Ann Marie is the Founding Director of YogaMate. Her platform includes YogaMate Pro, a marketing and educational platform providing tools and resources that help Yoga Professionals better connect with and empower their students and community; YogaMate.org, a resource for the global community championing Yoga's therapeutic benefits and connecting the public with qualified Yoga Specialists; and launching in January 2019, Yoga Therapeutics and Yoga Therapeutics Pro, two apps created to make it easy for yoga and healthcare professionals (or students themselves) to better understand and utilise Yoga's therapeutic benefits.
For more than half her life Ann Marie suffered chronic depression, expressing that she didn't see much value to her existence and felt that if she got hit by a truck it wouldn't matter. There was no light, and little inspiration. She believes a poor diet was a huge contributing factor, exacerbated by living largely in the past, not having the tools or awareness that it was possible to be mindful and present. In 2008, Ann Marie was introduced to mindfulness and the concept of monkey mind, learning that people actually have the ability to stop their minds from thinking, to be in the present rather than reliving the past or projecting forwards. This was a monumental shift. She was then introduced to yoga through specific kriyas (breathing techniques) and in 2012, having realised profound shifts to her health and well-being, Ann Marie went on to complete her yoga teacher training. By introducing regular mindfulness, breathwork, meditation, physical yoga and clean eating, she has fully overcome her depression and since dedicated her life to sharing these tools with the world.
Feeling that had she been equipped with these yogic tools from a young age, much of her early suffering could have been prevented - her vision is to help make yoga accessible to everyone; particularly by helping get yogic tools like breath and meditation into school curricula. She aims to better educate the world on what 'Yoga' fully encompasses, and help anyone who can breathe feel better empowered to reduce their suffering and move towards better health and wellbeing.
Question: What is YogaMate?
Ann Marie Johnston: YogaMate provides a digital ecosystem that educates the public, health-care and Yoga professionals on the depth, breadth and therapeutic applications of yoga.
We provide a suite of digital tools and resources that includes YogaMate.org (public education); YogaMate Pro (Marketing and professional development resources and services for yoga professionals); and our newest additions, the Apple and Android apps, Yoga Therapeutics & Yoga Therapeutics Pro; designed to help share the therapeutic (and cautions) of yoga, keep students safe and professionals protected from liability.
Question: What inspired the creation of YogaMate?
Ann Marie Johnston: I've personally healed a lifetime of depression through my yoga practice. That personal shift in my well-being led me to sign up for a 500 hour teacher training course to better understand how and why yoga works.
What I found was that 500 hours of training just scratched the surface, and when I graduated, I looked for resources that supported me as a new teacher. I didn't find quite what I was looking for, so I decided to create something myself.
While researching the idea for YogaMate, I was continuously frustrated by how yoga is portrayed in the western world. My personal journey into yoga had started with a breath practice, then moved into meditation well before I did any physical (postural) yoga. So, when I saw how the physical (and more athletic pursuits of the practice) were championed over meditation and breath.
I realised part of YogaMate's mission was to help combat the misperception that Yoga is simply asana (postures). Furthermore, I wanted to expand public understanding that yogic tools can help address suffering – on the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical layers. My research led me into the world of Yoga Therapy and I was in awe of what Yoga Therapists are doing globally. YogaMate's focus shifted to champion this field and the individuals who are using yoga to empower better health and well-being.
Question: How have you overcome personal challenges to create a brighter future for yourself and the next generation of women in business?
Ann Marie Johnston: Beyond the health benefits, yoga has also helped develop better self-knowledge and awareness and built up my compassion. In short, yoga has been life transforming.
When I had the idea for YogaMate, I was amazed at how my personal journey, education, career and entrepreneurial spirit aligned for me to birth this resource. Doors opened for me and I really felt like I had finally found the path I'm supposed to be on (your dharma or purpose for being, as we say in yoga).
Disappointingly, my partner didn't share in my enthusiasm, so I had the additional challenge of not being emotionally supported in this pursuit.
