Stories by Annie Bananie
Today we are talking with Laura Fowler a yoga teacher since 2007. She is also an educator and considers teaching her dharma and passion.
Laura thanks for being here. What brought you to your yoga practice?
What brought me to the practice…hmmm. I have always been very interested in the spiritual aspect of yoga. Even before I knew or understood anything much. I was simply curious. And as a ballet dancer in my childhood and again in my early adulthood, body movement was something I really loved. Moving from ballet into yoga was very natural and easy for me. The connection to body, breath and the intuitive flow I am able to feel through both dance and yoga are very uplifting. I love the feeling and I can never get too much of that!
I have been to your classes and love your teaching style. It is meditative, slow and in sync with the breath. Tell us your philosophy behind this and the benefits of this kind of practice.
Actually, when I first began to practice yoga seriously, I was very interested in a more physical, dynamic Ashtanga-style practice. In my 30’s and 40’s this served my needs. Over time my practice evolved, grew and changed. Now I enjoy a much slower flow-style. I like to delve into the sensations in my physical body and my energetic body by slowing things down. I have let go of many of the more challenging or extreme postures, as I feel they were simply feeding my ego and potentially wearing down my body. My practice today is a deeply grounding one. I am interested in what one of my teachers refers to as the 6th & 7th senses; proprioception and interoception. Tuning into a deep sense of awareness of where my body is in space and how my body feels “from the inside out”. Slow mindful yoga is not “gentle” yoga as it is often mistaken for. Although it certainly can be a gentle practice, slow mindful yoga is a practice that delves deeply into the self. It is about introspection and connection to self. It is my spiritual practice.
I have been to your Bridge Yoga classes and love it. The funds raised from this class go to purchasing water filters for a village in Guatemala. Please tell us more.
I love to teach yoga and I also love to do humanitarian work. As a college professor I teach early childhood education and love to share knowledge of healthy child development. Over the years I have travelled several times to small villages in rural Guatemala with groups of my college students. My students and I work in preschool nutrition centers with local Mayan educators and the children in their care. Over the years I have made a strong connection to one village in particular called Punyabar. The Mayan families that I have met there are very dear to my heart. I wanted to continue to support the lovely people in this village, even when I was not there. So I decided to connect my interest in humanitarian work and my passion for yoga. Thus, Bridge Yoga was born.
I have been teaching yoga on the beautiful covered bridge in Wakefield QC every Tuesday evening for three summers now. Classes run from the middle of May into the middle of September. These classes are donation based and 100% of the funds raised go towards the purchase of water filters for families living in extreme poverty in Punyabar Guatemala.
Teaching on the covered bridge is so satisfying and fun, actually it is pure joy! The sights and sounds of nature all around and the rushing of the water underneath, create a very magical experience for everyone. So far, we have raised thousands of dollars and have been able to purchase many water filters for families in need. As we know, proper health requires clean water. Water is foundation for health. Bringing people together at the beautiful Gatineau river to build community and share practice, while raising money for others in need, has been a pleasure and a privilege. I am looking forward to next year!
I love how you have combined your passion for teaching Early Childhood Education with yoga by opening Calm Kids Yoga. What is behind this inspiration?
Yes, as mentioned I am a college professor and teach early childhood education. So again, I wanted to connect my interest and skills to create something new. I will be launching my first children’s yoga teacher training certification program, designed specifically for Early Childhood Educators (ECE) and other early years teachers, in the coming months. This training program is called Calm Kids Yoga. I am super excited to have created this training and to be recognized as a registered children’s yoga school with Canadian Yoga Alliance. The first training will be held in February 2020 at Beyond Yoga Studio & Wellness Centre in Kanata. I am so excited for this!
I believe that yoga and mindfulness can be profound practices for children and the adults in their lives. Helping children to recognize their own emotions and learn to self-regulate are very important skills. Learning yoga is perfect for this. Encouraging children to tune into their bodies and experience some calmness and joy is very powerful. Through the use of simple games, songs, toys, dance and movement I will teach educators how they can use yoga to support and teach their children. I feel honoured and excited to begin to offer this important training and share what I know with others.
You are a busy woman. What keeps you grounded?
I would have to say that living in my little yellow house in the woods really helps me to stay grounded. I love nature and whenever I feel life is getting a little over-whelming, I look out my window and take a long, deep breath. I like to spend time sitting in my yard noticing what the birds and squirrels are up to. They are so very entertaining and always busy with something.
