A Young Yogini Begins Her Journey
My yoga experience began in the early 1970s when I attended a class in Iyengar yoga at the Kitchener, Ontario YM/YWCA. From then on, I practiced yoga while watching Lilias Folan’s televised hatha yoga classes and guided her books, those of Karen Zebroff and other yogis. I explored the writings of the Western Zen philosopher, Alan Watts. Members of my family probably would have said that my yoga journey began even earlier.
While completing my undergraduate BSc (Hon) in environmental biology at the University of Calgary and beginning my career in environmental research and communications in western Canada, I fell in love with hiking, backpacking and cross-country skiing in the mountains, and only dabbled in yoga. Guided mostly by books and cassette tapes (I didn’t own a TV once I left home to go to university), my yoga practice became sporadic.
Inspired by the Young at Heart
However, while working at Banff National park and living in Canmore, Alberta, I took a class at the Canmore Lbrary. I recall being absolutely inspired by two widows in their 70s who were able to do headstands with ease! I remember hoping I would be as healthy and strong when I reached their age, and that yoga looked to be a means of accomplishing that goal.
From Canmore, I moved to Newfoundland in 1981 as a newlywed, to take on a challenging management job with Parks Canada in Terra Nova National Park. Yoga went on the back burner. I relied on sporadic home practice using the yoga books by Lilias Folan and Kareen Zebroff as a guide.
When my husband and I moved to Revelstoke, B.C. in November 1985 so I could begin work as the Chief Park Interpreter at Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks, opportunities arose to take Lynn Swift’s yoga workshops in Banff, a four hour drive away. Occasionally, she even did special workshops in Revelstoke. These experiences re-kindled my interest in yoga.
When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears
Moving to Calgary, Alberta in 1988 to begin a middle management job in Parks Canada’s regional office opened the gate to my steady yoga practice. In 1990, seeking physical exercise and an antidote to a stressful office work situation, I began to take a series of classes from Yasmin Manji, a decision that changed my life for the better.
Yasmin was the perfect yoga teacher for me. Her innovative classes challenged and inspired me, both physically and mentally. I learned about the many facets of yoga, not just the different approaches to the physical practice of yoga, but also pranayama, meditation, philosophy, etc. She also ensured we learned about and experienced varied yogic approaches, both sharing with us what she learned at workshops and conferences, bringing in guest yoga teachers (including to my thrilled amazement, Lilias Folan), and taking our class to yoga retreats outside of Calgary as well as in town yoga events. Yasmin encouraged us to practice yoga between classes, encouraging us to do shoulder rolls and ten sun salutations on a daily basis. I tried to make that a habit, especially on weeks when I had to miss a class due to business travel.
In the summer of 1995, for important, personal, family related reasons, Yasmin had to temporarily suspend her yoga classes. Until then, I hadn’t realized how dependent I had become on attending Yasmin’s yoga classes 2-3 times per week. I began my own daily personal yoga practice in earnest based on what I could remember from classes. When classes began weeks later, the daily personal yoga practice stuck, and continued for the rest of my life.
Yoga, along with my husband, Chris Junck, and my experiences in nature, all helped me through a series of reorganizations and budget reductions that began in 1990. Likewise, without Yasmin’s Yoga, the rejuvenation from hiking and cross country skiing in the Rockies, and the support of family, friends and colleagues, the emotional impact of my layoff in the late 1990s from the federal government, would have been much worse. Parks Canada had to cut 50% of its employees over three years, and “parkies” dispersed in many directions. I chose to go back to university during the period of ongoing reorganizations, and obtained a Masters of Environmental Science in 1995 and a PhD in Geography by 2000. It was time to find another career opportunity.
Savouring the Yoga Smorgasbord
In late September 2000, my husband and I moved to Victoria so I could take on an exciting new job as the Manager of Habitat Protection with the BC Ministry of Environment in Victoria, British Columbia. Although I greatly missed Yasmin’s teaching and the camaraderie of the people who regularly attended her class, Yasmin had already helped me appreciate that I could learn from any yoga teacher and benefit from any style of yoga.
Victoria had much to offer and over the next dozen years, I sampled a huge variety of yoga approaches, including Hatha, Iyengar, Astanga, Raja yoga, Vijnana, and Anusara, with some exposure to Kripalu and Kundalini. Many of these are identified in the In Gratitude section of this website. During this time, while attending classes at Yoga Shala and Moksana yoga studios, and at yoga getaway weekends at the Saltspring Centre for Yoga, I became aware of and interested in yoga teacher training programs there. I longed to deepen my practice and immerse myself in such intense training but knew it would be impossible, given my all consuming dedication to my work as a manager.
