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In one of its earliest forms, the word courage means “To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.”
Going by this definition, Heather McTavish can certainly be described as courageous in all she’s done and experienced. Now she's courageously turning her own story into a way to help others.
Born in St. John's, N.L., she lived in Burin, N.L. for several years before moving to the Montague, P.E.I. area where she finished high school, then attended Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.
McTavish set off for London, England in the 1980s, where she helped open up several high-end health clubs, working with members of royalty, aristocrats, celebrities, and athletes. Upon returning to Canada, she worked at the Skydome Health Club in Toronto, meeting athletes, coaches, and staff from both the Argonauts as well as the Blue Jays. It was these connections that would later help McTavish launch her own business.
When she first started Yoga Sports, McTavish initially taught yoga and runners but says it quickly transitioned into teaching sports teams, including the Toronto Football Club, Maple Leafs, and Argonaut Football Club, as well as working on the set of Canadian Idol for several seasons.
Tragic events in her personal life profoundly changed the direction of McTavish’s career path. While camping, McTavish met and instantly fell in love with a man named Jerome.
“He was incredibly loving, compassionate, and caring, as well as very intelligent. He was a free spirit. I never knew great love until I met him,” she says.
The two became engaged, and their relationship continued through his cancer diagnosis and his eventual death in 2009.
The grief, sadness, and anger were overwhelming.
“Months after Jerome died, I found my old Nikon camera with some unprocessed film in it, and when I got the pictures back, there was a picture of Jerome. Just looking at that picture made me fall in love with him again,” she says.
That's when McTavish says she realized love resided inside of her, no matter the circumstance. It gave her the courage and strength to speak up and ask for support.
McTavish discovered the Transpersonal Therapy Centre’s program in Toronto, which she enrolled in instead of seeking grief counselling. Not only did she see it as a way to help herself, but to later help others. She was excited about the program because there would be training in breathwork, which was right up her alley, she says, referencing her yoga background.
“I was unaware of my self-limiting beliefs before I entered the program and how those beliefs were preventing me from standing up and believing in myself,” she says.
Using these newfound skills, combined with her life experiences, McTavish is currently an integration coach.
"When feelings, needs, drives, and potentials are repressed, we need to own them and become aware, thereby releasing unconscious limiting beliefs that surreptitiously have shaped our lives," she says. "This allows us to make freer choices in life."
Sharing her story
McTavish, who now resides in Toronto, shared her own story of transformation through grief in a chapter of the recently released book, Rebirth, edited by Sandra Stachowicz.
The parallel of birth being uncomfortable and its similarity to the process of releasing limiting beliefs that weigh you down is what McTavish says makes her story one of rebirth.
"I really had no idea how much weight that repressed and unconscious feelings, drives, needs and potentials take up in your body," she says. "Unconsciously holding unto them creates discomfort and disease."
Through this process, she says she felt like she had lost 20 pounds.
“I was lighter and rejuvenated. It was a rebirth for me.”
McTavish says she did not set out to write and share her story, but when she was mistakenly tagged on a Facebook post and asked how the book was coming along, she wrote back to find out more.
"The next thing I knew, I was having an online interview with Sandra, the book coach, to see if I was the right fit for her upcoming book. Serendipity happening again," she says.
This led to McTavish sharing her deeply personal story of love and grief, and ultimate rebirth. She hopes it will resonate with other women who can relate to her story and are receptive to the types of tools that she uses.
"It's important to be honest about everything that is happening under the surface," she says.
All too often, she adds, there's a focus on being happy and expressions of anger or discomfort are frowned upon. That's something she'd like to see changed in society, enabling people to acknowledge the full spectrum of human experiences.
“We can all look so perfect in pictures and on paper, and yet, in reality, none of us are perfect or have it all together all the time. I wanted to take the mask off so that others can too,” she says.
By reading her story and the rest of the book, McTavish hopes others will realize they are not alone and that we are all capable of change, no matter how old we are or what our story is.
Even though all the protagonists are women, the stories of rebirth and awareness are universal themes, says McTavish.
"We are all capable of creating more peace through acceptance in our lives," she adds.
“You may not be able to be happy all the time, but you can strive for being peaceful."
McTavish can now honestly say she feels gratitude for having met Jerome, and that her anger and sadness doesn't shut her down like before.
“You don't ever get over real love. You move on, but you don't ever get over it. You are never the same person afterward. It has been a profoundly transformational experience,” she says.
Rebirth has been gaining bestseller status in quite a few categories on Amazon in the UK and Europe. It is currently available as a paperback and as an eBook through Amazon.