When I only have time for a little bit of yoga, I turn to Fiji McAlpine, a yoga teacher from British Columbia. When I have time for more yoga than usual, I also turn to Fiji. She has numerous classes on Do Yoga With Me, a yoga website with classes and literature to assist new and long-time participants.
I’ve written numerous posts about how yoga eases my anxiety and one of my favourite classes to turn to is Fiji’s Rise and Shine. It’s 35-minutes of fast-paced yoga, with plenty of core strengthening and movement to get the heart-rate up, along with ample sequences of meditation and grace. This class is neither long nor repetitive. Instead, it is challenging, fun, liberating and the easiest way for me to face a panic attack head on.
My inner fangirl freaked out when Fiji replied to my email requesting an interview for A Quarter Young. And with that, it is my pleasure to share our Q&A with the yoga professional and wellness expert who motivates me when nothing else can.
- You’re a mother of two and a yoga professional. What else do you want our readers to know about you?
Above all else I remind my students that I am am still a student too. The amazing thing about yoga and life is that we are all constantly learning and changing, I like to think that my practice helps me embrace the idea of conscious evolution. I have learned over the years, especially now as a mom, that things are always in flux and that embracing change and even creating within it is really the most authentic way to live.
- When did you first try yoga? What was this experience like for you?
My first yoga class was when I was 21 and I remember it so well. I had been going to physiotherapy for two weeks after a back injury and was in constant pain. The therapist I was seeing recommended yoga as a way of helping in my recovery, so I went to local gym and took a class with an incredibly talented teacher. After the class I felt so much better that I knew I had to come back the next day. I started practicing three times a week first as a way of managing my pain and then because I fell in love with yoga itself. I find that is often the case with yoga, you come for a specific reason and you end up getting so much more from the practice. It is usually the unexpected benefits that we ended up really needing the most.
- When did you realize you wanted to practice yoga and teach it professionally?
I shadowed my first teacher for a year and one day she didn’t show up for a class. There were 25 people sitting on their mats in a room waiting to practice and no teacher to lead us. A few minutes after the class was scheduled to start, a staff member came in to apologize and inform us that class was cancelled because the instructor was stuck on the freeway due to a traffic accident. John, a fellow student in the class said as loud as he could, “Don’t worry everyone, Fiji can lead us she comes to these classes almost everyday!” Being put on the spot didn’t give me time to overthink it or even get nervous. I wanted to practice as bad as all the other people in the room so I popped up and rolled my mat out at the front of the room and away we went!
It came so easily and was so enjoyable. The feedback after class was also incredibly positive and some students even asked the front desk staff to hire me! The gym called the next week and offered me a slot twice a week! So much has obviously happened since then. I did my training and studied under a variety of teachers to create my current practice. What was born in that moment however has never left me – an unstoppable desire to practice and teach to lead the flow of energy in a room and share the joy yoga brings to my life.
- What about yoga is so important for your overall wellbeing?
What most people discover about yoga after practicing for a few months, is that its benefits extend much further than just the physical release of tension. Yoga helps us release the tension our body holds so that we can also release the mental and emotional tension we have become so accustomed to holding on to. The physical discomfort that draws us to the mat is almost always just a superficial symptom of something much deeper that yoga helps us work through. If you approach yoga with an open mind you will get much more than an open body as a result. I am living proof of the deep therapeutic benefits that can truly transform a life.
- If you have a favourite pose – what is it? Why?
Ha! My students would unanimously say plank! They are probably on the right track if I had to choose just one. I like to start my practice with this pose and use it regularly. I bet the 30-seconds my students hold in plank may be the only time they are 100 per cent in the moment and completely connected to their body during that day. There is something very honest about plank – you can’t hide in it or appear to be doing it well while compensating. You are either in plank and all of the uniting physical mental energy it requires or you are not. I often say if you can smile in plank you can smile through anything.
- Do you have a least favourite pose? What is it? Why?
This question stumped me, I don’t think I have one pose that is my least favourite. However, there are poses that I avoid or neglect sometimes and they are probably ones that I should be spending time in during those instances! I find as a teacher I shy away from inversions unless I am in a workshop setting just because of the necessary time it takes to instruct proper set up.
- Where are you from originally? What is the best part about this place?
I was born in Victoria, BC but moved to Southern California with my mom when I was three. Living in California has the obvious advantages of sun and beautiful beaches. I loved the ability to be outdoors year round and spent a great deal of time swimming in the ocean as a kid. My heart always yearned for the Pacific Northwest and the lifestyle and mindset of the people who lived there. I spent one month in the summer living with my aunt and cousins in Shawnigan Lake, BC and always felt like it was my true home.
