What have you been up to in the past few months?
I’ve been creating a lot of changes and embracing fresh starts. Earlier this year I quit my day job, so to speak, to focus on teaching more yoga. I moved to a new apartment, and in April I taught on an Awaken Yoga Retreat at Haramara in Sayulita, Mexico. As you know, I’ve been collaborating on a public art project called Inside Out Project-Victoria, BC creating Community for a Clean Coast. Since leaving my day job I have started teaching a couple different classes including Yin Flow for Anxiety.
How has yoga changed your life?
Yoga is emotional and respiratory therapy for me. I was born with three lungs as a result of having an undeveloped congenital twin. At five weeks old I had to have my right lung deflated in order to have the third lung removed, and the top chamber of my right lung didn’t inflated fully afterwards… which I didn’t find out until I was examined after a car accident in 2007 (that’s another story though). So my whole life I’ve had respiratory issues and prone to chronic lung infections that I accepted as normal. My lung capacity was short and small which created a lot of anxiety for me all my life. I’ve had a very limiting belief that my respiratory issues would always hold me back, but over the years, practicing yoga has taught me how to breathe and shown me a sense of peaceful empowerment. I didn’t realize how disconnected I was to my breath until I had to start using it to get through a yoga class. Concentrating on breathing in yoga and meditation soon turned into my favorite universal power tool. While I was changing my breath patterns and re-training my nervous system’s response to stress, my body started releasing tension and I began to see that it wasn’t just my breath I had been holding on to. In 2007 I was sexually assaulted, and I didn’t talk about it for a couple of years. I changed the story in my head to be less traumatizing and shameful because I believed it was my fault. But every time I rolled out my mat and I was connecting deeper and deeper to the layers of myself, I couldn’t hide from the truth anymore. Practicing yoga taught me to stay within difficulty, work through it, and begin to release the suffering I brought into it. So my mat was a place for me to cry, be honest, and learn to be uncomfortable and not resist it. Gloria Steinem’s words ring true for me: “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”. Once I started to accept all this, I developed extreme anxiety associated with post-traumatic stress, and yoga gave me space and tools to work through it all. Yoga taught me to find empowerment in my body after I felt like it had been taken away, and mindfulness meditation showed me how to process, release, and how to find freedom and insight from my wounds. So in a f*cked up way, those traumas have also become gifts because they’ve shown me my capacity to heal and help others who share trauma and anxiety. When it comes to yoga for healing, we have to bond with each other. Anxiety can leave you feeling very isolated, so healing with a community is medicine. The most ironic thing I’ve learnt from yoga is that the things that you think keep you separate from others, is actually what unites and heals you. Yoga gives you the space to be honest with yourself and speaking up can create a community for empowerment and liberation.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into teaching yoga?
I felt called to help others and share what I learnt. I wanted to teach yoga because I knew I had began to understand how yoga heals every part of ourselves, and I know that everyone has something to heal from. I know my purpose in this life is to help people and I figured out that yoga would be the vehicle to get me there. I started teaching at Moksha Yoga Victoria in 2011 and now I am starting to expand what I offer.
Since starting yoga, how have you surprised yourself?
Many ways. I was most surprised when I changed my breathing patterns and it enabled me to access the spiritual part of myself I didn’t know how to enter. Sometimes though, the surprises come from old habits still showing up. You think you’ve come so far and then you realize there is still a lot of work to do.
When do you feel most vulnerable?
In love and just before I teach. Probably more appropriate to talk about teaching though! I don’t recall ever being comfortable with public speaking, let alone in front of a room full of sweaty, half-naked people. Somehow I over-looked that when I decided I wanted to teach. You know how people say that if you are nervous of public speaking, just imagine everyone in their underwear? Well…some people don’t leave much up to the imagination in a 35+ degree yoga room. So that’s made it easier. I’m joking. That’s probably not even appropriate to say. But honestly, I’ve gotten into the habit of doing something that scares me every day so I look at vulnerability a bit differently now. I see it as a tool and a reminder of my passion and pathways for transformation. I used to get caught up in whether people thought I was good at what I did or not, and I realized that when I taught from that mind set, I wasn’t coming from an authentic place. I’ve learnt to follow my own instincts and share who I am in that moment because I am never going to please everyone, and when I do connect with people its because its coming from a genuine place.
Can you describe a difficult time in your life when you felt alone or like giving up? How did you get through this time and what did you learn?
In the first two years of teaching yoga I would go through fears and doubts of not having anything valuable to offer or that I couldn’t communicate effectively. But I worked hard and I kept studying through my own practice, meditation, and learning through the different branches of yoga. I learnt to trust myself and see challenges as opportunities for growth. When students open up about how yoga has helped them, it gives me faith and inspiration to keep learning and sharing my practice.
What is a truth you stand in, that you would never compromise?
Trust your intuition.
Who inspires you?
Its so weird that this is one of the hardest questions for this interview. I think because there isn’t just one person. I am inspired every day by the people I see overcome challenges and adversity. I am inspired by people that are active in creating positive change in their life and communities. World peace makers and activists inspire me, as much as they do anyone, but the people I meet everyday that let love, rather than fear, drive their actions, inspire me too. I have something to learn from them.
