My transition from maiden to mother came at me the hardest late last night, where beneath the glow of a setting urban sun, and against the faces of 43 friends, colleagues and students, I taught my final yoga class at YYOGA. At nearly eight months pregnant, I wobbled around the room checking in with my students prior to class, accepting a series of hand written notes and heartfelt comments that later showed me just how powerful this yoga practice really is. From processing grief, to overcoming sexual assault, to learning to love oneself, to navigating the wrath of corporate Bay Street life, to surviving motherhood, to helping students manage the many stressors of downtown Toronto life, the words that they gave me on my last day teaching displayed how therapeutic and powerful the simplest acts of breathing, meditating and moving amongst a likeminded community truly is. I walked home with tears in my eyes for the work that I do, the courage and practice that my students embody, and the community that we compassionately built together over the past four years.
I know that yoga has changed over the decades – that it has been peeled and pulled apart and transformed into something so entirely distinct from where it came from. But through these letters and the conversations that defined my final week of teaching, I wonder whether or not it matters. Does it matter if we stick to tradition or recite the Yoga Sutras or memorize supposedly ‘right’ alignment cues and regurgitate them at our students?
Maybe all that really matters is that we create space. That we create space for people to come together in a collective and intentional and safe place, in an otherwise threatening world.
Maybe all that really matters is that we sit and breathe and perhaps experience a millisecond of quiet and take a well deserved vacation from the chaos of everyday existence.
Maybe all that really matters is that we move, after sitting stagnant for hours on end, after gazing down at our cell phones obsessively, after binding our bodies in skintight yoga clothes, maybe all that matters is that we remember how to move and how to play in these beautiful bodies.
Maybe all that really matters is that we slow down. That we let go of the never-ending lists of commitments and responsibilities that we have and take time to just be and feel the essence of being human, free from the judgement of others, the buzzing of our phones and the guilt of not being busy that plagues so many of us.
In my own life, yoga was never a strictly physical practice. During different periods of my life, I came to my mat for different reasons – I spent an entire winter attending Lana Sugarman’s yin yoga classes because they served as one of the few spaces of solstice and inner calm when I was going through a bad relationship. I spent two long summers obsessed with Serah Ruth Goldberg and her core yoga and vinyasa yoga classes that miraculously fused spirituality with strength in a way I never imagined possible. I was single in the big city and wholeheartedly committed to running a successful business as an female entrepreneur – her classes reminded me that everything was sacred, that abundance was deserved, and that strength grew from the inside out. I spent an entire year totally devoted to the stories and sequences creatively crafted by Juvumukti teacher Yumee Chung, falling into a state of pure bliss each time we slid from shoulderstand to savanasa. I spent the early days of my pregnancy hooked on Lisa Messina’s meticulous, patient and detail-oriented hatha yoga classes, where I finally felt safe to really, and curiously, listen to and honour my ever-changing body.
I credit those women, alongside my teacher trainees and my students, for helping me reconnect to my purpose, my sense of worthiness, my divine femininity and my purest form of joy. It was not their alignment cues, it was not their readings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it was not their honouring of tradition, that transformed me from darkness to light – it was the space they created and held and honoured. It was their patience, their compassion, their devotion to something so much grander and wiser than the stressors of everyday life. It was their commitment to study continuously so that they could always teach us students more. I am forever grateful to them, and to every other teacher who has courageously sat in front of a room a strangers offering their gifts, their stories and their teachings. Moreover, I am so grateful to lead various yoga teacher trainings over the past few years and to share the lessons my own teachers have offered me with new, curious, wonderful, bright eyed yogi’s. The students in my trainings felt like family and the dearest of friends to me. I am thankful to all of you.
The pace of my life changes now. For the next 1.5 months, I will continue practicing yoga, albeit pre-natal specific classes. I will write incessantly. I will learn to cook every nourishing stew imaginable. I will snack and nap and prepare for the birth of this little boy and the rebirth of me. Alas, no matter how distant I am from the community that brought me to tears last night, no matter how many months I spend away from this role, I want each and every one of you to know, to really really really know, and to feel, how incredibly grateful I am to have been blessed with your presence along my path.
Thank you. Thank you for the conversations, the classes, the giggles, the intentions, the dreams, the schemes, the questions, the french fries, the coffee, the walks through the park, the advice, the wisdom, the patience, the practice and beyond. We really do have the most incredible “job” in the world. Sometimes it takes walking away from it to really realize that blessing.
