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.
We here at Well TO Do have been big fans of Ashley McEachern, Toronto yoga teacher extraordinaire, for ages. In fact, to quote WTD Co-Founder Erin: “Going to Ashley’s Yin class often feels like my version of going to church.” So, we couldn’t have been more thrilled when WTD Contributor Christine Noonan had the chance to catch-up with Ashley to talk Yin Yoga, aromatherapy, inspiration and so much more!
Guilty as charged. Just days after Pokémon Go – Niantic and Nintendos’ crowd pleasing app- hit the market, I joined my tech-nerd of a boyfriend for a walk down Toronto’s Bloor West neighbourhood, armed with a big screen iPhone and a map of my city and its lurking Pokémon.
Canadian yoga teacher combines her practice with love of writing to inspire world-wide change – Interview
Ashley McEachern is a yoga teacher, but she never knew she would be.
The Toronto traveller, business owner, writer, explorer and business women starting practicing yoga during her post-secondary career, but years later, she realized it is where she would inspire others to change the world firstly by becoming better, happier people.
Here is Ashley’s story:
Today’s Dream: Replace schedules with short stories, deadlines with tan-lines, gossip with philosophizing & smog with fresh air and clear water.
But in the meantime, I gotta learn how to get over my busy addiction… and my guilt complex for not teaching five classes a day and writing a best selling book. So here they are, my practical strategies to stop being busy.
- Be unbusy. Yep. Simple isn’t it? I am going to sit in my unbusyness. I am going to start reading the news again, writing silly stories, gardening and calling old friends.
- Give myself permission to do potentially un-financially rewarding tasks that fuel my soul, like writing.
- Determine the life I want and stick to it. I decided that I would not work weekends. Having worked in retail for years, I missed many holidays and weekends, and moving to my self-employed role, I promised myself not to do it. And then I realized, woops, I had indeed picked up a yoga class every day of the week, leaving me no TIME to go visit my family, head to the island or get lost in High Park. No. I will not work Saturdays.
- Cook beautiful meals. Part of being busy meant that my diet took the hit, and my wallet. As a gluten intolerant eater, I dropped 12$ a day on a salad at Fresh that I could have made at home and ate for days! Yesterday, I made a wonderful meal for my partner and I and sitting to eat, after leisurely cooking for an hour was magic, and oh so missed.
- Strategic To-do lists. I still have lots to do, but I can do it without being busy. I remember one point in my life where I was scheduling massage, acupuncture, floating, yoga and work back to back and frankly, not healing from any of it. Not anymore. The new to dos mean there will be EMPTY space between appointments and clients. Eg. “To Do: Nothing”.
- Meditation. 11 minutes a day. That is all. Try it.
- Accept nothingness. I teach restorative and leave blissed each practice, though I have not actually practiced myself. Why? Because, the purpose of restorative really is to do NOTHING, so I get to experience the energies of busy people like myself in their nothing time. Relief. Peace. Heavenly. What we all need.
- Wake up without an alarm clock, and surprise, I’m waking up earlier every day. Setting a morning routine and ditching the AM rush has been a wondrous shift in my quality of day. No technology until 9am. No technology after 10pm.
- Ask for help. Delegate tasks. A life long lesson of letting go, trusting others and chilling the f out.
- Sunday is family day, church day, community day, and for me, its going to be island day. Embrace one special day with people that inspire you. Do nothing with them. Or yoga followed by margaritas. You decide.
I am a yoga instructor. Most days, I teach three to five yoga classes, including hot yoga, commuting on my one gear bicycle from one studio to the next in the ‘in-between’ times, and sneaking in my own personal practice during the rare breaks that extend longer than an hour.
For the past six years, I genuinely believed that my delicious peanut butter chocolate chip protein bars, protein shake and green juice was sufficient (and healthy) fuel to support me throughout my days. I presumed that the protein powder in my morning smoothie would benefit my system considering the amount of physical activity I was doing. I was certain that despite the high levels of cane sugar, palm oil and obscure “natural flavours” listed in my go-to snack bars, consuming them was the right thing to do for my hyper-active lifestyle.
Six months ago, I learned, the hard way, that I was wrong. My teaching schedule had picked up, meaning I would leave the house at 9am and not return until 9pm Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was teaching more hot yoga than usual and never missed a personal practice. It was mid-October, and while the muscles and the money were flowing, my overall health was not. Something was wrong. It all came to fruition one day when I literally had to pull over on my bicycle on my way home from teaching, and vomit in an alley. It was humiliating and traumatizing, but the precise reality check I needed after months of ignoring my bodies’ more subtle signs (re: headaches, nausea and dehydration).
I began to visit all of the specialists, naturopaths, acupuncturists and MD’s I could get my hands on. We did all of the tests, from blood work to diabetic testing and beyond. I tried taking pills for adrenal fatigue and stacking my water with electrolytes. But time and time again, the same message came through from all of the people I entrusted my well-being to.
“You need to eat real food”.
In our modern day of busy living, mom’s home cooked meal is more of a pipe dream than a daily reality. Those twelve hour days left me little to no time to prepare a healthy meal that would actually fuel my body. While few companies are marketing a chicken roast with veggies and potatoes as the athletes daily dinner, it seems to me that the athletic world has become dangerously obsessed with micro-protein shakes, bars and juices.
This is not enough.
It is not enough for me, for my students whom I watch reach for a protein bar after taking a lunch time hot yoga class because they don’t have time for lunch, having just enough time to squeeze in yoga instead. Working in the wellness world I see athletes and yogis (myself included) continually exhaust their resources, surviving off high sugar protein bars and juice, and end up sick, when all they needed was a hearty balanced home cooked meal.
