The seventh in a series of 52 interviews with Albanian women in the public sphere #52GraShqiptare.
Anilda Nocka is a yoga instructor and businesswoman. She studied literature at the University of Tirana before gaining a degree in Business Law from the University of Camerino, an MBA in Finance at Bocconi and Stanford Universities, and a PhD in International Business Law from the University of Oxford.
Having worked in a leading US law firm, she gave it all up in pursuit of something more. She became a certified Baptiste Power yoga instructor in 2012 and after training with founder Baron Baptiste, she returned to Albania to open a yoga studio.
Tell me about yourself as if we are meeting for the first time.
I was born in the city of Korce where my mother was from but I spent most of my youth in the city of Lushnje. Then in 1993, I moved to Tirana to study literature at the University- a course that was chosen for me by the communist government because that’s how things were at that time. I then won a scholarship to go and study philosophy in Italy and when I got there I realised I had this freedom to choose and to follow a totally different path that I had never considered before. So, I studied finance and then law- something that suited my capabilities and what I felt was my calling at the time.
After completing my studies in Italy, I moved to the US where my parents had already relocated. There I continued my schooling, got my law credentials and then got the opportunity to study at Oxford University.
This was in 2006 and through a programme run by my previous university in Italy, I was able to have the chance to study there as a foreign student. I liked it there but I was the oldest out of the group and to be honest, for someone like me that loves the sunshine, England was a bit tough! At first, I wanted to go home and I thought “I cannot do this!” but then, when the sun came out and I realised there were other colours there except for grey, I found it a lot easier!
After completing my PhD, I moved back to the US and started working as a lawyer with a studio in Pittsburgh. It was a high powered, tough, and fascinating job and I travelled all over the US and the world, working with clients in the field.
Then in 2011, everything changed. My dad passed away very suddenly and I decided to take a year off work. I was in a job with a lot of responsibility and pressure and I didn’t feel that I could deal with my loss and continue my work to the best of my abilities. Nothing ever prepares you for losing a parent but to lose them so suddenly and so drastically made me stop and reconsider where I was and what I was doing. I came to the realisation that I wasn’t invincible, I couldn’t control the world and I understood that I was a part of a reality that cannot be changed, no matter who you call or what you try and do.
I also began to understand that it is easy to get swept up in life and this pursuit of money and power. It might sound like a cliche but I realised that money isn’t everything- you spend your time running, working, striving to create a big career, a bit house, more clothes, more shoes, but at the end of it, how much do you really need? What are you really getting out of it? Being professional, powerful and successful does make life easier, but there is just so much more. I wanted to stop, make time, and make memories.
During that year, I travelled a lot, spent a lot of time reflecting, practising yoga, and recentering, until one day I ended up at a Yoga Journal conference and everything changed.
How did you go from high-flying lawyer in the US to opening a yoga studio in Tirana?
During the conference, I decided to take a class with Baron Baptiste and at the end of the class, I found myself fighting back tears. I realised that in the nine months since my dad passed, I hadn’t cried at all.
Being Albanian we don’t really like to show our emotions in public too much, but the more I tried to hold the tears in, the more I cried and sobbed. It was just a total release and it made me understand that even I was just a human with real, raw emotions.
Baptiste Yoga is more than just asana. It’s also about getting to your “why” — why are you moving this way, why are you expressing this way, why are you doing the things you do in your life. Asana, meditation, and personal inquiry are the three practices and techniques of Baptiste Yoga.
I found that it really supported me, and others in raising vitality and this sense of personal power. When you are fully in your body and in touch with your own strength, you gain confidence and accelerate your results on and off the mat. Baptiste Yoga challenges you physically but also supports you in building a practice that feels good and a life that you desire.
From then on I started taking more classes, taking care of me, practising more yoga and really coming to understand what a big gift it was. As time went on and I became more involved with yoga, I started to let go of a lot of the things that I realised were not really important to me anymore.
I then took a teacher training course and shortly after completing the first one, I travelled back to Albania. There was not really any intention to settle there or to come back with some grand idea to change anything but as I spent time with my friends and family, I began to see there was little light or spark in their eyes. It was as if they had resigned themselves to the fact ‘oh we live in Albania, there’s no hope here’ and they questioned why I had returned.
It made me sad because I saw people had no hope- there are so many beautiful souls, people, hearts, and ideas here but little inspiration. I know I was lucky to live in the States, but making it outside of your own country is not as easy as everyone thinks. To be a foreigner is mentally and culturally challenging and to fit in and find your way is hard- not all solutions lie outside of the country.
I had started practising yoga with a friend in Tirana and we then took the decision to open a studio. I rented a space and invested a lot of time and energy and to be honest the first year was a disaster but slowly and surely, people started coming. Sometimes I would teach a class with one person but then that person would bring others, they would enjoy it and more would come. But more than anything, I began to thrive on the energy that teaching created.
Seeing people grow, enjoy, strive for more- it was amazing and that for me was worth more than any money.
How did people react to your decision to change your life?
By 2015 I was running the studio but not really making much. I was eating away at my savings and I thought to myself “do I really want to do this?” I also had to listen to my mum questioning me- she didn’t understand why I had chosen this path and why after all the sacrifices we had taken to go to America, I was back in Albania teaching yoga.
I used to go back to the States every so often for a month at a time to visit her and I would just find myself getting bored. After the first week or 10 days, I would be wishing I was back in Albania teaching yoga at the studio.
I told one of my friends how I felt and she said to me; “when something becomes such an important part of your life that your day doesn’t feel right without it, then you know you’ve found the right way.” She also told me not to focus on making money but rather what I was getting out of it- the satisfaction, the energy and the happiness of the people that I was teaching.
I took her advice, went back to Tirana, and everything fell into place.
Describe yourself in three words.
Unpredictable, funny, crazy (sometimes).
What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing women and how can they be overcome?
The way I see things, people, women in Albania need another kind of help as well. We need to teach women to be powerful because by being powerful and grounded, we can find strength. I believe and have learned that by inspiring people in their hearts, they and you can start to change the world.
We also need to understand as women that we are powerful inside. We have the ability to change our families, our husbands, our sons, our lives, and to support and inspire other women. We should give each other the tools to do this- we need to talk about overcoming the fears and obstacles that we have.
I also believe that Albanian women are incredibly strong but many are afraid to show it because they think and know they will be judged.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I think back to when I was a child, I wish that my parents had not restricted us so much. Of course, times were different then- we were taught to be “good”, to be proper, to accept- but I wish I had built more self-esteem and self-respect at a young age. I needed to learn how to set boundaries, to appreciate myself and to be aware of what self-love is.
I will always remember what my uncle told me. He told me when you point a finger at someone else, you are pointing one finger at them, one up at a ‘higher being’ and three back at yourself. I always remember that when someone wants to judge you, they are judging themselves- this is something I really understood after years of self-reflection.
I have learned a lot about the hardships of being an Albanian in the modern world and that I need to put self-care first. How can you expect the rest of the world to love and respect you if you don’t love and respect yourself?
I would tell my younger self, “the change starts with you”.
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.