I’ll continue scheming and dreaming new little hustles from the comfort of my home (with my feet propped up and a delicious snack in hand). Stay tuned into my website www.ashleyholly.com for an online prenatal yoga series, lots of blogs, access to my yogapreneur e-book, and whatever else this baby brain imagines into reality. If you want to continue practicing with me, you can use the promo code ‘gratitude’ for $10.00 off my online yin yoga program, which includes 12 yin yoga sessions online.
The light in me thinks the light in you is amazing. Namaste.
In my early twenties, I was terribly stressed out. As a full time student and a full time waitress who was committed to an active social life and volunteer work, I burned through my energy and my days faster than my body could handle. A colleague recommended that I try the free university yoga classes to help me reduce stress, and I did. What I experienced, however, was far more complex than a mere reduction in stress. I felt the expansion of time, I found a new understanding of my body, and I discovered a quiet space to self reflect on where my stress was coming from and how could I manage it. This was my first introduction to yoga. Ten years later, I teach yoga full time, lead yoga teacher training programs, mentor new yoga teachers and advise companies and resorts around the world on how to embed yoga and wellness into their business plans. While I still face stress, I now have the tools and the community to help me cope. Here are my primary ten reasons why I practice yoga, and why I think that you should too.
- Reduce Stress: This is very real. I see it in my students everyday, and in my own life. When things get stressful, breath, flow, and meditate, and the inevitable slowing down that happens strips that stress away. There are many studies that link meditation to literal changes in the brain that reduce fear, anxiety and stress.
- Digital Disconnect: An entire hour of being completely disconnected from my cell phone is a blessing that I will never take for granted. My posture, my eyes and my brain deserve a break from hyper-stimulation and experience the world differently after each yoga induced disconnect.
- Self-Reflection: Pema Chodron, the very first yogi I read about, explains that “practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are.” This acceptance of self, without judgement, comes from moments of deep self reflection that are inspired on the mat, and eventually, off the mat as well.
- Strength: While ten years of yoga has yet to give me six pack abs, it has always sustained my healthy, toned and fit body. I feel strong and powerful, especially after heat-building flow, ashtanga and power yoga classes.
- Mobility: As a yin yoga teacher, I help people with immobility, chronic pain, arthritis and tension use yoga postures to achieve greater range of motion, mobility and hydration in their joints. Through targeting the fascia in our bodies, certain poses can really transform those tight and rigid parts of us into more limber and mobile joints.
- Community: Yoga has taught me how to openly, honestly, and even vulnerably, connect with family, friends and strangers alike. It has brought me a community of likeminded people who are inspiring and continually teaching me new lessons.
- Patience: My yoga practice has taken away my reactionary tendencies. Whether I get cut off in traffic, am surrounding by screaming children or stuck in a long lineup, the version of me that once got angry and frustrated now just breaths and repeats the mantra “this too shall pass”, and it does. It always does.
- Breath: We take over 17,000 breaths every single day. Yoga teaches us to notice each breath and embrace our breath as a coping mechanism for tension, stress, anxiety and emotional outbursts. From traumatic events to hard conversations to childbirth itself, the lessons I have learned about breath in yoga have unquestionably been the most powerful and transferable lessons to my everyday life.
- Overall Health: A wonderful review in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology concludes that yoga reduces the risk of heart disease just as conventional exercise does. If you are like me, and don’t enjoy going to the gym or running, yoga is the next best thing.
- Happiness: When I stumble and fall out of poses, it makes me laugh at myself. When I am basking in the bliss of savanasa, it makes me appreciate every person and experience in my life. When I am leading a class, I feel the joy created by community and commitment. Why do I practice yoga? Because. Yoga makes me happy.
If you are looking to explore the many benefits of yoga, and discover why the practice works for you, I would be happy to help you along on your journey. I host a series on online yoga programs that promote everything deep relaxation to muscular strength building and beyond.
P.S. I love wearing my Inner Fire tank and my sunset Inner Fire pants – all eco-friendly and sustainable and Made in Canada !!! If you love my “Be A Warrior, Not A Warrior” tank, please visit Inner Fire Clothes and get a 15% discount with my Promo Code “ashleym15”
- Blog originally published at Caela Berry
Practicing yoga throughout your pregnancy can be one of the most empowering, enlightening and inspiring experiences imaginable. The practice vastly supports your own health and wellness, easing the wretched leg cramps, lower back pain and swollen feet associated with carrying a baby. Moreover it also deepens your connection to your baby, while teaching you breathing techniques and movement rituals to assist you throughout your labour. Whether you are attending a specific prenatal yoga class or a all-level yoga class with your growing belly, the overall experience can be dramatically transformed by applying some or all of these tried and true tips from pregnant yogi-mamas.
