1 As a woman, a mother and a yoga practitioner, tell me what do you find the most important teaching you’ve discovered from this practice and what would you share to those who are on this path?
The practice has given me so many individual gifts. Perhaps my greatest gift has been to move beyond my fear. Before yoga, fear had existed in my life. I was not necessarily conscious that fear did not have to be a part of my life, but when I look back, I was a nervous person. Perhaps it was in my wiring because I did not know any better. Fear was a pattern that I lived with. It was 1999 in Mysore, India and I will never forget Guruji on my first week of practice shouting out at me, “Why Fearing?!” I remember being mortified, thinking how does he know that I am so fearful of taking my ankles in this backbend. I remember thinking, “Is my fear that obvious?” This began my ten year relationship with Guruji and facing fear with the support of Guruji was one reason I kept returning to Mysore year after year.
For years, I was afraid of inverting, perhaps I was afraid of turning my world upside down. Guruji saw this tendency and would stand next to my mat arms crossed and just watch me do Karandavasana, often adding a subtle grunt that expressed, “why fearing?” Just having him standing there watching was enough to push the FEAR button. The FEAR button was pushed over and over but over time preferences for postures, postures that I liked and did not like became irrelevant. I realized that the fear was not a part of my innate being and I could choose to relate to fear or not. Yoga helped me move beyond fear and beyond negative thought patterns that were holding me back from the potential in the moment. What I love about yoga is that everyone has a different experience and learning. What I have discovered on the path of yoga will probably not be what you will discover. But, through the dedication of a daily practice, our tendencies and patterns are revealed to us and brought to our awareness. Some patterns are useful and serve a purpose in our lives. Some patterns, in my case, attaching to fear, are not serving us nor are they making us a better person. Yoga is a gift to our soul and it’s a gift of grace and strength. And all that is needed is to show up daily and practice and see what is revealed. From there, the yoga can happen.
2. What is Feminism to you? How do you feel women can support each other?
Feminism is being 100% who you are. Honouring your soul and standing strongly in yourself. Feeling the deep rooted faith and trust in your bones. And with that faith, trust and sense of honour, extend that out into your community of friends and out into the world. I often look back and wonder where I cultivated the strength of being a woman. For sure, the first connection was from my mom’s inspiration as a woman. She left Ireland when she was in her twenties and lived in New York City working in travel. She was brave and adventurous in a time when women’s roles were different. She worked her whole life but in a way that still allowed her to be a mom. She was always at home when we returned from school and always there for us. When I look back and what else makes me the woman I am today, I instantly think of my sister and my six girlfriends from middle and high school. My sister was always took a stance on equality for all, no matter the race, gender or orientation. She is and was always there for me. Even nowadays when we get together, our time is filled with contagious laughter. My other support team were my six best friends growing up. They accepted me unconditionally. They were the pillars of strength through those sometimes awkward phases. That support and strength has carried me into the rest of my life and, I believe, made me an even stronger woman. My mother, my sister and the friendship of those amazing girlfriends (now women) planted the seeds for who I became. As women, we need to surround ourselves in love and support. Find your tribe of support in your life and from that will come a great strength.
3 In ashtanga practice, how do you feel we can keep the community strong and supportive for one another?
Sharing knowledge is one of the core values for AYV and it resonates so deeply with me. We have to always be humble and know we only know so little. But by sharing our experiences with others, we can learn from them and be inspired. There is always more to learn and always room for growth so sharing amongst teachers and students is key to supporting each other. Always seeking inspiration from others as well as sharing your own experiences is powerful and connects us all as one. By sharing, we can see the one as many and the one as many!
4 With this practice we are constantly challenging ourselves both mind and body. This requires a lot of self discipline, focus and consistency in our daily routine. In this moments we are opening ourselves up, we are vulnerable and processing whatever emotions that rises. What would be your advice in these situations? What did you find helpful to you?
Practice is for life. Persevere even when the going is tough. And try not to take the practice too seriously. Laugh at yourself sometimes. Practice is a gift and a privilege. Remember that. Let “showing up” be your aim. Not looking a certain way or doing a certain thing but simply showing up and being honest to your self. That is yoga.
5 In this modern world we are surrounded by distractions, whether it’s the constant stream of negative news, social media and the perfectly manufactured image of how to liveness life, our appearance and body shaming. It has the power to knock us off balance. How do we nourish ourselves? How do we find acceptance?
I feel that it’s important to turn off from the “i-appliances,” as I like to call them (iphone, ipad etc!). Take regular technology breaks and step away. Look into yourself. Everyone has their own personal way of resourcing their soul. Find the way that you nourish yourself and give yourself that gift regularly.
For me, the yoga practice is a tonic to my soul. Spending time with my family and being in nature are also ways for me to tap into the calm place of midline within. As a family, nature is always a recharging arena for us all so we spend time hiking in the mountains in the summer and skiing in the snowy, winter wonderland when the day’s are short and cold.
It’s important to know what you need to experience grace, flow, and fluidity in your life. Make an extra effort to uncover what gifts you can give to yourself.
6 Who are the women that inspire you, who are the women that you admire?
My mother is a constant source of inspiration. She is not outspoken at loud and at times, she can be quiet but when she speaks, I know to listen carefully as her words are powerful and well thought. My mom’s inspiration is always present in the way she goes above and beyond to show her care and love.
