78: Exploring the Benefits of Yoga
Krystal Thompson is a Professional Yoga Therapist and Intersectional Body Positivity Activist. Krystal’s work focuses on helping people be in good relationship with their body, while recognizing that there are systems of oppression working to undermine feelings of self-love and worthiness. Her work rests on the belief that all humans are worthy of love and respect. As we do the work to feel better about ourselves and to better love and respect ourselves, we are able to offer more love and respect to the world. Krystal is a settler-Canadian currently living and working on the traditional, unceded lands of the Yellowknives Dene on Chief Drygeese territory.
Krystal and I share a love of yoga and in this episode, we explore how the practice of yoga teaches you beautiful truths about life if you let it. We both believe that yoga is for EVERY body and that it can be a powerful tool in your journey toward a healthier relationship with food and your body.
Krystal's website: http://www.thelusciouslife.ca/
Positive Nutrition online course coming soon!
Join the Nutrition Matters Podcast Community on Facebook
Leave a review for the podcast here
Donate to the podcast
Paige: Well, hello everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Nutrition Matters podcast. My name is Paige and I’m your host and I’m so excited to bring you this conversation that I had with Krystal Thompson who is a Professional Yoga Therapist and an Intersectional Body Positivity Activist. Krystal’s work focuses on helping people be in good relationships with their body, while recognizing that there are systems of oppression working to undermine feelings of self-love and worthiness. Her work rests on the belief that all humans are worthy of love and respect. As we do the work to feel better about ourselves and to better love and respect ourselves, we are able to offer more love and respect to the world. That really kind of summarizes Krystal’s approach to life and her zest for this whole world of body positivity, body liberation, body trust and I just had such a great time talking with her specifically about the practice of yoga and how that’s affected her own life both personally and also how it’s been a great enhancement to her work professionally and also with the people that she loves most. So that’s what we centered our conversation around today and it was such an enjoyable conversation. You’re just going to love Krystal. Before we get into that, I’m just going to take a moment to make sure that all of you are aware of a few things. The first thing is my online course, which is called Educate, Embrace, Empower: How to Unlock Your inner wisdom to become your own eating expert. This is a 10 week online course that is designed to help bring you out of chronic dieting and a chaotic relationship with food and into this world of being at peace and trusting your body and learning how to pay attention to it and listen to it and honor it through nutrition, through movement, through good self-care practices as well as some kinder, more gentler ways to approach your body and your body image. So, this 10 week course has just been so much fun for my participants and I highly recommend you check it out to see if it might be a good fit for you. You can access the course info page at paigesmathersrd.com/course where you can learn more about the course, what you can expect, what you can get from it as well as read some stories from people who have taken the course in the past. So check that out. And also if you haven’t already, I would love it if you could leave an online review for me on iTunes would be great. Also google+ would be awesome if you could do that. Or even Facebook would be another way that you could leave a review for me. And please feel free to join us in the online Facebook group for the podcast. That’s Nutrition Matters podcast study group and just request to join and be a part of the conversation. Okay, well with that, let’s get on with talking to Krystal Thompson about her story, as well as the idea of how practicing yoga enhances your ability to make peace with food and your body.
Paige: Well, hi Krystal! Welcome to Nutrition Matters podcast.
Krystal: Thank you so much! I’m so happy to be here!
Paige: I’m so excited to learn from you about all of your experiences and also we’re going to be focusing the conversation around yoga as well. So, I’m really excited to dive into that. I haven’t had anyone on the podcast who we’ve talked about that explicitly yet. So this is a topic that’s untapped for the podcast so far. It’s a really important one. So let’s just get into talking about your life story and I’d love to hear about any experiences that were really important to you in forming your current way that you approach life and your positivity around bodies and around the diverse shapes and sizes they come in. The diverse ways of life that people live in this world. I would love to hear more about how you came to that and what your experiences were that helped you to formulate your paradigm.
Krystal: Cool. okay.
Paige: That’s a very broad question but let’s just start there and then I’ll ask questions along the way.
Krystal: Awesome. Yeah, I’m like okay. That’s a big question. But I had thought about this recently because i was just thinking about what are the foundations on which I rest my beliefs and my passions and my feeling around my purpose in my life and stuff like that. I was looking back at when maybe that started for me and I was remembering that when I was about ten years old, I remember a couple of things happening. When I was ten I remember reading a book I probably shouldn’t have been reading, which was like a romance novel that my grandmother had left somewhere (laughing). I read this romance novel and it was about a white woman being with a black man, and it was like they couldn’t be together because it was like the early 1900’s and they couldn’t be together. I read this book and I remember making this very strong decision that that was the saddest thing I had ever heard because I was like love is so important and I think at that age I already saw that if we have love, for it not to be expressed is just the saddest thing because we just need more love. There’s never not going to be enough love or not going to be too much love and that to be in love and not be able to express it or share it. And so I remember at that age forming this decision that I was going to love whoever I was going to love. And I was just like ten and I just was like gender, race, background, I am going to love whoever I’m going to love. [At 10] that just happens and of course I don’t really think about that again for a really long time. The other thing that happened when I was ten is I was definitely already really aware that there was different form of injustice in our society and that there was certain groups that have more privilege and that humans might be doing some things that weren’t good for the planet. And so I remember at ten I wrote this manifesto about all the things that I wanted to help make better in the world. I wrote this huge list of all the things…
Paige: Okay, where’s that manifesto now!
