Catherine la O’ was a successful businesswoman in San Francisco during the start of the dotcom era. But in 2002, the magazine where she worked in sales folded. Armed with airline miles and money, la O’ took a girlfriend to Costa Rica to relax — and soon realized she could not. “I thought my fun button was broken,” she says.
When she returned, la O’ made the decision to investigate why, at 28 years old, she suffered from what she describes as crippling anxiety. The outcome of that self-exploration led her on a path she now says allows her to help people of all ages in the Sacramento area with “inner shadow integration” and “body integration.”
With her business Liminal Space, la O’ says she helps her clients uncover stories they tell themselves that limit their experience and potential. “I help clients rebuild a loving and playful relationship with their body so they can enjoy this experience of being human,” she says.
Setting Her Life on Track
La O’ had worked in corporate advertising sales since 1994, a career that unfolded from a job she had after high school selling printers to big companies. She says she soon found herself selling online ads for Ziff Davis Media’s Interactive Week magazine, earning $110,000 annually at the peak of her time there.
“I was engaged, making money and working a sought-after career. And I (was) miserable,” she says. “I thought I was broken because everyone was telling me that I should be happy and grateful, but I felt like my chest was caving in.”
La O’ started working with a therapist who offered spiritual coaching, yoga and body awareness. “I was definitely not in my body at that time,” la O’ recalls. “I was smoking, drinking, I was doing a lot of things to take me away from feeling.” She says she didn’t understand the concept of body awareness then, but now “I see our body as our subconscious mind. Our body stores all the unprocessed experiences. By reconnecting with the felt sense of the body, we get out of our heads and access our emotional center.”
The closure of the magazine — and the loss of her high-paying job — turned out to be just what she needed to set her life on a better track. Home from Costa Rica and determined to relax, la O’ took a year-long personal development sabbatical. She describes that year away from sales “as a time for thawing. I was frozen in this collision of apathy and anxiety.” She did therapy and yoga. A few months into her time off, she quit smoking. She also says she started feeling joy for the first time in her life.
La O’ says she was receiving — and turning down — offers from high-profile magazines she once believed would be dream opportunities, including Sunset and Rolling Stone. “I would even go through the motions of negotiating, but when it came time to pull the trigger, I just couldn't do it,” she says. “I knew it was the wrong path for me, and I feared if I continued with (sales) I wouldn’t be able to leave,” she says. But she needed to figure out what to do for a profession instead.
During a conversation at a dinner party in 2003, la O’ was introduced to interpersonal dynamics. That same year, she enrolled in social psychology and cultural anthropology classes at Skyline Community College in San Mateo County; she earned a degree from San Francisco State in 2009. Later, she completed a year-long professional coaching certification program at New Ventures West in San Francisco and completed a four-year, 500-hour yoga teacher training program at Yoga Tree in San Francisco. During her decade of expanding education, la O’ supported herself by bookkeeping for a law firm and bartending.
The inner work she was doing coupled with her studies led la O’ to face her own shadows, including those held over from childhood — ones that claimed she wasn't talented or smart, and ones she says might have been exacerbated by the death of her parents when she was young. “I think we have these stories that we tell ourselves that we create at a really young age about who we are, and those stories form our life in a lot of ways,” she says. “Most of the time those stories aren’t whole. They aren’t complete. We design our life based on incomplete information.”
Through therapy, she says she was able to reconnect with her body, feel and process her emotions, and begin to experience more joy in life. La O’ — who had always wanted to work as a teacher and help others — began her coaching practice in 2010. The next year, she founded Liminal Space, which offers her blend of coaching and yoga.
Building a New Life in Sacramento
Three years ago, la O’ relocated to Sacramento for the slower pace of life, to be near family and to find more business opportunities. Now she teaches yoga at California Family Fitness, Delta Mind Body Center and Ritual, where she also offers her shadow workshops. La O’ also teaches stress management, mindfulness and interpersonal communication to several state agencies and corporate clients, including the Department of Food and Agriculture and Kaiser Permanente.
La O’ says she’s not making the same money as she did working in sales, but now she runs a business she believes in, and she’s putting her business background to use selling stress management through mindfulness practices.
Through her brand of coaching and teaching, la O’ says she aims to guide people into deeper body awareness. All the teachers at Ritual went through Catherine’s shadow workshop. “I realized that my tough girl was essentially hiding my super sensitive girl, who wasn't allowed to come forward, because she was made to be tough in the world she was brought in,” fellow instructor Dana Maria says. “I now love and embrace my sensitive girl as the one who brings forth the magic. I also now appreciate my tough girl, who helps protect me in a world that is full of all sorts of energies coming at us at all times. … I now look at myself from a more holistic approach.”
La O’ says overcoming her apathy and embracing her gifts as a teacher are deeply satisfying: “Teaching is such a big part of my life, and it makes me feel so connected and like I’m in the flow of what I'm supposed to do … to think about that shoved in a closet, it is heartbreaking.”
Perhaps most important, la O' says she learned to trust her inner compass, “instead of feeling I am what was wrong — which is how I felt — I can trust that it was wrong for me.”
Bethany Crouch is a contributor to Comstock’s magazine. Comstock’s offers business insight and coverage of commerce, art, culture and community for the Capital Region at www.comstocksmag.com