INCLUSIVE & ACCESSIBLE FITNESS WITH
VYSH SIVAKUMARAN & BETH ALEXANDER
SMILING SOUL FITNESS PODCAST - EPISODE 1 TRANSCRIPT
RELEASED: APRIL 2022
BETH ALEXANDER [00:00:00] Welcome to the smiling soul fitness podcast. My name is Beth Alexander. I am the founder and creator of smiling soul fitness. In 2021, one of my teachers, Meenadchi, posted about a really inspiring fitness program. They were featuring Fitness In Place, a virtual platform that offered sliding scales, coached people to use different home objects in substitute for gym equipment, and were passionate about providing a space where all bodies were welcomed.
Today, I am beyond excited to bring Vysh Sivakumaran, co-founder of Fitness In Place, to the smiling soul fitness podcast as our very first featured smiling soul. Vysh is a leader in the Toronto fitness community. She's an advocate for representation in the fitness industry for [00:01:00] South Asian women and Can Fit Pros Fitness Professional of the Year in 2021.
Before we start, I'd like to share our working definition of a smiling soul. Smiling souls are resilient, optimistic, and community focused beings. Even though smiling souls share core values and attributes, we come from so many different backgrounds and lived experiences. We hope the stories we share here inspire you to better health and fitness and support you in feeling connected and inspired on your personal path.
Let's pause here and share a few breaths breathing in and breathing out. Feeling your belly and rib cage expand on the inhale and relax on the exhale. One more time. Breathing in,[00:02:00] breathing out, and then settling into your body and get ready to meet Vysh Sivakumaran.
BETH: Welcome Vysh! I’m so excited to have you on our podcast today.
VYSH SIVAKUMARAN: Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.
BETH: Great. So, listeners, Vysh is a leader in the Toronto fitness community. She works to create inclusive and accessible fitness classes along with her partner, Pat, through their virtual platform called Fitness In Place, which you can find on Instagram @fitness_in_place.
Vysh advocates passionately for representation in the industry for South Asian women, but more broadly aims to be a voice for all people who may face barriers in the wellness industry. She was recently awarded that Can Fit Pros, Fitness,Professional of the Year [00:03:00] Award for personal training specialists due to her quick adaptation to serve her community through Fitness In Place and trauma informed yoga practice at the start of the pandemic.
VYSH: Yes, yes, yes!
BETH: It's so good to have you here. Vysh,
VYSH: Thanks for the opportunity, Beth. I'm excited to do this with you.
BETH: Thanks. So we're just going to dive right in. How did you get started on your fitness journey? Obviously you've had some amazing accomplishments, especially in the last couple of years, but tell us where did it all begin?
VYSH: Yeah, so I honestly did not have any passion to be a personal trainer or fitness coach. Coming out of university, I actually was a supply chain management major and did an analyst job for three and a half years at a company called Joann fabrics, which if you live in the U S you're, I'm sure you're aware of that, that company, and they're headquartered in my, in my hometown. Right. Yeah, I did that. And I, I just was like really losing [00:04:00] my mind in that soul crushing cubicle and I started doing CrossFit and from CrossFit three years of that, I realized, okay, there's something here that I really enjoy movement and I enjoy encouraging others to also find movement, find their body, find a sense of themselves. And so in that I shifted gears eight years ago into personal trading, completely switching from my business degree to being a fitness coach and yeah, now I'm here and still doing it.
BETH: That's amazing. So now your focus really, since the pandemic has been, you started Fitness In Place and you've been building and running that. Tell us a little bit more about what you and Pat, your partner, do there.
VYSH: Yeah. So Fitness In Place is an online fitness community that is radically safe and inclusive. Um, and when we say safe, we mean safe, inclusive for LGBTQ folks, for people with disabilities, people with chronic illness, even folks with repetitive [00:05:00] injuries who do not get served, uh, in the fitness industry and the traditional fitness industry spaces. So what we do at Fitness In Place is really, is it, I would say, different from most fitness spaces, mainly because we use household items like broomsticks, backpacks, you name it, we use it. And then we also create a really collaborative community where we all learn from each other, right. As personal trainers, we're not any better than anyone in our community and we try to learn from each other in that and that aspect. So the community that we've built over the last two years, it's just really beautiful how we've stayed together in this time and pandemic. Uh, the last thing I'll say is also that we have a sliding scale accessible cost to us, which is also different in terms of folks accessing fitness cause it can be seen as like a luxurious kind of thing. So everyone, we welcome everyone to finish and we want to give, give that to everyone too.