I also practice Yoga Nidra to restore myself and practice meditation and asana as much as possible to calm my body and mind. I have found that the practice of gratitude is a very powerful force and is also very grounding. I have recently undertaken a social media 50 day gratitude challenge. I will be posting a gratitude-focused quote every day for 50 days on my FB pages. The idea is to look and find the good in the world and feel the benefits in your life. I mentioned this to my husband, and he told me that he thought I should include him and our two kids in this challenge too. As none of them use FB, I have started a family gratitude tread and will send the quotes to them via text every day.
That is so beautiful to include your whole family. I have recently read that gratitude practices keeps us healthier and happier. You took beautiful photographs while Ecuador and Western Canada. Throughout the years you have travelled far and wide. Can you share your favourite travel story?
Yes, I love to travel, and I have been to some incredible places. But to come up with a favourite travel story, now that is a very difficult thing. Suffice it to say that I learn something new every time I travel. I love to meet and make real connections with people all over the world. What I find so wonderful and amazing about travelling is that I find more commonalities than differences between people. I love that whether I am in Tanzania, Ecuador, Switzerland or Cuba, people are just people. All people want to be happy and experience joy in life. Travelling makes me feel even more connected because I see that we are all more alike than we are different.
Mornings are an important starting point to our day. What is your morning routine?
Well to be honest, a warm cuppa and sitting on the couch looking out the window is my favourite thing to do in the morning. I try hard not to rush about, but rather to calmly begin to notice the day. I always greet my husband with a heartfelt “good morning and how was your sleep?” I try to meditate but must admit it doesn’t always happen first thing in the morning. I work hard to allow myself enough time to get to where I am going with a sense of calm. I do not enjoy being late, nor do I like rushing about. Taking time in the moment to enjoy the moment is very important to me.
Your most recent workshop line-up is something that you are very excited about. Being a 49 year old woman myself and on the verge of menopause, I can see the importance in these offerings.
Yes, I love to teach…I think we have established that…. lol! I am also very interested in sharing my yoga teachings with women my age (well all women actually…and men too). I will be celebrating my 58th birthday in the coming weeks. I feel a strong connection to women around my age. So, I decided to create a Women’s Wellness Workshop series to connect with more women and share my passion for yoga. There are five workshops in the series and participants can take one, two or all five if they wish. Each workshop focuses on a specific topic and will include some theory, a movement practice, a guided meditation and a Q & A time.
The schedule is as follows…
September 27 th : The Power of Slow
Gentle, subtle and mindful movement offering pain relief and inviting a soothing transition away from anxiety and stress. Thoughtful and intentional awareness through guided breath and mindfulness techniques are used to support clarity and create calmness.
October 4 th : Subtle Yoga to Energize and Uplift
Honouring self and inviting wellness into the body through the practice of ancient self-care rituals, mindful movements and deep guided relaxation techniques. Introduction to Ayurvedic teachings of self-massage with organic and essential oils.
October 11 th : Yoga for Pelvic Heath and Awareness
Learn important and empowering information related to pelvic pain, incontinence and organ prolapse. By tuning in to your feminine body you will learn how to recognize, feel and heal with gentle, purposeful and targeted yoga postures.
October 18 th: Yoga as We Age – Moving Towards Menopause and Beyond
Celebrating your wise woman wisdom. Honouring the beauty of aging, learning self-care and soothing rituals and practices.
October 25 th : Yoga Nidra – Yogic Sleep for Rejuvenation
A spiritual blend of conscious relaxation and meditative visualization. Grounding, relaxing and manifesting. This ancient practice taps into the power of the subconscious mind to bring about deep relaxation and profound transformation. The development and focus upon a personal intention and resolution (sankalpa) will be explored.
Thanks Laura! I love how we have so much in common and live life through passion. Thank you for choosing me as your photographer and I have a feeling that we might have more projects together. Let’s see what the futures holds!
August 25, 2019
Twenty years ago, I spent three nights in Algonquin Park. I was with my friend Anny. Yes, we share the same name with a different spelling. It was Anny and Annie exploring the wild country, with our packs on our backs and innocence in our hearts. We had little experience being out in the wild on our own. We didn’t really know what we were doing and over packed with beer bottles clinking in our backpacks, a $20.00 tent purchased at Walmart. and a map that got incinerated by the rain.
The first night we slept in a swamp and got bit from head to toe by mosquitoes. Night two found us sleeping in a pool of water. We were soaked to the bone. NIght three we crashed from exhaustion.
