Connecting to Your Whole Self: Q&A with Embodied Living
How we connect with ourselves and the world around us is the heart of Jessica LeBlanc’s practice, Embodied Living, which provides offerings in Yoga education, Wellness adventures and retreats and personal and corporate leadership coaching and development. As Worthington PR & Story’s newest Noble Arrow client, we sat down with Jess to learn more about her journey of self-discovery that saw her transition from a school teacher to a “connection catalyst”, helping her clients find clarity through connection.
WPRS: Tell us a bit about your upbringing, what led you down the path of becoming a teacher?
Jess: Throughout my life I’ve been really fortunate to have had a supportive schooling experience. I grew up in a small town in Ontario and I had amazing mentors and it was a very close-knit community. Community was everything. I felt very inspired by my coaches, teachers, and family friends, and my aunt and uncle were both teachers as well who influence me in many ways. Being a natural leader my whole life, always drawn to working with children, I was interested in both the science and sociology of human development and experience. In university, uncertain of which path to pursue, I learned at a job fair that I could take my Masters and teaching degree in Australia, which is when my desire to travel and love of learning ignited, and thus I began one of the biggest adventures and growth experiences that has shaped me as a person and educator.
WPRS: What do you love most about teaching?
Jess: I love when there’s a connection made between the learning and the application. I believe education is different and distinct from learning. Education has been made to be systemized, all about credentials, status and qualification, and we’ve long forgotten about the experience. Learning is our innate ability to engage with and discover our environment, the people and things around us, and understand. So for me, when something clicks, and an individual starts to identify the patterns and make connections, that’s everything because I know this is when they have integrated and embodied growth.
WPRS: What spurred your move from being a school teacher to pursuing a career in health and wellness?
Jess: I don’t like to be put in a box and I dislike being miserable and out of alignment, and I know that when I forget that I have choice and autonomy in my life, it never ends well. So after many years of trying to fit into a box, I created a new space for myself to grow as an educator, with more freedom and personal power. I am the type of person that questions everything and critically considers the world and why, what and how we do things. In education, there’s a lot of box ticking and hoop jumping, which I found difficult at times as many of the requests of me were seemingly arbitrary. I noticed a lot of gaps in the education system and I saw so many limitations in terms of what the kids were learning and how the system was failing to support human beings holistically. I believe in a “whole human, whole family, whole community, whole planet” approach. When I was in the school system, the real skills – or what some people call “soft skills” – like communication, relationships, boundaries, and movement were not being addressed as deeply or frequently as I thought they needed to be. I left one education system and institution and began to work on supporting people to fill those gaps and foster unlearning, relearning and new learning that was conducive to that “whole being” approach.
WPRS: What challenges did you have to overcome to make this transition possible?
Jess: I had to stay steady on my path and decision, keeping my purpose front of mind, because it is really easy to get swayed by public opinion or slip into a space of self-doubt. When there was external judgements or disbelief about my decision, I had to remember that my happiness matters and I cannot support others to live and lead meaningful lives if I am not doing so myself. Carving a bold and new path takes courage and patience, which at times is challenging. I had to become adaptable and malleable and realize that I was still a teacher and educator, I was just transferring my skills and putting them into practice in a transformative, new way. Nothing was lost, my time and effort was never wasted in the process of pursuing my degree or teaching in a classroom. All of that has actually served me really well and helped me to get to where I am now.
WPRS: Tell us about your journey learning to teach yoga and life coaching classes, and how this led to your current role of “connection catalyst”.
Jess: After working for lululemon In Australia for many years, the roles I had with that company were collaborative with the fitness industry and allowed me to develop leaders inside and outside of the organization. I was a liaison with local instructors and businesses and it was my job to cultivate community and build awareness around wellness. This is when I got a taste of entrepreneurialism and I grew most as a business leader. When I moved back to Canada, I made the assumption that being a part of a yoga and fitness community would be a very similar experience and that I would be now on the receiving end of community spirit and inspired actions to grow together. But this wasn’t always the case for me and I learned that, like any industry, wellness and health also has a dark side; competition, sabotage, ego and betrayal showed me it wasn’t all “love and light”. It was shocking, and I could have decided I didn’t want anything to do with industry but instead, I knew I needed to do it differently. The feedback I was getting as an instructor was in fact valuable and the connections and shifts that were slowly happening within the community that I was building were impactful. People were coming together in new ways.
While I am grateful for my education journey, I still knew that there were things missing. I didn’t know how to set boundaries or how to communicate without stress, so I was constantly looking for tools to help me be the best version of myself. One person I worked with was Eoin Finn, the founder of Blissology Yoga, to attain my 500-hours of instructing yoga (plus many more hours of professional development) and I’ve assisted and contributed to various teacher trainings across the globe. I have collaborated with instructors and experts to now train yoga teachers using my comprehensive programming and courses that provide a holistic approach to this work for both youth and adults. Susanne Conrad, the founder of Lightyear Leadership, is another pivotal person in my life and has helped me grow exponentially over the years. She has held me accountable to my vision and goals in the most loving way, helping me to truly create possibility for myself and in my life and, as a result, I am able to powerfully do the same for others. I am always a beginner and thrive on new knowledge and understanding, perspective and experiences. I am constantly looking for new personal growth opportunities through classes I take, books I read, and even amongst the daily life lessons I encounter. Life is the biggest teacher and everything that happens and anyone I encounter gets added to my tapestry of teachable moments and bank of wisdom.
WPRS: When did you launch Embodied Living? How has the practice evolved since then?
Jess: I launched Embodied Living – originally Embodied Adventure – in 2014 as a wellness retreat company, however, as time went on, especially during COVID-19, I realized what was needed was a more diverse range of experiences and offerings.
I rebranded about a year ago into Embodied Living, where the focus is on a person as a whole being, and the different aspects that make them whole. My intention is to diversify my offerings so people can connect with all parts of themselves, including their mind, body, spirit, relationships, social and emotional health, and more. After many years, I stopped trying to fit into the boxes and moulds society had created for me. It took breakdowns in order to break through, and I had to muster up courage and creativity day after day. But when I chose to listen closely to my heart, I knew I had to carve a bold path for myself and support others who wanted to follow in a similar direction.
I coined the unique term ‘Connection Catalyst’ to describe my work and authentic contribution to the world. The noun catalyst is something or someone that causes a change and is derived from the Greek word katalύein, meaning “to dissolve.”
I love to curate experiences such as Global Adventures, Transformational Education Training and Personal and Professional Development Workshops intentionally designed to allow people to deeply connect to their most purposeful self, others and the planet. When people participate in these experiences, they are safe to be fully self-expressed. They obtain the confidence and tools to take personal responsibility and regain control of how they want to feel and think in their life. Choice is restored and unique gifts are excavated and ignited in my clients, and ultimately they strengthen their connection to themselves and within the community.
WPRS: What motivates you? What is the mantra that you live by?
Jess: In yoga, the term “mantra” means sacred counsel, so what counsels me internally is hearing that my work has helped change someone’s life or impacted them in a positive way. When I get the feedback that this work adds value to people’s lives and is important to them, it feeds my fire to keep going. In Australia, there is a popular song called From Little Things Big Things Grow by Paul Kelly. So if I had a mantra I suppose it would be that, because it’s so hard to remember that not everything is sensational all the time. It can be challenging when you’re trying to be real in a seemingly fake world, so I just like to remember it’s all in the journey and the steps you take, even if they are little.