Blue Monday – an Invitation

Did you know that blue Monday is actually just a myth?!

It was supposedly “a fraud perpetrated by a psychologist hired by a travel agency” to encourage people in the northern hemisphere to bust out of their seasonal funks’ and take a sunny vacation. (CTV news Jan 19, 2019)

For someone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder, Blue Monday still feels real to me. Does it actually feel like ‘the most depressing day of the year’?  I can’t say for certain, but it’s definitely a tough time of year for me. Did I buy into the travel scheme years ago. You bet I did. Do I feel taken advantage of? Nope not for a second. Why? Because I saw an invitation and found that those sunny destinations DO work for me, at least in some way although temporary.

I’d have to say that normally I am a pretty big skeptic though. I used to hang my hat on quick fixes and big promises of the next fad wellness intervention. I’ve been conditioned into a skeptic through learned experiences. I’ve been lead down some dead-end paths before where I have absolutely felt taken advantage of. And what I’ve learned is that anyone in the wellness industry who claims to have the magic pill, a quick fix, to be perfect or have their life all together, who claims to have the next best kept secret, who only shows you the ‘best’ parts of themselves, who wants to fix you or be the one to change you is in my opinion also a fraud. Because first of all —Nobody is perfect. That expensive wellness coach has his/her fair share of ‘problems’, hurdles, life events that shaped them. That fashionable super bendy yoga instructor has his/her fair share of dark places. That wellness company who claims to be the ONE who has all the answers, has its share of imperfections too.

I’ve always chosen to be transparent in my journey as a wellness promoter. I don’t have all the answers. I’m on a journey. I certainly don’t agree with taunting people with false hope or painting a picture of some perfect world. I show up with all the various parts of myself, the light and the dark, the ones I am proud of and the ones not so much.  I live out loud in an authentic way. Why? Because my goal is to be real, to share my experiences – good and bad, to make connections based on life as it is, to share the ups AND the downs of my journey, to build a community where we can celebrate our individuality and all walks of life, and where maybe someone somewhere can relate. Where our circle is equal. Nobody in front, nobody behind. Nobody above, nobody below. Just equal.

The wellness industry is one of the top-grossing industries in the world right now.  How incredible is that?! Better than say a weapons industry or something, right?!? It’s comforting to know that people are investing in themselves. But my hope is that everyone has a little bit of a skeptic in them.  That they are brave enough to ask why? That they are not being taken advantage of because they are in a vulnerable place in their lives. Because it’s only fair that you have the truth.  

When I fell head first into the wellness industry back in 2013 I looked for what worked for other people.  I felt insecure, not good enough, had little self-love in my tank. My skewed eyes saw that the ‘skinny busy’ people looked happy and successful.  I felt attracted to that. I thought that if I could lose weight by working out 7 days a week and work a crazy amount of hours at a dignified job that that would bring me confidence and joy.  So I snuck down that rabbit hole and bought into the ‘fitness’ world of wellness. I became a regular gym junkie and took up running. I developed injury after injury, but kept pushing.  I lost a bunch of weight and became an arrogant, careless party drunk (i’m allowed to call myself that). I got a lot of attention, a lot of complements based on the outer layer, I loved myself a little more because of the reactions of how hard I had worked. I hurt people I loved. I did things I am not proud of, which I’d share here but out of respect for other people involved I will just leave it at that (although I love to chat one on one with anyone who feels the urge to).  I ran, and worked, and drank myself into a very dark place – I now refer to as rock bottom. At that time I was working in a busy emergency department and all too often could related with many of the clients that walked through the door. I’m actually surprised I didn’t end up there, in one of those emergency beds. I contemplated taking my own life as an easier way to deal with the mess I created. I thought I’d spare the people who loved me any more hurt. I’ve never told anyone how much pain I felt or how dark those days actually were. And I’m definitely not telling you this now for pity. I’m just being real. Thankfully in those darkest days I kept choosing to mend instead.  I kept re-evaluating my trajectory and searching for the real person within. I kept peeling back years of layers and suffering. I abruptly cut connections with toxic people. I stopped the gruelling fitness routines and crazy diets. I got help. I stopped numbing myself with alcohol. I saw a counsellor. It was two steps forward, one step back, then three steps forward, four steps back. It took work but it didn’t look like the work I was used to. It was waking up every single day being open to growth and grateful for the opportunity to try again. I got curious about how to live a life that felt peaceful yet fulfilling, where I could be happy yet resilient when life through those lemons. For some reason I kept coming back to my mat. Day after day. I found refuge there. I found acceptance. I found some answers. Not just on blue monday but on most of my blue days throughout the year. Yoga was what worked for me. Not just showing up to a class and doing some poses.  Yes that helped me too. But digging deeper into the philosophy of yoga, the yogic lifestyle. I gained weight and lost friends. But I vowed to question each new turn. I definitely walked the new path lightly. I literally questioned everything. I tried it all on first and I’ll be totally honest not all of it fit. There were people who came into my life that broke my trust. That made me feel two inches tall, that rattled and shook me, but each time I would come back to myself and ask does this feel right? I moved slow. I looked for evidence. And yes the scientific evidence out there was a great resource in answering my ‘why’s and how’s’, but ultimately it came back to the evidence I found within. I bought into the invitation.

