Monday, 9 June 2014

Remembering Self-Care: An Interview with Ian Elliott - Shiatsu Therapist, Yoga Instructor & Awesome Humyn

Pascal and I just finished our Spring teaching at Ryerson. In April we quickly wrap up the winter semester and plunge directly into facilitating “intensive courses” – a whole semester condensed into one very long week.  This spring we taught 4 intensives in 5 weeks.  We absolutely love this format, but by the fourth Friday we are completely exhausted.

During the intensives I struggle to hold on to my healthy practices of self-care.  Ten plus hours in the classroom everyday makes it difficult to fit in moments where I consciously rejuvenate myself.  Sometimes the thought of hauling my butt to the yoga mat is too much to even consider.  More caffeine becomes my substitute.  

This is when I really need to be reminded to invest in my well-being.  Looking around and seeing others choosing healthy practices and self-care is essential.  Even if I can’t find time for a yoga session, a Shiatsu treatment or a salad, observing someone else make those self-supporting decisions acts as gentle reminder that gifting myself with moments of self-care is both important and valuable. 

Ian Elliott:
Shiatsu Therapist,
Yoga Instructor & Awesome Humyn
This Spring Ian Elliott has been that example for me.  Ian is our local Shiatsu therapist and yoga instructor (recently accepted into teacher training at Octopus Garden!).  When our student load reached a 160 students this Spring, Ian was the person that reminded me that whenever I get back to the mat is a good time to get back to the mat.  When my body started complaining about too much time at my keyboard, Ian reminded me to stretch, to rest, to take breaks and to breathe. 

Because we all need folks like Ian in our lives, I decided that an e-interview was the best way to share this treasure of a humyn-being with you.  I hope our conversation below gives you one more person to recall when a gentle reminder to practice self-care is just what you need.  


First of all, congratulations on being accepted into Yoga Teacher Certification at Octopus Garden!  I just watched your IndieGoGo video and it touches on your life before yoga.  What did life look like for you then?

My childhood wasn't a particularly stable one - my parents divorced when I was quite young and the person my mother remarried suffered from alcohol addiction. I entered adulthood having little notion as to what gifts I possessed, nor how I could put them to use to both help others and to sustain myself.  I worked high-pressure, low-wage jobs that rarely suited my personality, smoked three-quarters of a pack of cigarettes daily, and was sliding toward alcoholism myself.  It certainly wasn't all doom and gloom - there were some happy moments in there, and somehow, I always maintained an outer semblance of good health, but on the inside I was falling apart.  Still, there was always some part of me that was trying to solve this inner puzzle.  I knew that real, sustained happiness is what was being sought, but I had few examples to learn from and no idea how to find it within myself.

Finding those examples outside of ourselves is essential and you certainly act as one of those examples for me.  I'm curious what drew you to practice yoga?

In 2003, I had what I like to call an emotional "breakthrough" (as opposed to "breakdown").  My life as I knew it came crashing down, and I had no choice but to rebuild it from the ground up - a healthy tree requires strong, deep roots.  Within the year, I'd begun to learn how to meditate.  In 2005, I attended my first 10-day Vipassana course, where attendees spend up to 10 hours per day in silent meditation.  When I returned to the city, I realized that my body needed something more - I was constantly aching in one place or another and had a lower back that would go out on me if I sneezed or coughed too hard.  At the time, I was living in Scarborough and working downtown.  My favourite place to spend time was (and often still is) in Kensington Market.  I noticed that there was a yoga studio at Augusta and Oxford named "Pure Intent" (sadly, now closed), and finally, one fateful day, I decided to go in and inquire about classes.  There certainly wasn't any burning desire to practice at the time, just a cautious curiosity.

It's refreshing to hear that there was no major epiphany or lightening bolt, just a growing desire to feel better in your body and the courage to walk into a yoga class.  What was that very first yoga session like? Do you remember how it felt?

