I've had the great honour of knowing Gail for over a decade now, and witnessing her evolution as a woman, creative soul, yogi practitioner and teacher has been inspiring beyond words. In our Q&A, Gail shares her journey: from facing life-altering trauma, to resigning from her 14-year fashion career to focus on her health, to embarking on a trip to India to learn the practice and traditions of yoga therapy. All of which has now led to immersing herself into the most important mission to-date: self-study and using her innate gifts to be of service to others.
1. In your own words – who is Gail Marie La Vina, and what is your ‘mission’ in this current season of your life?
My perspective right now is that life is a journey of constant navigating, discovering and uncovering who I am. I’m definitely still learning about ‘who am I’.
What I do know is that I have always identified with the roles of a student, explorer, and creative. Equally passionate about art and science. Deeply in love with life and people. Intrigued by inspiring innovations and the intelligence of nature. Constantly learning and unlearning. Experimenting. Evolving.
My mission right now is self-study. Implementing various practices to get a clear picture of who I am and where I am at in that moment. To refine how I tune in, moment to moment, with myself and everything I encounter within my environment. Developing clarity and precision in what I sense, experience and express. This interconnects with everything I do. Especially the projects I choose to take on. From my personal practice, to teaching yoga, and mentorship sessions for brands or personal life. At the core, it’s about focusing on doing what truly feels right for me. When I can make decisions aligned with that, magic happens. It seems like a simple concept; to become a true expert in myself and my self. It’s been the most difficult and rewarding challenge I’ve chosen to take on.
Gail in her Petite Form Necklace
2. Describe your journey as a yogi practitioner and teacher. How did it begin and how has it impacted your life to-date?
Earlier it was completely exploratory and about fitness. The first time I encountered the idea of ‘yoga’ was through a friend who received free classes at a studio and invited me to try it with her. The impression I got after my first class was that yoga is a form of exercising with body positions to get stronger and more flexible in a calm setting. The teacher was fascinating. 70 years old doing positions I was struggling with at the age of 20. As a dancer, it felt like the perfect balance between dynamic moves and ‘working out’. Like a more artistic expressive work out. I took classes here and there casually at different places whenever I felt I needed a ‘workout’ or ‘stretch’.
Eventually yoga became part of my healing. There was a point I felt like my life completely fell apart. Getting an ‘incurable disease’ that effected my face, vision and voice. Then a traumatic break up with a person I was engaged to and thought I would spend the rest of my life with. For the first time in my life, I was lost. It was then when I joined a studio and went to classes regularly for my health. But then it quickly became about healing through the community and friendships I made. I began to feel ‘normal’ again and was inspired to explore alternative health practices. I eventually made the very difficult decision to resign after 14 years, from a very successful fashion career that I loved, to focus on my health. Which then led me to a life changing trip to India. I spent 8 months practicing and training in Iyengar style Yoga Therapy with Sharat Arora, who was a teacher under BKS Iyengar’s Yoga Therapy Program at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI). It was with Sharat, I received my first 375hr Yoga Teacher Training. From there my daily habits changed, my perspective of myself and the world evolved, and I was physically experiencing things that western doctors could not explain. With respiratory challenges, I ran 6 half marathons and 34 races in one summer. With having restrictions in my neck movement, suddenly I could do inversions. Coming back to Canada I continued to study and completed 3 200hour teacher training courses with Rameen Peyrow, who was the youngest teacher to receive blessing to teach under Pattabhi Jois (known for bringing Ashtanga Yoga to the west).
Now, my practice is about a way of living, knowing myself, and supporting others who are interested in doing the same. Initially I didn’t want to teach. I chose to study yoga primarily for my personal health. Until my courses required us to teach. After leaving my leadership role in my professional career, I felt at home again with being able to help others. Especially in a way that has profoundly changed my life. I believe in the practice. There’s nothing like supporting someone to a point where they have the confidence to navigate themselves. Witnessing someone be so empowered and induce positive changes in their own life, without you. Full circle. Growing as a teacher, has helped me grow as a student. Truly, the role of ‘student’ and ’teacher’ is symbiotic and my intention right now is to continue to do both.
I love my relationship with yoga. When I needed 'a workout', there was a form of yoga available for me. When I needed healing tools, there was a form of yoga available for me. We are in a very exciting time with yoga offerings being so diverse and more accessible. I’m honoured to be part of it.
