Featuring Michelle Stafford from the US

Friday, 7 August 2020

by Justine of Just Yoga

For 42-year-old Michelle Stafford, her first experience with yoga was not very appealing, let alone something she could identify with. This first encounter, via a video tape, featured a slim and trim leotarded woman going through what Michelle thought were just stretches. This picture of 'fitness' did not fit into Michelle's idea of being fit. At the time, Michelle believed that to be fit, one needed to lift weights and do an exorbitant amount of ab crunching exercises. Needless to say, this soon changed when she started to experience chronic body pains and could no longer lift weights. Initially being referred for surgery, she chose to seek an alternative and more natural solution to the pain she was experiencing.
"If I don’t do yoga, I cannot function. My chronic pain comes back, and I can barely walk, or move. I make yoga a priority, so I find the time. If I don’t, I pay the price. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Yoga fills my cup. That way, I am able to serve my family and community."
At the time, she was working at a gym where yoga was offered. She took a random yoga class and this time; she fell in love with it. She found the experience both challenging and healing at the same time. In those early classes she attended, she still did not really understand the true depth of yoga. She did not know that it was more than poses. It was a classic case of Michelle not knowing what she didn't know. Her eagerness to learn and excel at this new love of hers, grew over the years. Years later, she was introduced to Iyengar Yoga and this is when she gained a deeper understanding of all that is "yoga". Becoming a Trauma Informed Care Trainer brought an even deeper understanding of the healing that Yoga can bring, not only to the body, but the mind, as well.
"Yoga has changed my life completely. There are so many things that yoga has helped me with. I have learned to manage stress and anxiety and I honestly feel amazing."
                                                                                                                                                                                 Photos by www.fluffypoppostcards.com

Yoga has helped Michelle both mentally and physically on a number of occasions in her life. Mentally, it helped her to heal from childhood trauma as well as the ordeal of being hit by a car when she was younger. Physically, it has helped her heal chronic back pain and has stopped her knee from dislocating. This is something that traditional physiotherapy was unable to do. Michelle takes extra care when practicing certain asanas that may exacerbate an old injury. She may on some days use various props like blocks and straps to help her achieve a pose. If a prop is not available she chooses a pose that offers similar benefits that she was looking for in a pose.
"My favourite thing is to modify poses and find new ways to adapt poses to what I or my students need at that time. It could be for their physical or emotional body. There is nothing that happens in the body that doesn’t also happen in the brain and vice versa."
The poses that Michelle finds most challenging are arm balances which are advanced poses and not for the faint hearted. Michelle is very aware of the limitations of her body due to her past injuries and this sometimes prevents her from doing the posture. Padmasana or full lotus pose is another pose which pushes Michelle to her limits. She finds her hips to be not as flexible as it should be for this pose, and is only able to hold it for a short period. This takes a lot of focus and breathing.

Michelle's family supports her practice of yoga to the point where they converted part of their living space, in their home, into a yoga studio. More so than before, since the pandemic, they have to be quiet while she is teaching her online classes. Her mother, who lives with her, joins in most of her yoga classes. She has even taught her father some poses years ago, that he still does whenever he exercises. Even her sister’s and their kids practice with her regularly. They used to join her in-person classes, but now they are doing them on Zoom. Michelle has observed that children tend to not be as engaged and interested in online classes as they have been in the in-person classes. She finds this concept quite interesting and is keen to hear how other yoga teachers have found it teaching kids online.
"Yoga has taught me acceptance. Acceptance is a practice, though. It is a journey, not a destination. As long as there is ego, we will always be on that journey. Also, it has taught me how to live in harmony with ego. Don’t fight it. See it. Love it. And nurture your true self."
Michelle believes that one's ego has a purpose because it is the character that we play while we are here on earth. It has also taught her that we all have the power to heal ourselves, when given the right knowledge and tools. 

For years, Michelle would see that she was the only BIPOC in a yoga class. When she would see another black person, she would feel a sense of joy, and a desire to connect with them. At the same time, it saddened her not to see more people of colour practicing yoga because she knew how it had changed her life. She has always felt like yoga is about community, embracing diversity and accepting differences. She firmly believes that we are all in this together in this life and should find unity in our continual growth and development of our yoga practice. Michelle's motto is lead with love, and the rest will follow.
"Yoga does not discrimate. No matter your age, race, knowledge of yoga, fitness level, cultural background, or economic status - your diversity is what makes you who you are." 
Yogi Michelle Stafford's final message is to encourage you to get to know one another off the mat. True healing comes when you feel safe and able to let your guard down with people. Not all yoga classes/teachers are the same and that's ok. Keep searching until you find your tribe of yogis that resonate with you. Yoga can be for EVERYBODY and if you want it, it is there for you. 

Michelle hosts daily yoga therapy via Zoom. Registration for her classes may be found here.

1 comment

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