Those memories are etched in my mind and are in my arsenal of stories to tell around the campfire. I can recall the great big rock that we set our things out to dry on a warm, sunny afternoon. I remember waterfalls, and lakes filled with lily pads. I remember the feeling of friendship as we worked together, as we haplessly navigated the lakes and portages.
Fast forward to this summer and when Jane, suggested that we do the Baron Canyon at Algonquin Park, the same loop that I did with Anny, I replied with an enthusiastic yes!
Day 1- Campsite St. Andrews Lake
This time around we came well equipped. There is nothing like second chances to make things right. We left our cars at squirrel rapids and got shuttled by Algonquin Outfitters to Achray beach.
An hour off schedule we arrived at Achray and finally loaded up the canoes with our gear. The bear barrel was like dead weight. I needed help from both Ann and Karie to put it on my back. It was a monster of a thing and it took all I had to keep my balance and set it in the bottom of the canoe. I wondered, how the hell we were going to portage that thing.
Overhead the sky was a light grey and beyond It was angry. Thunder could be heard in the distance and a great big hiroshima cloud loomed near the opposing shore. We loaded up the canoes and set sail. There was concern that we were going to get caught in the storm, so we paddles with urgency towards the only portage of the day. Three quarters of the way across the lake a rain squall blew straight for us. The great wall of rain crossed the waters with determination and there was nothing to be done about it It was like night and day and hit us like a hammer on a nail. One second we were dry and the next we were getting pelted down with the torrential downpour. The wind tried to push us off course but we stayed strong. The buckets of rain made visibility low and I paddled with one eye shut and the other half open. Ships Ahoy Mate, have no fear Annie Bananie is here, Ann and Jane were about 200 meters away from us. Ann’s red poncho fluttered in the wind like a wild, sail and sure enough Karie and I I found ourselves in fits of giggles. Under the laughter lay fear of being in this body of water, surrounded by lightning.
We finally made it across the lake and into a small winding river the rain abated and things started to feel safe again. We had a short 50m portsge and a forty minute paddle to our first campsite on Lake St. Andrews. As soon as we slid onto shore, we set up camp. It was my night to make supper, so I made the fire. Ann and Jane set up the tents and Karie set up our beds and cleaned up from our meal. We laughed under the full moon, like coyotes howling into the night. I love those full belly laughs.
Day 2 - Campsite High Falls Lake
We had a slow morning of reading, breakfast and chatting. The lack of stress and ease at which we started our day was beautiful. Shortly after lunch, we left camp and headed to high falls, which is a little hidden gem. It is a magical place that many campers come to appreciate. The falls run over a smooth rock that makes for a perfect slide. The water descends into two lagoons and feeds into a bigger waterfall that runs into High Falls Lake.
Back at camp things felt cold and damp and I hadn’t pictured myself swimming, until I got there and the beauty of it swept me away. My bathing suit was snug as a bug in my wet bag, still at camp. so my only option was to swim in my fleece pants and t-shirt. Ann and I slid down the rock and swam the two pools that led to the edge of the waterfall. Karie sun bathed on a rock like a happy lizard and Jane sat back taking it all in. I felt it, that excitement of being on an adventure and stepping out of my box. It’s that feeling of being alive and grateful for the world around me.
Mid-afternoon, we were back to paddling. Two portages were between us and our second night’s sleep. We had to make our way to High Falls Lake. Ann was the first to carry a canoe by herself. I was amazed that she was doing it and was like: “I can do that too!” After trying it, I realized that carrying the canoe alone was easier than carrying it with another person. When I carried it alone, I felt in control of it’s weight on my shoulders. I could raise the front, tip in such a way that gave me better visibility of the rocky, tree rooted hiking path. In no time we figured out our strategy. Two people would help set the canoe on the carrier’s shoulders. To soften the weight, we put Karie’s sweater between our bony shoulders and the groves of the bar. We soon found out that one had to be cautious. While going down hills the back of the canoe would hit the rocks behind us, and a gust of wind could make the canoe into a sail and send you in different directions. In those instances, we stood strong and grippped the canoe for dear life, in hopes that it wasn’t going to fly off, or break your back. As the trail wove in and out of trees, we had to calculate our moves. Karie got stuck between two trees and had to backtrack a few steps and maneuver around them. We felt so kick ass and empowered!.
