A chat with Stephanie Mills

BIRTH SIGN:

Capricorn

FAVOURITE POSE

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

FAVOURITE PIECE OF ART

Her disco ball

STARTED TEACHING

2006

Stephanie Mills is timeless to me.

I knew her when we both rocked plaid pants and ponchos, and our parents controlled our hair styles.  I learned to ride horses along trails on her family’s farm, and together we created legendary choreography to ‘Pop Muzik’ in the basement of my Oshawa home. Our parents were pals and we just clicked. In one of my all-time favourite pictures, we’re about 10 and tucked together under the arm of our mutual ‘boyfriend’, Shaun Cassidy. We were such nerds, and that experience and the concert we watched afterwards, are on my list for ‘all-time’ memories.

Stephanie and I had drifted apart by the time we hit our late teens. We resided in different cities and we were both living with alcoholism in our homes. I tended to wear attachment to people and places loosely, yet every time I managed to connect with Stephanie over the years I would be treated to her solid, steady warmth and optimism.  We laugh about some of our childhood escapades and about finding each other again through Modo Danforth. I ask her a question to which I already kind of know the answer. Who were you before yoga?

She pauses to fully consider the question, then answers with characteristic honesty, and catches me up on some of those years we’ve missed. “I was super excessive with food and alcohol at a young age. The Stephanie before always just wanted to feel good.” She pauses. Where did she discover her practice? “I’ve always worked out. I found the YMCA on Yonge St when I was 15.” When did she find the Danforth studio? “I went to lots of different studios with different focuses, but the Danforth was my first hot practice…. I went with my sister to try it out. Michelle Corbeil reminded me about self-care. She was my AA, and that hot room was a healing sweat lodge.”

Her classes are fun and challenging, and participants are encouraged to personalize poses with their own self-expression. “Did you know there are more yoga studios than churches in Toronto?” Steph asks. I didn’t, but I’d agree that yoga gives a more complete workout than the ‘Catholic aerobics’ I practiced growing up. Yes, there’s a lot of genuflecting, kneeling and standing, but not enough to get the heart rate up. Steph laughs, “All the things I’d been learning in church never quite landed, but yoga made concepts more accessible. The wisdom of the practice made sense to me.”

And now? How has her practice changed her? “I know I’m going to have some joy and some sorrow, highs and lows. And I’m going to ride all that through breath and movement. I used to be very good at compartmentalizing things. I feel like yoga has given me some flow. It’s taught me to nourish relationships. I have some very strained relationships…” She takes another deep breath and acknowledges, “it’s a master practice for me.”

“I have a big energy,”  she says summing it up,  “I’m very justice oriented. Yoga’s taught me that being right or wrong isn’t all that important. It really is about practicing kindness, and that’s not always easy.”  In fact, it isn’t always easy to be kind to ourselves let alone others. Reconnecting with Stephanie has reminded me that life is a journey, so I have plenty of time to practice.  So glad we found each other again, buddy.