Who You Are

As I launch my new website and started brainstorming content for my first blog post, the topic came naturally to me – the Fort McMurray wildfire. that instigated a mandated, city-wide evacuation and destroyed several neighbourhoods, leaving others severely smoke damaged. With my life over the past month turned upside down by this horrific event, I knew that my first entry here needed to touch on an approach that can help you deal with the experiences and difficult emotions you might feel around this disaster – and others like it.

When you have no control over the external events around you, the only thing you can control is who YOU are in any given situation. This is one of my favourite quotes that I often share with my yoga students in class. Little did I realize that over the past month I was going to have to put regularly put what I preach into practice on many occasions.

When I was messaging my staff during the fire to see where they all were and if they were OK, the common response I received was: “Sheila, this is straight out of a horror movie.” My heart was breaking as I saw my community go up in flames. I watched the television with tears rolling down my face and thought back to my yoga practice and the mantra: “The only thing you control in any situation is who YOU ARE.”

As the fire burned on, it was inspiring to see so many people choose to step up in this crisis; to help others, save homes, and lead through example. After we knew all of our staff members were safe, our oranj fitness team wanted to help. So we pitched in the way we knew best…through yoga!  We initiated a fundraiser called Hand to Hand[CP3]  that saw our shareholders challenge our oranj fitness communities to raise up to a total of $32,000, and promised to match whatever was raised. In the end we collected over $20,000 that was matched with an additional $20,000 from oranj, for a total of $40,000 in donations to the relief effort.

The culmination of this extremely powerful initiative came when my staff and I hand delivered these funds to the people evacuated from Fort McMurray. You can learn more about the fundraiser and its results in this this video link summary.

When I was teaching the fundraiser yoga class [CP1] in Edmonton on May 24th, I touched on the fact that we were all heading back to Fort McMurray in a week. This was going to be an emotional experience for everyone.  I reminded everyone to think about our theme: “The only thing you control in any situation is who YOU ARE.” Fort McMurray set the bar high during the evacuation. We were cool, level-headed, caring, and supportive of one another. As we all head back into town we need to make a conscious choice of who we want to be in this situation; what we want to stand for and what we want to represent. 

I personally choose to be loving; supportive of my staff and community; strong, and calm. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day; the raw emotions, the fatigue from clean up, and the fear of the unknown. There’s so much unknown that endless questions can swirl around in your head. What will happen to Fort McMurray? Will the town be ok? Will the businesses be ok?  Will property value go down? Will it go up? Will I get sick from the smoke smell in the air?  Will insurance cover my entire claim? What will I have to do to make my studio operate again? Will I have staff to work in my studio?  These are just a few questions going on in my head, and I’m sure the list is endless for you too.

When these questions start filling up your thoughts and you can’t seem to let go of the fear, just stop, take a step back and assess the situation. When you feel overwhelmed, anxious, teary eyed and upset, I want you to take some deep, slow breaths – maybe even roll out your yoga mat and run through a few sun salutations; linking your breath to movement. If you don’t know sun salutations, just sit down on your mat or in the grass and meditate. Calm your mind, take some deep breaths and try to relax.  I want you to think about the intention you want to set for yourself. Who you do want to be? What do you want to stand for? What do you want to represent?  The only thing we control in any situation is who WE ARE. 

Fort McMurray, we are in this together. We will rebuild. We will come back even stronger than ever before. And it all starts with you. We can’t do this alone; we have to unite. We have to care. We have to lend a helping hand, and sometimes even a nice big hug!  I can’t wait to get my studio up and running again; to see your smiling faces, share some much-needed workouts with you, and to help create a space where we all feel welcome again.