Finally, I bit the bullet and I signed up for a healthy meal delivery plan. The hardest part was my ego getting over the fact that I was not “together” enough to cook my own meals, that despite being a yoga teacher, I had not been honouring my body as I instructed my students too. Alas, when I overcame the self-imposed shame and guilt of not cooking and self-caring, I struggled with the numbers. It felt easier to spontaneously spend money on grab-n’go foods rather than fork out a monthly amount to a food delivery service. I assumed I was saving money.
Yet, when I finally sat down with my financial advisor, it became devastatingly clear that the amount of money I was spending on juices, shakes and bars was MORE than I would be spending on three meals a day that are stacked with lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and vegetables.
The results were fast and furious. No more headaches. No more roadside spews. No more living in fear of my diminishing health. I had to redefine what healthy meant in my own life, scaling down my schedule to teach less hot yoga classes and scheduling time to actually sit down and enjoy a full meal.
I often lead a yoga sequence based on the stomach energy line in our body, and I have started to invite students to ask themselves – how are you eating? What is the first thing you grab when you wake up and the last thing you consumer when you go to bed? How do you feel after breakfast? After lunch? After dinner? How much ‘eating’ time is spent plugged in? Do you sit to eat, or are you walking, running, rushing? I believe that ‘diet’ should really mean, daily self-reflection on the way that we nourish our bodies, and I am so grateful that there are people out there ready and willing to take care of us.
Check out my friends at https://healthymealplan.ca/ or take a day off and cook yourself a well-deserved home made roast with veg and soup and salad and… enjoy 🙂
Ashley Holly Yoga
Imprisoned by the shore.
Layers and lesions from her days as a whore.
Swept off her feet by a gangsters deceit.
So swept that the fed him and bed him his first born.
But so soon he left.
And she all but wept.
Fell for a new man on the brink of death.
Too soon so was she, in the hands of his misery,
hands that hit, hands that bit, hands that tortured until
she slit her own wrists.
She’d gone from bad to worse.
now bad had cleaned up.
so she begged him to save her.
from her new lovers thrust.
and he did, but fell back, into his holy ruin.
hands wringing the neck of the man who he knew.
hadn’t just hit, the woman, but had hit his girl too.
So he called up a friend from his time at the zoo.
said “kill him now. send him to his doom”.
two days later, misery met grief.
and the tears that she’d swallowed ran so deep you could see.
that love and pain are one in the same.
that love and hate are reflecting states.
rage met passion, love sparked lust,
and the screams for redemption were triggered by that thrust.
her hand, raw and broken.
from the wall it had bust.
when she aimed for her daughter.
but hit his old stash of dust.
Hit it once, then again, then again once more.
Any thing to kill the pain that was choking her.
Now that the bad was back in the gang.
and the worse was dead and shamed.
she sat on her porch.
for a melancholic sit.
looked at her baby girl.
playing in a pile of shit.
looked at her legs.
bruised and burnt.
looked at her life.
how quickly it had turned.
She wept enough tears to.
drown herself that night.
Then set herself on fire…
desperate for the light.
* Inspired by a conversation with the characters in the story that wrung my heart.
Two newlyweds strolled down the 118 stairs to reach me at the ocean shore this morning. One has green eyes that reflected like treetops rising above her rugged old green t-shirt. Looked like the kind of t-shirt you would get for free after volunteering at a Cancer walk for a day. The other, she had flowing blonde hair draped over oily skin. She looked like she was on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Smiling incessantly as I moved them from one yoga posture to the next. “We are here to rest. We just need to stop. No adventures. No plans. Just five days of nothingness before we go back to real life”. This seemed to be the norm here in the Caribbean. People, often newlyweds aged 30-45, were coming here to this little cove in St. Lucia with the sole intention of stopping. “We live in a high-rise in the middle of busy city in the UK. The view from all of our windows is just concrete. We just need to stop and breathe”. I heard a cry for help before they even hit their yoga mat. Settling in to their breath, I asked them to sit and listen to the birds, the ocean and the wind for the forthcoming minutes. I put them in the yoga asanas, one and then another, and watched as they grinned and smiled at one another, like something huge was happening and I had yet to learn the secret. I peppered the asana with insightful comments about how anything is possible, how what you believe in becomes you reality, how important it is to sit still and breathe out anything that does not serve you. They smiled and moved and listened like good students do. An hour later as they rose from savasana I noted tears in their eyes.
“That was really good. I forgot. We need to do that all the time. Can we come every day? Is there yoga every day? It’s so powerful.” the questions spewed out of her like a vomiting newborn. And so did the tears. Her partner held her hand. We sat. She asked me “What are you doing here?” I replied, “I am a consultant for the spa, and I am teaching yoga in the mornings for three weeks. I used to be an office drone but I was unhappy, so now (motioning towards my yoga mat and the great sea behind me) this is my office”. Her eyes widened and her partner excitedly exclaimed “See baby, you don’t have to live life the way you are living it. There are other options out there”. And so came their stories. She who wept was a doctor, in the final few months of her residency, broken but not yet dead (not yet she reiterated), exhausted, unhealthy and uninspired. She sneaks away and cries in the supply closet and dreads the forever of workaholism that sits ahead of her. The money isn’t worth this. She is creative, she explained to me. “Well, I used to be creative. I would create art and designs. I haven’t in years. I don’t know if I even remember how anymore” She looks up at her partner proudly, “Margo is an acupuncturist. She is peaceful. Published author too, but peaceful. She saves me. We bought a house in Rhode Island, with a view of the sea. I think I need to move on. Overhaul. I don’t want to be a doctor anymore. I want to be healthy and happy and creative and have community” the tears continued. The holding continued. “I’m ready. Thank you” she said. “Thank you for helping me see clearly”.
What do you need to change in your life to feel supported, healthy and nourished?
What do you need to let go of to find balance rather than chaos?
Do it now.