We saw some people portaging their gear in perfect efficiency. They arrived at the portage, grabbed all their gear and walked to the end of the trail, loaded backup and set sail. Not us, we established our own sense of efficiency and went back and forth two,three, sometimes four times.
Jane was our cartographer and great navigator. I was grateful for her suggestions and sense of direction in where we needed to be and go. That night we discussed our options to paddle to the canyon. Jane explained that we had two options. Option one was the 750m from High Falls to Ooze Lake, followed by the 400m to the canyon. Option two was the Cascades route where 7 smaller portages would guide us down the Cascades waterfall. Option 2 had more portages compared to option one that had fewer portages but more steps. After a little deliberation, we decided on the Cascades route. I was excited because that was the same route that Anny and I had done all those ages ago. I was excited and also a litte daunted on how we were going to portage all our gear through all those portages! That bear barrel was a sore in our backs.
We’d read that High Falls Lake wasn’t much of anything, but we loved it’s rugged beauty. It had little flat rock islands, that made perfect hang out spots. Other than our neighbour Jo from Cornwall, we felt alone in the wilderness. As the sun lowered in the horizon we settled onto a flat rock island , soaking in the heat of the day. We took some time to do our own thing. I had a tension headache, it happens everytime I carry heavy loads on my shoulders. Thank goodness that Jo our neighbour had Tylenol. That night, I ate supper and went immediately to bed. I was bone tired and a little punch drunk
Day 3 - The Cascades + Barron Canyon
Day three, we knew that we had a big day ahead of us. We ate an early breakfast packed up and set to paddling to our first 100 meter portage. We set forth with a positive attitude and agreed, that we had to do, what we had to do. We crossed High Falls lake and found two portage signs one went to ooze lake, and the other to the cascades. We were at a crossroads and did not waver in our decision to portage the Cascades. Ooze lake seemed like it was the route most traveled and I am the kind of person, who like to take “the road Less traveled”.
Our first 100 meter portage was a rocky one. The path was dotted with great, big, round boulders. You really had to watch your step. Jane fell back while carrying a pack on her back and one on her front. The fall gave her a big contusion on her right shin. It immediately blew up into swelling and bruising. The weight of the bags held her down and there was no one around to help her up. She figured it out alone, stood up, set a bag down and continued on her journey. I was a little ways behind her carrying the canoe on my back, and when I saw her leg, I was concerned, I silently wondered if she had broken her leg. I didnt’ want to voice my thoughts and raise panic. Not long after that, Karie fell on her wrists, Ann hurt her leg and I got a small bloody gash on my right calf. These injuries in a short period of time at the beginning of our portage day made us realize that this trip had danger attached to it. We discussed, what a rescue would look like. We had no cell service and we felt pretty much alone on our path at that point. That is one thing about being on a path less trodden, you sometimes feel alone. We figured that if someone got hurt, one person would stay behind with the injured party and the other two would go find help.
Every portage brought us into a different path, with a different perspective from the last. There was the boulder portage as mentioned above where it lead us to a small little body of water, we literally paddled but a 100 meters before arriving to the next portage, which had a small waterfall and was about 450 meters. I guess this is why this route was called the cascades. We slowly made our way down, like the Ottawa locks. We did more taking things out of canoes and walking and transporting things and putting them back in canoes than paddling. There were some steep climbs and descents. About ¾ of the way through we found ourselves tired and stopped for our burrito lunch. Desert was peanut butter and nutella sandwiches, yum! It all tasted so good after working so hard. Food always tastes better when camping. There is something about the fresh air and the simplicity of living, the back to basics. When lunch was finished our bodies seized up. Karie felt in her knees and ankles, Ann in her hips, Jane’s leg was pounding with the swelling and I felt in my shoulders. The bones on our shoulders were bruised from the weight of carrying the canoes. We groaned as we got up and put on our positive faces and moved forward.
As I often do, while I am out in the world, I thought of my dad. A couple of days before heading into Algonquin, my mom called saying that my dad was in the hospial. He has not been well for years now with strokes and a damaged hip. Finally his legs have given out and they can no longer support his weight. My brother Facetimed while visiting him and when I told my dad that I was going to Algonquin Park his face lit up. He was an avid hunter/fisherman and spent many nights in surviving in the woods There are photos of him holding fish along a string, with a bright orange hat, overalls and a big smile on his face. He grew up in a family of fishermen and hunters. They believed that moose, deer, fish, caribou is a gift from God to keep us fed and healthy. So when in the bush, I feel like I am living part of my legacy. That the woods are part of my DNA. My adventures are often done with spirit for my dad. I love you dad!
