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Woman of the Week: Emily Ridout

Sometimes an idea just comes to you. In fact, it calls to you — and it can’t go unanswered.

That’s what Emily Ridout said when Women’s Post asked her why she started 889Yoga, a yoga and wellness studio on Yonge Street in Toronto. For her, it was about bringing the practices she learned during her travels to the city she loved.

“Toronto didn’t have that yet. It was missing and we wanted to create that in our own city. A place where people could feel very comfortable to go on this path to healing and returning to who they really are, in a space that was clean, beautiful, and accessible”

889 is a quaint little studio located near Rosedale. The storefront is full of essential oils, juices, journals, candles and teas, in addition to props used for yoga, pilates, and meditation. As you head upstairs to the studio, the smell of white tea is unmistakeable. Class participants are free to enjoy a glass of water or cup of tea before and after their session. The studio itself is bright with lots of windows that allow the sun to shine in. It’s the kind of place that automatically relaxes you and breaks down barriers.

The studio has a very loyal following. As one member said, once you take a class at 889, “you’ll fall in love with it”. Newcomers are welcomed with a smile and instructors are patient with everyone, no matter their skill level. The ultimate goal is for people to feel comfortable and at peace — and in that, 889 is very successful.

“We are a beginner/intermediate studio,” Ridout said. “If you haven’t tried it, it’s very welcoming, kind, forgiving, and that is what we set out for. “

Ridout comes from a family of entrepreneurs, but decided to venture into academics instead. She studied commerce with a minor in French. Eventually, she dropped commerce and focused all her energy on linguistics.

Her first job following her graduate degree was with Butterfield and Robinson, a company that designs and runs tourist expeditions, mainly involving hiking and biking around the world.  Ridout started as a receptionist, eventually applying for a temp job in operations working on trips outside of Europe. Shortly after she became Expeditions Trip Manager, helping plan and coordinate trips, as well as acting as communication liaison with the guides overseas.

Ridout loves to travel herself. She spent a year in Spain learning the language and culture. It was actually in Barcelona where she took her first official yoga class, mostly as a way to make friends and use her beginner Spanish. At the same time, her sister Christine was also introduced to yoga during her travels to California and Los Angeles. They eventually got together and realized a passion had been ignited.

The goal wasn’t just to create a yoga studio, but rather a place of wellness, where Torontonians could experience what the Ridout sisters experienced during their travels. What’s unique about this venture was that neither sister was a trained instructor — just entrepreneurs with a vision.

“We wanted to own a business, run the business, and create a space where people can heal, do yoga and be at peace. Look at themselves from an internal point,” she said. “And we did it! We hired teachers. We hired healing professionals. We had no experience at all. It was just a calling. “

And that was about 10 years ago.  Since then, 889 has grown immensely, while still maintaining its foundation — to inspire happy, healthy, and peaceful lives. Ridout likes to say the studio is a reflection of how both sisters have evolved. They helped create and plan a 200-hour Living Yoga School, a program that transforms yoga lovers into capable instructors. Both sisters have taken this course and are now able to teach yoga as well as meditation classes.

They have also added a storefront that sells environmentally-conscious and Canadian-focused products and are teaching a number of private classes for moms and other women that combine essential oils with meditation and breathing work. Ridout is also designing a digital platform for these programs, especially for working moms with little time to come to the studio.

Her biggest piece of advice to women entrepreneurs is to simplify, and then simplify some more. “Keep the offer as simple and clear as you can. If you think its simple enough, break it down again. It makes it simpler for people to understand and get on board.”

Ridout also wants women to focus on something they are passionate about, something that lights you up when you talk about it. “There is enough room in the world for us all to do what we believe in and do what we love. If someone else is doing it, or doing something similar, there will always be your authentic version of it.”

“If you believe in something, create it and sell it. Don’t get discouraged by people who are already “doing” your idea, or something similar, or by a fear that you’re not good enough.”

Ridout has three children, who she says help keep her present and joyful.  She is currently working through “May Cause Miracles”, a 40-day guide to reflection, change, and happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein, for the second time.

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One woman’s journey in documentary, “As She Is”

“As She Is” is a documentary about one woman’s journey to discover what is missing in her life, and to recover her feminine identity in our westernized and often patriarchal society.

Director Megan McFeely embarked on a life-changing journey after experiencing the death of her boyfriend and two other family members in the span of three weeks. “My life fell apart 17 years ago and I began really trying to figure out another way. I never felt fully myself in the world and was being pre-constructed to live a certain way,” said McFeely.  “I started working with organizations that were trying to shift consciousness. I had to go to India and make the film.”

Director, Megan McFeely
Director, Megan McFeely

“As She Is” explores how the feminine is absent from many faucets of westernized society and needs to be embraced by both women and men. McFeely says she needed to draw away from the dominant and power hungry ethos of being a business woman, and instead wanted to live differently. “I started looking around for what it meant to live a life. What am I doing here? The question was so fundamental, that I started finding things that helped me understand,” McFeely said. “The question about the feminine came at a later state. It guided my life.”