- Where are you located now? Where is your favourite place to practice?
I ended up moving back to BC when I was 27 and could not be happier. I am surrounded by people who value the important things in life and I adore the rugged beauty of this province. I love to practice in the studio space here in Shawnigan Lake where I currently teach, Kali Yoga. The woodworking and beams inside make for a peaceful and open space and the yoga community that fills that space is a great thing to be a part of.
- Being featured on DoYogaWithMe.com, you connect with so many people across the globe – what’s the best part about this?
The connection that you get to make with other human beings is what makes teaching even more meaningful than practicing for me. Being reminded that we are all in this together and are here to support each other is what nourishes something inside me that many of us have forgotten. The website extends my reach and the connections I can make with others through yoga. The messages I get in response from students around the world are so motivational and inspire me to keep filming and sharing.
- Where else can we find you teaching yoga?
I am always adding new classes to the website and YouTube. In person, you can practice with me at Kali Yoga in Shawnigan lake or on one of my retreats. I have a big Mexico yoga retreat in February 2017 that still has spots open! All the details can be found here.
- When people ask me what I worked out on a specific day, and I reply, “I did yoga this morning,” I’m often faced with a frown from others, as they don’t quite understand how yoga is a real workout. What do you say to people who have trouble understanding that yoga is beneficial and healthy for all parts of the body?
I think a lot of people have the misconception that yoga is a room full of people laying around doing light stretches and breathing deeply while chanting ohm repeatedly! There are of course elements of all of those things to some degree but there is also a great deal of sweat and work being done! I get people asking often if I lift weights due to the definition in my arms and shoulders. I reply that I lift the weight of my own body in my yoga practice all the time and that is all that is needed to create the strength and structure they see in my body. If anyone tries to discount the difficulty of a yoga practice as way of staying fit, I challenging them to keep up with me in a class for 30-minutes!
- How would you describe the moment you start to feel the benefits of yoga, post-practice?
In Sivasana, I often remind students that not only is it a pose of rest, it is the moment you get to savor the true fruits of your practice. It is the moment your mind matches the gentle rhythm of your breath, the rare moments where you are present and only the reality of the here and now matter and are present. It is so important to absorb this time and to take the benefits of truly being connected and present in both mind and body.
- Yoga really helps me manage my anxiety, but I find it also helps me to reduce bloating. How does yoga make you feel?
Managing anxiety is a common benefit from a regular yoga class and is very necessary in a society that is paced to create anxiety in us as quickly as we can find ways to dispel it. Yoga helps break the thought cycles where we fixate on what might go wrong or might happen in the future by rooting us in the present moment, which is all that is really certain and real. It is in the moment that we have power to create change, not in the past and not in the future.
Many people don’t give enough attention to your second observation, the relief of boating or stagnant energy. Yoga is a practice of moving energy along its natural channels and helping to increase that flow when necessary. I find it helps greatly with my Raynaud’s, a circulatory problem, but it makes sense that [yoga] also helps with any movement of energy, digestive, circulatory, mental, or emotional.
- What do you hope your passion for yoga teaches your growing family?
I have a daughter and a son and I hope my dedicated practice will open the door to the benefits of yoga for both of them. I especially hope that yoga will help my daughter stay connected to her body in a healthy way. I have been very open about how yoga literally saved my life by learning to reconnect to my physical self in a healthy and loving way. I struggled to overcome anorexia for years and it was yoga that finally provided the therapy that I needed and that my mind would actually respond to. It is not surprising as eating disorders happen when we try to sever the connection of our mind and body or use one to overcome the other. I think yoga should be an essential component to all treatments and therapies for eating disorders.
- What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned so far?
Follow your heart, body, passion, or true voice. We all call it something different, but essentially it is the same thing. Yoga quiets the static created by everyone and everything on the outside so you can actually hear what is happening within. All the questions are just waiting under that static to reveal themselves to guide us toward a truly authentic life.
- Where do you go to find creativity and motivation?
I think it is so important to add variety to your practice, it is easy to get stuck on just one teacher or studio but trying new things is really how we learn what we like and what works best for us. It also helps our minds stay as flexible as our bodies. I try to go practice with teachers who intrigue me in some way, I absorb as much as I can and apply what works for me in my practice afterwards.
- Is there someone who continues to motivate and inspire you, today?
Peter Sterios is my living mentor. I love him as a teacher and a friend, and am blessed to have him teach and inspire me bot in my role as a teacher and student of yoga.
Thank you Fiji for taking the time to support the A Quarter Young community and for sharing how yoga has helped changed your life.
For a full list of classes by Fiji on Do Yoga With Me, click here and select “Fiji McAlpine” from the drop-down menu that reads, “Teacher.”