Soon the portages became, but something of the past and we found ourselves paddling a beautiful stream with high banks on either side. A heron stood in tall reads, it’s long neck stretched to the sky and yellow beak pointing forward. The dusty, grey hue of his feathers and long legs had us mesmerized . As we approached it flew further along the canyon. It did this three times, and it was as though it was our guide, showing us the way. It was magical. All of our hard work paid off as we paddled through this mini oasis of trees, and bendy, waterways. Each bend brought more sensations of gratitude than the next. In time, high banks turned rockier and higher and eventually into a corridor of rock walls, towering above, framing the clouded, blue sky. We paddled with gentle strokes, experiencing our surroundings in silence.
That night, we slept in the canyon. We stayed up late, talking about all things women; motherhood, body image, school, our jobs, and relationships. This is what I love about hanging out with other women. It supports me and reminds me that I am not alone. As I age, I am realizing that one of the most important things for me in life is to connect. To connect with others, myself and nature. The next morning came to quickly and our paddle back to our cars easy. We all agreed that it was a great trip.
I left my women friends and drove to visit my dad and mom. As I drove the three hours from Pembroke to North Bay, I scratched a small itch on my back. A few days later it flared up into full blown poison ivy. Wherever, I go there are lessons to learn. On this trip, I learnt that I can carry a canoe on my own and to not pee in the woods with poison ivy.
My friend Annie once said to me “I like how you create businesses around the things that you love.” and it’s true. I wanted to be home with my kids, so I started a home daycare. I fell in love with felting and started giving workshops. I fell in love with yoga and started teaching. I have loved photography for forever and have created Annie Bananie Photography.
I love being an entrepreneur. It gives me the freedom to create something out of nothing and watch it grow into something that is viable. It enables me to set my own rules and frame work from which I can work and live my life. Yes, it’s hard work. I spend many hours at my computer editing photos, working on my website, marketing material, learning and so much more. All that work is worth it, it fuels me. I get so excited, when I get home from a shoot, and download the photos to my computer and see what story evolved from my time with my clients.
Photography is not only about taking photos but building relationships with people and I love that. I love meeting all kinds of people and finding that sweet spot where they can relax enough to allow their true natures shine through my lens. I have read that one important aspect of living a happy life is feeling connected to the people around you. In my life experience, I feel this to be true. When I connect with others, may it be my family, friends, a client and even a stranger, I feel happy.
Now for the bit about, why I am excited. I am excited because for the past four years, I have been working hard. My focus has been on building this business, so that I can gain enough momentum to retire from my daycare business. I am excited because I have been persevering and pushing through feelings of self-doubt. I am excited because I have had my best year yet!
This season, me and my camera have documented a 50th wedding anniversary, which was so touching it had me in tears. I am excited because I have a wedding booked for September and one booked for next summer 2020. I am excited because I have a family reunion booked for the end of August and a branding shoot for September 1rst. That does not even include fall family shoots. That makes me a busy, happy woman. I am not retiring tomorrow, but I definitely feel like there is a momentum happening, that encourages me to keep going. The universe has my back and I am on the right path! It’s true what they say: “You get what you focus on.”
Well, that is it for today. One thing in having a business is that there is always something to do, but once in a while I need to put all of that aside and be present to my family and partner. I am currently at the cottage and after posting this, I will bring my attention away from business and towards family and friends. I will spend time in nature, take deep breathes and slow down time. Life does whizz by and I have to slow down and appreciate all of it.
May you have an amazing long weekend and talk to you soon. One more thing, I can’t sign off before giving photo credit to Drew Clipperton Photography for the photo of me demonstrating my excited face. Thanks Drew!
“Yoga lights my fire. "
This month we are talking with Zofia Kumas-Tan. I met Zofia in April while doing a branding shoot with Vraie Nature Yoga + Mo/uvement. She teaches at the Chelsea Studio and is passionate about yoga and Kirtan. Keep reading for her insights and a deeper look into who she is.
Zofia thank you for being here and sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. First can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a mom of two, a wife, a daughter, a teacher, a lifelong student, a yogi… It’s a bit hard to sum up! At heart, I could say that I’m a seeker of Truth - of all that is Good, and True, and Real. What I’ve come to know, limited as it may be, I try to share with the people in my life, either by example, or through my teaching, or through my blog. I try to live simply, as much as I can, taking care of my family, my home, the land around me, the community around me. Offering my gifts with love and devotion - this is my aim, my yoga, my life.
