By Sari Huhtala
Funny how we, as humans, can become trapped in the layers of seriousness of life, moving through the motions in our nine-to-five jobs – in essence, losing our sense of self – until one day you wake up and realize you’ve gained almost a hundred pounds and you didn’t even see it coming.
At least that’s how Joany Gauvreau, a 41-year-old North Bay resident, describes her experience.
Years ago, Gauvreau would have seemed like the most unlikely candidate for obesity. What with a job that landed her in a gym every day, pumping to the beat of aerobic music while motivating others to move their bodies and rejoice in the way they were nurturing their bodies with fitness. That was in her 20s during a seven-year stint as an aerobics instructor in Sturgeon Falls.
Fast forward a few years, and Gauvreau’s daily exercise would all be summed up with a casual walk to the fax machine.
It’s hard to earn a living and as an aerobics instructor, and with a young daughter in tow and bills piling up, it made sense to take up an offer to work at a desk job for a government agency.
Working at a desk job which she ultimately knew wasn’t her life’s calling and then experiencing a broken heart created the perfect recipe for depression to set in, she remembers.
“I had my heart broken,” Gauvreau says. “I had been engaged. I blamed myself and I started to believe that I wasn’t good enough and started to have all of these negative thoughts like I’m not beautiful enough and the more negative things I was saying to myself the less good things I wanted to do for myself and my health.
“At a desk job you just tend to eat junk, candies and sweets and stuff and my food was my comfort.
“I was in a rut, almost like I was stuck in a cycle of mental abuse, like this device constantly saying ‘You’re not good enough’ and then being somewhere that isn’t your dream job you lose your soul. Inside I felt so depressed because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to be doing, nor did I even know what I wanted to be doing.”
And so the pounds kept gradually coming on, and by the four-year point she says she had “ballooned” to 220 pounds.
Despite every effort to plan and plot how she was going to exercise, the actual moments of exercise never seemed to manifest, she says. Like many others, she felt uninspired and the rut just seemed too deep.
“Every time that I planned that I’d go for a walk or I’d start running, I was not inspired when it came time to actually do it,” Gauvreau says. “The night before I’d be all motivated and ready to go and then in the morning I was no longer motivated and just never went.”
Then she did the only thing that she felt she could do – pray.
“I started saying “God grant me something I would love to do 24/7” and I started seeking an answer from God, the Universe, to help me find something because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
And then she stumbled across a book on belly dancing and decided to join a class.
“Something shifted inside of me,” Gauvreau says. “The movement made me feel beautiful and I said to myself “Look at how beautiful you are when you move that way.” My mind started to shift to feel more positive.”
If we are to change our habits, we need to change our thoughts, she says. We need to find something that helps us feel alive and we need to love ourselves wholeheartedly. For Gauvreau, this was it.
“The movement was an expression of myself, and I was letting go of the past. It was more of a healing journey at the beginning, then it became spiritual for me and then it was liberating.”
“We live in a fast-paced life and slow movements are hardest for us as women because we are always going. We are naturally supposed to move in a fluid manner, but we often move in a linear fashion. The dancing teaches us as women to be more fluid and less hard on ourselves.”
A friend had noticed how wonderful she looked and encouraged her to begin teaching belly dancing classes to share it with other women. Launching with a class in Sturgeon Falls, her first session drew in 52 women. From there the classes just kept expanding. Now into her fifth year of teaching, she recently celebrated a one-year anniversary since opening Feminicity in North Bay.
Since beginning her journey, she has started paying more attention to the little signs and symptoms her body gives her – clues into what may be happening on an emotional level.
“I was experiencing too much stress from dealing with contractors and stuff for my business and financial stress that I wasn’t paying attention to the signs my body was giving me,” Gauvreau says. “I wasn’t sleeping enough and I started to have headaches. The headaches were a warning sign that I didn’t listen to, so then I got shingles. The warning signs are always there so you have to listen to them. One time I woke up and I couldn’t feel my face and my face was all crooked and drooping on one side. I learned that it was linked to a virus linked to distress. I looked at myself in the mirror and said “That’s it Joanie. You’re leaving and getting out of this building.” I just needed to go to a place by the lake and just be by the water. By the end of the day it had gone back to normal.”
Just like anyone else, Gauvreau has her moments of ups and downs, feeling motivated some days, and not so motivated others. But she recognizes when she’s down and boosts herself by reading motivational and inspirational books rather than plunking herself down in front of a television.