1. Talk to your yoga instructor before class. Telling your yoga instructor about your pregnancy, what trimester you are in, and any complications or reservations you have about your yoga practice, enables your instructor to fully support you during class.
2. Practice near the door. In case of emergency – nausea, bathroom breaks or otherwise – avoid the hassle of scrambling through the room to exit and set up your mat near the exit.
3. Avoid heated classes. Pregnant women are advised to avoid increasing their body temperature too much which may increase neural tube defects and risk of overheating.
4. Use Props. More than ever, placing blocks under your hands in standing forward folds or sitting up on a bolster in seated poses can add a layer of support that your growing belly and rounding spine will love you for.
5. Go pee. There tends to be a shame or guilt around leaving the studio mid-class to go pee, but consider that there is a little human bearing down on your bladder all the time, and by holding it in you run the risk of UTI or leakage. You will enjoy your yoga practice far more if you take the time to step off your mat and hightail it to the bathroom.
6. Avoid pain and pressure. If you practiced yoga regularly before pregnancy, many of the asanas and breath work are fine to continue practicing. However, it is wise to skip certain poses that trigger pain, shortness of breath, high blood pressure or dizziness. Some recommendations to avoid include: inversions, intense abdominal work, deep back-bending, belly-down postures, deep closed twists, breath retention or breath of fire.
7. Plan your food and drink. If you have not already gotten into the habit of stashing your bag with fruit and crackers and granola bars, now is the time to do so. While traditional yogis resist eating hours before their yoga practice, my body forced me to abandon this rule during pregnancy. Especially in the first trimester, if you body is yearning for a snack, indulge. For hydration, experts recommend 8-12 glasses of water each day, with one more class for every hour of exercise.
8. Be mindful of adjustments and essential oils. While many of us adore the sensation of aromatherapy application or hands-on adjustments during yoga, it may be better to opt out during your pregnancy, unless you are with an experienced prenatal teacher. Various essential oils have adverse effects during pregnancy, while an unexperienced hands-on adjustment may risk throwing you off balance.
9. Listen to your body. More than ever, honour the invitation of deep inner listening. Slow down when you tire or lose connection to your breath, give yourself permission to opt out of poses that do not suit you, and take breaks as necessary. This is especially important when attending general classes where the group pressure to stay synchronized threatens to mute that inner voice. Your teacher and fellow students will compassionately understand why you are adapting the poses, twisting in the opposite direction to create an open twist, or doing cat-cow instead of cobra in your vinyasa. If you find the pressure too much to handle, it may be time to switch to prenatal specific classes.
10. Explore mantras and chanting. While chanting was not a regular part of my yoga practice pre-pregnancy, I found that every time I chanted OM or sang mantras, my baby danced inside my belly, and I felt inspired and reinvigorated. In Kundalini tradition, chanting the Adi Shakti mantra invokes the power and strength of the divine feminine and creative force. It is said to connect to the highest manifestation of the mother.
Adi Shaki, Adi Shaki, Adi Shakti, Namo Namo
Sarab Shakti, Sarab Shakti, Sarab Shakti, Namo Namo
Pritham Bhagvati, Pritham Bhagvati, Pritham Bhagvati
Kundalini Mata Shakti, Mata Shakti, Namo Namo
I bow to (or call on) the primal power
I bow to (or call on) the all encompassing power and energy
I bow to (or call on) that through which God creates
I bow to (or call on) the creative power of the Kundalini, the Divine Mother Power.
In a 2005 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, it was concluded that women who practiced yoga regularly during pregnancy were less likely to have preterm labor to or deliver a low-birthweight baby. Practicing yoga during pregnancy can become a shining light during otherwise trying times. The practice can relieve stress, tension and physical pain while building community and preparing your body and mind for the process of labour. As a yoga teacher, prenatal yoga teacher and pregnant yogini, the aforementioned tips come from my personal experience and the experiences of my students. Ultimately, the choices you make during pregnancy are up to you (and your doctor or midwife). For further support on your prenatal yoga journey, visit www.ashleyholly.com or follow my prenatal yoga journey on Instagram.
“Birthing is the most profound initiation to spirituality a woman can have.” – Robin Lim
Pregnancy is transformative in more ways than I ever could have imagined. While my yoga practice has always been a constant source of physical, emotional and energetic healing throughout my life, I had no idea that so much of it would be stripped away during pregnancy.
