Updated: Mar 26, 2022
"Wellbeing" is a blog series where I interview and introduce you to inspiring people doing interesting things that can connect to our mental wellbeing.
Today, meet Lea.
My name is Lea Coultas. I’m 41 years old, own 2 beautiful kitty cats and am currently living in downtown, St. John’s. I’m a Gentle Yoga Teacher specializing in beginners yoga and currently teach a variety of beginners/gentle yoga classes online via zoom.
If you had asked me "who are you and what do you do" 5 years ago, I would have given a very different answer. I was working as an administrative professional with the provincial government where I had been full time since I was 20 years old. I was married and living a very “normal”, traditional life, you could say. I was not in the best physical shape of my life and my mental health was suffering. I was lost. I didn’t know what my purpose in life was and I felt very unfulfilled. Yet I had all the things I was told would make me happy. The secure job that paid well, the handsome husband with a great career of his own, the big house and the car, yada yada yada. So why wasn’t I happy? Well, I started to examine those things very closely and soon began to realize that I was living the life I thought everyone else wanted me to live. The one where I felt the most accepted. Where I fit into the “mould”. The thing that you are taught to seek the moment you leave high school. Career, marriage, family, financial freedom = happiness. This was where my passion for yoga began…
What sparked your passion to be a yoga instructor? Why gentle yoga?
I certainly never thought I’d be teaching yoga ever in my life. To continue with the above story - 5 years ago I knew I needed to make a change. A drastic change, in order to feel like a human again. Whatever that even felt like. I didn’t know. My dad had convinced me to attend a Kundalini Yoga Class in the city. He was really into this style of yoga and thought it would help me. I was very reluctant but decided to give it a whirl. I mean, it couldn’t hurt, right? I was already feeling so down all the time and on different medications - I was willing to try anything. Little did I know, that class would slowly begin a major life transformation. I would embark upon an incredible 5 year journey of slowly letting go of the current life I was living, and building a completely brand new one.
To be honest, yoga didn’t hook me right away. In fact the very first class I took with my father, I cried at the end and decided "I will never come back to this". I’d worked too hard to curb my emotions as feeling anything too intensely was way too overwhelming for me. And what I’d learned in my relationships with certain people was that my emotions made others uncomfortable, which of course made me uncomfortable too. So the quest to avoid feeling was stronger than anything else.
I would do anything to avoid feeling. Overeating, drinking, the occasional chemical substance, binge watching tv as well as a couple of different prescription antidepressants. A couple of months passed and my depression was at an all time low. I had to do something. So I went back with more of an open mind and tried the class again. Before I knew it, I was attending 3 classes a week. I decided to leave my government job of 16 years. I started working at a health & wellness centre as a receptionist and decided to take a yoga teacher training. Mainly just to do something else other than admin work. I never really had aspirations to teach, but thought the education in something would benefit me and perhaps I could connect a little deeper with my own practice and possibly co-teach with someone sometime. I had quit university once I got my government job and only had a high school education - something I had always felt ashamed & embarrassed of.
This was also a point of contention for me as I always believed the story I had told myself - I’m not educated, therefore I’m not capable of living a different life. I felt trapped in my job and didn’t see any way out...until I did. My very first yoga teacher training was a Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training. What was interesting about this training was I found myself capable of doing all the moves. It was gentle, slow paced and truly a beginners class. That’s where the idea of teaching gentle yoga began. I thought, there has to be more people out there like me who want to try yoga, but struggle finding a class that suits their body. I wanted to create a beginners class that truly was for beginners. A guided, step by step, instructional class that was inclusive to all body types and age groups - taught by me, who 100% understood how it felt to be terrified, inflexible and out of shape.
That is where it all began 5 years ago and after that it was full steam ahead of shedding layer upon layer of the scared, insecure person I had become to a much more self assured, stronger, healthier me now. Through my dedication to my yoga practice, it opened up so many doors for me. I travelled to places like Spain, Thailand & Costa Rica attending workshops and yoga teacher trainings. It brought me to meeting so many incredible people that helped me on my journey to finding myself. The road was (and still is) long and winding. I had to face my biggest fears. Leaving the security of a government job, a marriage, stepping into a classroom surrounded by physically fit individuals, feeling like I didn’t fit in or belong, then forcing myself to stand up in front of people to teach yoga and mindfulness. It’s all pretty surreal but I’ve never felt more invigorated. And I’ve never been more terrified.