I’m not here right now to sell you yoga.  I know fully that one way is not right for everyone. And I’m asking you right now to call my bullshit. To try this wellness stuff on for size. To chew on it for awhile. To maybe rsvp to your own invitation.

I took my YTT to become a yoga teacher because I wanted to learn more about the ancient practice of yoga.  I wanted to know how it worked for thousands of years for so many people and why people were buying into it even in our modern day society where things are consumed then tossed aside like the latest fast fashion.  Yoga seemed to stick with people, and as a nurse in the healthcare industry, as a person lost in the chaos, I wanted to know why.

What I learned over the years both as a nurse in various positions and as a yogi is that if you only focus on one aspect of your being then you will eventually lack in wellness in another aspect.  For example, people who only focus on their physical wellbeing can often disintegrate mentally. I also learned that pure health is not a destination. Health and wellness changes across the spectrum. People can flourish with illness and people can disintigrate with wellness. But I love that yoga invites us to look at the living being from a holistic view – body, mind, and spirit.  Instead of looking outside the box, it invites us to remove the box completely. It offers multiple paths for all different sorts of people with no rigid answer to what brings peace or joy. An ancient yogic text called the Bhagavid Gita is a story about wisdom, spirituality, and actionable paths for living yoga, ultimately, each path offering a way to live a purposeful life while maintaining inner equilibrium. It invites us to keep trying even if one path doesn’t work.

What I have realized over the years and what I’ve built the very essence of viva la lemon on is the fact that yoga and wellness practices are just an invitation.  They are a practice that invites you to look inside yourself (some more so than others). And if the one doing the inviting is aligned with these ancient practices then he/she believes that every living thing inherently has the answers within them. Yoga, and what I value in the wellness industry, is a comradery here on earth with the purpose of simply walking each other home. It’s a path but you dear one, you are the driver.  You decide what feels like a ‘yes’ and what feels like a ‘no’ right there in the shoes you are in, on the path you are on. 

A few years ago a massive company came up with a slogan called #thisisyoga.  It commercialized untraditional views of yoga – people running, people meditating, people laughing, people of color, people of all sizes, actively doing something that appeared as a form of selfcare.  Although I don’t necessarily agree with all the values of that company, I loved that this particular campaign made yoga seem more accessible. Because I believe if you are acting in a way that is caring for yourself that’s from a place of unconditional love without attaching to the actual fruits of your labour then that my friend is yoga.  You are already doing it! Doesn’t matter if you are lifting weights, doing headstands, dancing, singing, or lying quietly in savasana. You are already doing it. And if you just looked in the mirror and realized that maybe you’re not then oh my gosh dear one you have so many opportunities to do so. Because that invitation stands for everrrrybodddy.