I love that you aim to live simply. I also believe that simplicity is more. You teach yoga, meditation and lead a Kirtan band. What drives you forward in these practices?
What drives me forward? Wow, that’s a good question. Joy... Curiosity… Love. Before kids, I used to work as an occupational therapist, in hospitals and in health policy research. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. When I found my way back to yoga after having children, something clicked. Yoga lights my fire. Yoga philosophy really touches something in me. I feel such joy in contemplating these great questions of life - the questions that yogis asked thousands of years ago: Who are we really? How can we find peace and happiness in this life? And there is something just magical about asana practice - so simple, yet so transformative, so enlivening. Feeling like I’ve discovered a gold mine, I want to share it with others. A big motivator for me, too, is my children, my family: I think it is Love that drives me forward to find the best in myself, so that I can bring that highest part of me to them... so that I can be a Light to them, in times of darkness... so that I can help them to see the Light in themselves.
I have felt the power of yoga and it’s philosophies. It is a wonderful practice that is able to change a person’s life. Now, let’s talk meditation. There are so many different kinds of meditation practices. Can you tell us what meditation means to you and what kind of meditation you practice?
Meditation, as I understand it, is the focusing of the mind on one thing. All of one’s life can be a meditation, if the mind is focused on one thing. Making breakfast for my family can be a meditation, if my mind is truly focused on that one thing. Doing yoga postures can be a meditation. The key is to keep the mind present, in the here and now, in a state of calm observation - not judgment, not reaction, just observation - and when the judgements and reactions come, you just observe those too! To steady the mind, to keep it focused, you can hold an intention in the mind, or a mantra in the mind, or you can focus on your breath as you move through whatever you’re doing. Yoga and meditation are not just on the mat. That said, I do like to practice seated meditation, too. I have a meditation corner in my bedroom, where I sit for about 15 minutes every morning. I practice japa meditation, which is the repetition of a mantra, usually but not always with a mala (string of 108 beads). I sit, light my little oil lamp and get myself settled in my seated posture - tall spine, open chest, soft face. I take a few mindful breaths. Then, holding my mala, I begin to repeat my mantra - one repetition for each bead. Afterwards, I sit for a few moments, no mantra, just silence. I say my closing prayer, and then I start my day.
I also use my time in the kitchen as a meditation practice. I guess that it’s a place that I spend a lot of time. Can you share with us your mantra and it’s meaning?
I’d rather not share my specific mantra - I don’t know why, it’s just a feeling I have. But every yoga mantra is valid - and they all lead to the same place, deep within the heart, way beyond the grasp of the mind. “Om” is the simplest and most powerful mantra, said to contain within it all the mantras. It’s meaning has many layers. The way I feel about “om”, it’s like a reaching up, from deep within you, up towards the Divine. It’s like reaching out your hand to God, or to the Universe, saying “I’m here, singing for you, waiting for you, inviting you to come with me” The key is to stick to one mantra every time you sit for japa meditation. Traditionally, a person would receive their mantra from their teacher, but you can also pick your own mantra. A book I’ve found very helpful on this whole topic is “Meditation and Mantras” by Swami Vishnudevananda.
Thanks for your honesty. I can see that your mantra is a very personal thing, that you hold close to your heart. Who is your spiritual teacher?
I don’t have a “guru” in the traditional sense of the word. I did my yoga teacher training under Ivy Xie-McIsaac of Wishingtree Yoga, in Kanata. I feel such gratitude for her teachings; it was she who showed me the depth and breadth and beauty of yoga. I have continued my yoga studies with Sylvie Gouin (Inspired Living with Sylvie, in Ottawa). Ivy brought the Bhagavad Gita to life for me, and now Sylvie is guiding me through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. What a blessing to know and to learn from these two strong, luminous women. I’m also very much inspired by the life and teachings of Swami Sivananda and his disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda.
And apart from these “formal” teachers, I can say that my kids and family are my greatest teachers. I mean, who else can push your buttons like your family? That’s how you come to realize what your buttons are! They show you! And they test all your resolutions, all your ideas. “So, you think you’ve got it figured out - what are you going to do now? How are you going to apply all those teachings in real life? How are you going to stay calm and centered and loving, when we are bouncing off the walls and leaving a trail of socks all around the house!” They don’t say that in words, of course, but they sure make you think! They’re truly great teachers, and great supporters, and an inspiration in many, many ways.