BETH: I love that you're filling, you're definitely [00:06:00] filling a need in the fitness community. And, I'm curious, your workouts. Are they live? Are they interactive? Are they on demand?
Like how do you structure things over at Fitness In Place?
VYSH: Yeah. Good question, Beth. So yes, they are exactly that they're live, they're interactive. We actually welcome folks to have their video on or. We give folks the option to turn on their mic or use the chat in any moment of the class to ask questions or have, if they have any concerns.
Um, we allow for basically any kind of, um, communication to happen between the coach and the member. And then we also give so much live feedback as well as live technique. So we try to give everyone the best of the best world of personal training in that group setting.
BETH:That's awesome. And then you also do, I think it was in 2020, if I'm correct that you got your trauma informed yoga [00:07:00] certification?
VYSH: Yeah, it started there. So I did my yoga teacher training, just the 200 hour first in 2020 and then 2021 finished my 300 hour trauma informed training as well. So yeah, trauma informed yoga has, has really shifted my thoughts and for folks who aren't aware of what trauma informed is that it really is not about speaking on, you know, your, your own personal trauma I, I don't do that in my classes. And I don't, I don't know if others, unless they're a psychologist or a health professional that get into that, they may shift into that gear. But, in our trauma-informed classes that I do, we offer invitational spaces for you to sort of explore your body as well as offering choices for you to also understand what feels good and what doesn't. And, and in terms of the personal training world, usually there's this directive language, like do this and do that. Whereas in that trauma-informed world, we tend to just say, hey, perhaps you want to lift your [00:08:00] arm and stretch to the left, or perhaps you don't, that's okay, too. So it's, it's really, it's really nice to build that sense of self, uh, for the first time or rebuild it.
BETH: I love that. I love the options and the encouragement that you give to people to listen to their own bodies. It's so important.
VYSH: It is. It is.
BETH: And so do you teach those trauma-informed yoga classes at Fitness In Place?
VYSH: Yes. I do that right now once a once a month, we, we may be shifting. As demand continues to increase to two times or, three times a month. But for now it's just a half an hour class where I teach for once a month. Yeah. Uh, and it's, it's been really nice.
BETH: And then your other classes a little bit about them, are they more strength focused, core focused cardio focused?
VYSH: Yeah. That's a great question too. So the other classes that we do have three times.
Tuesday, Thursday, 6:00 PM. Eastern Sunday, 11:00 AM. Eastern. Those three classes are all strength-based and [00:09:00] they focus, one, usually focuses on upper bodies, the second day would focus on lower body, and then the third day is core and cardio. So we have three sort of rotating classes each month and we put out a schedule. So you'll see that on our Instagram or Facebook prior to the month.
BETH: That's great. So you've obviously had this amazing career fitness the last eight years prior to that, you were in more of the business world. Now that you've been in fitness for eight years, and you've made the shift into fitness, entrepreneurship, owning and running your own business. Looking back, what has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
VYSH: I think the most challenging aspect is feeling like there isn't space for me as a non as a, as a person that may not look like they're, uh, you know, they're, my muscles aren't popping out of my shirt or, you know, I don't feel like I am a dark skinned, curvy woman of color. And so in that the [00:10:00] fitness industry, I have not felt like there has been space made for me to thrive and made for me to, to feel good about my career. So in that the challenge is, is that I had to create space for myself and say, hey, like I, I deserve a space, a spot here at the table. Why, why don't I see more people who looked like me at the table too? So that's where my whole mission of bringing light to South Asian women. That, that's where that passion comes into play, because we all do deserve a space, a spot at the table, or deserve space in general. Um, in any industry we're in and I'd like to continue to pursue that, yeah, for folks.
BETH: I love that. Is there anyone that you follow on Instagram or maybe have seen through your career that has inspired you, you know, to walk this path of creating space, maybe in gym spaces or fitness spaces that don't feel as inclusive.
VYSH: Yeah. That's a good question. I honestly, I, [00:11:00] I think the more I'm in the Instagram world, which I've only recently come back to it since 2018, I took a two year break, a hiatus. And, um, from 2018, I've like, I've seen you Beth, like just sort of, you know, provide a different kind of space. I've seen Roz the Diva create a different space. There's also a Toronto, um, brown individual, a woman named Reena Parekh, who's also created a great space for, for, um, moms, and, uh, I think there's just so much, there's so many of us out there that want to do very similar things in terms of take up space. And it's, it's just really cool to just be allies to these folks and sort of create the space together. Cause we're always going to be stronger as a community versus individ.
