How yoga changed my life: The Story of Melanie Richards
Tell us a little about you?
I started practicing yoga in my early twenties, and the impact was so profound that I quit my job in Montreal and moved back to my hometown of Ottawa to do a yoga teacher training. Within a few months of completing my training, I moved back to Montreal again and opened HappyTree Yoga Studio. For over fifteen years, I have been privileged to serve the community through this transformative practice, mainly by offering yoga classes and teacher trainings.
Recently, however, I took a break from teaching so I could focus on raising my now two-year-old daughter and grieve the sudden loss of my sister. Yoga continues to be a part of my healing journey, and I am grateful for this time to turn inward, process and learn from my life experiences before going out and sharing yoga again.
When we think of Yin Yoga, we think of Melanie Richards. What has drawn you to the practice of Yin yoga?
Thank you for this kind acknowledgement. :)
I teach what I need to learn! As someone who measured my self-worth by how much I performed, gave and accomplished, Yin yoga’s beingness, receptivity and acceptance were revolutionary to my life and a soothing balm for my soul.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who needed to hear this message! I believe it’s downright rebellious to slow down and love yourself as you are, which is why I love teaching Yin yoga. The long-held, passive stretches of Yin allow the time to plant messages of self-love and self-acceptance to counterbalance society’s motto of “do more, be more.”
How do you cope with stress and anxiety?
I don’t always cope well with stress and anxiety, but through yoga and meditation, I have become much better at responding rather than reacting; my coping mechanisms are healthier. If I notice I’m short-fused, avoiding my responsibilities, or numbing my feelings with food (reacting to stress), I know it’s time to take better care of my needs so I can respond more mindfully. Taking care of my needs usually looks like going to bed earlier and doing a daily yoga sadhana (Sadhana translates as a discipline or conscious effort, usually a daily practice with the goal of spiritual growth). My sadhana will include pranayama, prayer, movement and relaxation, depending on what I feel I need. I’m also learning to respond more compassionately toward myself when falling off the wagon!
How has yoga impacted your life and helped you get through challenges?
I only realized after many years (and with the help of my psychologist) that the reason yoga was so transformative was that I grew up in an unstable family environment that included mental illness and volatile, unpredictable emotions. As a result, my nervous system became easily triggered, and I developed anxiety.
Yogic breathing helped regulate my nervous system; the postures helped me release past trauma from my physical body, and meditation helped balance my mind and emotions.
Yoga was the first and most lasting thing I have found to help me live a fuller, happier life.
What do you think it would take for us to move forward as a collective?
It takes people in all areas to make a difference. We don’t need to make grand gestures and save the entire world. But, I believe that every effort counts toward the collective good. The courage to speak up when you know something’s wrong; an act of kindness; being of service; the humility to admit wrongdoings and course-correct; an extra breath before responding; a smile. It makes a difference when we leverage our skills, passion, and power for the good of our community and our corner of the planet. You never know the ripple this will have.
What do you want to get across in your teaching and how do you take those teachings and practice them yourself.
Ideally, I would love everyone to feel free to be their most authentic Self without being judged. I want everyone to know they are worthy and lovable and that their life matters.
I am an eternal student, and to quote Ram Dass, “I would like my life to be a statement of love and compassion--and where it isn't, that's where my work lies.” So, ultimately, my practice is to respond with compassion to myself and others.