by Susan Fisch (February 2020)
In 1973, at the age of 16, Elizabeth Chanona immigrated to Canada with her parents and two of her siblings. She missed Belize and the rest of her family and friends. It was her graduating year of high school. She found the winters very hard. She missed the family farm and the caves and struggled with depression.
A yoga class was being offered in her high school and she enrolled, knowing nothing about it. What helped her cope with her depression and come to terms with her new home was yoga. She could return to Belize in her mind during relaxations. Also, running helped as a means of escape. She could run all year long with only a pair of running shoes.
She had always wanted to help people. Having studied social work, she dedicated ten years to Ville Marie Social Services, assisting families, couples and teens, then worked with mental health crisis centres. After ten years, she wanted a different approach to helping people.
In 1980 she married David Smith, and from 1982 they spent three years in Belize. Back in Canada, they wanted their own place, but Montreal was expensive. A friend found them a house in Hemmingford near a river, which for her was returning to her roots – Nature, and a vibrant, welcoming community, for which she is still grateful.
Once in Hemmingford, Elizabeth trained in massage therapy and later yoga teacher training. Yoga breathing and movements provided tools for her massage clients, helping them to relax and cope with physical pain.
She started teaching in 1996 at the Old Convent, then at Centre de Santé Esprit de Vie. And now for the past six years, at St- Luke’s Anglican Church Hall. In the past, she offered kids’ summer yoga camp, and continues, on occasion, to offer yoga to elementary schools, or with parents and grandparents.
Over the years she has taken many different trainings, including the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course with Jon Kabat-Zin, which she offers from time to time.
Today she offers massage and counselling and teaches yoga in Hemmingford and Ormstown. She also offers a number of workshops and yearly retreats. Since last year she now participates in a pain clinic offered twice yearly by the CLSC in Napierville.
She is also a member of Bridges not Borders (BnB) and participates in welcoming people across the irregular Roxham Road border. Having immigrated herself, she knows how hard it is for a family that has lost its roots to integrate into a different culture. She also volunteers in another organization called Porchlight, which is currently sponsoring a refugee family.
Elizabeth strongly believes that she is partnered with Grace, the Universe, the Divine. She uses these words carefully in her classes, suggesting to her students that they use the word that resonates with them, to help deepen their spiritual path. Being in partnership means that we have a part to play in our life and that the Universe has our back. She is devoted to empowering people, meaning that the power is within us. We are not victims. Even the most challenging circumstances offer opportunities.
Yoga means connection. How can the teachings she offers connect us more deeply to ourselves, to others, to our environment and to our community? Every opportunity she has to be out in Nature – hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing, camping… feeds her soul and nurtures her family and community connections.
Sometimes people are uncertain, thinking, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible enough”, or “I’m not relaxed enough”. We do yoga to become more flexible and relaxed.
Over the years, Elizabeth finds herself often put on a pedestal. People perceive her as being a very calm, centred and grounded person. She does not come by this naturally. It is a journey, a work in progress. She credits a lot of her journey to her daughter, who humbles her and reminds her to be human. Sarah-Monique has challenged her about practicing what she preaches, for which she is really grateful, because she teaches from a perspective of empowering others, and she really wants to walk her talk.
She and Sarah-Monique are very close. They share yoga and meditation, as well as the importance of family and community. Sarah-Monique’s great love of the outdoors comes from both her parents.
Elizabeth’s yoga is constantly evolving. After so many years, it still feels new. Everything she gets exposed to influences her teaching. As for the future, there is always something new just around the corner.