Nevertheless, Yoga helped me cope with difficult times — a series of budget cuts, periods of downsizing and reorganizations that began in February 2002, then separation and divorce from my first husband in 2006/07 after 25 years of marriage, and eventually and ironically, my layoff from the British Columbia provincial government in January 2012.
When One Door Closes, Another Opens
I am basically an optimistic person, someone who chooses to move forward instead of being consumed with anger, regret and fear. I was fortunate to find a soul mate in Ian Hatter, who I married in August 2009, a colleague who also enjoyed yoga, hiking and nature.
Ian was incredibly supportive in the wake of my layoff from the BC Government when I realized that, unexpectedly freed from my management job, I could pursue yoga teacher training after all. Ironically, I had listed as one of my goals for the year to finally read the Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali, always a required text in any YTT program.
I sought advice from yoga teachers from whom I was taking classes and then developed some rating criteria to use to assess the various YTT schools. One of the best pieces of advice came from Tara Nargang of YogaNerd, who said that teacher training was just the beginning of the journey to become a yoga teacher, reaffirming my belief in continuous learning.
I had not heard of Eoin Finn, or his Blissology YTT program until Liz Zdunich of Namaste Inspired Athletics told me about him. Liz urged me to go to a workshop he was leading that next weekend at Semperviva Yoga in Vancouver to assess whether his style would work for me and use than to inform my decision.
It was Liz who astutely recognized that Eoin’s Blissology approach, which included nature appreciation as part of his yoga teacher training program, would resonate with me. When I saw that David Suzuki’s book, The Sacred Balance, Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, was one of the text books, I was intrigued, as none of the other YTT schools I had reviewed had listed any environmental readings or linked nature appreciation with yoga.
A concern in the back of my mind was that I might be considered too old to take yoga teacher training. However, I took courage from those inspiring women from Canmore who were still doing headstands in their 70s. When I discussed this concern with Eoin after participating in his workshop, he had no concern whatever about my age. In fact, he saw it as an asset. He said that one of the most important qualities of a yoga teacher was to recognize, understand and accommodate people’s physical limitations, starting with their own. He said he would expect me to pay attention to what my body was telling me and adjust my practice accordingly.
Eoin Finn accepted my YTT application. I spent the next few months reading textbooks, and completing other pre-course homework before making my way to Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in May 2012. The YTT experience was exhilarating and inspiring. All of the students shared amazing tales of how they ended up deciding to take Eoin’s YTT program. Many, like me, were going through major life transitions. Eoin and the other students showed tremendous kindness and support to me and my husband when my 91 year old father in law passed away just a few days into the course. We all got along, despite the intense schedule, which involved: detailed yoga posture study, yoga asana practice and meditation, lectures and discussions about anatomy, somatics, yoga history and philosophy, Sanscrit (taught by Eoin’s wife, Insiya from India), teaching practice, daily Blissology commitment reports, developing our life missions, other homework assignments, written and practical exams, and oh yes, the hugs, post lunch dance parties and puppy piles that instill a sense of loving kindness, joy and camaraderie in Eoin’s students.
Over the summer, our main assignment was to practice what we had learned so far and find friends, family members, and others willing to be guinea pigs as we developed and practiced teaching yoga routines and found our voices as yoga teachers. I loved teaching these free yoga classes at my home, and at several parks in Victoria, and developed several nature themed yoga scripts. For those who wanted to contribute something I offered an opportunity to donate to the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team’s “Bring back the Bluebirds” campaign and other ecological restoration projects. I raised $300.00 over the summer and early fall for GOERT.
The second phase of YTT began in the latter half of September 2012. Sadly, one of the students was unable to participate in part two due to a tsunami of sad and difficult personal circumstances. We had three newcomers join us, people who had taken part one of Eoin’s YTT and then been unable to complete part two for various personal and work related reasons. I respected Eoin’s kindness in understanding and accommodating his past and present students. Equally intense, this session focussed on instilling confidence in our teaching, increasing our knowledge of anatomy, reinforcing the key philosophical underpinnings of Yoga, and outlining practical information about yoga as a business. The issuing of certificates on September 30th, following the calculation of marks for the midterm and final exams and completion of teaching practicums was a joyous event.
