Photo courtesy of Taylor James
Yoga instructor Ally Maz grew up in self-control. It seemed like he could never do enough or achieve enough or be enough. (If you’ve always been a teenager, that might seem familiar.) Developing a yoga practice at the age of nineteen put Maz on a path to healing. At the age of twenty, she taught yoga in an adult studio. A few years later, he founded Girlvana: a retreat that teaches girls attention-grabbing skills so that being a teenager can be a little easier.
Through Girlvana, Maz brings together teenagers and young women for a week of yoga, meditation, breathing, self-reflection and connection. She knows these practices work because she has seen them create lasting changes, both in her own life and for the girls she has worked with. Maz’s new book, Girlvana, is the memoir-slash-workbook version of that retreat. While the book itself is written with teenagers and young women in mind – it has sections on periods of navigation and the use of intuition to understand consensus – the tools and practices on its pages are universal. : The newspaper asks you to understand. A breathing practice to elevate your mood. Meditation to lower self-judgment and cultivate self-love.
Introduce ourselves through Yoga
I am constantly growing on the analysis of every part of my body. I had an eating disorder, and I had a difficult time dealing with stress, relationships, breakups, tests, and other challenging situations. For a lot of these problems that I was struggling with — from a teenager and even into my twenties — yoga finally began to provide some answers.
For me at thirty-four, yoga is about repairing the relationship I have had with my body over all these years. But if someone had taught me to breathe, meditate and do yoga at the age of fourteen, I think my life would have been different. For those of us who learn yoga at a younger age, it’s not so much about repair, but rather about discovering the relationship we have with our body first so that we don’t have to do the repair later. Develop a deep relationship with your body from the beginning, and when difficult situations or thoughts arise, you know how to listen and honor your body.
I started Girlvana ten years ago. I had been teaching yoga to adults for four years, and I felt called to bring these tools to a younger generation in the hopes that they would not go through the struggles I had experienced. Yoga is a way for young people to be in their body in a non-competitive way. When I was a teenager, most of us had a relationship with exercise that was tied to competing with ourselves or others to achieve a certain standard of beauty or win in sports. Yoga is different. It’s this neutral space where it’s not about anything other than your connection and your relationship with your body. I knew the cure was for me, and it could be for the younger girls as well.
Girlvana started with my goal of getting to high schools, eating disorders clinics, dance studios, Girl Guides troupes – everywhere teenage girls and young women gathered. And then we started doing one-week yoga retreats, like summer camps. We’ve come to all types. It didn’t matter who they were or where they came from. At the end of the day, seeing a room of girls lying on their mats and breathing, allowing themselves to rest and close their eyes and connect, is the most powerful.
Girlvana included so many girls trying yoga for the first time. I work with them for that journey. For many girls, yoga goes through their mental state so that they can finally calm their mind when they reach savasana at the end of a practice. What I hear from many teenagers is “I wasn’t thinking too much.” Or “I actually feel happy.” Teaching yoga to teenagers is about creating a safe and brave space so that they don’t have to focus on doing a correct pose or think about whether the girl next to them is doing them better. Our goal is to create a space that is about putting people back into their body, being vulnerable and feeling everything they work on.
Part of the power of this work comes from doing it in community and sharing it with others. When we finished a practice, we put it in a circle, and everyone shared their experience of what was hard and what was great. Everyone gets to hear it and feels that they are not alone in their experience. It’s a game changer at times. These girls see that our stories have different characters and different plots, but that a lot of what we go through is universal. We all feel that we are not good enough. We all feel sad. And when we share our story, it creates a connection even between girls who think they have nothing in common. It creates a lot of empathy and forgiveness.
Love-Love Meditation by Ally Maz
This simple meditation is meant for you to be there for yourself and be the generator of your own love when you need it most. The more we practice cultivating love for ourselves and manifesting it for ourselves, the more we can help empower those around us.
Remember you’re healthy – you don’t need to be repaired.
Lie on your back.
Take the sole of your feet together and let your knees fall to the sides.
Put one hand on your belly and the other on your heart and close your eyes.
Begin to inhale into your hands, feeling your belly and chest expand.
Exhale, relax more on the floor.
As you continue to inhale and exhale, let the feeling of love fill your entire body. Imagine the feeling of love spreading to your head, heart, and belly.
Imagine breathing love and breathing love.
Remember that the filling of love will help you to love others.
Continue to breathe love into the outdoors for up to five minutes.
Extracted from Girlvana by Ally Maz. Copyright © 2021 Ally Maz. Photograph by Iri Greco is Jim Fryer from Media, Damaris Riedinger, Anita Cheung and Britney Gill. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by agreement with the publisher. All rights reserved.
Ally Maz is a yoga instructor, a writer and the founder of the Girlvana and Ladyvana yoga retreats. Maz co-founded the yoga and fitness studio The Distrikt in Vancouver and is a founding instructor at the Openful studio in Venice. His first book is Girlvana: Self Love, Yoga, and Making a Better World.
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