BETH: Hell yes to that Vysh! I love it. So, on the flip side, what has been the most rewarding aspect of your [00:12:00] career in fitness?
VYSH: Yeah, that's, that's a, that's a hard question, but it's a good one. I, I honestly, I mean this, these, this past two years, right? The trauma that we've all experienced through going undergoing a pandemic unexpectedly, right? That, that is some level of trauma, whether we recognize it or not. And that, to me, that, the rewarding piece of that is that I was able to serve my community in that time, especially in a very mentally, mentally draining time at home. Um, not knowing what was going happen uncertainty and, basically per being able to provide, uh, a movement practice at an accessible cost. Uh, I'm just glad, so glad I was in a position to do that. My expertise, as well as my financial ability to be able to provide that, it, it was really great timing for the pandemic for me. And I'm, I'm fortunate enough to be able to, uh, create that space and continue to today.
BETH: I love that. [00:13:00] Can you describe maybe some of the ways that you've seen your community at Fitness In Place, like come together and support each other during these challenges that we've all faced in the pandemic?
VYSH: Yeah, it's um, so because we, you know, since we see each other, we've been seeing each other alive since basically March of 2020, we don't necessarily tell folks that they have to come every time or that they have to even be a part of each, each class or each discussion we have over, in our private WhatsApp group, we don't, we, we tend to just have no expectations and we say, Hey, like, come when you can show up, as you are, we'll meet you where you're at.
Um, and our folks are just really like, I don't know how to say it, but they're just a special group of people. They're individually just awesome individuals. And then collectively, there's just this energy of care and energy of, hey, you got this, like we'll cheer you on, right. So it's hard to describe Beth, but it is, it is really cool to be a part of a group that [00:14:00] isn't expecting anything out of you and is just there to, to help you exist.
BETH: Yeah. Yeah. It sounds like an uplifting experience for you as well.
VYSH: Yeah, it is. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I should tell you. Yeah, Fitness In Place has definitely given me so much soul back into my soul. It has been a draining time.
BETH: Yeah. Yeah. That's beautiful. I love when there's that reciprocity, you're fulfilling a need. You're providing a service, you're connecting people and it's also, you know, really benefiting you inside and out.
BETH: So transitioning to workouts, what kind of workouts are you doing for yourself right now?
VYSH: Yeah, so I love weightlifting. That's just what I started at CrossFit with Olympic lifting and weightlifting and it's, I, I've done some competitions just in house at the, at the organizations I've been at. And it's, it's just like for me being connected to my body and feeling strong, it's just [00:15:00] such an addictive thing that I just always go back to the weights and we, we, you know, we don't have anything super heavy at home, but I still find a way to like, yeah, make it challenging and find that, you know, that, that, sort of thin line where you're like, can I do more, can I do less like finding that safe place to sort of do more and find that growth, it's just, it's just too special. Yeah.
BETH: And do you feel like, you know, a lot of us have had to take a break from the gym, you know, with the pandemic. And you guys substitute, um, just at home objects. Do you find that that's given you an opportunity to really focus on your mind muscle connection? Like since you're not always lifting as heavy of weights?
VYSH: Oh yes. That is a good call out. Yeah. I honestly, I, it actually provides so much more, I think, opportunity for that connection to your, to your muscle because you have no distractions and you have light enough weights to be able to say, okay, yes, I'm [00:16:00] not some, you know, some folks really need that stimulus of a heavier weight, but when you don't have it, you work with what you got. So when maybe we work with tempo and we slow it down, uh, meaning, you know, you do an exercise to two by two. Or you do more reps and you feel it that way, or you reduce the rest. So there's so many different avenues to change the workout at home that we get to experience our body in a different way. And I agree, I had never done any working out at home before COVID and I'm finding a whole new way of just enjoying myself at home, no bra just enjoying a safe space, you know, you can create at home. Not everyone does have that, but I'm, I'm grateful to be able to have it.
BETH: I love that. So I know one of the challenges that I've experienced, maybe you've experienced, I'm sure some of our listeners have, particularly when you're working out at home and you don't have the accountability of meeting someone at a gym or going to a gym or showing up at a certain time. I want to know what keeps [00:17:00] you showing up for your workouts?