My first class was a Restorative session, using lots of props: bolsters, blankets, straps and even folding chairs.  I remember that as my instructor, the late Jenna Morrison, asked us to focus on our breath, my body immediately began to release long-held stores of tension.  My mind was still filled with insecurities; having something to prove, wanting to be the best in the room, even though all we were doing was laying on over-sized pillows and breathing!  I also remember that despite my insecurities and accompanying attitude - or more likely, because of them - I was made to feel like the work I was doing was the most important work in the room.  That's a secret I learned from Jenna - every student should be made to feel that way about their practice!

It's a secret you've learned well!  I remember my first one-on-one yoga session with you. I was nervous, even though we'd already known each other for a few years, because there were no other students to hide behind.  But I quickly relaxed.  It did feel like I was doing really important work on that mat regardless of all my grunts and groans.  After practicing with you for the almost a year now, I can honestly say you're a fabulous teacher.  Which makes me curious as to why you want to pursue Yoga Teacher Certification?

I'm hungry for knowledge!  I view yoga as a lifelong study, which means I will always remain a student (in Zen this is called Shoshin, or "beginner's mind").  Better student = better teacher.  I'm also excited for the opportunities that certification will create for me.  While there are many accomplished, non-certified instructors out there, accreditation, especially from a reputable, respected school, opens a lot of doors.  One of my goals is to eventually host retreats outside of the hustle and bustle of the city, somewhere quiet and rural.  While that may be some years away, certification feels like a natural and logical part of that progression.

We should chat about the retreat idea in the future.  Hosting retreats is one of our down-the-road dreams and I can easily envision your teaching style translating well to a rural setting.  Of course, as your student I have my own perceptions of your approach to teaching (calm, balanced and gentle come to mind).  How do you understand and describe your approach to teaching?

I endeavour to teach with all of the joy, compassion and care that I've instilled in myself through various holistic practices.  
When I began yoga, I was anxious and in pain.  I carried a lot of fear, and fear causes the body and mind to exist in a contracted state.  From a teacher's perspective, this was actually a great start point.  It made it much easier for me to relate to the various conditions students bring to practice.  Very few people come to me saying, "I feel amazing, please teach me yoga!"   In class, we work toward the opposite of fear, which is expansiveness.  When fear is set aside, trust and an open heart take its place, and one can't help but want to explore this new found expansiveness through practice.
It doesn't matter if it's physical, emotional or spiritual balance that's being sought, as long as some benefit is derived from practice.  My hope is that students will take whatever it is that they gain from their time on the mat, out into their day-to-day lives.  This is the essence of yoga.

How true!  After a session on the mat I feel bigger and far less restricted in multiple ways.  It's a glorious feeling, and yet sometimes I opt out of the hard work of yoga and just lay down for a Shiatsu treatment.  I always appreciate that I can request either yoga or shiatsu and know there's no judgement coming from you.  How do you see your yoga practice intersecting with your work as a Shiatsu Therapist?

This is an area I am constantly researching!  With my shiatsu training, knowing where the meridians (the body's energetic circuitry, so to speak) run, I'm constantly aware of the internal benefits of a regular yoga practice - how certain poses are beneficial to certain organs, how you can take an active role in correcting imbalances in your body, the style and pace of practice that's best for any given day, time of year, etc.  Many of my shiatsu clients have become yoga students, having caught on to the fact that the two are mutually beneficial.
I'm also very fortunate that Scott Davis, one of the program directors at Octopus Garden (where I'll be completing my teacher training), is also a licensed acupuncturist who for some time has been finding many interesting ways to connect the two modalities.  Last summer with Scott, I completed a 5-day intensive that linked Traditional Chinese Medicine's 5-Element Theory with yoga, and I'm eagerly anticipating further exploration of this vast field of knowledge.

Speaking of constant research...I'm always searching for a better understanding of how exactly can we create and cultivate peace in our world: what actions can we take, words can we use and decisions can we make?  This is my on-going research into "peacing for peace".  Can you offer us any insights? How do you peace for peace?

I peace for peace by assisting people from all walks of life, in finding health and maintaining that vital connection to their own inner peace.  It's pretty hectic out there, so it helps to be happy and calm on the inside.

Interested in connecting with Ian? Click below!

(Full Disclosure: No one at Peace Flag House ever receives any reimbursements, gifts or kick-backs for our kind words.  We do accept good karma.)

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