So whether blue monday is a myth or not, we know for a fact that seasonal affective disorder, depression, anxiety, and burnout is not.  Instead of tossing it under the rug because it’s a myth, let’s use this to assess our state of resiliency right now. Let us use this as a great reminder to check in with how we’re feeling mentally, physically, even spiritually. Let Blue Monday be a time that we notice the path we are on and the trajectory of our future. Perhaps this can be our time to question everything, including those who once inspired us. Maybe to call bullshit. This is an opportunity to take action.  To say yes now to nurture the future we want later, or to kindly say no to what feels like a weight so we can heal and choose a new path. My intention for writing this blog post (thanks for making it this far) is to share a piece of my path with you, to be authentic in this big wellness industry, to be vulnerable, perfectly imperfect and to remind you that no matter what anyone else says, YOU have the answers you seek within you!! I’ve had my own rock bottom and if I can be that hand that reaches down to lift you up then I’ve done what I have set out to do, and one day maybe you’ll do the same.  Blue Monday shouldn’t be the only day of the year that we look, speak out, or question. But let’s also not miss this opportunity. 

Wellness is a spectrum. Look at the direction you’re facing on that spectrum, can you see flourishing?  Or do you see disintegration ahead? Those answers look different for everyone. Do you need or want change? Do you need to assess your boundaries?  Is your selflove tank running on empty? Are you sad, stressed, or anxious more than you are not? Its okay. It’s okay to be in the place you are in dear one. This post isn’t about shaming. BUT here is the invitation, from me to you. I want to assure you that you are not alone.  That we, the viva community are sincerely here for you. We too have complicated stories. We too are on our own path. We too have depths beneath our surface. We are a community that was built on the belief that we ALL belong. That we all hold a place to be here, to be ourselves, and to be loved no matter what path we are on. We stand with AND for one another. Are you with us dear one?

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Top 6 reasons to do Viva La Lemon Yoga

If you have been thinking of doing yoga but are apprehensive or nervous then embrace those feelings and give this a read. If you have been practicing asana (poses) at home but are interested in finding deeper connections to the ancient practice then give this a read. Yoga truly is for everyone.
Here are 6 reasons you should consider practicing yoga with Viva La Lemon.

1: Expertise

• Nicole is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT, 200 hr) who received her training from a Yoga Alliance Certified School receiving certification in Hatha Yoga.
• Nicole also has a certificate in 'Core Strength Vinyasa' (CSV, 25 hr) Yoga and enjoys being a student of yoga through her own daily practice. Additionally, Nicole enjoys attending a variety of different styles of yoga sessions in the area.
• With over a decade of experience in the health care world as a nurse, Nicole is very knowledgeable of the human body including anatomy, physiology, and even pathophysiology. She also has a deep passion for wellness and self-care.

2: Grounded in Yoga Philosophy

• Nicole has a way of taking ancient Yogic teachings and applying them to modern day life.
• Nicole uses the 8 limbs of Yoga to facilitate her classes and encourages the learned experiences to transcend out into our daily lives off of the mat.

3: Relevance

• Nicole encourages students to stay sensitive and vitally aware of their body. Ahimsa, the first Yama or yogic ethical principle, means non-violence. Nicole helps bring awareness of the body's limitations and promotes ahimsa; yet encourages curiosity in opening body, mind, and spirit more deeply in poses.
• No two bodies are the same, therefore no two poses should look the same. Nicole encourages students to find relevance to each pose on their mat moving them along with verbal cues, offering variations or modifications along the way. She promotes a caring, safe, non-judgemental environment where each student is celebrated.
• Nicole makes space for students to stop along the path at anytime and work their edge. Nicole's deepest desire as a facilitator is for each student to seek and find their truth, their growth, and their full expression each day.