Krystal: (laughing) I don’t have it anymore! Isn’t that the saddest thing?
Paige: You don’t? Ugh! If you ever find that you need to scan it.
Krystal: I know. I can remember a couple of things though, like I definitely remember (so this would have been in the 80’s . I would have been ten in 1987) talking about whales. I remember talking about dolphins. Saving the whales and dolphins. Being really worried about the ocean. Being really worried about the rainforest. Really concerned about racism. Just like wanting everyone to be able to have access to be able to love who they wanted to love. (laughing) This is like 1987, you know? And being worried about war because I think it might have been soon after that the first gulf war happened. So being aware of these kind of things. I wrote this huge manifesto and I remember being so into it and so excited and so excited to share it with my classmates because I thought, ‘Hey everybody! Let’s do this! Look at these things that we all probably feel like, yeah that’s wrong. Let’s do something about it.’ And I remember most of my classmates being like ‘Why are you so negative? Can’t + see the good things in the world? What’s wrong with you?’ And I was like ‘Oh.’ (laughing)
Paige: wah wah
Krystal: Totally! And I was like I don’t see that way. I don’t see it as me seeing...I thought of myself still as a really positive person that was being like, ‘Let’s make more positive,’ not pointing out the negative. And as I remember like at least three other kids in my school that were like, ‘We get it.’ That’s who I became friends with eventually and i formed my first environmental club.
Paige: Oh my..that is like a young budding activist at age ten.
Paige: How adorable. That was like in your bones it sounds like.
Krystal: Yes. I think it was. I think it was this feeling of wanting--seeing injustice and being really feeling passionately moved to do something about it has been kind of like a part of who i was from a really young age.
Paige: Oh, fascinating. I love that. So, how did things progress into your teenage years? I’d love to hear about what it was like with your relationship with your body because we’re going to be talking about bodies a lot in this episode. How did you...did you have a transition in terms of struggling and then finding this area of body positivity? Or how was your relationship with food? Tell us about sort of teenage years. Those formative years.
Krystal: During my teenage years, things got really stressful, which is why I think I lost the manifesto unfortunately because my mom has really severe mental illness. It was really abusive. So it was a really, really big struggle and kind of mixed in with that, because of my mom’s abusive behavior, I developed really low self-esteem. I was in a bigger body and I think i was just in --when I was ten, I also went on my first diet from my doctor and…
Paige: Ten was a big year for you it sounds like.
Krystal: Yeah, totally ten was like a huge year. I also got my period that year. (laughing)
Krystal: Got my period, went on my first diet, wrote a manifesto, decided I was going to love who I was going to love. (laughing)
Paige: Okay, you know what? That’s more than most people do in their whole life at age ten.
I love it. I wish I could have known ten year old Krystal. (laughing)
Krystal: (laughing) Yeah, so I remember my mom definitely played a role in trying to control my food and trying to control my weight and that kind of stuff and was probably not done from the most healthiest of places because of her mental illness. So, yeah through my teen years, things got quite bad with my mom and definitely food was a source of soothing. Food was a source of refuge and also though, I was also like obsessed with like Shape magazine and would get every Shape magazine and like only cook the healthiest recipes. I was like always looking for healthy recipes. I’d be on the stairmaster--it’s like, you know, the early 90’s probably now. So I was like on my stairmaster many times--like 45 minutes a day at least.
Paige: Did you have a neon sweat band though? (laughing)
Krystal: (laughing) Yeah!
Paige: I hope you did. Okay good. (laughing)
Krystal: Loved New Kids On The Block. Um…(laughing)
Paige: Love it!
Krystal: Yeah, but umm...then I was like super, super active. My dad was a tennis coach and my dad and I would go on like mountain biking trips in Vermont or even like around the Toronto area where I grew up and he also was my basketball coach. I played basketball and then like my dad...I was also like definitely really aware about breaking gender stereotypes too, so I really wanted to play football because girls weren’t supposed to play football, so I joined my dad’s adult league football. (laughing)
Paige: Okay and there’s the activist in you coming out again, right? Like, ‘Heck no, I’m doing it the way I want to do it!’