3. Can you share a meaningful lesson you’ve learned during the global pandemic?
It starts with you.
4. What rituals or activities are giving you a sense of clarity and pure joy right now?
The main thing that anchors my clarity and joy is my breath. So with every activity I do, so long as I can breath consciously, I am able to find clarity and some level of joy. A deep yoga practice goes beyond the time I meditate or practice postures on a mat. It’s navigating through everything with awareness. And when you practice THIS. It’s very difficult to not see the beauty in everything.
Rituals for me would be mediation (both a good 20-90 min sit and mini micro mediatations throughout the day), posture practice, breath work, voice work and eating well. The beauty in these practices is that there are so many ways and levels to explore. I’m constantly discovering something new. And it’s not about amount of time, but the quality of practice in the time you do put in. Even if it’s only 1 minute. It makes a difference.
Some activities I like to indulge in are pampering myself with a nice long bath and complete skin care routine. I am addicted to Island moon co’s germanium bath salts. Making a really amazing meal from scratch and having the time to really enjoy and savour each bite. It feels so fulfilling. Impormptu lip synching is another guilty pleasure. I’m convinced I was a drag queen in a past life. Its honestly just fun. People watching is also another activity I find entertaining. Humanity is so interesting, from how we behave and react. To simply observe can feel very therapeutic. Overall I love to adventure and explore new places and activities. When I’m in that mode of newness and wonder, I can’t help but be so fully present. It’s like experiencing something for the first time. Definitely there is a sense of joy and youthfulness. And sports that I’m enjoying at this stage of my life are rock climbing, running, and hiking. It’s the combination of doing something that to succeed requires you to really connect with you body, breath and nature. It’s invigorating.
5. You’re a true wanderlust and have done a lot of traveling throughout your life. Is there a particular location or trip that resonated most with you? And how so?
I love to travel. Every place I’ve been has given me a unique experience and lesson. I also recognize what I want in a trip constantly shifts. Hawaii, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Bali, Malaysia, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, England, France, China, and USA all offered me exactly what I needed at that time that I was there. I also love exploring the different parts of each country, as it always amazes me how just a city or state over can seem like a different world. Places that stick out to me right now are India, Philippines, and Canada. Again India transformed my practice and lifestyle. Philippines I frequent often, and it’s always a humbling experience to connect to my roots and understand the culture my parents grew up in. And exploring Canada is fun for me because it’s a beautiful reminder that there’s so much at home we often don’t realize we have, and is worth taking the time getting to know.
6. You’re hosting a virtual yoga class and fundraiser on March 12th called “Yoga Stops Traffick” – can you briefly explain what it is, where the raised funds go, and how people can support the event?
Yoga Stops Traffick is an annual campaign that is organized by a charity in the UK called Adventure Ashram. The concept of the campaign is on one day yoga teachers from around the world come together to offer a class as an opportunity to raise funds for Odanadi, an organization based in Mysore India that is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of human trafficking victims. They also oversee collaborative projects focused on updating local legislation to protect human rights, work with authorities to convict offenders, and work with the community to bring awareness and education on gender equality. The money raised by Yoga Stops Traffick goes to the running costs of the 2 rehabilitation centres they have which provide over 120 victims a temporary home, various therapy options, education, and trade training to help reintegrate into society independently. For the past 32 years Odanadi has rescued over 13.000 victims, reunited 1400 children with their families, and over 400 brothel raids and offender conversions. You can find more info on Odanadi at www.odandi.org.
To get involved you can either donate directly online, sign up for one of the hundreds of yoga classes around the world that are choosing to be part of this event, and if you are a yoga teacher you can join the collective and offer a class too. Every dollar counts. As $1 Canadian can be equivalent to 4 meals in India. For more info go to www.yogastopstraffick.org
I will be hosting a 75 minute all levels class on Saturday March 12 at 10am EST. To register you can look me up on the YST site or explore the link on my IG bio https://beacons.page/gailmarielavina
ANY donation amount for my event will get you a spot in the class. To quality for raffle tickets donate $20 for one ticket or $50 for 3.
The amazing Raffle prizes include the classic gold ‘Petite Form’ necklace from CADETTE and a full prop set from Halfmoon Yoga.
Any support is greatly appreciated.
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