Eoin’s YTT course provided a good foundation and the confidence to venture forth and start teaching yoga. During the fall and winter of 2012/13, Tara Nargang kindly let me sub for her at Thrive, and Mia Blackwell invited me to teach at her studio in Esquimalt, Metta in Motion. I also taught some classes from home. Any proceeds above rent costs were donated to environmental charities.
Nature Wise Yoga – A New Venture
On June 1st, 2013, I officially launched this website and my business, Nature Wise Yoga, the trail head for yet another path along my yoga journey. In 2012, I taught a total of 50 classes. In 2013, I taught 107 classes. By the end of July 2014, I had taught another 102 classes. These ranged from more challenging flow yoga classes to restorative hatha. My approach was alignment conscious, nature inspired hatha yoga. I encouraged people to do yoga outdoors whenever feasible given suitable space and weather. These Yoga in the Park classes have steadily grown in popularity.
I teach several classes per week, interspersed with short periods of time when my husband and I head out of town to renew our body, mind and spirit through our connection with Nature and each other. We enjoy many outdoor activities in parks and other natural environments – hiking and backpacking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, kayaking, bird-watching, botanizing, etc. We love doing yoga in these splendid prana-filled places!
The Journey Continues
Even though one becomes a yoga teacher, one remains a yoga student. As Tara Nargang told me before I took my Level 1 training, “YTT is just the beginning”. It is like many fields – the more you learn, the more you find you don’t know, and want to learn. I learn new things from my students and other yoga teachers, as well as the research, planning and practicing that I do prior to every class that I teach. In addition, I continue to take workshops and other yoga teacher training to maintain and augment my knowledge, skills, credentials, and certification.
In July of 2013, I took a module of Eoin Finn’s Level 2 “Beyond Alignment” Yoga Teacher Training in Ucluelet and his workshop for former students in Pemberton, B.C., where focused on activating the energy body, and learned a slow flow Earth Body Yoga practice that incorporates elements of Tai Chi with Yoga.
I have also continued to augment my professional development as a yoga teacher, by taking courses and workshops with the following amazing yogis and yoginis:
• Christine Lee (two Art of Adjusting courses plus Focus on Asana) ,
• Johnathan Boyd (Teacher Try-outs on Activate Your Voice Clearly, Teach What You See; See What You Teach; and Teaching Mixed Levels Classes)
• Christine Price-Clark (two Teacher Development Sessions),
• Natalie Rousseau (The Art of Mindful Sequencing),
• Chris Brant (Partner Yoga), and
• Mia Blackwell (Basic Thai Yoga Massage for Couples).
At the 2014 Victoria Yoga Conference, I attended the following classes:
o Wallflower Yoga (how to use the wall as a prop when teaching yoga) by Liz Zdunich of Namaste Inspired Athletics
o Teaching a Thematic Yoga Class by Laura Phelps
o YogaDopa: Yoga for Parkinson’s Disease by Kaitlyn Roland
o Jivamukti Principles of Assists in Standing Poses by Tina James
o Release Your Inner Psoas by Jules Payne
o Inner Strength Yoga (Pelvic Floor and Inner Core) by Melissa McLeod
o Wielding Your Why by Andrea Ting-Letts
o Sequencing Alchemy by Rachel Scott
o The Groove (empowering dancersize informed by yoga) by Liz Zdunich
o Thai Yoga Massage by Mia Blackwell
o Creative Dog Flow by Tara Nargang
However, what currently excites me and what is revolutionizing both my teaching and my personal yoga practice is learning the YogAlign Method developed by Michaelle Edwards of the Mana Yoga Centre in Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands – see http://www.manayoga.com/yogalign.htm . I discovered this method while doing on-line research prior to a class I was teaching to students who were experiencing various aches and pains – lower back, knee, wrist, etc. I read and re-read the manual, read articles Michaelle wrote, watched the DVD and YouTube videos, using them to inform my daily practice. The principles of the YogAlign Method made so much sense that I modified how I was teaching and practicing yoga.
In July 2014, I took a YogAlign Teacher Training course at the beautiful Shanti Yoga Studio in Nelson, B.C. July 2014 to become certified as a YogAlign affiliate teacher, the first (and currently only) one on Vancouver Island.
From a life and yoga practice sustaining point of view, YogAlign may be the most important step along the way in my entire yoga journey.