So how are things in Toronto?
They’re great. Everything’s good. Have I met you before?
No, you haven’t but it feels like that after doing research preparing for this talk. You have an interesting story.
Well, ok…nice to meet you!
I happened to find you through Downward Dog Yoga Centre by way of a media program prepared for me by Destination Toronto which also featured Sweat and Tonic. Your background in dance and yoga matched our interests in building community. How did you get started practicing yoga?
So, I competitively danced my whole life from 3 years old to about 17. And at 17 when in high school, as you may know in the world of competitive dance-I was practicing every night after school until about 9 or 10 pm. And there came a point where I was forced to decide-am I going to pursue professional dance as a career or should I be trying to get into university spending more hours doing homework instead of dancing. So I made the decision to leave the dance world to have more time for my studies. And with that, I began to replace dance with yoga-for just one hour a night instead of the whole evening.
Growing up in Collingwood, Ontario-a small ski town, I found a yoga studio to start and just fell in love with it. Yoga was such a kinder world to me at the time so I continued to practice.
I then went on to university here in Toronto at TMU studying sociology and psychology and throughout my degree I worked at a yoga studio at the front desk. I ended up doing my yoga teacher training through that studio (at a discount) because I worked there. After training, I became a yoga teacher and started teaching full-time. I taught there all the time as it was my favorite studio in the city. And sadly, it closed down during the pandemic. I was actually managing the studio at the time when it closed. It was a big shame, and I was really sad that it had to close.
I re-entered the fitness world about a year and a half ago post-pandemic. And so I was able to start teaching again and networking at new studios that I had never worked at before. So now I teach at about 7 studios here in Toronto.
Wow, 7 studios. That is amazing.
Yeah...it’s really fun.
How do you manage teaching at all 7 studios in different locations? How do you do this with just 7 days in a week like that?
Teaching yoga full-time, if you’re going to do it full-time and it’s your only income, you actually have to teach at many studios. One studio typically doesn’t, in my experience, give you enough classes to provide the income you need to live, mainly because every studio wants to have a variety of teachers.
I find that if you’re teaching full time you have to stretch yourself across a few places. So I’ve found myself at 7 seven studios that I really love and love the communities in those spaces. Then I say, get a bicycle. And if you have a bicycle you can bike across town to all the different studios. And my classes, they all kind of fall into a nice scheduling situation for me where I do teach 7 days a week but it’s truly the best job ever. The schedule for me is not a problem-it’s amazing and I enjoy doing it.
Can you speak about how yoga was a completely different environment from competitive dance? Was this like Dancing With The Stars or Ballroom Dance?
For me, when I danced competitively I would go and dance at local competitions. It was not ballroom or partner dancing. And I would either compete solo or on a team mainly. We would do jazz, ballet, contemporary, hip hop…all different styles of dance. And I absolutely loved it, but it was just quite demanding. I would finish school at 3 pm every day and then go practice dance until about 9 or 10 pm afterward.
I found my experience in the dance world was pretty strict. With some instructors for example, many dance teachers didn’t care how you were going to get into the splits, you were just going to get into the splits even, if it meant they were going to push you into them. It was a lot of that, and for a time I enjoyed that intensity. Even now I find myself being that way when teaching some of the more power-styled yoga classes.
But when I started going to yoga, I noticed the instruction was more of working with what you have not forcing it and at your own pace. Building your practice and meeting you where you are at and not forcing it. And that felt like a kinder-more welcoming world. I initially meant to only go to maintain a certain level of fitness because I didn’t want to lose all my hard work gained through dance. But then, I fell completely in love with the philosophy of yoga and the emotional impact that it had on me, with the physical aspects coming second.
It feels really great to stretch and to get strong-but I've found that it’s more of an emotional practice for me. And the meditation aspect for me has changed my whole lifestyle as a human being. So that’s what I mean when comparing it to my experience in the dance world vs yoga to me.
I feel that when anyone devotes themselves to a physical practice or movement practice of any kind, I believe movement should be something that gives you that light and opens that part of your mind and emotional body-where then the physical part of it comes as a complement. I simply can not do movement-that doesn’t give me that emotional element first-it needs to be a spiritual experience.
How has yoga in practice affected your day-to-day?
I think the practice of yoga and the classes that I take and teach involve meditation. When you start to develop a strong meditation practice, I believe it just keeps you so mindful of your body and being present in the moment. For example, when biking downtown Toronto it can be a real video game experience and you have to be careful. And when it comes to biking or in my personal relationships, because of mediation I am able to process things at a slower pace. I’m more mindful in my communications, so meditation has impacted every part of my life.
Meditation can change every aspect of your life and you can kind of weave it into all of your interactions and experiences. For example if someone cuts me off when riding my bike-I’ll take a moment to pause and breathe and as long as everything is safe and what I'm feeling is okay there’s less of a negative reaction to what just happened. You know everything just slows down with the practice of yoga-it’s definitely a lifestyle as opposed to being work.
Is what you have learned in practice be considered micro-dosing meditation?
Totally. And I weave it into my classes. I’ve definitely taught 45-minute-only meditation classes before. I think that mediation can be done in any setting by focusing on your breath in the moment. We could do it right here right now while keeping our eyes open and communicating with one another. So in that regard, you can really tap into it anywhere.
I think that meditation can help us process our emotions and to be more reflective. I’m really big on feelings and processing emotions through meditation in real-time, instead of internalizing them and allowing them to come out in moments where when you get cut off by a car or any unpleasant situation that encourages a negative response.
What's been your experience teaching at Downward Dog Yoga Centre?
I absolutely love working with the Downward Dog Yoga Centre. It's always been a dream of mine to teach there, for a very long time. Even with a change of ownership-Downward Dog is one of the oldest studios in Toronto, one of the most reputable and I feel very lucky to be there.
Karen, the owner has been very amazing, she's very kind and warm. I adore my communication with her. Then there's Danielle, the manager of the space and I communicate with her as well and have had the same experience of being so warm and welcoming. It's a very innovative studio. Its studio prioritizes the roots of yoga over emphasizing the physical fitness elements. The instruction leans to the Eastern methodology and approach.
When it comes to travel and retreats there and in other places, is there anything you have on your mind that you want to share?
A very close friend of mine and I did a yoga retreat this past February to Oaxaca Mexico. It's her retreat. She organizes it and brought me along to do half the teachings that we held every day. It really was unbelievable. We had planned to do this first one before the pandemic and it got pushed years forward because of it, and we were finally able to bring that to life this year.
The retreat was so special, so beautiful. We held two yoga practices a day along with a lot of emotional and healing work with a lot of workshops and connection activities. We very much value both the physical and emotional sides of the experience.
And yeah, I love leading yoga retreats. And yes, we are planning to do it again next February!