Krystal: (laughing) Yeah! You can’t tell me what not to do. So I was like super physically active, but I also had super low self-esteem and I was somebody who’s body size was just bigger like no matter what. You know like when I look back--like back then I think I probably would have been like I must not be doing enough to eat healthy. I must not be doing enough to move my body, since I’m bigger bodied. But, now when I look back I’m like, my god i was like the healthiest child ever. (laughing) So it was rough and my self-esteem and my thinking around my body was I think really struggled and went through different periods of struggling and you know I think a lot of people talk about this that like the process of body love, body acceptance, body neutrality is a journey and that it’s not a static one. It’s not like we reach an endpoint and that never stops because our bodies are constantly changing too. So I think definitely now what I like to think about it as is like if I’m over here in like body loathing and then like over here is body loving and somewhere in here is like body neutrality, I spend much more time in the positive, loving place. And if I visit loathing and visit you know, hating my body, I don’t spend very much time there. It’s like a little visit and then then I go back to more neutral…
Paige: Krystal, that is so important.
Paige: I’m so happy to hear you say that because I think that sometimes the message that gets internalized from the a normal regular person walking down the street from the body positive community, there’s sort of this message or expectation of ‘Well if I’m positive about my body, then that is a static, 100% all in thing,’ When the inevitable day when you’re feeling discouraged comes around or when you’re feeling like you’re just having some thoughts that you’re kind of struggling with, there can be a sense of like this narrative of like, ‘Well then I must not be doing body positivity correctly,’ you know?
Paige: And I think that that’s a really important thing to outline is that it is not a destination, you know. It’s not somewhere you just arrive one day, or even through many years of trying to get there. It is--I love the way you described it like, ‘I visit that, but then I spend most of my time here.’ I really relate to that as well. I think that that’s a very good way to describe a very realistic sort of expectation of what body positivity looks like.
Krystal: Absolutely, because I mean a big thing I think that...one of the reasons, like a fundamental reason, that we can’t expect that is that our bodies are constantly changing, so we’re probably going to feel differently about them. So like we get illness; we recover. We gain weight; we lose weight. We get older. We get facial, you know, marks and wrinkles and all these things that our society doesn’t really want us to have happen. Doesn’t really want our bodies to do any of these changes happens and then we respond to that and it’s umm, I think..I agree. I see that too in the body positivity movement and I think the other thing that our society does too is puts this..kind of we can get this perfectionist, like if I do this...they will apply that same method. Like if this is the method for me to feel better about my body and I must not be doing it right if it doesn’t happen and we have this like, all in, perfectionist mentality that we can apply to many parts of our lives, then we just apply it to body positivity too.
Paige: Which is so funny because the whole like non-diet, body positivity world or intention behind it is to like reject that idea of perfection, right?
Paige: And just say like, maybe imperfection is exactly the way that life is supposed to be and the pursuit of perfection is what’s killing us.
Krystal: Yeah. (laughing)
Paige: I just find it fascinating that we do that. We still like that sort of reincarnates itself in other ways when we are pursuing the opposite approach we tend to kind of try to be so perfect at not dieting or at being positive about our bodies. It’s never the answer to completely reject something. It’s always the answer to just like...how do I find this middle ground that’s right for me, you know? It’s just fascinating. I see it a lot right now. I think we’re sort of trying to negotiate as a community and as sort of a world of people who care about these issues or community of people who care about these issues. We’re trying to negotiate like, ‘Wait, what are our norms? How do we want to exist as a group or as a community or as a movement?’ And I think we’re still figuring that out and the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth and slowly we’ll settle into this great space. But right now it does feel like policing about your perfect or imperfect approach to positivity about your body sometimes, or even not dieting.
Krystal: Totally! (laughing)
Paige: Okay, so take us through...so lots of struggles as a teenager it sounds like, with...
Paige: ..with, you know you had a great time with sports and you love being active and you were a healthy--a seemingly healthy, happy kid--but inside struggling with a lot of things at home and a lot of insecurities. Is that fair to say as a summary of what you’ve said so far?
Krystal: Oh yeah, for sure. I definitely struggled with mental health. I did try to commit suicide when I was a teen. The pressure.. I have a brother who’s 12 years younger than me and another brother who’s two years younger than me and I was responsible kind of for looking after both of them because my parents got a divorce and then my mom was not capable. So, getting through high school was really hard for me. Except I also loved school, like loved school so much because it was like a safe space I think for a lot of...I see it too where i live in northern canada for a lot of the indigenous children too. It’s like school can be a really safe space where you know what the rules are and you know what’s expected of you when sometimes at home you can not feel like that.