4: Connection

• Nicole believes in the power of connection, union, and community.
• Yoga is a Sanskrit word which widely translates to union. This has many meanings in yoga. However, Nicole believes that yoga unites the mind-body connection with Divine source through the practice of the 8 limbs of yoga.
• In Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras (3rd century B.C.E.) – considered to be one of the core texts of yoga – he begins with a simple sentence: Atha yoganusasanam. This is translated as 'in the present moment is the teaching of yoga' or more technically: 'now', not later, but right here in the present moment begins the instruction on Yoga, as laid down by the ancient sages, that is available to everyone. It means that anyone who wants to can begin the path of Yoga. Which is why Nicole is so adamant that yoga is for every body! That by connecting to the present moment anyone can benefit from yoga, helping everyone live their best life.
• Even though yoga is so much about going within, and connecting with our center, building connections both on and off the mat is Nicole's vision. Following class Nicole encourages students to introduce themselves to one another. Enjoy a cup of warm tea or cold refreshing infused water (depending on the class location). Having a short visit connecting with other students begins to spread positivity and that deeper inner connection with the present moment outward off of our mats. Of course there is no obligation to stay.

5: Wellness

• Students have many personal reasons for practicing yoga. Yoga is not a cure for the multitude of ailments out there or a quick weight-loss fix but it helps bring wellness and healing into your life when you practice with ahimsa. Bringing both mental and physical health to the body, mind, and spirit; you will be sure to find what you are looking for.
• Svadhyaya, or self-study, is about knowing our true Self and understanding the boxes we are trapped in. This process of knowing ourselves, and the boxes that adorn us, creates a pathway to freedom. "Know yourself so well that you will grow into your wholeness and greatness." — C. Lewis
• The 5th Niyama is Ishvara Pranidhana, which means to surrender. Nicole reminds us that life knows what to do better than we do. Through devotion, trust, and active engagement students can receive each moment with an open heart. Rather than walking against the current, surrendering is an invitation to move with the current, enjoy the ride, take in the view and feel well.

6: Authentic & Personable

• Nicole has been practicing yoga for 4 years. She is not affiliated with big marketing companies or big yoga studio chains. She brings her own understanding of the ancient practice of yoga to small rural communities in south-western Manitoba. She also adds other special touches of wellness to her class such as use of essential oils, healing crystals, soothing music and energy purifying smudges.
• At a Viva La Lemon class you will find Nicole to be approachable and personable. She does her best to cater to individual needs. She also offers private sessions to those who are interested in a more tailored practice.
• Nicole isn't interested in changing anyone. She believes in embracing our authentic selves, encouraging students to be unapologetically themselves in the present moment. "Everyone is perfectly imperfect in their own ways, when life throws us lemons, we embrace it and still find love and grace for our one precious life" — Nicole Barclay

We would love to see you out at a Viva La Lemon class. Check out the yoga page for upcoming classes.

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From running to yoga – A quest to find inner peace.

In my twenties I despised running. Actually what I probably dreaded most was cardiovascular training. Ugh! That word, ‘cardio’, still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The thought of sweat stinging my flushed face as I struggle to catch my breath. Just something I did not look forward to. But after the birth of our son, I was atleast 20kgs overweight. At first the love and care for my newborn stole my heart and attention but as the year went on my negative attitude toward my body only grew. Looking at myself in the mirror was like a scene from a horror movie; I closed my eyes and tried to avoid looking at the scary parts. My selflove and confidence went to an all-time low. So my type-A personality and I began looking for solutions.
I started as I often do by looking around (and comparing) to the people I knew at what worked for them. A couple of family members were into running but that was a big ‘no way’ for me. There was absolutely no way I could run for more than a minute let alone finish a 5k without dying! But thankfully there were local friends who took part in a bootcamp and had lost a lot of weight and looked amazing and had the confidence boost I was looking for. So off I went to get my butt kicked by a professional body builder. It worked. Temporarily. I lost some weight. I felt a little more comfortable in my own skin but it hit a plateau. I became frustrated with all the hard work especially while trying to juggle my career and a family and getting absolutely nowhere. So it petered off.

