April 07, 2015

Where are they now: An alumni update on Carisa Leal

At Ei, we urge our students to know themselves (Self-Awareness is a core competency in our curriculum) and then determine how their strengths can meet a need in the world.

This week, we catch up with Austin-based Carisa Leal, one of the five students from Ei’s Founding Class, as she is building a career on the foundation of what she values most: community, travel, and movement.

Since Ei, these desires have led her to learn traditional Balinese dance in Indonesia, become a certified yoga instructor, and perform with an Austin-based flamenco ensemble.

Now, let’s hear from Carisa.


At our very first meetup, we outlined our values and shared what we felt was most important to us. Then, we were asked to write down how much time we devoted to these things each week. Most of us found that we didn’t spend as much time on those significant activities as we would’ve liked.

For me, I value travel, fostering community, and movement – specifically in the world of aerial arts, yoga, flamenco, and world dance.

So, after graduating Ei, I decided to explore what life would be like if I made movement and community my highest priorities.


Just days after EXPO (Ei’s graduation), I left from Chicago for Bali, Indonesia. The trip was a celebration of the year with Experience Institute, as well as a chance to reconnect with my incredibly supportive boyfriend who I hadn’t consistently seen over the course of the last year.

Our last night in Ubud was one of the most memorable experiences of our time in Bali. My Balinese dance teacher dressed me in a traditional Legong outfit to perform part of a fan dance. In world dance (ex. Flamenco, Balinese, Japanese, etc.) fan technique is super interesting – as is rice pudding, but that’s definitely a tangent.

To my surprise, many of our friends came to watch the performance with much love and support. Here it was all coming together; community, travel and movement. In fact, it was in Bali that I was inspired to pursue Aerial Yoga after meeting our neighbor who just happened to be a master instructor.

To add to the heart expansion once we returned to Austin, I was offered an opportunity to blend my experience with Balinese and Indian dance as well as self-teach sufi-inspired whirling for the role of the prophet. In an interesting moment backstage, I found myself in costume, reading a yoga teacher training book called, “Awakening the Buddha Within,” and realized just how much I was taking on this role without even knowing it! It was a full circle moment.


The Yoga Teacher Training program at Dharma Yoga is a beautiful blend of traditional Indian hatha yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. The class structure brings together movement, theory and experiential learning.

During the training, I experienced a moment that felt, intrinsically, like I was doing something right. After all, when I was given the opportunity to create my own semester abroad in college, I chose to travel to India, soak in a new culture and learn Traditional Yoga and Classical Indian Dance at Ananda Ashram. It’s all starting to come full circle and make sense now!


The importance of community continues to demonstrate its value time and time again. When people come together with the same intention, the energy produced is absolutely magical. Reflection/self-awareness has been crucial to the way I live and work. Self-directed projects are no longer intimidating. I feel comfortable setting my own goals and reaching out to people in order to pursue them in a creative way. Yoga Teacher Training is just the first step in pursuing a long-term goal of teaching aerial yoga workshops while traveling around the world.


I just graduated from yoga teacher training, so I’m glad to have made a solid step toward aerial yoga, which is my long-term goal, and looking forward to gaining more teaching experience.

I’ve also been working with my dance troupe A’lante Flamenco as we’re preparing to debut our new show, Desplazados, soon.

Most of all, I’m excited to finally have clarity around my next career chapter.

Specifically, I’m looking for a product manager position that will allow me to empower people do their best work and be their best selves through health, wellness and movement. (Some examples of this kind of work include, but aren’t limited to, software services like MindBody and ClassPass.)

Now, the continuing challenge involves bringing all my varied experiences together to create a career that serves people and is also in line with my values.

Photo/Video Credit: Paul Shirley

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