VYSH: Um, you know what I think the biggest thing is that I now look at my, my workouts as a way of, uh, protecting my mental health, right? If I'm going to show up for my community and, and for my clients and or even for myself, I have to take care of myself, right. And so in that respect, that, that taking care of self, what does that look like? For me? It, it, it looks like working out. It looks like getting movement in, it looks like getting out in nature. Um, as I know you love as well. So finding that, finding that like, you know, momentum and movement and seeing the, the, the outcome of that consistency is, is giving me that continual feedback. Okay. I know this is a good thing to do, even though I don't want to do it, I'm going to do it because I know I'll be better for it.
BETH: I love that. So you're showing up for your mental health and you're showing up so that you can really take care of yourself and continue to be of service.
BETH: Because you're doing [00:18:00] stuff that's so needed in our world. We need you to take good care of yourself!
VYSH: Yes, same, all the same to you. Yes, yes.
BETH: Yeah. I actually, I also, um, what kept me showing up for my workouts is I used to get really anxious going into gyms and but I just kept showing up because I always felt better when I left. There was something just about being present with my body that got me back down into body, out of my head and I just felt like I was functioning a lot better.
VYSH: Yeah, totally.
BETH: So, I would love to know who are you learning from right now? Like whats inspiring you at this moment?
VYSH: Um, yeah, so I think, you know, education and learning is, is always key in growth, right? Like finding areas where you want to learn from is, is something that I, I want to continue on just so I can be better and be better for myself, for my community. And right now I'm learning from a, um, course that is about intuitive eating. [00:19:00] Uh, and so that's intuitive eating courses, helping me understand more about diet, diet culture, uh, which is a, it is a tool that, that we can look at it that is oppressing folks into sort of being controlled by their diets. And it's a whole nother subject that I'm not actually privy to explaining as well, but I would recommend some books that I plan on reading, which is “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor, as well as the book called “Fearing the Black Body” by Sabrina strings. I've been recommended to, to read both. And I do plan on reading those in depth this year. So I'm just looking forward to sort of understanding why, you know why these sort of disadvantages exist for us and how we can help each other and be better for ourselves as well.
BETH: Yeah. I love that. And I'm, those books are on my list and I would love to talk to you about them. Let's connect when we've had a chance to [00:20:00] dive in.
VYSH: Yes, let's do. Let's do that.
BETH: Can you explain, um, what intuitive eating is? Do you feel confident that you could explore?
VYSH: Yeah, I think I'm learning, but I, I feel like the main concept of intuitive eating is that, that you, you, you know, you do want to understand that there is this, like self-trust with you and your body, that you do know how to eat. You do know how to, to sort of dialogue that back and forth and understand, okay, I'm my body is saying I'm hungry. I should go eat something. But with, again, with diet culture or with the fitness industry putting these sort of ideas in our head that we aren't trustworthy of food and that we can, you know, we need a diet to get, to fix everything.
We're, we're understanding through intuitive eating that there is, another place for us to sort of trust food and know that diets actually can lead to gaining weight and being aware that, Hey, I can sort of build this [00:21:00] new relationship with food, with energy and sort of say, okay, I can love my body for what it is and not just for what it doesn't look like today. So a lot of deeper things in that, but that would be the, just that I'm learning so far.
BETH: Well, I'm excited to learn more from you and those books. So another question I'm really big on like connection and like trying to find ways to feel really authentic or feeling really true to yourself. Where, when or with whom do you feel the most yourself, do you feel the most connected?
I honestly, Beth, I think if you would ask me this question, like five years ago, I would have answered it differently. Right? So it just shifts every, I feel like depending on the time period and right now in my mid thirties, I do feel that it it's, it's really when I'm working out.
And I, I feel strong in my body [00:22:00] when I'm lifting that weight or I'm, I'm pushing through a piece of my workout that I didn't expect to push through. I find that that connection to my body allows me to sort of know my, my power and it like, sort of, I guess, invades all other parts of my life. And I'm like, okay, if I can do this workout, like why can't I do XYZ? Right? So it reminds me because our mind constantly doesn't, uh, always remind us of the positive things, and so it gives me that feedback that I'm, I can I'm capable. I can.
BETH: I love that it builds your strength physically and mentally inside and out. Beautiful. So we are going to move into a lightning round and the way that this works is I've got three questions and I would love for you to just answer them first thought that pops into your head, one to two sentences. Sound good?
VYSH: Yes. Got it. [00:23:00]
BETH: So, what would you tell someone who is just getting started with working out what's your top tip?