I began to wonder if it wasn’t my body image that was causing so much disharmony as other aspects of my life. I took a step back and realized I felt extremely unhappy in my current job position. More than half of all my shifts were nights. Since sleeping habits change as you become a new parent my ability to sleep properly after a nightshift became a huge problem. Money was constantly a stressor. I felt unempowered in my place of work. I felt stuck! With no chance of change if I didn’t upgrade my education. I began to think that if I got a better ‘job’ and made more money, that maybe then I could afford to spend more time on my body image which in turn would make me feel happier.

 So off to school I went. Adding even more to my plate as ‘student’ became another responsibility. As the stress compounded so did my weight and further unhappiness with body image. I kept reminding myself of the end goal. Finish school first, worry about my body later. I kept repeating that over and over as I’d toss back an energy drink and a bag of chips at 2am while studying for another exam the next morning. It was no surprise really that my health took a major downward spiral. At age 28 I was hit by the metaphorical 2×4 when my doctor had to prescribe a medication for my blood pressure that was out of control. Talk about a wake-up call.

I couldn’t keep ignoring my health. It couldn’t sit on the back burner any longer. Fear became a motivating factor. On my summer break before the final year of my degree program I made some huge changes. I completely cut out meat from my diet. And refined sugar. And basically anything processed. I tried to stick to a raw diet and started walking every day. As the weight melted off that summer I began to feel like my body could handle more. As a broke student, mother, wife etc. I knew I could not afford a fancy gym membership or private trainer or bootcamp session. I had to find something I could do from home.

Running crossed my mind again. And since I was desperate to get my health back I figured I had nothing to really lose. I found a running app for free and started a couch to 5k program with no real intention of actually running a 5k race. Except the body is a fascinating machine. The more it is used the better it runs. So naturally running became easier. I kept it slow. I kept it do-able. After awhile it became an addiction. There really is such a thing as a runner’s high. Haha that was something I always found myself rolling my eyes at whenever I heard anyone talking about it. But it’s the real deal. The endorphins kept me motivated enough to sign up for my first 5k race. The second I crossed that finish line I wanted to sign up for another one. I no longer needed medication for my blood pressure.  The 5k goal turned into a 10k one. And as if that wasn’t enough, I wanted to run it by my 30th birthday, just a little over 5 months way. 

So I finished my first 10k race. It was 2 months after I turned 30.

I’m proud of my accomplishment. But I’m not proud of the conceited, over-confident, self-destructive attitude it rendered. My family took a backseat to my priorities. I was doing things with my new healthier body that I wanted to do and could do for a change. But deep down inside I still felt lost. Even though I felt healthy. I was not. Not in a holistic way, that was for certain.

Because I didn’t see it that way I pushed harder. I signed up with a running trainer and was forcing my body to the point of pain. Determined as ever, I would find a quick fix from a massage therapist, chiropractors, or acupuncturists just to get back out on the trail again. I dumped piles of money I didn’t have into custom orthotics and fancy running accessories. I became so attached.

Until one morning I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed.

I literally had so much pain in my hip I couldn’t walk, or sit, or lie down. I was crying in pain and ended up in the emergency department where I was diagnosed with hip flexor tendonitis. So needless to say I was cut off of running for weeks. Just like that. I was so freaking angry. How could something like that happen?!! I was finally getting the body I wanted, down 30 pounds, off bp meds. It wasn’t fair. But it was a sign. Looking back I’m grateful for it.

