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On Yin Yoga – A WTD Q&A with Ashley McEachern

We here at Well TO Do have been big fans of Ashley McEachern, Toronto yoga teacher extraordinaire, for ages.  In fact, to quote WTD Co-Founder Erin: “Going to Ashley’s Yin class often feels like my version of going to church.”  So, we couldn’t have been more thrilled when WTD Contributor Christine Noonan had the chance to catch-up with Ashley to talk Yin Yoga, aromatherapy, inspiration and so much more!

Well T0 D0: Please introduce yourself to the Well TO Do readers.

Ashley McEachern: My name is Ashley Holly McEachern. I am a small town girl raised on a big family farm in Nottawa, Ontario. I am now based in Toronto, but have lived, worked, studied and travelled to over 20 countries as both a freelance writer, an academic and a student (eventually a teacher) of yin yoga.

WTD: What inspired you to start yoga?

AM: My first yoga class was at my university gym. I struggled a lot in university. I was 17, quiet and very anti-social. I worked a full time job while being enrolled in full time studies. I was totally broke. I was lonely. I knew something had to give. I remember I didn’t even own workout clothes. One day, perhaps out of desperation, I threw on some baggy shorts and a t-shirt and went to the free yoga class at the school gym. It calmed me. It felt right. At that time, I was not sure what it could really do for me, but that was the beginning of my lifelong yoga journey. That was over ten years ago!

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WTD: How long ago did you start teaching? Why?

AM: I started teaching six years ago. Throughout university, yoga was my quiet time; it was my time to forget about theories and just be. After completing my MA in International Relations, travelling internationally and hustling through three years in the permanent rush hour that is Toronto, I packed up my things and moved west, all the way to Vancouver Island. Upon my arrival, I wanted to build community, to surround myself with likeminded people and this was not too hard to do in Victoria.

I joined MokSana Yoga in Fan Tan Alley in their amazing Energy Exchange program, volunteering each Friday for free unlimited yoga, while working full time at the Canadian Cancer Society. MokSana had a special yoga program for cancer patients and survivors, and one day I realized that these yoga classes were often more powerful, deeper healing work than all the work we were doing through the non-profit. I packed up again, travelled to Peru with my BFF to hike Machu Picchu and complete my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training with Inbound Yoga. Everything changed after that.\

WTD: You have an evident passion for Yin Yoga. Can you tell explain how Yin Yoga differs from other types of yoga?

AM: Yin yoga was (is!) a game changer in my yoga practice. Despite living a stressful life, I was still drawn to really challenging, intense, muscle-building practices. Eventually, my body broke down. Rushing to and from yoga was causing me and my body more harm than good. This is when my personal practice shifted to yin yoga with Toronto teachers Ali Alexander and Lana Sugarman. They infused their classes with meditation, wisdom, anatomy and energy. Then I studied with Thomas Myers, the “king of fascia”, and was determined to learn more and more about connective tissues. I felt my physical self and my emotional self-transforming, and have done over 100 hours of yin yoga trainings since!

In a nutshell, yin yoga is a meditative, slow paced practice designed to hold long, deep stretches in stillness, flowing to your edges for a prolonged period of time (anywhere from 3-20 minutes). The benefits are dynamic and powerful – yin yoga targets the connective tissues – the bones, ligaments, tendons and joints, and thus can improve joint mobility and flexibility. Cathy Keenan, a TCM doctor, taught me about how yin yoga poses stimulate the our bodies’ meridian lines: liver, gall bladder, kidney, urinary bladder, spleen, stomach, often times also addressing the heart, lung, Small Intestine, Large Intestine, Lung, Pericardium, and San Jiao meridian lines. Energy flows through these meridian lines. When energy is blocked, clogged or restricted, yin yoga asanas can help to release tension, emotional and physical.

WTD: You offer an online Yin series of classes. What inspired you to develop this on-the-go series?

AM: I built this program for my students. I am often travelling to teach or write with wellness retreats and spas, and some of my students have been coming to my classes for 3-5 years consistently. I wanted to continue offering yin yoga classes despite my physical location, so I created, filmed and edited the classes while travelling across Central America. At that time, there were limited yin yoga courses available online without some kind of yearlong membership. My online in yoga classes are available forever for just $40.00 here.

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WTD: The Saje Aromatherapy Yin Classes at YYoga that you lead are extremely popular. What are some of the benefits you see in combining Yin Yoga and aromatherapy?

AM: Saje Aromatherapy Yin classes are transformative to say the least. Each week, 40 + students land on their mats to really connect with their bodies and lives. The predominant feedback I receive from my aromatherapy yin yoga students is that the oils create an incredibly relaxing and enhanced experience in each of the poses and in final meditation. However, I believe that the use of these oils can do far more than simple relaxation. Since yin yoga is very much rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine and each pose can stimulate a different energy line in the body, I most often apply the aromatherapy remedies based on what energy line I am theming the yin practice towards. For example, if I am teaching a yin yoga class focused on the stomach energy line, with the intention to aid digestion and ease stomach and gastrointestinal pain, I would apply the Eater’s Digest remedy to certain points on my students during the poses. In this way, we are inclusively using the yin yoga asana, the essential oil and the class intention to resolve underlying issues of gut discomfort.

WTD: You write a lot and cover a variety of topics. How do you feel yoga and writing complement each other? Why is this creative expression important to you?

AM: I always heard from my female entrepreneurial mentors that you have to build your own dream job or you will spend your life working away at someone else’s’ dream. I love yoga and I love writing. I struggled for years as a freelance political journalist, freelance wellness writer and occasional yoga teacher. Alas, through determination, ruthlessness, hard work, study and SO MUCH HUSTLE, I can finally say what they told me is true – you can build your dream job. My writing clients often laugh and ask me “How do you jump from teaching yoga to writing completely unrelated blogs so quickly” and I always reply “because I practice yoga”. Yoga enables me to clear my mind for writing, and writing inspires the stories, intentions and sequences I present in yoga. I live in my full creative expression because of the marriage of these two.

WTD: Can you share a memorable place you have practiced yoga and why this specific place means so much to you?

AM: The Sacred Valley of Peru. This is where I first studied yoga, where I learned how to cook, where I learned how to garden, how to be fearless, how to build homes with adobe, how to chant, how to talk to strangers, how to be discipline and ultimately how to live fully. My community and teachers at Inbound Yoga still inspire me with their travels and teachings and I am forever indebted. AND… Vancouver Island, BC. My family lives here now and I visit regularly – life on the island continually reminds me that we don’t have to live in the hustle, we can forage our own food, harvest our own seaweed, live on the ocean, hike mountains each week and live our truths.

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WTD: What’s next for Ashley Holly Yoga?

AM: Top Secret … Branding Guides for Yoga Teachers, Yin Yoga Teacher Trainings, Global Travel and beyond 🙂

WTD: What’s exciting you most about the Toronto wellness scene right now?

AM: WELLNESS IS TRENDING. Seriously! I used to get teased for doing yoga, mocked for eating organic and ridiculed for shopping locally… now it is ‘cool’. The community around wellness in this city continually amazes me and I am so honoured to be a part of that tribe.

WTD: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

AM: Yes! I’d love to offer a discount on my online yin program for your readers here – Promo Code: yinspired. Also, come check out my December 3rd Aromatherapy Yin Afternoon Retreat at YYOGA or my January Yin Yoga Teacher Training. Thank you! ! Keep practicing… 🙂

For more information about Ashley’s work and to take advantage of the promo code INSPIRED, click here.

Photo Credit: Nathan White