How I Found My Breath

My life is living yoga on and off the mat. On the mat, I practice ashtanga/vinyasa flow yoga 5 times a week, and meditate almost daily. I have completed several 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreats. I teach yoga (Vinyasa flow, Ashtanga, and restorative) daily to adults, and teach kids yoga in different studios and schools. Yoga seems to be my life.  Off the mat, I have become somewhat of a yoga-preneur. I’ve established 2 companies. One is a kids’ yoga company, Stellar Kids Yoga, where I send hand-picked teachers to schools and studios to share the magic of yoga and meditation through FUN activities and games. I also established Prana Retreats, infusing raw food and yoga into retreats to help educate people in how they can lead healthier lives. Along with Raw food, there will be juice detox retreats and specific retreats to help people living with diseases. My dream is to empower people to take their health into their own hands, and have accessible tools/knowledge to be part of their own healing. My retreats will focus on detoxification, HIV/AIDS, Cancer, obesity and allergies. My first retreat was a huge success. I see a big need for this as people are looking for healthier and more holistic ways to lead life and deal with ailments.

I am also currently part of Yoga Unite, a local yoga initiative that supports local organizations with yoga based events to not only raise money, but also increase awareness. Our first event to support ACT (Aids Committee of Toronto) got a great response. Our next event on November 3rd will celebrate the body, supporting people who have experienced trauma in the body (eating disorders). The beneficiary will be Sheena’s Place that offers a wide range of programs for people suffering with eating disorders.

My childhood is different from most. I was born in Moscow, Russia. My parents divorced when I was 6, and shortly after my mother left Moscow with my sister and myself. We lived a gypsy life in Israel and Greece before making our way to Canada. There was stress at home from physical and emotional abuse from my mother and her boyfriends, which overtime had a real effect on me. I was a withdrawn child. These were very challenging years in my life. At the age of 12 due to some extreme events my sister and I were put into foster care. I practically stopped talking at this point. After several months with my first foster home I got in trouble with the law and had to move to a new family. I had three foster homes in total. Due to being a trauma survivor and not coping well with all the changes, Child Services thought nature and animals would be good for me. I feel so blessed that not only was I given a home with nature and horses, but a man and woman who opened their arms and heart to help me move out of my shell and towards being a “normal teenager”. It was the beginning of the healing. I was an equestrian jumper, and spent a lot of time with horses, as I trained several times a week and competed equestrian jumping on the weekends. I didn’t play sports as my time was spent training for equestrian competitions throughout high school.

My foster-mother was very much into exercise and dieting, so I remember watching my weight and going on diets in my teens. I stopped riding horses when I was 17 and soon after started aerobics and weight training. This started the next chapter of my life in fitness. I weight trained 5 times a week through university and was an aerobics, step and spinning instructor throughout my twenties, and an avid runner. When I wasn’t studying or teaching fitness, I was training. It was a great release and aided in giving me mental clarity as I went through university and worked.

I feel yoga was always meant to come into my life. I always thought about trying a yoga class back in the 90’s, but was living overseas after university so it was challenging to fit yoga into my life. I was still a runner and weight trainer in my 30’s. I was a school teacher working overseas, so when I returned to Canada for the summers I had a regular yoga practice, and had a home practice when overseas. When I returned to Toronto in 2007 I started a regular Ashtanga practice under the guidance of Ron Reid, Marla Meenakshi Joy and Diane Bruni. Along with my regular yoga practice I taught grade 3, and taught yoga in the evenings. It was a very busy time. In 2009 I became a full-time yogi!! It was not an easy transition, but now I could not imagine my life any other way.

It is safe to say that yoga transformed and saved me. It is different from running or weight training, it gives you a pathway to etch through to the depth of who you are, and gain awareness of patterns and thoughts that may not have been serving you. With movement, breath and meditation, I was able to see things so clearly and really see who I was. Yoga helped me to be more compassionate, patient and loving towards myself. It gave me strength to face my fears and shadows from the past. I felt freer and freer as time passed. I am more spiritual than I have ever been before. The more I uncover the truth of who I really am, and all I am capable of, the more I align with my true authentic path. Almost like I am being guided, supported and provided for. It is a pretty wonderful discovery.

What gets me to the mat every day is the connection between my body, heart and mind. I get on the mat because it is a time for me, to breathe, to observe and to be open. Living the busy life that I live and the challenges that I face, it is my time on the mat that gets me back to that place of union. The tools I get on the mat, have completely transformed how I am in relationships, how I lead my day, and most importantly how I am with myself. My growing love for myself has opened me up to love those around me more freely. I now have healthier and more supportive relationships in my life. Because I know myself better, I am able to see the bigger picture, as it comes from a place of being grounded and centered. It is also through the challenges in my life that I saw these benefits (tools) and understood the power of yoga, of getting on the mat.

My foster parents have always supported whatever path I chose, and were fine when I became a full-time yogi. I have actually inspired my foster-mother who has had both knees replaced to start taking gentle yoga classes. I am guiding her to be kind to herself as she cannot do as much as once did, as she was a very active woman when she was younger. I have had many obstacles in my life. The main one in recent years was being diagnosed with an incurable disease just over three years ago. It shook my world, and safe to say, made me crumble. I had to rise again and not sure if I would have if it wasn’t for my time on the mat, where I was able to feel the anger, pain and grief. It was a wake-up call. There is nothing deeper than being faced with your own mortality. Now, after 3 years, I feel stronger than ever. I feel like I could face my fears, that this is my time. I am healthy now, but my health is something I will have to manage in my life, so it keeps things in perspective. Makes me stay present, appreciate every day and take steps to making my dreams a reality. It is through yoga that I learned to soften, be kinder to myself, and find a balance when I do things. That is what I learned through yoga. I can talk about the physical accomplishments of the postures, but the accomplishments I am most proud of are of how it transformed me off the mat. How yoga gave me space to connect, to feel and to let go of what I held for so long. Through this accomplishment, I can face fears, I know who I am, and my path is clearer than ever before. It is taking that time for me to breathe, to be still, to delve deeper within the body and heart, and truly understand the pain/trauma that still lives there, and give it space to heal. By confronting my pain, by allowing myself to feel and be vulnerable, I was able to transform it into possibility and courageous actions of my true path.

I am beginning to see more and more men in my classes, and I see them enjoying yoga. My words of guidance for both men and women would be to release all expectations on the mat. Come on the mat for these reasons; to breathe, move, be challenged as you move to your edge, and feel whatever is coming up. I think the important factor is how people feel after a class that keeps them coming back. More relaxed in the body and clear in the mind. Take the first step. Let go of what you should be able to do, and just get on the mat and breathe. Find a yoga instructor you resonate with. Having a connection with an instructor and genuine support will keep you motivated and coming back. If it feels intimidating to go on your own, bring a buddy.  It’s better together!

I have a deep sense of gratitude for getting this opportunity to share. I am more open about my story, not because I am carrying it around with me, but because I want people to know that no matter what obstacles and challenges they have encountered in their life, there is always hope, and there is always a way to get past it.

Let your challenges make you stronger. If not with yoga, then choose your fitness path to empower you to look within, let go, and become better than you ever imagined. It is ALL possible! I know first hand. Make a plan, set a goal (an intention), and take the first step. Face your fears, reunite with your truth, and be a catalyst for change.

“Without personal transformation, there cannot be social transformation” Deepak Chopra. or  twitter @Yogini_Ella


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