Krystal: So, I loved school. I loved...and I just had it in my head too that I was going to go to university so I was like very dedicated to school. So that was like one place where I really did get a lot of self-esteem…
Krystal: ...and sense of encouragement from teachers and from like just my love of math and science. (laughing)
Krystal: So, yeah. But I still like I would say like even at university, super struggled. Definitely experienced some of the things that people, a lot of people in bigger bodies talk about in terms of like actual attacks for being in a bigger body when walking down the street, when just trying to go about your daily life having people yell things at me out of cars and throw things at you and just these weird things. You’re just like trying to walk down the street you know? (laughing)
Paige: That is so sad.
Krystal: Yeah, that feeling of like just being visible in a bigger body sometimes can elicit for some people sometimes like violent reactions. It’s really weird. (laughing) Except not, because our society really, I mean that is one of the big reasons we need to like address fat-phobia. It incites violence (laughing) and that’s not okay.
Paige: Ugh, gosh . Yeah that is for sure...that is so… I mean for anyone listening who is not in a larger body and might be hearing that for the first time might be like, ‘What? Does that really happen?’
Krystal: Yeah. Wild.
Paige: I think it’s really important to shed light on those types of issues because for someone who’s just living their everyday life and unaware of the abuses that people go through, I just think that that’s an important thing to understand. The people in our lives who might be super traumatized and how that might show up in various ways in someone’s life too.
Krystal: Yeah. For sure.
Paige: Ugh. That’s so hard.
Krystal: Yeah. You know just to bring it into sort of like a movement piece, for me when I walk down the street in a city, I feel like much, much safer because my body is amongst city..other bodies on the city, on the street and so I feel safer that my body won’t be targeted and when I’m in smaller places or places that involve a lot of me walking down the street and there being a lot of traffic just because a lot of the times things have happened where a car’s passing and I’m walking and they’ve either yelled or stopped and said stuff or thrown things at me out of the cars. Then that causes me much more anxiety...and still to this day, like I’m 40 years old (laughing) the probably, the last time that that really...I find as you age, in some ways it’s like you become less visible, so it’s almost a good thing sometimes (laughing). That hasn’t happened in a while. The last time that happened was probably when I was like 30 which I still, like when it happened when I was 30 I was like ‘I’m an adult now. I didn’t think people were doing this to me anymore.’ (laughing)
Paige: Ugh. That is so sad.
Krystal: Yeah. But I’m sure, I mean kids are kids and they’re still going to do like they’re teen boys mostly. But yeah, so I find like today I can...it’s easy for me to like in a city, leave a building and like go outside and feel like I’m not going to be attacked. But when I live in a smaller place where there’s cars going past or like some more of like a car culture kind of town or whatever, it’s really hard for me just like leaving a building and go on a walk and then what I lose is that movement piece in a city I can go like walk to a grocery store and I won’t have to like get past the barriers of, ‘okay. I know you’re going to get triggered. I know you’re going to have a lot of anxiety.’ You know, I won’t have to get past that to just get out of the house and move my body. (laughing)
Paige: Yeah. That is such a…
Krystal: So I think that’s another piece to be aware of when we have...when we’re..like the safer we make the world for everybody, the healthier and happier everybody’s going to be, you know?
Paige: Yeah, and that’s what we want right?
Paige: we want healthy, happy people. I mean we’re all going to get sick sometimes…
Paige: ...and we can’t control health, but we want healthy, happy people and we need to just readefine what that means because you can’t look at someone and know. And the treatment that you receive in a larger body definitely is not health promoting.
Paige: On a mental level, on a physical level..
Paige:...on a spiritual, emotional...I mean any level. It’s just... that’s definitely very hard and very damaging.
Paige: So, Krystal I’d love to hear about you know, how you found yoga and like, I hate to make this sound like ‘You found body positivity and you’re just la la la know,’ but how did you make that turn and how did you get through those difficult years? How did you start that process towards becoming a healthier, happier person in a way that’s right for you?
Krystal: So, well one of the things I did a lot when I was just obsessed with dance. So I was in dance all the time and like from 3 years old (laughing) up until being a teen. And that’s one of the things that happened too. I think...didn’t help my body image because like dancers are meant to be so thin and so I was like trying to fit into the dancer body. So then I left dance behind because I was like I can’t do it because I don’t have the right body type. Then I was in university and the local YMCA was offering yoga classes and I started taking them and for me it felt really, umm...the biggest thing, I mean it definitely felt very accessible for me because of coming from a dance background. So I think i had a little bit...It made it a little bit more easy to come into a yoga practice, especially in the west, yoga is like so focused on the postures, the asanas, that it kind of you know, it’s getting a little bit better. I see a little bit of a shift, but this would have been like 1997 and definitely I felt like back then it was like very much asana focused, posture focused. And so it was like very much if you were flexible already and had a lot of body awareness already, yoga was quite accessible--a typical yoga class. So, I started going but then what happened was it was really the mental health benefits because I was in university at the time and things were still pretty stressful with like family life and stuff like that and I really needed some help. I’d already been in like therapy and counseling since I was like 18, but just getting some other sort of like strategies, coping strategies, that I could do on my own. That was super helpful from yoga. So it started in 1997 as like a personal practice. Definitely with the… and i was drawn to it because the mental health benefits and then in about 2008 I was like...2008 was like kind of this real big tipping point for me because I unfortunately was like super not body-positive that year. But it was almost like my rock bottom--almost. So it’s like I had just come off of a period of devoting myself fully to looking after my youngest sibling and really my own health had really suffered and so I came out of that and I was like ‘I’m going to look after myself and I’m going to kick my body and it’s butt and i’m going to fix it.’ That language even tells you it’s not a loving approach.