How often do you meditate and how has it impacted your life?
I have been meditating for about 4 years with variation in my consistency. There have been times that I sat every day for months, and there have been times that I sat a couple times a week, and some weeks have gone by without a seated meditation practice at all. Sitting in meditation is the one space I know to go to when I am looking for answers or direction. Yoga is meditation in movement by staying connected to your breath. Sitting in meditation showed me the chaos in my mind and calmly guided me through. I feel a quiet strength in meditation.
When I met with you, we discussed anxiety and having both been affected by it in the past. How often in your life today do you experience anxiety and how do you deal with it?
I have anxiety about sharing all this on the internet! I still experience some anxious thoughts every day, but it doesn’t have the same effect over me as it used to. The difference is that I notice it rising up and I choose to calm it down, whereas before It overtook me. For example, I notice when I am not making eye contact with someone when I am speaking, so I consciously focus and ground myself to stay connected to them when I speak rather than feeling scattered. I’ve learnt to use my body to calm my mind down by feeling my feet on the floor and taking long breaths.
What scares you?
Cockroaches. And ghosts simultaneously excite and scare me.
Can you tell me a little bit about the ghost that lives with you?
I live in a heritage building in Fernwood that my best friend Alexis and her boyfriend Paul used to live in. They started to experience weird things happening, things moving, breaking, footsteps, etc. One day Paul was walking up to the building and saw a woman through the bathroom window, when he got upstairs there was no one home. When I moved in, I was preparing myself to make friends with this ghostly woman. Like a sometimes roommate. On the 7th night I was in there, I had a dream that I was in the bathroom, and I turned around to see she was standing in the doorway. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, opened them and she was still there. She looked at me and said,” its just so peaceful in here now”.
If you were a ghost, who would you haunt?
I’d probably haunt Alexis. Or Jimmy Fallon.
When are you happiest?
Oh, all the time. Right now, I am writing this sitting on my fire escape with good coffee, watching a 70 yr old man in the Fernwood Square blow bubbles the size of Smart Cars. That makes me happy. Truly though, I feel happy every day. Not necessarily all day, but at some point every day I am grateful and feel happiness.
Last FML (f**k my life) moment?? What happened?
Readers discretion is advised:I was in Sayulita for 2 weeks, and for the first week and a half I didn’t have any…digestive issues. But then there were a couple of days when I was teaching on retreat that I had some gnarly things goin on. We were staying on an eco reserve in the jungle with no closed walls or full doors. Even the bathrooms were just sticks of bamboo tied together. One evening just before a yoga class (thank god I wasn’t teaching it), I had to use the bathroom for about the 49th time that day. The guys and girls bathroom shared a bamboo stick wall, so I was careful to make sure I was alone in there. I saw through the bamboo that my friend Ryan went into the stall next to me, so I turned around and started to walk away. I ran into my friend Lena who was also teaching at the retreat, and I told her my “situation”. After a couple minutes we went back to the bathroom and I went into the stall and she says to me, “ its just me in here Britt, shit your heart out girl”. And so I did. Afterwards we walked up the hill to the yoga class, laughing and speaking in poo puns the whole way. Then we found out that we were still waiting on Ryan- he had never left the bathroom! He was present for the entire orchestra- his laughter was probably stifled by my farts.
Last LOL moment?
Describing that experience as an orchestra and imagining my mother’s reaction when she reads this.
If you could go back, what advice would you give your younger self?
Speak up. Speak up about the things that are tough to talk about. Speak up for what you believe in, even if no one else is there to stand by your side. Trust yourself and your spirit. Don’t worry about boys, find fulfilment in your own passions and pursuits. Trust me on that one. Don’t rush growing up- Its a trap. Try not to curse so much, Dad’s right- it’s ‘unbecoming’. And if you do, start a swear jar- that savings will build quickly. Try yoga that one time when you are 16 so that you know to look for it again 4 years later when you move to Victoria. Some paths you walk will be very dark and confusing. Trust that you can handle it and that it will provide great insight for you. I want to protect you from the particularly bad things I know will happen, but instead, don’t change a thing about yourself or your path because you grow up to be happy and grateful, and best of all you impact and help a lot of people because of all that you endure. Keep learning and growing from your blessings, your mistakes, your light and your darkness because you have a gift and I can promise you will do great things in this world if you trust yourself.
Advice for someone who feels they don’t have the ability to give yoga a try?
You are not alone. You don’t start practicing yoga because you already have the ability, you start practicing to gain the ability! I think everyone has some degree of fear when trying something new, but rarely is the actual experience as bad as our imagination can make it. Steven Pressfield said it best though: The more important the work is to your soul’s evolution, the more resistance and fear you will feel towards it”.
Can you tell me a secret?
Well then it wouldn’t be a secret….
Last question… motto you live by??
Ah, right now there are two:
What you put out, you will get back.
Leap, and the net will appear