Carmen Foon : The Mental Benefits of Yoga
What is Mindfulness? How Can Yoga Helps Us Achieve It?
Tasmanian born, Yogi, actress, and activist Carmen Foon shares her wisdom on the paradox of being so inconsequential, yet so important at the same time. On a hot Friday afternoon, we talked about many things - from the benefits of yoga to try to find the answer to questions such as “what is mindfulness”, how to forgive yourself, the journey towards finding yourself, to the importance of being in the moment. We also discussed the precious value of time, how we can redefine our purpose, and how we can enhance our sense of community to make the world a better place.
In this post, Carmen Foon takes us on a self-rediscovery healing journey. Directed not only at our own bodies and minds but as a way forwards in coexisting harmoniously with each other in the world.
Becoming a Modo Yoga teacher was something that Carmen had not planned for herself. It was an opportunity that appeared on her path after being through a series of heavily upsetting and emotional matters. In fact, even more than yoga seeming to ‘show up’ in her life, Carmen described the actual decision to take on teacher training as something she “put out to the Universe”. Given that yogi philosophy influenced Carmen’s life, sense of self, and ability to help others around her so strongly, it’s clear that it was something she was meant to stumble upon. A month with 300 hours of teacher training in Seattle plus 200 hours of training external training later, Carmen became a qualified yoga teacher at Modo Yoga Sydney in Rosebery eager to use her skills for guiding others to achieve all sorts of personal goals.
But first, here is what Carmen described the role of yoga in her life.
Q: What is it about yoga that’s so important to you?
A: It made me feel what I needed to get over, what I needed to overcome. In yoga, you can’t hide from yourself. It makes you crack open, be raw, and feel the flow of everything within your body. It’s hard to describe with words, but most importantly, it’s about connectivity and the realization of how inconsequential yet important things are at the same time.
“The realisation of how inconsequential yet important things are at the same time”. This was one of the main concepts that prevailed during the whole interview. Carmen explained that much too often, our minds are overwhelmed by negative thoughts, insecurities, worries about what is being expected of us from wider society, what others think of us, how we’re meant to behave, think, enjoy or even the things we’re meant to pursue. Among the many benefits of yoga, targeting this idea is one of them.
A (continued): In yoga, you’re made to spend time with yourself. It allows you to see the internal dialogue that goes on in your mind more clearly, without having external influences distracting you. We’re so worried about what people think of us, but yoga gives you the opportunity of finding yourself. It humbles you, rips layers off you and expands your individuality.
We talked about the importance of time and came to the conclusion that time is one of the most precious things we have. It's the only thing in the world you can’t get back. Occupying our minds and spending so much of our time thinking about who we want to become according to others’ standards, we tend to lose contact with our own essence and identity. “At the end of the day, you are the only person you wake up to”, Carmen said, so it is very important to practice how to forgive yourself and discovering the meaning of who you are. Learning to pick your battles is an idea that Carmen strongly encourages. Investing your time on your own personal development and growth rather than on meeting others’ expectations is ultimately what will help to find yourself and understand the true meaning of inner peace. Carmen also mentioned that self-judgment leads to external judgment; which furthers into a downward spiral. The mindful journey to forgive yourself is always a good place to start to break that cycle.
This is one of the most important benefits of yoga. The provision of a safe space for you to disconnect from outside distractions and influences to look within yourself incredibly helpful in creating healing headspace.
Q: I assume that the best way to achieve these levels of mental strength is through mindful practice. Am I correct? What is mindfulness for you?
A: Yes, absolutely. To me, part of the answer to “what is mindfulness” is about trying to take the ego away. I don't mean to say that ego is 100% bad, but taking a step back from it allows things to flow through us. It helps us become less reactive to what happens around us, and be more responsible for yourself. Many love to use the analogy of being a “drop in the ocean”; which is very true. This is also where the ideas of being genuine and empathetic come in - it actually ties acting and yoga together. When portraying a character, you first need to have empathy for the character you’re playing; its position, its story, concerns, strengths and weaknesses to then be able to convey yourself as genuine. One of the benefits of yoga teaching is how you learn to practice empathy and implement it into your lessons. It allows you to use your training as a guide to design lessons dedicated to what your students need, not what you think they need.