Krystal: It was like ‘kick this body and it’s butt.’ So I started seeing like naturopathic doctors. I started seeing a personal trainer. I was like super restricting my diet both because of the personal trainer and the naturopathic doctor. I just started to try to do everything I possibly could to finally lose weight because I would always...you know I think this is partially the fault of our medical philosophy, everything was my weights fault. Any health issue I had was because of my weight right. My skin would clear up if I lost weight. My menstrual cycle would be normal if I lost weight. Like all these things were like...my hormones were the problem, so if I lose weight my hormones will be more balanced --like all that stuff. So, and then I could come at it from it’s not a body image thing, it’s a health thing too. That’s the other kind of you know, um, subtle, insidious thing that happens where it’s like ‘Oh this is for health, not for punishment.’ Even though I think it really was like again kick my body and it’s ass, so it really was kind of for punishment. So I spent like a year and a bit throwing myself into that and like super strict in my life. My life narrowed down. At the time I was loving going on canoe trips and like it made it so hard for me to plan all my meals--you know, how many calories I’m burning on my canoe trips how many calories I’m consuming on my canoe trip. You know, like all that stuff. And being like you guys bring the food for yourselves and I’ll bring this food for me because I can’t eat those things and you know all that stuff. So, super restricting my life and at the end of that year, I had lost two pounds (laughing) and I remember my personal trainer being like, ‘I’m sure you’ve lost more in like body fat’ and I was just like, ‘This can’t be. I’m done. I have given and given. I put it all into this. I did everything that I was supposed to do for a year and it has sucked. And I’ve lost two pounds? I can’t do this.’ So I remember, I drove out to a river outside of town and was just so devastated and I just screamed at this river and was like I hit that bottom where I was like you know that saying about if keep doing that if we keep doing things the way that we’ve always done them we can’t expect a different result. It was like that super scary unknown which i think a lot of people can identify with when they hear about not dieting anymore. Because everyone’s like, I’ve been doing it and I have to. If I don’t I’m going to balloon up. I’m sure you hear that alot too, but yeah, so I was super scared, but I was like I think I have to do something different. Right around that time, one of my friends said to me ‘Louise Hay says the only diet one should ever go on is a diet from negative self talk,’ and I was like...it just kind of hit me right at the right moment. I was like, interesting. Maybe loving myself might be a better option. Maybe just sending myself love could be a better option because I really had not been coming from a loving place. So, I decided to let go of all the food restriction I’d been doing which was super hard. I was like, to that same friend, ‘I’m just going to eat ice cream all day long. And she….
Paige: Just in as a fear of like, ‘Oh if I stop dieting what will I do?’ Is that what you mean?
Krystal: Yeah, yeah. And she’s not a coach or a dietitian or anything. She’s a librarian. (laughing) She’s like…
Paige: Librarians are really smart. I have a few…
Krystal: Yeah, yeah she is.
Paige: They are brilliant people.
Krystal: Yeah, I agree. So she was just like, ‘You know I think you might because you’ve been restricting for so long, but I also know you and I know you like to eat a variety of foods and I’m sure it will come back to you eating a variety of foods. If in the beginning you just eat ice cream by the bucket full all day long, then that’s what you do.’ And I was like, ‘Interesting.’ (laughing) So, I did that and it was around that same time, I had been practicing yoga continuously, I was like, I think I want to go further and deeper into this--into yoga because yoga is really helping my mental health and I want to learn more about the philosophy and actually study it. So I said to my yoga instructor at the time, ‘I’d like to go on yoga teacher training.’ But I legitimately said to her ‘I know I’ll have to lose weight.’ It was like that whole thing of like, I’m apologizing for it before you can..just before you tell me I have to lose weight. I’m going to make sure you know I know I’m fat you know? (laughing) So, I said I’d like to go on yoga teacher training and I know I need to lose weight and she looked at me like, that’s not a thing.
Paige: Good for her.
