

When I started telling people about my fear, it took away its power.

Before I started speaking about my fear, the fear was just in my mind, and I had no escape from it. However, when I started sharing with people about my fear of public speaking, I started finding solutions. I met other yoga teachers with similar fears when they were first starting to teach and I started feeling less alone.

It was so refreshing to get the fear out of my mind and into a conversation.

2. I Got Support

When I started speaking my fear, one friend recommended I see a voice teacher.

I liked the idea, so decided to take lessons. My teacher showed me how to use my breath lower in my diaphragm and taught me exercises to strengthen my voice.

After several years of teaching I began meeting other women who had completed a yoga teacher training but had not yet started teaching, so I created a program for new yoga teachers to openly share their fears, strengthen their voice and practice teaching. I called it the Young Women’s Yoga Sangha and started offering the program in the Bay Area. I saw that when these women talked about their fear, they were intimately supported by each other, and that support gave them the courage to face it.

When I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my goals and dreams, my mind started telling me, “I’m not good enough, I don’t know enough, I can’t do this…” and almost convinced me not to do it.

Having a consistent supportive people in my life encouraging me, made the next steps so much easier.

3. I Celebrated My Successes

I did not go out and face my biggest fear right away; I started small.

I taught my family and a couple close friends. I then felt ready to face the fear in front of strangers after having those key positive experiences first.

Every time I took a step to face my fear, I celebrated my success and reminded myself of those successes every time I felt afraid to move forward.

4. I Let Go of My Story 

Before having a regular teaching schedule, my story was, “I can’t do this, I have never been good at talking in front of groups, and therefore I will never will be good at it.”

This was not even true! Just saying it out loud felt crazy. It was a story my mind made up to keep me “playing small.”

When we live in our story, we tend to procrastinate. We’ll be on Facebook, check our email again and again, or distract ourselves with food, alcohol, sex or anything else we can use to avoid taking action.

So how did I get out of my story?

First, I recognized that there was a story, then I wrote it down until it had no meaning anymore. I saw the words, and what it really was, a story.

Marilena Minucci says, “Your story can hold you hostage or it can set you free. You get to choose.”

Make a choice to write a new story, and remind yourself of that story every time you see your old story play out. Be held accountable, speak the story, and write the story as much as you need to see all it is is a story, and then let it go.

In the book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about cultivating the bravery to just be in the arena. Being in the arena shows you are living in alignment with your values.

No matter what the outcome is, you are daring greatly and living your truth of courage.

When I faced my fear, connected to what I value and wrote a new story, I learned that whatever the outcome was, I was setting an example and becoming an inspiration just by taking action.

5. I Connected to My Bigger Picture and Vision for Myself and For the World 

The biggest step I took to face my fear was ask, “Why is it important for me to face this fear?” and “Why is it important for me to make this next step?”

When I asked “Why?” I saw that the purpose of teaching was actually more important than my fear.

It became painful not to share the knowledge I had learned. I saw it wasn’t about me anymore.

If I wanted to create a more conscious and compassionate world, I needed to face the fear.

If I wanted to help people live without pain in their body, I needed to face the fear.

If I wanted more people to rest and love themselves first, I needed to face the fear.

When I approached my fear from this place of service to myself, and all the people who could benefit from my teaching, it became much easier to feel the fear and do it anyway.

{Published on elephant journal}


Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

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I took a yoga class with one of my favorite Bay Area teachers this Sunday, Kimber Simpkins.   Her theme this class delved into darkness, in order to find more light.  She told us about an article she had read, about a woman in Australia in Hospice care who wrote a book called, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.

She read each of them aloud to us before the class, and reminded us throughout.  Read them through, and ask yourself, do I fit into these?  How can I make a positive change in that area of my life?

From the blog inspirationandchai.com:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard. 

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. 

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

You can read the inspiration for this article here