Health and wellness are more important than ever before during the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, the conversation around racial injustice came to a halt, and tensions escalated worldwide. With many gyms and yoga studios closed across the country, people are increasingly relying on technology for meditation and physical activity. Holding Space Yoga, Toronto is unique because it is a yoga and meditation service birthed from the pandemic and operates exclusively online.
Instructor Mary J Samuel has been practicing yoga as a teenager. After over a decade in the restaurant industry, she chose to pursue yoga and meditation full-time. While many physical yoga studios value inclusion and diversity, Mary is vocal and intentional about making her business body-positive, LGBTQ, and BIPOC friendly. Onside Media was delighted to speak to Mary to learn more about Holding Space Yoga, what diversity means to her, and providing positive messages during challenging times.
What inspired Holding Space Yoga?
I worked in hospitality for twelve years. I managed Rosa Linda, a vegan Mexican restaurant in Toronto, for three months. By the end of those three months, I was burned out. So, I switched my entire life path and decided to pursue yoga. Before the pandemic, I went to Costa Rica to complete my 200 Hour Teacher Training.
Holding Space is a body-positive brand. I am a plus-sized woman, and I’ve been practicing yoga since my teenage years, and I always felt shy going into classes. Now I realize that anyone can do yoga. Many of my friends are a part of the BIPOC and LGBT communities, so I wanted to make this practice accessible.
Holding Space is entirely virtual. In the summer, I was running park sessions. Due to the restrictions, I had to go back to online classes. In February, I will be launching the Holding Space Youtube Channel.
It is so vital that Holding Space Yoga is openly body-positive, LGBT, and BIPOC inclusive. How has the reception to this been from your following?
I was surprised by how good the reception has been. I have people reaching out from all over the world. I want to provide a place that people can turn to in difficult times. Throughout 2020 I did a few fundraisers for BLM Toronto, as well as free yoga and meditation. It was the perfect timing because people needed someone to reach out to deal with mental stress.
In your own words, what makes a business essential to you during this time?
To me, essential means focusing on the basics. Food, water, health, and shelter. Yoga and meditation have gotten me through so much. I meditate every single morning and night. Mental health services, as well as yoga and gyms, are essential. It’s a shame that small businesses are suffering while more giant enterprises are thriving. The pandemic created a weird grey line with what is and is not essential. But to me, food, exercise, shelter, and mental and emotional well-being.
You have traveled and lived in Trinidad, Toronto, Vancouver, and Costa Rica, to name a few. How do you capture the worldliness of these diverse cultures in Holding Space Yoga?
Costa Rica uses the term “Tiko Time”, so everything is very relaxed. I stayed at a resort while doing my training there, but I also volunteered by helping the locals with cleaning. In Toronto, I was in the bar scene, and people don’t stop to take time for themselves. So my clientele comes from that industry. I want to create Space for Zen in a bustling city such as Toronto. I was born in Trinidad, and I visit often, but I’ve never done yoga there.
As a businessperson and yoga studio owner, you understand how essential your services are during this time. What do you want people to understand about your practice and what it represents?
Mostly, I want people to understand that anyone is welcome. There are many toxic messages from diet culture, and its face is very white-washed. I want to make space for all sizes, colors, and backgrounds because everyone needs physical activity and mindfulness in their lives.
How have you continued to spread the message of hope to your following?
Many of my posts on Instagram have been about positivity and manifestations. Things are not perfect all the time, but we need to keep hanging in there. We need to keep our well-being in check. I want to make sure that people know that despite it being a hard time, we can use tools to keep a positive mindset.
I have a hard time promoting positivity because I don’t want it to come across as toxic positivity. I’m trying to promote happiness within the self. In the yoga community, people think that nothing bothers us, that we have our emotions under control all the time. So, the message I’m trying to spread is that it is okay to have bad days, but we can always put a positive twist on any situation. In February, I will be starting Motivational Mondays, which will include content surrounding motivation at the beginning of the week and Mid-Week Meditations.
Holding Space Yoga will be launching a Youtube Channel and adding more yoga and meditation classes to the schedule in February 2021.
For more information, visit https://holdingspaceyoga.com/
Find Mary on Instagram @holdingspaceyoga
Author: Vanessa Butera, Content Writer, The Onside Media, Toronto, Canada. If you have stories to share kindly email: – [email protected]