Previously, McFeely had been working in public relations in San Francisco and had been a successful business woman in the software industry. After her life fell apart, she felt that her career focused on her more dominant traits and she desired to connect with her emotive side more deeply.

“I have been living from the masculine. My father was a federal prosecutor. I was really assertive and direct and I had a really good linear thinking mind. I was completely disconnected from the feminine,” McFeely said. “We were born into a patriarchy, and we have been trained. Our mind is more trained than our heart. The mind is a thing that separates us, breaking things down from the biggest to the smallest. The heart brings us together.”

McFeely quit her job and embarked on her journey to India to discover her feminine side. She decided to make a film, interviewing a variety of spiritual teachers and authors on the subject of the feminine and its import in modern society. Interviewees include Sufi teacher, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who is the founder of the Golden Sufi Centre in Northern California, and explores spiritual consciousness and the significance of the feminine within.  Co-founder of the Center of Entrepreneurship and Technology at University of California at Berkley, Stacey Lawson, is also a spiritual guide and talks about the strengths of embracing the feminine in the business world in “As She Is”.

“Interestingly, McFeely is interviewed in the film, which is rare in a documentary. She described the experience of being the subject of the film and the director as vulnerable and humbling. “I was very judgmental of myself and I had to trust other people. Imagine watching yourself for eight months, it is really humbling,” McFeely says. “You have to accept yourself in a certain way. It was an amazing learning process for me to be in the film.”

Since the release of “As She Is”, McFeely has met women all over the world that feel similarly. Recently her documentary was screened in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and was recently presented at the 14th Annual Female Eye Festival in Toronto. The festival showcases female documentaries and includes panels discussing women and the film industry.

How to find peace through meditation and mindfulness

For the last 10 years,  I’ve searched for ways to feel better — to rid myself of countless episodes of anxiety and depression, and to obtain the same sense of contentment I saw in others around me. From prescriptions to counselling, it seemed that nothing worked. I was permanently stuck in my distressed state. Thankfully, I discovered meditation and mindfulness.

In late August of this year, I decided to attend a two-hour group meditation class provided by the Consciousness Explorer’s Club (CEC). The club offered a generous pay-what-you-can option. The first hour of the class was spent in personal reflection, while the second half included a group exercise.

I experienced a multitude of emotions during that first group meditation session. I felt pain, sadness, anger, euphoric joy, and then finally peace. Peace — the feeling I had searched for through doctor’s offices and clinics to no avail. I was elated and began to seek out more meditative opportunities immediately.

I found a meditation-mindfulness group that focused on a combination of yoga and mindfulness meditation in a setting facilitated by qualified therapists. Combined with the CEC, exercises as directed by my counsellor, I started to feel better. I felt increasingly aware of the deep power of these practices in combatting physical and mental issues of all kinds.

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The reason I decided to share my own story is to demonstrate that, with the right tools, focusing on the self and the present moment can take one from a purgatory of self-doubt into a life of conscious exploration. I’m not saying that every problem can be magically solved by a few chants and a breath or two, but the practice itself does promise heightened awareness of the world around you. A study written by psychologist, Sara Lazar, assessed several people who meditated and it was discovered that “the e cortex — the outer layer of the brain that contains our thinking, reasoning, and decision-making functions — were significantly thicker in the meditators”.

But, where to start? Here are a few of the different types of meditation techniques:

Sahaja Yoga Meditation involves concentrated breathing practices for 15 minutes twice a day. This practice is good for people that don’t have a lot of time and are able to focus quite easily. Establishing good breathing is essential to the heart of meditation.

Transcendental meditation is when a person uses mantras, repetitive phrases that employ a positive message, during meditation and is normally a 20 minute exercise. Mantras can be a helpful tool to focus if the mind wanders. Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American author and public speaker, uses mantras in his meditations in the form of dharmas. Dharmas are a Buddhist practice involving different pockets of the bodies that need help through the form of meditative practice and can help heal physical ailments. Chopra’s guided meditations are easy to download and he supplies a 21-day meditation challenge that is great for beginners.

Vipassana meditation consists of using mindfulness practices to calm one’s thoughts. This helps bring a person into the present moment and objectively consider life’s problems. Mindfulness is a great practice that helps people experience exactly where they are at each point in their lives and brings greater meaning to daily existence. Jon Kabat Zinn writes an amazing book called Wherever You Go, There You Are that has small chapters embedded with meaningful quotes that explore various easy-to-learn topics concerning mindfulness practice in daily life.

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Chakra meditations is a deeper form of meditation practice that delves into the spiritual. There are seven chakras, or energy centres, in the body that explore different elements of being. With concentrated practice, any concerns within the chakras can be felt in the hands at various points of meditation practice and can help people manifest Kundalini, also known as creative power, which is the root of the chakra system. There are free online courses which explore Chakra meditation in depth.

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May meditation and mindfulness help you find the peace you seek and as always, Namaste.