It's hard to trust in your own intuition when you're being told by the person who's supposed to be your strongest champion, that you can't do something. Thankfully, my Yoga practice helped me tap into a greater knowledge and awareness of myself and my capabilities. It has helped bring balance and strength in the face of this adversity and a confidence in my capabilities.
Four years on, I can genuinely say I'm excited to wake up each morning and do this work. My skills and my purpose are aligned and I really feel like I'm doing something positive and impactful with my life.
For me, breath and meditation have been my personal salvation. I feel my role is to help more people access yoga's transformational power; to help the world understand that yoga is accessible to anyone who can breathe. Access to these practices will bring women (and men and children) more confidence and greater balance. With dedication and focus, I believe Yoga can truly change the world, one person at a time.
Question: What does International Women's Day mean to you?
Ann Marie Johnston: International Women's day is a time to reflect and champion the contributions that women are making in the world. For me, it's a reminder that women are just as capable, just as knowledgeable and just as deserving to be in and leading conversations.
Question: How do you plan to celebrate International Women's Day?
Ann Marie Johnston: I'll likely be at a women's luncheon and celebration hosted by my children's school.
Question: How do you hope to use your successful business to create a positive change in the world?
Ann Marie Johnston: YogaMate's vision is to help create better health and well-being for everybody through access to yogic tools. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga; and it's my personal belief (along with many other yoga teachers) that yoga has the power to change the world – one person at a time. When people are balanced on all levels: mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually; they are better placed to deal with life's stresses and challenges and make more positive contributions to their world.
Question: Can you talk us through your business goal for 2019?
Ann Marie Johnston: Sure! My business goals for 2019 include: continuing to support the people out there who are creating so much good in this world – particularly working in the therapeutic side of yoga, yoga researchers and those bringing yoga to underserved populations.
In conjunction with that is my focus on continuing to develop and secure strategic partnerships with the organisations and associations that are championing these initiatives; helping them to extend their reach and have a greater impact.
I aim for our Yoga Therapeutics apps to be in the top 5 downloads on the app stores for yoga apps and to host a successful global event: Yoga for Better Health day (yogabetterhealth.com) showcasing 1000+ Yoga Specialists & Therapists from every continent in a day that builds awareness of the therapeutic application of yoga.
Question: How did yoga help you overcome depression?
Ann Marie Johnston: If you're asking about the mechanics of how yoga works – it's different for everyone. Depression, like most health challenges, is caused by many factors.
In my case, the first thing yoga did for me was to create awareness of my breath, its quality and its connection to our thoughts. This knowledge, combined with the stillness of meditation helped to quiet the rampant monkey mind which too often reflected on the past and found problems - rather than remaining in the present moment. Finding that stillness provided me the platform to come into balance, which created a profound shift.
Over time, I introduced movement and healthier eating patterns and together, the self-care of these yogic practices shifted the lens through which I experience life, and my depression cleared.
Mind you, the health benefits I experienced came over a long period of consistent practice (perhaps they could have been shortened had I been working one on one with a Yoga Therapist who had tailored a program specific to my needs; but 10 years ago I didn't have the knowledge these individuals existed!)
Question: What's next for you and YogaMate?
Ann Marie Johnston: Oh! So many things. At the heart of it is continuing to use technology to help get yogic practices into the hands of as many people as possible.
Yoga Therapeutics & Yoga Therapeutics Pro, YogaMate's Apps, are being releasing in Feb 2019 to help Yoga teachers keep their students safe (being able to search injuries and therapeutic applications for various yogic practices and help the general public to better understand how to apply yoga to their personal situation and connect with qualified yoga therapists and specialists.
Mid-year YogaMate is planning to host a Global Yoga for Better Health Day in conjunction with several yoga associations – helping further the understanding of the therapeutic applications of Yoga (yogabetterhealth.com)
Beyond these initiatives, YogaMate will also be enhancing one of our tools that helps empower home practice and towards the end of the year or early next, my aim will be to develop an app that better supports research.
In the mid-term, I have personal aspiration of helping to get Yogic Tools supporting national school curricula – so I suspect that will also be a part of my direction in 2020 and beyond!
Interview by Brooke Hunter