Fit Escapes Muskoka

These days it feels incredibly rare to find the space to be fully present, open to new connections, and truly free from one's daily stresses. The hustle and bustle of living and working in a city like Toronto tends to make people so focused on what they need to do, where they need to go, and as a result they block out their surroundings. Why can't we soak in all the beauty around us, the interesting, unique people, and really make the most of every single day? Someone said to me recently that people are their best selves on vacation, and their worst selves on the TTC (Toronto's public transit system, which for all intensive purposes of this blog post I'll refer to as one's city self). I couldn't agree more. Why don't we bring our vacation selves into our everyday lives?

Speaking of vacation selves, our recent experience at Fit Escapes Muskoka was the true embodiment of people bringing their whole self, their best self, and their most honest self to the moment. While it wasn't your typical lay-down-in-the-sun-all-day type of vacation, it was energizing and rejuvenating just the same, if not more. The entire weekend, we couldn't help but notice how present everyone was and how people made such amazing connections with one another that, to be honest, probably wouldn't have happened if they crossed paths in the city. We wanted to reflect on this magic experience, and hope that by doing so we can inspire others to make the conscious effort to bring their best self into the chaos of everyday living.

The amazing Fit Escapes staff! 

The amazing Fit Escapes staff! 

Fit Escapes Muskoka was a three day fitness retreat at the beautiful Woodfield facilities led by Toronto based fitness gurus, Cassie Day and Karina V. They asked us if we would be interested in being guest coaches at the retreat, teaching acro yoga and handstand workshops. There was no hesitation between the two of us to humbly accept! The weeks leading up to the retreat had been especially draining for us and we were in serious need of some self care. For many, self care isn't waking up at the crack of dawn to start working out nonstop until sunset, but for us that was exactly what we needed!

As soon as we pulled up to Woodfield on Friday morning, we were greeted with open arms from the other coaches, the staff and the energetic group of guests. Attending a fitness retreat in the woods, either alone or with a group of friends, is something many might shy away from. But this brave group were so eager to start moving and mingling right away! There was not a single person who brought their "city" self to Fit Escapes.

We started the weekend off in one of Woodfield's yurts, with an intro from the Woodfield staff, the Fit Escapes staff and coaches, and a quick intro from each guest. There was everyone from fourth time Fit Escape go-ers, to newbies like us. People who love running, kickboxing, and deadlifts, to people who had never done yoga before. No matter everyone's background and experience, each individual greeted one another on common ground with open arms, open minds, and open hearts. It was a stark contrast to city life from the very start (in the best way possible).

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Cassie emphasized right off the bat that everyone should do their best to soak in every moment as Fit Escapes always seems to fly by, and boy was she right. After the opening ceremonies in the yurt, the weekend was a whirlwind of sweating, bonding, laughing, and eating. We kicked off the workouts with a grind and unwind: a 45 minute Everest climb with Cassie followed by a 45 minute yoga session with Karina. The weather was a perfect combination of heat with slight overcast and the occasional drizzling rain to cool us off (which was 100% necessary after Cassie's workout!). The group was then taken into one of our beautiful cabins for a nutrition workshop with Fit Escapes nutritionist, Brooke, alongside Organic Traditions. Our acro yoga workshop was following the nutrition session so we took the time to prepare, but we snuck in at the end to taste the deliciously healthy charcuterie boards everyone created!

Grind

Grind

Unwind

Unwind

Anytime we teach acro yoga, we love to premise the class with an explanation of acro yoga’s unique ability to bring it's practitioners, new or experienced, into complete body and mind awareness with 100% of one's attention in the present moment. While that is the intention of any yoga practice, it is a very difficult feat to calm the mind and bring one's awareness to the present. With acro yoga, you must focus on your connection to your partner, to your surroundings, and to your own body and breath in order to fully and successfully experience the partner asana (posture/pose). While this all sounds lovely, these are simply words and until you personally experience this you won't realize the potential of acro yoga to bring you to the present!

Take note of everyone's face in the background...

Take note of everyone's face in the background...

It was incredible to see so many eager (and anxious) faces take on acro yoga without hesitation. Many Fit Escapes attendees were quite new to the yoga practice, let alone had tried acro yoga. But at all levels, every single person pushed themselves outside of their comfort zone, trusted others (many strangers) to support them, and had big laughs along the way. By the end of the hour, our hearts were glowing! Having the opportunity to introduce fitness enthusiasts to an entirely new way of engaging their muscles, focusing the mind and breath, and trusting others is truly an honour. Whether or not acro yoga is something they'll seek out beyond our workshop, we love seeing people give something new a try and literally dive head first into it, leaving the workshop better in one way or another. While we could have taught this group different acro yoga poses for hours on end, dinner was ready and we were all definitely due for some refuelling!

Caroline and Zach showing us how it's done! 

Caroline and Zach showing us how it's done! 

Smiling because we know food is on it's way.

Smiling because we know food is on it's way.

The rest of the night was pure bonding time: a family style dinner by the yurts, a hike around the property, and late night chats in the cabin. The second day was even more jam packed than the first. After either starting the day with meditation or with a run/jog, everyone met up at the farm for a workout unlike anything we'd ever done. In teams of 6, we started by pushing a HUGE hay bale across a very long stretch of farmland (my teams bale started unravelling about half way across the field so we went from dead last to running to the finish line while holding our diminished bunch of hay). Then each team was off down a dirt road, pushing one member in a wheelbarrow, while the others carried buckets to fill with water. The final challenge was to fill as many garbage cans with water as possible, starting by filling buckets from a pond, running/walking them down a dirt road, dumping them into the can and running back to the pond. The intensity, teamwork, and competitive atmosphere was making all of Kaitlyn's dreams come true - she's been dying to be on MTV's The Challenge ever since we were in highschool and this workout just screamed MTV! By the end of the 45 minute workout, we were all covered in mud, water, and smiles!

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The sweat, laughter, and fun continued throughout the day as we did goat yoga with the ADORABLE three-week old goats, an intense TRX circuit with Josh (@aussie_fit), SUP yoga and kayaking, a nutrition workshop with Brooke, and last but certainly not least, a handstand workshop led by yours truly!

We had many requests to build off our acro yoga workshop from the previous day so we dedicated half of our time to exercises to help to build strength, alignment, and intentions towards a handstand, and half to new acro yoga poses. It's not only the yoga community that are curious about handstands, it's also quite intriguing to the fitness community to be able to hang out upside down! It was exciting to introduce the group to the fundamentals of working towards a handstand. To us, going upside is so natural but for many adults it is not the most comfortable concept. Despite any initial fears, everyone gave the workshop their all, moving at their own pace through our exercises with many far exceeding their own expectations! We finished off the hour with a few extra acro yoga poses taking turns posing for Morgan to capture the moment.

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As we look back on our time at Fit Escapes we can’t help but notice how connected the group was. Many arrived as strangers, and went home as friends. People opened up about their lives, their interests, their hopes and ambitions. It was such a magical space where people felt safe to be open to the unknown and push themselves outside of their comfort zone. The bonds formed were far deeper than your typical connection in the city. We left feeling energized, inspired, and hopeful (and also so so so sore). So the next time you see someone at your go-to studio/gym that looks new or uneasy, maybe all they need is a smile or a friendly hello. Try not to get so wrapped up in what you’ve got going on and bring your awareness to the people around you, you might just meet your next fitness BFF!

Thank you Fit Escapes! Until next time...

Kaitlyn Sydney