Thanks for the reminder, because I definitely get my buttons pushed by the people that I love. Approaching those moments as teachings is a great perspective. You are also part of a kirtan band. I love the story of how your band came to life. Can you tell us about your group and how it came to be?
When I started my teacher training in 2015, part of my training was to participate in a monthly kirtan. Kirtan is the singing of yoga mantras in a group, usually in call-and-response. So one person leads and “calls out” the mantra, and the rest of the group responds with the same mantra and melody. It’s a beautiful blend of music, mantra and meditation. But more than that, with kirtan, there is devotion - or “bhakti” in Sanskrit. Essentially, we are singing with hearts full of devotion to God, or to the Higher Power - the mantras contain the various names of this One Truth - and the songs are expressions of gratitude, or longing, or joy, or praise - sometimes even sadness, or loss. It’s an opening of the heart to God, to the Divine: an offering of whatever’s in the heart to this One, and an invitation to that Great Love, that Divine Light, to fill our being.
Ivy’s husband, Stewart McIsaac, co-leads the teacher training with Ivy. He teaches the modules on nada yoga - the yoga of sound - of mantra and healing sounds. And Stewart leads the Wishingtree Yoga kirtans. So every month, over the year of my training, I attended kirtan and through osmosis and practice, I learned and came to love the core mantras. After my training ended, I continued to attend kirtan as often as I could, and lo and behold, us “regulars” ended up becoming a sort of band. We have Stewart on guitar, Ivy with tingshaws/shakers, Scot Dunlop on cajon, and me with drum or harmonium (a kind of a mini organ). Last October, we recorded an album together, “Water Way Chants, by Water Way Kirtana” Then, in December, I decided I’d like to bring kirtan to Vraie Nature Yoga & Mouvement in Chelsea, where I teach. Though I had originally thought that Stewart would lead kirtan, as he had always done, I somehow ended up leading the Chelsea kirtan that December, and have continued to do so every month. Stewart, Ivy and Scot are usually there to share their voices, instruments and energies. It’s wonderful!
I love how things can evolve and grow! What do you say to people who have never chanted before and feel strange/uncomfortable with chanting and saying that they don’t have a nice singing voice.
One of the greatest gifts of this practice is that, after the initial discomfort and self-consciousness, after the initial protests of the mind, you can really let go of your inhibitions and just sing! That is so incredibly freeing. To be able to express yourself from the heart, without fear of what you sound like, what you look like, what others might think… I wish everyone could experience this. To come to love the unique sound of your own voice, and to use it in such a positive, powerful, uplifting way… we can come to this place through kirtan and then allow this to touch all areas of our life.
If you had to share one teaching with the world, what would it be?
Not having time is no excuse. Make time for what’s truly important. Take good care of yourself and your circle of family/friends. Love yourself and your dear ones, truly, unconditionally. Bring as much light into the world as you only can - it can be in very small and simple ways - an appreciative rub behind your dog’s ear - a smile to a stranger. Connect with that Light that’s already inside of you, and let it shine.
What is your morning Routine?
I get up between 6 and 6:30. First, I step outside to let my hens out of their coop and to check on my garden, and then I shower. Actually, I wasn’t always a “morning person,” but showering in the morning, rather than evening, has really helped! Then, I sit in my meditation corner for japa meditation. Depending on the day, I might throw some sun salutations in there too. Then it’s time for my making breakfast meditation :)
You have hens! I love it. I have dreamed of having chickens. Also, it’s nice to hear that you made yourself into a morning person. No excuses right?
Thanks Zofia for your time in insights. You can find Zofia at the following workshops and classes…
Summer schedule at Vraie Nature Yoga in Chelsea: Mondays Yin Yoga 4:30-5:45pm, Wednesdays Classical Yoga 9:30-11:00am, Sundays Classical Yoga 9:00-10:15am
Three-week meditation session at Meredith Centre in Chelsea: Wednesday, September 4, 11, 18, 7:30-8:45pm
You can reach Zofia with questions about these or other offerings at: email@example.com
On September 1st, 2019, Zofia and I are inviting our community at large to my Studio in the Woods for an outdoor kirtan celebration. We will gather and chant to the rhythm of mantra and elevate our vibrations to a higher frequency. The event will be photographed and Zofia and her band members will use the photos in their promotional material and social media feeds. It’s called a branding photoshoot and I look forward to seeing you there. All are welcome!
What was your inspiration to begin True You Apparel?