VYSH: So working out, it's gonna, it's, it's a huge process of failing and getting comfortable with failing. So know that it's not going to be a up, up, up, like amazing journey. It's going to take time and you're going to fail. You're going to come back up and you're going to find a way through it. But it's about that consistency and finding your way back up. It's it's totally normal. And take your time with it.
BETH: Love that. Love, love, love that. What would you tell someone who is currently lacking motivation, wants to get started agan?
VYSH: Yeah. So I, motivation is a feeling just like being sad or being angry. It's a feeling and it's it, you know, feelings are sometimes fleeting. So when we know that, you know, motivation can be a fleeting feeling, we have to sort of understand that we can build our discipline, [00:24:00] whether you, you know, you brush your teeth every day or you go for your walk everyday that discipline to say, hey, I can work on that and build that habit up of movement. So yeah. Try to focus on the discipline side of building a habit up.
BETH: Love that. Love that. That's what I always tell people too. And the last question, how would you describe a smiling soul?
VYSH: Yeah, so that's a hard one, but I think my gut reaction would be a smiling soul is, is one that is resilient. You know, there are a lot of systems in place, AKA white supremacy, AKA capitalism, patriarchal systems that are in place that are disadvantaged or provide disadvantages for a lot of folks. And so being aware of those systems and not blaming yourself for them. Being resilient through it all is really key. And so being a smiling [00:25:00] soul for me would be to keep waking up every day and be that act of resiliency every day.
BETH: Yeah. I love that. It's like staying connected to your light throughout that whole process.
VYSH: Yeah. It's it's, it's, it's a lot, but it is just knowing that your light doesn't have to fade for anyone that it, you can start to cultivate it with within yourself. Yeah.
BETH: That made my heart sing. Thank you for that piece. So, thank you so much for joining us today, Vysh, I'm just so thrilled to have you on the podcast. We'd love to know where can listeners find you and connect with you.
VYSH: Yeah, first of all, thank you so much, Beth, for having me and, and providing this opportunity to speak, um, and for creating space for folks of color and folks who may not have that space. So thank you so much. And yeah, in terms of finding me there is we have our website fitnessinplace.net. On that website, you can also [00:26:00] find, um, our class schedule and from there, feel free to even use the promo code: FIRST-FREE to try out a complimentary class. Outside of that Instagram and, uh, Facebook. Uh, our accounts, my personal account @vy_she_lifts , and then our Fitness In Place account @fitness_in_place. Similar things on Facebook. Uh, but yeah, those are, those are the main spots. Feel free to message me at any time. I'm happy to, to yeah, chat away.
BETH: Yeah. And you guys should definitely give Vysh a follow. I always draw so much inspiration from what you guys are doing and the invitations you make to join Fitness In Place and the content that you're putting out so just thank you for that service too. And I hope you all can connect. Yes. Thank you so much. Yes. All right. Thanks Vysh .
VYSH: Thank you, Beth.[00:27:00]
Connecting with Vysh Sivakumaran:
* Promo Code: FIRST-FREE
Facebook: Fitness in Place
Connecting with Host Beth Alexander:
Books referenced in podcast:
The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love by Sonya Renee Taylor
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings
People referenced in the podcast:
Meenadchi - www.meenadchi.com/
Reena Parekh - @itsreenaparkeh
Roz the Diva - @RozTheDiva
Trainings mentioned in the Podcast
Trauma Sensitive Yoga - @tctsy, traumasensitiveyoga.com
Intuitive Eating - Naomi Katz, @happyshapesnaomi, happyshapes.co
7:38 “We offer invitational spaces for you to sort of explore your body. As well as offering choices for you to also understand what feels good, and what doesn’t.”
7:48 “In terms of the personal training world, usually there is this directive language, like ‘Do this and do that.’ Where as in a trauma informed world we tend to just say ‘Hey perhaps you want to lift your arm and stretch to the left, or perhaps you don’t.’”
10:00 “In the fitness industry I have not felt like there has been space made for me to thrive and made for me to feel good about my career. So in that, the challenge is that I had to create space for myself.”
13:34 “We say ‘Hey, like, come as you can, and show up as you are. We’ll meet you where you’re at.’”
24:33 “A Smiling Soul is one that is resilient.”
Host/Producer: Beth Alexander
Guest: Vysh Sivakumaran
Editor: Ash Jeane
Transcript: Marissa Jacky