I spent those three weeks caring and mending my aching body. Not because I wanted to but because I didn’t really have a choice. I found a youTube video called ‘Yoga for Runners’. It was impossible. I remember watching the screen and thinking ‘you want me to put my foot where?’ My body was so inflexible. So I figured I should start with the basics. I found another video that was a little more suitable for my current body condition and gave that a try. I remember laying flat on my back and stretching my arms overhead and feeling my entire back clench up in a gut-retching spasm. Wow! 30 years old and it felt like I had the body of a stiff 90 year old. (I mean that in the kindest way). I remember laying there in the meditation part of the video not being able to have an in-breath for the count of 8 and thinking that was so ridiculous. Downward dog; as if they called that a resting pose!!! I never considered stretching before a run. Or any exercise for that matter, let alone holding a certain position for more than 30 seconds even during my brief post-run stretches. Needless to say, I was a huge skeptic.

I have never been a sit still kind of person. Type-A, adrenaline junkie, to-do list expert. I’m always on the go physically and mentally. So at the time yoga seemed to be a good counter-balance.  I accidentally fell into yoga unintentionally but it could not have come at a better time. I stuck with it and eventually I was able to do that ‘Yoga for Runners’ video. Once I was able to get back to running I felt much more resilient. My obsession with running faded and quite frankly I was scared of injuring myself again. It came as no surprise when I read the statistics that over 60% of all runners will injure themselves at least once. I had only been running for less than 2 years and was already a statistic. So I quit being so hard on myself and just tried listening to my body. I began running for the fun of it. It didn’t matter if I ran 2k or 10k. When something started to hurt or cease up I would just ease back a little. I tried focusing on my intention in the beginning which was to just get healthy again. That didn’t mean I needed to go out and run every 10k race that came up in the area. Don’t get me wrong for some people having that goal in mind is great motivation but not injuring myself became more important than a metal or a new personal record.

Not surprisingly my love for yoga grew. I started attending a local hatha beginners yoga class one night a week. I could feel the benefits in my body. What surprised me more was the benefit I felt on my mind – my frantic consciousness. The holistic wellness approach was much needed. I became more and more curious. Like I had opened up the door to a whole new world. Once I learned that yoga was more than just the poses, that it truly was a lifestyle – I became hooked.

Several years later I find myself teaching both my passions. Running and Yoga. I will forever remain a student of both these practices. Additionally, I have the humble honor of sharing them with others who are interested in selfcare. Running and Yoga support each other just as the mind supports the body. In my world, one can’t survive without the other. As my practice grows deeper I am able to develop that stronger sense of inner peace not just because of the physical benefits but because of the benefit it has in all aspects of my life. Harmony really can exist in all the chaos life has to offer. Those moments when you are out on an early morning run: you hear the sounds of nature, feel the movement of your breath, and your body is gliding along the trail. When there is no finish line, no competition, no membership or fancy equipment, no pain, no thoughts, no to-do lists just you and the road ahead. When the body, mind, and spirit are in pure equilibrium – those are the exact moments I cherish for the rest of the day. Essentially that is yoga. A state of being in the doing. In yoga the whole point of doing the poses or asana, a very western focus, is to prepare the body for meditation. Which is often how people become introduced to yoga. And the whole point in doing meditation is to find enlightenment or self-realization, liberation, moksha, or awakening. It is not just something you do for an hour on your mat but rather a practice for everyday life. Of course this is very simplified. It is no easy process. But it is a process, one that takes time and effort, a certain appreciation, and patience for the unraveling. It’s not a self-help, quick-fix fitness program. It’s a way to find inner peace and acceptance for the self and the world around us. “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” (Bhagavad Gita). 

This is why I love being a student and teacher of Yoga. To spread this ancient, incredibly life-changing practice and hopefully have an impact on others as I move through this sometimes chaotic yet beautiful world. From running to yoga to my vocation as a nurse: both the practice and promotion of selfcare and wellness — that is what gives me purpose and meaning. For what is the goal of life if not to share and connect and to love and create peace. To live awake in the perfectness of the imperfect. “The purpose of this glorious life is not simply to endure it, but to soar, stumble and flourish as you learn to fall in love with existence. We were born to live my dear, not to merely exist” – Becca Lee

As always, thanks for reading.