Following my second maternity leave, I decided not to return to my permanent position as I wanted to stay home with my boys while they were young. My mom did the same thing when my brother and I were little and we both look back on that time as so special. My mom was my inspiration for starting a business as she started and ran a children’s exercise program called Tot Romp while she was home with us. It was ahead of its time and such an amazing opportunity for parents and children to interact in a structured exercise and playtime environment. I had always wanted to start a business but hadn’t taken the time to really hone in on what I wanted to do or how I would go about doing it.
I love that you are following your mother’s lead. It shows, that as mother’s we really are examples for our children. I understand that True you Apparel is more than a clothing line, but a mission to empower women. Tell us more!
Yes, absolutely!! True You Apparel came from my love of momlife and my love of self-care, fitness and my own time to do those things. I think there can be a lot of guilt that surrounds moms taking time for themselves but, truthfully, I find that we are so much better when we do. It took me a long time to come to that realization and to do these things for myself but the really wonderful thing about this business is how much it has personally affected my own lifestyle. I like to ask the question ‘What’s your WHY?’ because I think to focus on that and let that drive you is the best motivator to take time for self-care and fitness.
The clothing line is geared towards moms but can apply to all women - whatever your responsibilities are, your age, where you are in life, etc - we all lead busy lives but taking the time for ourselves is so important and I want to encourage and motivate others because I really notice the difference in how I carry myself, react and respond to things.
Prior to launching this business what was your job? Did you have fears about letting go of your secure stream of income? What would you tell someone, who dreams of having their own business?
Before I launched my business I was on maternity leave from my job as an Event Coordinator. It was a BIG decision not to return to a steady income and the decision was not taken lightly. My husband and I had many conversations about it, I spoke to my family and friends about it and everyone was very supportive of whatever we decided. Ultimately, we knew that this decision was the right one for our family.
In terms of advice for someone else considering doing something along the same lines and starting a business I would tell them to go for it if it is always something they will wonder about. If you love it, go for it. I think that’s the biggest thing… you have to LOVE it. It can’t feel like a chore because you’ll find it hard to get motivated. If you’re willing to work for it, put in time, endless amounts of effort and put yourself out there then you should do it. It isn’t easy, there’s no magical formula. I am learning every single day. My second piece of advice is to network if you decide to start a business. The most incredible thing I’ve experienced in this process is networking and making connections. I have learned so much from bloggers, influencers, other shop owners and that has been such an informative and rewarding process.
In a Facebook post you talk about your early struggles with body image. I could relate to this post, as I also struggle with it. I am curious to know, did many women weigh in with their own struggles?
I didn’t hear directly from any women about their own struggles but I think it’s something so many women experience. Body image has always been something I’ve struggled with - there are things I would change for sure but I’m learning to give myself grace and to remind myself that I am always a work in progress. I look at my two boys and I know what amazing things my body has done and that’s a good reminder.
I read on your instagram post @trueyouapparel that you are involved in a virtual gym? What is that exactly?
Yes! So The Virtual Gym is a healthy lifestyle community and accountability group on Facebook for the coaching business I am now a part of. We use Beachbody on Demand for workouts & nutrition. It is such an amazing community of women who encourage, inspire and motivate each other. I love working out at home - it fits so well with my family life and lifestyle - but I truly never feel alone as there is this wonderful community alongside.
What is your morning routine?
I’m so happy you asked about this! I love mornings now, but that wasn’t always the case. I have trained myself to be a morning person (and my two kids helped with that too!) because I find that getting my workouts in at that time and having that time to myself sets me up for the entire day - it centres me, gives me focus and I feel more in control of whatever else comes up during the day. So here is my morning schedule:
5:50am - Alarm goes off with the motivation phrase ‘Wake up & be awesome’ but I like to change this up so it’s always inspiring!
Get workout clothes on and head down to the basement where we’ve set up our home gym
Press play on my workout - right now I’m doing 21 day fix with a group of women (they only take 30 minutes!)
Come upstairs, drink a glass of warm water with lemon juice
Shower, get dressed & by this time my husband and the boys are up and we’re off for the rest of the day.
I love hearing that you made yourself into a morning person. Maybe there is hope for me, lol. What is your favourite workout?
I really love anything cardio based as I feel the most revived afterwards - there’s a workout in 21 day fix called Dirty 30 and it’s one of my faves because it’s cardio, weights and core all in one - a great workout package! I also love to run since I can take it outside in nice weather.