Krystal: Yeah, yes. Exactly yes. Super, super awesome. She was like, ‘That’s not a thing.’ She was like, ‘I actually think you’d be an amazing yoga instructor.’ But she also said ‘You need to practice yoga on your own three times a week at least for a year. Just to get a solid personal practice down before you go on a yoga teacher training so you can get the most out of your yoga teacher training.’ And I thought that was also really excellent advice.
Paige: Can I...okay I really want to hear the chronology of your story, but I also really want to highlight a few things that you’ve said so far. Is that okay?
Krystal: Yeah, yeah.
Paige: Okay, so when you talk about being very drawn to yoga, I really want to dive into why. Like what specifically were you getting from yoga on a mental health perspective. Like I know people throw that out there and say that…
Paige: but I don’t think every person gets it. I think some people listening might be like ‘okay, what is she talking about? How could that possibly do that for you?’ So let’s just dive into that for a second and then I want to get back to hearing the story. Does that sound good?
Krystal: Sure. Yeah, for sure.
Paige: So like specific benefits, like what were you learning? What was beneficial for you?
Krystal: Um, I had so much internalized hatred--self hatred--that I think it made me an angrier person in the world and although I think I also am friendly and all that, but I felt that the world was judging me so much that I would feel angry a lot of the time. The big thing for me is that I would have my yoga practice and I would do asana. The yoga postures--the asanas--were developed as a way for the yogi____ to sit in meditation longer and more comfortably because if they stretched out and moved their bodies a bit first, then they sat in meditation, they could sit there longer and then that meant that they were more likely to reach these states of nirvana and reach enlightenment. So I would do an asana practice and I would sit in meditation and these moments of sitting in meditation just...they felt like that state I think that we all want. Like this bliss, but that’s not a bliss of like an ecstasy or you know even joy or happiness. It’s just…
Krystal: Stillness. Contentment. As if the world could...anything could happen and it could flow through you. That you’re not going to hold on to it--attachment to the things that are happening. And they could be good things, they could be not so positive things and you would be able to flow with life. I remember sitting, having these moments of meditation and I would do my practice in the morning so that I’d have to like go to work, so I’d have to stop meditating eventually and when the alarm would go off that I’d have to stop meditating I remember feeling like just… I could have stayed there forever. Because in those moments I felt like I was only...it sounds weird but I was only goodness. I was only existing in good in the world and that my energy was in connection with the rest of the...it is all the things that people kind of say like about yoga. It creates a sense of oneness. It creates a sense of connection with others. I mean that is the fundamental philosophy of yoga too is that separation is what causes disease in the body and separation is what also causes disease for humans and that when we see that all is one and that we see that all is connected, that when we come from that perspective with our bodies, with each other then we can exist more healthfully. I do think that that was what I was experiencing in those moments, is that this pure connection with all, with myself and just existing in the body I have right now, this is just this body. That’s all it is. There’s no good/bad. It’s not beautiful, it’s not ugly. It’s just this vessel that I’m experiencing life in.
Paige: Totally. I love that!
Paige: I love everything you’re saying. I think that that is such a beautiful summary of the experience one can have that’s positive with yoga and I would also add that the way I kind of see yoga--and also even working on our relationship with food, kind of like my realm, what I do--I think that these things are physical things that we can do with our bodies that can teach us abstract truths that are very hard to learn without a physical thing to do to learn them. Right? So we can learn about kindness and gentleness on an abstract level and say ‘Oh, that sounds nice’ but then does it resonate? Does it become a part of our soul and our being? But when you learn, I am being so mean to myself about food and I’m going to quiet that voice and I’m going to be gentle with myself and I’m going to focus my efforts towards just taking good care of myself regardless of what my body does; just take good care of myself. You learn through a physical act that you’re capable of doing that and you see…
Krystal: uh huh
Paige:... how much beauty can come out of life when you do that. I think yoga is very similar. It teaches you that with patience and consistency and effort you can see your body do amazing things…
Paige: ...that it couldn’t do last week. But you can also learn that Thursday, is very different from Tuesday and…
Paige: ...it’s not anything you’re doing wrong. It is what it is and you learn to make peace with that and you learn to try to not compare and you learn to be still and you learn to balance, like physically balance yourself in a posture, that then teaches you an abstract truth about balance in life you know?
Krystal: Absolutely! There’s so much.
Paige: It’s mind blowing!!! It’s so cool!
Krystal: Then there’s also the flow, to be in flow…
Krystal: Then there’s also like whenever I teach a very asana focused class too, I’ll focus on the like exactly what you’re saying, sort of a more fundamental truth. So when we do back bends, we’re moving into the unknown. We’re moving into the unseen and this can cause fear to arise. So to be able to move and trust our bodies to move backwards into the unknown we need to get very physically grounded to the earth--feel the support of the earth. Physically strong in our own core and by core I mean like just your center of your being and your body and then you’re able to like move back into the unknown. And from that first that grounding and that inner strength and it’s the same for something like a handstand or an inversion. There’s so many ways to umm...exactly like bring more like these big truths for life into us. Like it’s layered in there in the asana practice too.
