By Sean Eshelman
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
As the battle between “living to work” and “working to live” rages, one thing is clear: Mountain people tend to lean more toward the latter mindset. Mind you, this does not mean us mountain folk are afraid of hard work.
One Crestline resident, Nicole Staples (or simply “Nikki” as she’s known among friends), exemplifies this rejection of the “rat race” in pursuit of her true passion – yoga.
I met up with Staples during her “day job” as a bartender at the ever-popular Jetties restaurant in Lake Arrowhead Village. It was a busy night.
“I’m really sorry, but they’re having me stay till closing,” she said, with three closed tabs in hand, destined for their final signatures from patrons. Staples has a hard time leaving people high and dry.
We rescheduled for the following day.
Staples’ is a story not uncommon in the California melting pot. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Staples’ discovery of yoga came in 2013 as she was studying to become an actor.
“I just started going to these yoga classes,” she said, explaining how her interest in yoga began as a hobby, simply a way to get healthy.
“I didn’t know anything about yoga,” she explained, “but after each class, I came out feeling amazing – like I could run a marathon.”
Staples took her first step towards a professional career in yoga in 2017 when, at the encouragement of a friend, she attended a retreat in Costa Rica, where she obtained her yoga teaching certification.
“It wasn’t cheap,” Staples said, “But my friend said, ‘Look, it’s the same as your rent – just go.’”
The program went beyond simple yoga teacher training. It was an immersive experience, with attendees practicing clean living in an environment free from modern conveniences.
“It was challenging, but helped build my passion for yoga even more,” Staples said.
Upon her return to the U.S., Staples moved to Los Angeles, where she continued to pursue her career in acting. With her newly acquired yoga teacher’s certification, she was able to get a job on the side working as a yoga instructor at the large fitness chain LA Fitness.
While attending an acting class, Staples met Hannah Blake-Whiteoak, an established voiceover actor and British expat who had also made the move to California in pursuit of her dreams along with her husband, Robert Blake, an aircraft engineer for British Airways.
The three developed a quick friendship and, following a contentious landlord situation, Staples joined the Blake-Whiteoaks as their roommate in December of 2019.
When COVID-19 hit just a few months later, Staples struggled to make ends meet, as many did during the pandemic. Staples found herself falling more and more into her corporate gig.
“I had to be part of the rat race just to pay rent,” she said. “I had to stop going to acting classes so I could focus on paying my bills.”
When the Blake-Whiteoaks decided to purchase a home in Crestline in December of 2020, they invited Staples to join them.
“It was a big change for me, but I figured if it didn’t work out, I’m still close to LA,” she said.
Staples immediately fell in love with the small-town atmosphere of Crestline and the friendliness its surrounding communities had to offer. In March of 2021 she began teaching at Refresh Mountain Retreat in Crestline. She currently teaches classes every Saturday and Sunday morning.
“Yoga opens up your attention to what’s going on in the community,” she explained. “There’s so much going on up here and the friendliness has definitely made me a better human being.”
Mountain living was not without its challenges, however. As the pandemic continued into the spring of 2021, Staples found the effects of isolation getting to her.
She started reaching out to various community groups to expand her social network, including regular attendance at the ever-popular Crestline Connects group, an informal group of residents and business owners that meets weekly to discuss community and business happenings.
“I knew that in a small town like this, I needed to get involved,” she said.
Staples’ ultimate goal is to own her own yoga business. Money is just a positive side effect.
“I love sharing the experience of yoga with others,” she said, noting how there aren’t many options for people seeking yoga classes on the mountain.
In order to finance her passion for the yoga lifestyle, Staples has had to get creative. She currently takes a few shifts at Jetties every week and is always looking for odd ways to make some extra cash.
She’s even dipping her toes into real estate, as she explained she is in talks with a landowner in Twentynine Palms for plans to develop 198 acres into a tourist destination.
“I’m thinking of a yoga retreat, of course, but we’re talking about all kinds of neat things we can do with the property, like rock climbing, a sustainable succulent preserve, stuff like that,” Staples said.
Staples is clearly not afraid of a challenge, be it financial or physical. She has been known to sign up for 10k run events on a whim. If the challenge benefits a community cause, count her in.
This weekend, on Feb. 5, Staples will be joining many other brave souls as they gather in Lake Arrowhead for the annual PolaRotary Bear Plunge. Money raised for the event will be split between the Rotary Foundation and the local charity of each participant’s choice.
“I’m excited,” Staples said, “I’ve been taking cold showers every day in preparation.”
Staples is an inspiring example of how someone’s passion can be put to good use in the community and of how one certainly does not have to burn the candle at both ends to be happy.
Find out more about yoga classes offered by Refresh Mountain Retreat in Crestline by visiting www.refreshonthemountain.com.
Those interested in attending, donating to or participating in, the 13th annual PolaRotary Bear Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 5, hosted by the Rotary Club of Lake Arrowhead can visit http://portal.clubrunner.ca/101384 for more information.