Sarah Girard on using Yoga to Return to Safety Within Your Body
Sarah Girard is a yoga, breathe and meditation practitioner who is currently based in the PNW. A childhood cancer survivor, Sarah sat down with us about to speak about using yoga to feel safe in your body after experiencing trauma, where to begin with a new yoga practice and what she’s most looking forward to in a post-pandemic world.
Teny: Tell us about yourself
Sarah: My name is Sarah Girard and I grew up in and out of the hospital. I had a form of pediatric cancer known as retinoblastoma, the cancer of the eye or the retina. My eye was removed when I was about two and a half years old, and I had to stay in the out of the hospital a lot for just checkups and things like that. And tests, making sure that the cancer wasn’t spreading or coming elsewhere through my body. So, that being said, wellness and health has literally been my entire life.
T: How long have you been practicing yoga?
S: I started practicing yoga when I was about 14 years old. I was a very angsty teenager and my mom was like, ‘get out of the house, do something to calm yourself, child!’ There happened to be a yoga class near our house that was on a donation basis, so I started practicing there and truthfully, I hated it. I was like, why is this woman telling me to love my body and breathe? My body is something that needs to be fixed. Because, like I said, I’ve always had cancer. I looked at my body like it was something that needed to be fixed, not something worth loving. So even though I didn’t like it, I kept going because I had some athletic injuries that it helped with, but I didn’t really fall in love with Yoga until I was about 20 years old and kind of in the depths of my first heartbreak.
I was miserable and one of my girlfriends was like, okay, come to yoga. And I remember laying there in Shavasana and feeling like I was returning home to a place that I had never been before. And so the yoga studio and my yoga practice was something different than I had ever experienced. It was physical. It was calling my mind. It was allowing me to just get connected to a place that always has been there that I was familiar with, but it was somehow new.
t: How did that feel for you?
S: It was, in a sense, me returning back to my body too and viewing it as being a safe place. I’ve gone through many different traumatic experiences other than cancer in my life, so I understand the fear of returning to our bodies as our bodies not being safe. And for me, that’s what yoga is. It’s returning to your body from a place of safety.
t: Wow! And what type of yoga do you teach now?
I teach a highly informed practice, a slow practice that is a result of many years of somatic training. I have over a thousand hours of specific yoga training, and then I’ve got different somatic techniques Feldenkrais method, mind body centering Pilates and breath work. I’ve been a singer, so I understand that breath breathing apparatus, and so I interweave all of this experience, my life story storytelling, my passion for philosophy and my own personal development and into what I call somatic yoga practice, which is very similar to a hot yoga practice. I also love the Hatha yoga system, which provides a lot of really powerful techniques for cleansing and strengthening and sharpening the body. But then there are also rituals that are necessary from the tantric lineage of breath; of softening into the body and letting it lead us back home again.
T: Something you speak about frequently in your classes is the practice of yoga for longevity, and not just for your current physical health. Can you tell us a little bit more about that philosophy?
S: We are surrounded everywhere by immediate gratification, especially within technology. And now that we are out of the studio in our own homes and practicing via technology, there can still be that sense of immediate gratification. But there is such an expansion of sustainability on our plates – in the clothes that we wear, how much energy do we consume off the grid, that kind of a thing. Why wouldn’t there also be a sense of sustainability with our bodies and longevity?
I started in power yoga, it was my initial instinct to do that style of yoga because I needed to be really athletic. I really needed life to be intense, or rather I was used to life being intense, so I needed my practice to be intense because that was familiar to me. But intensity isn’t sustainable, right? I was really excited about learning how to put my foot behind my head and I really injured my hips doing that. I was really excited about doing arm balances, and I really injured my shoulders that way. And so working with those injuries and coming back and keeping a kind of moderation as my guide through the practice, and this is something that I’m really happy to say, that I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years and I feel stronger now, I feel more flexible, and I also feel like my practice has the groundwork for, many years and many decades to come. And that’s my goal too. And that’s my goal in teaching.
I know many, many instructors are interested in kind of keeping things going, keeping things intense, and there’s a time and a place for that. Like sometimes we just need to move and sweat, but I’m more about, let’s keep us informed. Let’s keep us safe and supported so that we can go forward forever for a long time.
T: This past year of living during a pandemic has been such a time of shifting mindsets from whatever our ‘normal’ was to whatever our new ‘normal’ will be. Do you feel that too?
S: Absolutely. And I think there’s so much power there in the re-emergence. It’s like when we reenter after, like, a punch of karma, which is an Ayurvedic kind of food detox, if you’ve ever done something like that, where you’re like, okay, I’m going to like minimize night shades and dairy, you know? And then you start to like slowly introduce things again, back into your life. And you’re like, did I really even like that? Like I remember I used to just sit down and have a cheese plate every night before dinner, but now I don’t like that. Like my body doesn’t feel good with that. So I’m going to do something different and we have that same power to do that. Now, as we start to re-emerge, the task at hand is to stay present within the transition so that you have enough information so that you can discern, is this something that I really want to do?
I want to make sure that when I reenter, I’m spending time with the things and the people and the places and that opportunities that I really feel very excited about. And that’s a privileged place to come from. Like, let’s acknowledge that like that’s a deeply privileged perspective to have, but I think that it’s a perspective that each of us can have with the state of presence. Right? We can be aware of our higher instinct and intellect telling us when things are really good or when things are not so good. And that way we hustle less about alignment and with the hustling less it doesn’t need to be a struggle. But this practice of meditation of yoga helps us be more attentive to be more present with what is so we can take in the experience at hand and say, ‘do I, do I really want to spend more time doing this?’ No, it’s terrifying to not do it.
T: What are you looking forward to in a post-pandemic world?
S: As somebody who has an online membership platform, I now have a deep connection with people around the world. Like I have a client in Germany and South America and South Africa, and it’s so cool to know that we can connect across time and space with each other. I mean, yogis, truthfully, have been doing this for thousands of years, you know, connecting with each other across time and space, but we have been able to create the technology that makes it possible for us to tangibly see each other and hear each other in the moment. And it’s so wonderful. Community is something that is so needed and we have it, it just, it, it looks slightly different right now. But I’m looking forward in the next year or two to be hosting retreats where we can commune in the same place together and share meals together.
T: What programs are you working on for Sarah Girard Yoga?
You can practice with Sarah through her On Demand monthly membership or in one of her weekly zoom classes. Learn more here.
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