What do you do to support your own mental wellbeing?
This varies every single day. I find when I’m operating at my ‘best self’ is when I’m checking in with myself every day.
Making a daily ‘to do’ list helps keep me focused and on track.
Writing in a gratitude journal keeps things in perspective and helps me see all the amazing things I have to be grateful for.
Creating and teaching my yoga classes keeps me motivated.
Regular movement, whether it be walking, dancing, stretching, yoga, meditation.
Even though very challenging, I find when I’m at my lowest, meditation helps me to connect more deeply with myself and bring up any emotions I’m finding challenging to deal with.
Talking to people also helps me. When I’m down, I know I need support. I suffered in silence for many years. Reaching out to friends and family has been a life saver for me. It’s scary to open up to people and be vulnerable, but it’s that vulnerability that builds true connections. With yourself and others.
The last thing, which I still find the hardest, is having kindness and compassion for myself. Allowing myself to rest when I need to. Not judging myself too harshly if I’m not doing all the things that help me feel well. Some days I’m not capable of doing anything. And sometimes that’s exactly what I need.
What do you want other people to know about mental wellbeing?
It’s definitely not a one size fits all thing. You have to be willing to make changes in your life in order to see changes occur. The only way to do this is to start looking inward. Getting really honest with yourself about the things that are causing you to feel unwell. And the journey never ends.
I was at an all time low with my mental health just over a month ago. I had to do all the things I mentioned above to slowly crawl myself out of that hole of despair. Let go of the idea that once you “do this one thing” you’ll be on the up and up and nothing will bring you down again.
Life will throw you curveballs every single day. Life will test you time and time again. You have to learn to have kindness and compassion for yourself during the hard times. And continue to build on the tools in your toolbox that you can draw upon when times get tough. It’s a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Connecting with yourself is when you’ll start to see what works best for you in your journey to wellness.
How do you think yoga fits into our overall mental health?
Yoga forces you to feel the things that make you uncomfortable. It forces you to slow down, breathe deeply, connect with your body and most important, your mind. That monkey mind that doesn’t stop going.
I hear people say a lot - I can’t do yoga because my mind doesn’t stop going and I find it too hard.
That’s all the more reason for you to do it! It’s in that space that you stop and LISTEN to what your body is needing. I’m not saying yoga is the be all and end all that will fix all of your problems. But it will certainly help bring things to light that you may need work on. Not to mention the physical benefits to movement, long deep breathing and stretching. It puts the responsibility for your growth & mental health in your own hands, rather than waiting for someone or something else to fix it for you.
There is no magic pill. There is no short cut. That’s why gentle yoga is a great place to start. You wouldn’t go to the gym and start at that 20 pound weight. You’d start at 3-5 pounds and work your way up. Gentle yoga will help you to build physical and mental strength in a safe and healthy way.
If anything I've shared resonated with you - you’re not alone.
It’s never too late to begin to change your life. Obviously leaving a career and a marriage are two pretty extreme things to embark upon. I’m not saying you have to go to that place, but if there is something inside you that doesn’t feel quite right, LISTEN.
You deserve to feel fulfilled in your life.
You deserve to have peace and experience true happiness. And it is very much attainable. You’ll never get there if you continue on the hamster wheel and only do things for everyone else. To say you don’t have time, is bullshit. It’s an excuse we tell ourselves to avoid dealing with ourselves and what we’re not doing for ourselves. If you have a demanding job, a family to care for, a life to pay for, it may look impossible to squeeze even a moment more in for yourself.
But YOU matter. And you can’t take care of all of these things when you’re not taking care of you.
If you find yourself feeling angry, frustrated, resentful? Get curious! I found myself angry & resentful quite often. And what I learned through therapy, yoga, podcasts was that I was angry and resentful at others because I wasn’t standing in my truth. I wasn’t taking care of myself and I wasn’t listening to the voice inside me that was literally SCREAMING wake up! DO SOMETHING! I was watching everyone else live their lives wishing I was doing the same. Feeling powerless and hopeless. Meanwhile, the power was all mine to harness. I just had to LISTEN.
I had to make one step. Yoga was that step for me. Yoga helped me see the beautiful person that I am and gave me the strength to take the second step and the third. It has not been easy. But it’s certainly been worth it.
Where can we find you and learn more about you?
My website is www.gentleyogawithlea.com
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