Paige: Well, and it...what it does too, is it sets the precedence. You practice yoga and you practice ‘I am getting stressed out. I am really in pain with this...like maybe my body’s sending me some signals and I’m going to breath through it or I’m going to adjust or I’m going to move out of that so deeply’ or whatever. You learn how important the breath is to help calm you and ground you.
Paige: You learn that even just tweaking where your pinky toe might be might help you feel a whole lot more in balance. You learn that letting go of judgement can create all of this space to do amazing things with your body.
Paige: I just wanted to highlight that as umm...yoga sometimes I feel like culturally it’s been like this latest fitness trend and like you’re going to get such fit muscles if you do it and you’re going to alter your body and manipulate it through yoga and I feel like it’s gotten a little bit of that vibe and culture around it. But I just think that for the person who’s thinking like, ‘Is yoga for me? What could I possibly get out of it? I’m uncomfortable in tight spandex around a bunch of other people.’
Paige: I totally get that, but like that’s not really what it is or what it’s for and there’s so much to learn.
Krystal: It’s so unfortunate. Yeah and ‘cause like yogan has really been...you know yoga was brought to the west as an offering from yogis and it was kind of with the idea that this is going to help North America. This is going to help the West and Europe and it’s been taken and commercialized and really made more physical. There’s this really great book called, I think it’s called Yoga Body, and it kind of goes through that history of how yoga has become what it is in the West right now. It’s very much more physical. It’s not about the philosophy of yoga as much and it’s been turned into something that can be now talked about how you’re going to get a better butt or how you’re going to lose weight. And like when I hear that It’s like...that’s like saying, and yoga is not a religion, but that’s like saying going to church is going to help you get a bigger butt--bigger butt, better butt--I dont know. Whatever people want. (laughing)
Paige: (laughing) Whatever your form of better is right?
Krystal: Yeah, exactly! But yeah, like what I like to bring up too in terms of yoga philosophy is that um...and what I think one of the ways I think yoga philosophy fits so well with body love, body acceptance. So well. But, so yoga has eight limbs according to Patanjali and the very first two limbs are the yamas and the niyamas. Sort of like ethical guidelines of how to live your life. And the very first of those is this term ahimsa which you may or may not have heard before. It gets translated into English as non-violence umm sometimes or it can also be...because that ‘a’ is negating in sandscript so ahimsa means like non-violence. The ‘a’ is the non. So it gets translated into non-violence, but one of the ways it can be positively translated is compassion. And so when we think about living with compassion, living with ahimsa, we need to apply that to ourselves and to our own internal thoughts as well. So I like to bring that up in classes and bring it back to part of the yoga philosophy is also practicing with compassion to yourself. If your yoga doesn’t include that, you’re missing the very first limb of yoga (laughing) you know. That I think is key. You might be able to do lots of other stuff in yoga without having that foundation of compassion, but in the eight limbs of Patanjali it starts with that. It starts with compassion and if you don’t include yourself in that compassion then your compassion is missing a rally big component.
Paige: That’s such an important thing and that’s a really good way to connect it back to my original question which was like ‘Why was this helping your mental health? Why was this teaching you things that were really beneficial for you?’ And I would say that that’s a really good place to start. Self compassion is sometimes seen as giving up or letting go or not trying hard enough, but really it opens the door to all kinds of beauty and wisdom. Of taking good care of yourself and living the life you want to live. It’s so much easier to do that when you’re being kind to yourself…
Paige:...than when you’re being a bully to yourself you know.
Krystal: Well, ‘cause ultimately like, when one is attempting to even practice compassion it opens--even just the attempt of it--it opens up that door to listening to your body and listening to what your bodies needs are. So if you’re doing a yoga asana practice with ahimsa or compassion, you’re going to be like ‘Is this the best thing for my body right now? Maybe I need to adjust in this way.’ Or when you’re like even like this does not need to happen just on a yoga mat right? Like yoga can be practiced all day long anywhere you are. When you’re feeling hungry, what would be the most compassionate, what would be the most ahimsa based practice for me...does my body need something crunchy? Does my body need something really a substantial meal? Am I feeling like I need more water? Am I feeling you can tap into that internal wisdom when one practice..starts to come at it from a place of compassion.
Paige: Totally. This is exactly what I wanted to get at. This is such an important conversation about the beauties of the practice of yoga when done with some of these foundational principles in place like compassion.
Paige: Anything else you’d say about your yoga practice and how that’s brought good things into your life?
