If we’ve learned anything in the past eight months, it has to be the power and presence that occurs when we gather as a community. Through the loss of physical communities and the ongoing creation of organizations online, how we relate to each other and communicate continues to shift and evolve, be it for better or worse.
This week on the podcast, we interviewed yoga teacher, writer, and entrepreneur, Ally Mazerolle, founder of Girlvana Yoga and Ladyvana Retreats. Ally started teaching yoga well over a decade ago and founded Girlvana to bring yoga and mindfulness practice to teens.
“Today, we’re working with Gen Z, and it’s this new, emerging generation that’s so cool, and also terrifying. This generation sees the world in a way we never did because of social media. Gen Z has such a pulse on all things political because of social media and the internet; it’s more native for them to be online.” – Ally Mazerolle.
Girlvana, like so many other studios and community-focused businesses, shifted classes and training online to continue connecting young women from all over the world as we continue to social distance.
“My superpower is a vulnerability in my ability to share how I feel. My former business partner used to call me very emotionally agile. I think this aspect of who I am helps create a safe and conscious space for teens to share how they feel and who they are. This is what community means to me, the ability to come together and learn from our experiences.” – Ally Mazerolle.
Introducing Ally Maz and Girlvana Yoga
AM—I’m so excited to have this conversation with you, particularly Clara because the idea for Girlvana was brewing inside me, but it wasn’t fully realized until I did one of your Morning Yoga Intensives. Girlvana was created in 2010, so almost a decade ago. The intention was for young women to feel seen and heard, and connected through the avenues of yoga, meditation, and real conversation.
I wanted to create a space for mindfulness for teens, and it also pertains to gender and sexuality and identity and consent and periods and all of the things that young people have to deal with as they come of age.
Girlvana started with me teaching yoga in high schools; I was just knocking on the doors of principals and school counselors and anyone I could think of. At this time, I was already leading yoga retreats, and I thought, how cool would it be for this retreat to be all teenage girls and have sort of like a summer camp meets yoga retreat experience?
We’ve trained over a hundred teachers globally to teach Girlvana Yoga to teens; you can find Girlvana in Scotland, Switzerland, Canada, and the US. Girlvana is also a book that will be published by Penguin Random House next year.
Girlvana just wrapped a very ambitious digital summit for teens. We’ve created online offerings through Zoom to stay connected while we social distance. We had yoga, meditation, and keynote speakers. The girls had breakout sessions and were able to speak and be involved in conversations around allyship, mental health, yoga, and breathwork practices. I underestimated how profound digital offerings can be and how deep and vulnerable young people are willing to go.
What’s a belief that’s holding you back?
AM—I just started a new job, and I feel like my imposter syndrome is coming up a lot. Even though I’m 34 now, I still feel like I’m the youngest in the room. The belief that arises is that I don’t have enough experience to be teaching.
What book guides your philosophy of living?
AM—The Woman Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I love that it’s based on fairytales, and I like how it’s soaked in the female psyche and the experience of women being wild. That book was revolutionary for me.
What’s the superpower that you bring to your communities?
AM—My superpower is a vulnerability in my ability to share how I feel. My former business partner used to call me very emotionally agile.
My ability to open up and share is a doorway for young people to feel safe to share. When I am open and vulnerable, I create a space or a brave space for other people to be open and vulnerable. That has created a really strong sense of community for me.
CRO—I feel like we go deep into our dark caves, and we’re in our own caves, but together. There’s a quiet and space for introspection, but we’re all in it together.
When I’m teaching, I go deep down into myself and kind of sit in the mud, this very dark and heavy space. When I meet myself in the mud, people come with me and enter their own mud; the darkness and the heaviness we all carry.
What have you learned through the community that you could not have done alone?
CRO—The biggest gift that I’ve received being in the community is how much deeper I’ve gotten to know myself in the community. By simply showing up and being together, whether it’s a yoga class or dinner with friends, I feel like I get to know myself so much more by being around other people.
Through this interaction with others, I feel way more inspired by what I see around me and the amazingness that is in all of us.
AM—Right now, being in quarantine and not being directly in the community in the same way, I miss feeling reflected in others. I enjoy it when someone shares something beautiful or their joy or sadness. It gives me something to relate to. That’s what community gives me, relatability.
The only word I have for it is humanity. We’re all on our journeys. We’re all trying to figure it out. No one has the answers. Coming together as a community shows us how we’re all just figuring it out. I miss being with people in that way.
What does it mean to hold space for others?
AM—Holding space means staying in your body and breathing for yourself.
I don’t need to jump out of my own experience to make anyone feel safe. It’s so interesting because when someone cries, it’s like, oh, don’t cry, or here’s a tissue, or you want to run over and give them a big hug.
Especially with young girls, this is how they want to show up and support each other. I stay in my own body to set boundaries and let this young person have their emotional experience without trying to coddle or stifle it.
I have the mentality of; I’ll sit here as long as you need me to just be present for you to move through this.
CRO—All of my teachers are very strong with boundaries in doing the work stepping back to allow others to have their own experience. I used to get a lot of slack from yoga studios because they wanted me to be around before and after class to be with students. When I taught at this time, I felt like I would give my soul to the class as a way to hold space, and by the time I got home, I would be exhausted.
I always have to remember when I’m teaching classes or workshops, or when I’m on retreat, that I need to take a lot of time for myself too.
Holding space takes up a lot of energy. In my younger days of teaching, I was so depleted from the work of being together. When I teach, I feel my breath and open my own heart to what I’m directly experiencing, what I feel, and hear. The gift of this practice is that it brings up your own experiences and emotions. The lesson is to sit with how you feel and not try to change what’s happening around you or change what’s happening within.
I learned early on from my teachers that when somebody’s sharing, you don’t go and rub their back or do anything that takes them out of their experience. You sit and observe and just be with them. You become the space for them to unload something; we all carry a burden that becomes lighter if we share it.
What are some of the communication strategies you use in workshops or retreats?
AM—Something we use in Girlvana is clarity, transparency, and brevity. This way, the intention, and communication are super transparent. We let everyone know at the beginning of the workshop or retreat that these are the three agreements, so people can self-correct if they start rambling. It’s a great way to bring everyone together in the circle.
CRO—I use the four agreements taken from the book by Don Miguel Ruiz, and I add a fifth agreement that I’ve found helps.
The agreements are:
- Be impeccable with your word,
- Don’t take anything personally,
- Don’t make assumptions,
- Always do your best,
- Be mindful.
I add in the fifth rule because we’re in a group, and it’s essential to be aware of how much you contribute versus how much you’re not contributing. When we come together as a collective, we can learn so much from each other. If you’re the type of person who’s always engaging and speaking, it’s an opportunity to step back to observe and listen. If you’re the type of person who’s quiet, it’s an opportunity to speak and see what you can learn through bringing your voice and opinion to the group.
I’ve been to training where it’s the same three people talking the whole time, in a group of like twenty people. There’s so much more knowledge in the room that we could be sharing instead of just listening to three perspectives.
A short meditation that asks you to connect to the wisdom and resilience of the heart space. This meditation taps into the expansiveness of the heart to bring more awareness to the breath, how you feel, and how you relate to the environments and individuals in your life.