My prenatal yoga practice has taught me how to focus on the little miracle brewing inside of me, rather than the nausea, fears of motherhood and inevitable exhaustion. My practice has also given me permission to slow down, and sometimes, to abandon my practice altogether, when my body says no. For years, I have asked my yoga students to “listen to your body”, and in pregnancy, this becomes the most truthful and accessible mantra. Every woman’s pregnancy journey is unique, and so is their yoga practice, so I encourage all expecting mama’s to explore their own prenatal yoga preferences and practices, ultimately prescribing their own sequence that suits the dynamics of their own pregnant body. Please check with your doctor of midwife before beginning prenatal yoga.
Alas, here are my favourite yoga postures during my second trimester.
The hottest new trend hitting the yoga community is far less independent and far more collective than your typical yoga practice. Rather than staying glued to your yoga mat and desperately avoiding eye contact with everyone else in the room, partner yoga classes invite yogis to connect on a much deeper level, engaging in everything from steady eye contact to therapeutic touch to playful acrobatic moves with one another. That said, partner yoga does not have to mean hyper-advanced circus-like flying across the yoga studio, and can be practiced in much more subtle, haha yoga style.
Partner yoga is celebrated internationally for connecting two people in the creation of new, dynamic and supported yoga postures that use a fellow human body to add resistance, depth and new expression to the postures. Partner yoga is an exciting new way to approach your yoga practice accompanied by your partner, friend, family member or even stranger in one of the most powerful team building exercises out there.
The Need for Touch
The following examples show the drastic need for more touch in our society:
- When a cat cafe opened in downtown Toronto last year (a few blocks from my house), people patiently waited in long lineups to snuggle up with some stray cats over a cozy cup of tea.
- I teach private yoga at various tech startups that welcome pets in the workplace, noting the emotional benefits of a midday cuddle.
- Almost every summer weekend in Toronto at Yonge and Dundas Square, you can find strangers with kind smiles and open arms offering “free hugs”, and, ever more beautifully, people from all different walks of life, taking them up on their offer.
- In the UK, a cuddle cafe – complete with stuffed toys – recently opened with the sole intention of increasing happiness levels. In Japan, the new trend is rabbit cafes.
- Most tellingly, if you are feeling lonely and ‘out of touch’, the Rose Sheep service in Tokyo will send you someone to sleep by your side and cuddle you to bed (nothing more than snuggles). The cuddling service is increasingly popular with married women in their 30’s and 40’s.
Once upon a time, I had this grand dream that I could record a cheeky (but functional) series of airplane yoga videos on a flight, send it to the Presidents of Air Canada and Westjet, and be hired to film an in-flight yoga program. It almost worked, except after 3 minutes I was shut down by the flight attendant for illegally filming on an airplane.
The holidays are hard on our bodies and our stress levels. Staying balanced is key to coming back to reality in January without feeling guilt and shame over a month of binge eating and binge drinking without our regular fitness, yoga and wellness routines. I can be found guilty of this every single year. Each holiday season, my husband and I spend most of the time either on the road driving to a holiday party or salivating over cheese plates. While I always drag my yoga mat with me in hopes of hitting up a local yoga studio, the truth is… it never happens. Last year, I was so grateful for those quiet moments between festivities where I could roll out my yoga mat in my childhood bedroom to stretch (and digest) out my holiday gluttony. This year, I am sharing my beloved yin yoga for digestion routine with you.
The stories and the journeys of my yin yoga students at YYoga continue to wholeheartedly convince me that this is a worthwhile, healing practice. They all arrive on the mat for different reasons, they all leave with different lessons.
“In September, to balance the intense effort of marathon running, I started practicing warm yin with Ashley. Warm yin classes have proven to be a perfect complement to running as they have helped increase strength, flexibility, balance and mental acuity. I credit yin yoga for helping me stay healthy, assisting with recovery from high-intensity training, addressing postural and structural imbalance, preventing overuse injuries and ensuring that I’ll be running for decades to come.”
The Science: A five minute hold in a stretch can increase and improve the body’s immune system. “Mechanical input in the form of static tissue stretch has been shown … to have anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects.”
New to yin yoga? Our instructor, Ashley McEachern, asks her students to share their yin yoga journeys in order to help newcomers to the yin yoga practice understand why we yin.
As a yin yoga instructor and trainer, I am continually seeking out both scientific and anecdotal evidence that this practice of long held yin yoga postures, accompanied by therapeutic tools such as aromatherapy, breathwork and guided meditation, can actually help people. In Bernie Clark’s article “A Scientific Basis for Yin Yoga” he effectively articulates that traction, such as the feeling across the spine in yin yoga forward folds, “stimulates the growth of bones and their associated ligaments” while prolonged holds in poses create stress and tension which stimulates myofascial release, elongation of fascia and leads to pain reduction and increased mobility.