Krystal: Umm, I think the other thing too is like just to touch onto the breath. I think that one was also so key, like you mentioned it. But just this breath can get us through so much and can be such a powerful way to process emotion, way to process discomfort, way to even stretch and move. Sometimes people will say I can’t do yoga and I understand exactly why because of what it looks like in our culture or what the typical yoga class will look like. But if one can breath, one can be practicing yoga and I’ve worked with people in palliatve care. I trained as a yoga therapist and shortly after my yoga therapy training, my cousin who is like my sister...she’s the same age as me...she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and she passed away eight months after her diagnosis. She had the bone marrow transplant. She did all the big chemotherapy. She spent a lot of time, like in the hospital laying in bed and not well. And we would do yoga together. I would go into the hospital and I would use my awareness of the body and supporting the body. I would put her body in restorative yoga postures in the bed. I would do guided relaxations with her. I would do breath work with her. I would umm do yoga nidra, which is one of my favorite practices of you know all that’s out there in terms of what yoga offers. Yoga nidra translates into English as yogic sleep and it kind of helps take the brain into this state of hovering between being awake and being asleep. And my cousin even said to me that that was...like I would do three hour long yoga nidra practices with her and she said that that was like one of the few times where she wasn’t in pain and she would just like want me to stay there and keep talking and yeah. (laughing)
Paige: I’m tearing up a little. That’s such a beautiful story.
Krystal: Yeah. I remember she even said to me…
Krystal: yeah, I’m going to cry too. She said to me ‘Do you think this is why you did you yoga therapy training because it happened a year after I did the training. I don’t think I would have known how to help her as much as I did. Not that of course I wish I could have helped her.
Paige: Right.But you brought her peace in a time of pain...
Paige: and so much suffering and so much umm I’m sure just stress and worry and all of the things. That’s a beautiful gift.
Krystal: Yeah. I was really happy to be able to at least offer that to her because she was in Toronto too and I was in Yellowknife so I didn’t get to spend...I couldn’t be there for heras much I wish I could have and at least when I was there...even also just to have used my yoga training to help myself stay centered and calm when so much was going on in the hospital and stuff. And emotions are running really high among family members of course.
Krystal: So I...when I think about people talking about saying that they can’t practice yoga, it makes me sad to think of what a dis-service our culture has done in terms of watering down what yoga really is and how all the benefits yoga really has to offer because it has so much more to offer than what gets promoted out there. And when you look at that...one of the people I’ve studies with, she’s worked with people who are terminally ill with cancer and like I got that idea to use yoga nidra because this woman has worked with people who are e terminally ill with cancer and done yoga nidra with them. She said this thing to me once. She was like ‘they weren’t cured, but they were healed.’
Krystal: So they still passed away. The woman she was working with at the time had pancreatic cancer and so she did yoga nidra with her and I felt healing happen. She still passed away, but it’s that idea of just being at peace with what is and letting go of attachment a little bit to just be with what is and finding yeah, that contentment in that moment which is really hard to do when you’re in a lot of pain and you know faced with your own death. (laughing)
Paige: Wow. Yeah. I mean it doesn’t get much harder than that.
Paige: That is such a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing that with me.
Krystal: Yeah, actually I’ve never shared that before. (laughing)
Paige: That’s powerful.
Paige: I mean that’s a really powerful illustration of just our..how narrow our view of yoga tends to be you know. Where it’s this, get your spandex on and go compete with the other housewives and you know. It can feel like looking in the mirror and comparing and trying to get so fit, but that’s really not what it is and there’s so much more to it and there’s so many more applications. I admit I didn’t even know about the idea of that in palliative care. That’s really interesting and really cool.
Krystal: Some places...yeah...some places, yoga therapy is a profession. I know in the United States they’re looking at making it more of a licensed profession, so it would be more like a massage therapist licensing.
Krystal: So you’d have to have a certain number of hours of training. More than the typical 200 hour yoga teacher training and I know from..so I did yoga therapy training in the United States as well and I know a lot of the people I studied with that were like in my class or whatever, they have gone on to work in hospitals and mental health institutions because some hospitals and mental health institutions are starting to see the benefit of a yoga therapist being present even on staff in hospitals.
Paige: It’s evidence based. I mean there’s like a lot of research supporting…
Paige: It’s not out there.
Paige: It’s definitely validated through science…
Krystal: Absolutely! (laughing)
Paige: and also anecdotally right? I mean I think anyone who really gets into a practice with it can speak to it’s benefits in their own life. Okay, Krystal, just tell us what you’re up to these days and you know so, did the yoga teacher training…
Paige: started a yoga studio at some point, right?
Krystal: Yep. (lauging)
Paige: Still doing that? Is it still up and running?
Krystal: My studio is still up and running, however I’m in the process of as life is changing of course, so currently really working to support my partner who is on the road a lot as a touring musician, so probably going to be letting go of the actual space studio.