One of the best benefits of yoga at a personal level was learning from her students. Values such as humbleness, perseverance, and strength were just a few of the many things that inspire her and keep her going as a teacher.
The answer to “what is mindfulness” together with the idea of being a drop in the ocean stood out. Even though we are incredibly inconsequential in the larger perspective, we are still part of a whole system and community; and must do our part to create a living space where we can all coexist fairly, inclusively and respectfully with each other.
Speaking of coexisting in harmony, Carmen talked about her Plant People project and her journey in veganism.
A: The concept of ahimsa is central. Of course, one of the greatest benefits of yoga practice is that it introduces this idea into the way you see the world, make decisions, construct relationships and so on. It means having respect and not causing harm to anyone and everyone who shares this planet, including other people, animals, and nature. It sets the mindset where freedom is something that we all deserve and that no one is subject to being inferior or superior to anything or anyone - which is once again, one reason why empathy is so important. Having personal clarity about what is mindfulness is equally as essential. By mindfully placing yourself in someone else’s shoes, you inevitably practice empathy by considering their emotions, troubles and the effects, and hence adjust your behaviors or decisions according to them. Integrity is also an important value I take very seriously that ties being genuine and empathy together.
Q: Yes - I could only imagine how complicated it must be to get this message across. The veganism diet and lifestyle is already such a highly debated topic…
A: Absolutely. It’s because it's not a simple concept at all - which is why having conversations, communicating, listening to each other with an open mind is so important; and why empathy is important, again. It’s often the case that veganism comes tied with a stigma of being judgmental, forceful and of placing themselves at a higher moral stance - but that’s not what I at least identify as, at all. The role I strive to have within veganism, especially with Plant People TV is not one which criticises others’ ways of doing things or pointing figures - it’s about showing different ways of achieving the same thing. At the same time, it’s about showing how doing things differently can have a positive impact in many aspects including the environment, sustainability, animal welfare, and even encouraging a larger sense of community and sensibility within yourself.
In the end, the vegan mindset and lifestyle is not simply defined as caring for animals. Although being compassionate about animals is definitely part of it, it’s also about mindfully understanding the meaning and impact of our actions and about acknowledging other living beings on the planet as worthy and deserving of respect and living a dignified life.
Q: Are there any other strategies or tools you use to enhance your yoga practice rituals?
A: Oh yes, I like to use oils for my students - especially during Shavasana. We always start and end the class in Shavasana - or the Corpse Pose as you can also call it. I think it’s beautiful because the class is structured around the idea of a cycle. The studio becomes a place where you can walk in and feel reborn as you walk out. It’s a space for you to come together and practice physical health and mental health through mindfulness, meditation, and movements dedicated to finding yourself and achieving inner peace. So yes, I very often use the Oleu Life Body Care Oils. At the end of the class, I like to apply the Yoga Shanti body oil and massage my students’ shoulders or hands or even feet; I love the scent.
I also work a lot with their individual essential oils like Lavender or Frankincense depending on the chakra that I’m trying to work with.
Carmen’s insight into the benefits of yoga went beyond expectations. In terms of personal development, it became clear how redirecting our time away from other people’s expectations towards practicing values of empathy, integrity and being genuine, our focus and connections within ourselves will strengthen. By eliminating distractions and concentrating on what is truly important, we can find the answer to “what is mindfulness”, and hence be able to use our time wisely on things that make us happy, things that teach us important life lessons and meaningful encounters with others.
As Carmen said, the only person we wake to is ourselves, so maintaining a healthy connection between our body and mind is the foundation for building relationships with others with similar values. As a result, this community has the potential to work together to achieve progress and wellbeing for all.