My mom is a mom that makes an amazing birthday cake for me (without anyone asking and 2 months early since we live far away and she won’t be with me on the actual day) and flies with it on an airplane when when she is meeting me in NYC for two days. In her hotel room that first night, birthday candles were lit and we celebrated my birthday, two months early, together as a family over my favourite cake. For me, that shows so much love and from love comes a great honour I feel for my mom.
In grade 7, I decided that I wanted to be different than my family. Everyone in my family had studied French and so I decided to be independent and study Spanish. My mom then decided on her own to register in an adult night classes to learn Spanish with me. That next year, she took me to Mexico and we lived with a local family for a couple weeks to enhance our language skills.
In Bali, my mom (who probably had not been on a bike for 20 years) hopped on a bike with me and pedalled around rice paddies. Biking, for her, was definitely not on her top 50 list but she did it for me. As a three year old, when I learned to ski, my mom always joined us on our family skiing adventures. Years later when we were all self sufficient at skiing, she stopped skiing completely. I found out that she had never even liked skiing but was doing it for my sister and I. My mother gave unconditionally and when I look at my relationships with my children, I use my mom as my role model. My mom always reminds me to dream and make things happen. She was happy when I started working in finance in NYC, but she was equally as accepting when I quit finance and moved into a tent and started studying yoga. She supported me fully in all my endeavours.
My mother is unconditionally supportive. She is an example of midline and grace.
As I embark on a mini sabbatical to India with my daughter Viveka, I realize that my mom was the inspiration of showing the world to my children. As a mom, I aspire to be as supportive and accepting as my mom has been to me. And in raising my children, I always look to my mom as an example of midline, balance, love, strength and grace.
7 What are your daily rituals and routines that you feel ground you?
Teaching and my practice are important rituals that start my day. They feed my soul and bring me to a calm place. Other rituals that strengthen me are my connection to nature and sharing that with my family whether it’s skiing, hiking, wandering in the woods or lying on a dock watching my children swim. Another important ritual that closes our day is a family meal together. This is a time to connect and be all together eating and sharing our day’s events and thoughts. Rituals are so integral in our lives. When I became a mother, I realized that, as a family, we needed to birth rituals for our children. They rituals feed our souls and give us a tether in our lives. These rituals create memories that will be passed on from generation to generation.
8 What makes you feel safe and secure?
When my mind is still, I find that a sense of security and safety is innate. Even if something is bothering me, if I can calm myself (many times this is through the practice via the breath), I find that I can see more clearly and then this deep down knowing (that all will be fine) arises.
I remember when my kids were quite young. My schedule was to leave my house around 5 am and teach til 730. Then I would head home and eat breakfast with my kids and chat with them before driving them to school. I would return to the studio two hours later for my own practice. Some days school drop offs were a flood of tears and emotions from my youngest, Viveka. On those days I would arrive a bit frazzled at the studio. My mind would be racing and I would feel heightened emotionally. But I would stand on my mat, breathe, and practice. I even remember, one day, tears streaming down my face. I was a tired mom and I felt my children’s emotions. But as I practiced, I would feel more still and more connected to my inner tether of innate strength and grace. The practice would refuel me and bring me back to that place of midline and centre. When I would leave the studio, post practice, I had a sense of calm and the drama in the morning had passed and I felt clear and ready to meet the rest of the day. Practice gives me that place of strength and security in my being.
9 Which element of nature do you feel most connected to?
My astrological sign is the goat. I am definitely a mountain goat. Bring me to a mountain and let me free. I love to be connected to earth and feel the earth’s stability in my bones and body. It’s no wonder I love hiking, walking or x-country skiing in the woods. I never felt comfortable in skyscrapers and office buildings, so far off the ground and away from natural earth. Put me on the earth and I feel one with mother nature, strong and connected to her universal rhythm.
10 Our energy is always shifting in our monthly practice, as female practitioners when we receive our ladies holiday, whether its a seasonal change or when we travel to different climates. How can we find a balance and a grounding when we feel these changes happen?
Through the years yoga has taught me how to listen….and then how to listen even more deeply! I am 46 now and although my periods are still regular, I can feel that things are shifting. I have returned to the unknown. As my daughter moves towards puberty, I am moving towards perimenopause. These days, I feel my ovulation very strongly at times and sometimes find myself having to do a softer practice on those days. Some cycles my periods arrival builds up over a couple days and during those months, I have to soften my practice more and listen. Through the years, yoga has reminded me of the power and grace of listening. As I look back, in the early years, I would push my body. Pregnancy was my first shift in deepening my listening. In pregnancy each day was a completely new journey that deserved a clean slate. Pregnancy was a journey of absolute day to day arriving and seeing where I was. As I move towards a new cycle in my life, I feel more intrigued with my body and mind and try to respect what my body and soul is saying. This awareness then radiates outward into my day to day life. The beauty of being a female is being graced with this sensitive intuitive connection to mother nature. Our cycle enhances this connection to ourselves and the earth. Honour and learn from your cycle, body and soul.
Pictures: Fiona Stang & Derick Yu