Teacher Feature: Danielle McPhail

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Danielle McPhail.


Ajax, Ontario.

When & where did you start practicing yoga?

I took my first Yoga class back in 2010.  It was in Vancouver, BC at the Semperviva Yoga studio on 4th street.  The class was a Hatha yoga class.  I remember falling in love with Yoga and the way that it made me feel from the moment that I stepped onto my mat that day. 

What initially brought you to yoga?

I became interested in Yoga as a way to manage stress and anxiety while I was a full-time student in graduate school.  Movement has always been healing to me.  I was a competitive dancer from the age of six to nineteen years old so physical activity with movement and flow feels more natural.  I had been teaching Pilates for a couple of years before moving to Vancouver, but I was looking for more.  Making the decision to go to a Yoga class eight years ago was one of the best decisions that I made for my mental, physical, and spiritual health.   

What is your favourite yoga posture and why?

Downward facing dog, or adho mukha svanasana, is my favourite yoga posture because it has the ability to help me in so many ways.  Not only do I feel the beautiful stretch in my claves, back of my legs, upper back, and arms, it also helps me to change my perspective as my head is below my heart in this pose.  Downward dog did not always feel comfortable for my body to do, but with practice it has easily become one of my favourite resting poses.

What has yoga done for you as a person? 

Yoga continues to be my way of coming home.  What I mean by that is that Yoga has allowed me to work on my relationship with myself and my body in a way that is more nurturing and kind.  This relationship with my body has always been unhealthy for as long as I can remember.  At the age of 12, I developed an eating disorder that kept me in a constant state of fighting with my body.  Being a competitive dancer highlighted this struggle as well.  Eating disorders are one of the toughest illnesses to treat due to their complexity.  They are also very misunderstood in today’s society.  I can honestly say that Yoga has been one of the most important gifts that I could have ever given myself in my healing journey.  Yoga not only helps to strengthen my body, but it also teaches me how to deal with discomfort through the gentle control of my breath.  With that being said, I always remind myself that Yoga is a practice.  Some days I feel great stepping onto my mat, while other days can be more challenging.  The key is showing up for yourself and getting on your mat.   

How would you describe your style?

My style can best be described as healing.  I tend to integrate a foundation of Hatha Yoga with my knowledge of Counselling Psychology in order to create a class that is holistic: integrating the mind, the body, and the spirit.  Yoga Psychology is one of my current interests and it has taught me how Yoga can help with illnesses like anxiety, depression, trauma, and so much more.  Often times, in my work life, I notice that the traditional psychological interventions are falling short or not creating long-lasting results.  I believe that Yoga can often be that missing piece.  My style focuses on coming back into our bodies in a safe and loving way as this can feel vulnerable for many people.  I love to integrate more of a flow in my sequencing, but also the time to pause and reflect as that is how we begin to learn about ourselves

Is there any particular teacher, style, or studio that influenced you?

Semperviva Yoga studio in BC had the largest impact on my teaching and my life.  It was an inclusive place that provided a sense of community, much like Taiga Yoga here in Yellowknife.  Gloria Latham, the owner of Semperviva, has had the most influence on my teaching and style.  She is such a strong and powerful woman.  Her style is fierce, but also gentle.  The most memorable moment in her classes will always be the dance parties that she has at the end.  She turns the lights off and the music up.  I remember at first I was a little bit apprehensive, but in no time we were all dancing and moving in any way that felt good.  Ashley Turner, founder of Yoga. Psyche. Soul., has also inspired my deeper learning of the connection between Yoga and Psychology.  She is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist along with a Yoga teacher.  She has helped me to integrate my passion of helping others with my love of Yoga.   

What is the biggest takeaway for you from yoga?

My biggest takeaway from Yoga is that Yoga is a practice.  It is something that we must continue to come back to time and time again.  There is no end point to Yoga.  This practice is not all about the poses.  I feel that sometimes we put so much emphasis on the physical practice of Yoga that we forget about the other aspects including the breath work, focused attention, discipline, meditation, and bliss.

What is yoga to you?

Yoga is healing.  Yoga is life giving.  Yoga is a coming back to the true essence of who you are without all of the worries, distractions, and negative self-talk. 

What are you working on in your practice?

I am currently working on listening to what my body needs during my practice.  I can often become distracted by thinking that I need to do a tough physical practice with many poses.  I am continuing to learn that it is okay to slow down.  I try to listen to how I am feeling that day and structure my practice based on what I need.  If I am feeling lethargic, I increase my physical practice.  If I am feeling overwhelmed, I may just do a child’s pose for my entire practice. 

Any words of wisdom for the Taiga community?

The hardest part of your practice is simply getting onto your mat.  Once you are there, you are home. 

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