How the owner of Juici Yoga used her struggle with poverty, domestic abuse and racism to inspire change

Students are taught to consider how they move in the world, and whom they affect. “I live by the words of Maya Angelou “I come as One, but I stand as 10,000.”

Written for Kitchener Today

Selam Debs, owner of Juici Yoga, has become a voice for the voiceless in our community. Her empathy stems from personal hardships most of us could hardly fathom.

By hosting events like the Femcare Health Initiative, Inclusivity Diversity, Social Justice courses and Woke Women’s events, she heals.

Born in Amman, Jordan to Ethiopian parents – who left their birthplace due to conflict – she arrived in Canada at two-years of age.

Her parents would soon divorce, leading her to be raised by her mother who took on multiple low-paying jobs to stay afloat.

Molested when she was just nine-years-old, she would then be raped by two men, in the same night, at the age of 16.

“I experienced poverty, systemic racism, abuse and fear-based living.”

Debs relocated to Waterloo Region as a teenager. As an escape from reality, she would daydream about becoming a famous singer/songwriter. She would eventually find herself working with producers in the U.S., but her path would again lead her elsewhere when she found out she was pregnant. “The biological father walked away when I was six months pregnant and I became a single mother,” at the age of 21

Life experience, for Debs, would create a tireless empathy towards those who struggle. “I believe my purpose is to elevate the hearts and souls of those who are most marginalized, those who feel forgotten, to create spaces that feel safe and to share my story, unapologetically.”

She returned to K-W to raise her son and took a corporate job – soon realizing this wasn’t a path that would serve her, “it felt as if I was selling my soul.”

She describes finding her awakening during an abusive marriage, saying she became “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” During their separation, and later divorce, she studied to become a yoga teacher, became a Holistic Life Coach, and purchased Juici Yoga.  

Juici became her safe space to begin to “interrupt and end the generational cycle of abuse, poverty and fear. “Through my own healing and self-reflection, I am able to impact a generation of little girls and boys, and raise a new generation of hearts and minds to overcome their own personal history.”

Together, with her clients, they discover fullest potential.

She says she took over the studio when the opportunity literally fell into her lap. “I was going through a toxic divorce and the most overwhelming time of my life. At first, I taught almost all the classes as I couldn’t afford to hire more teachers. Clients left as they were not happy with the change – a common result of new business ownership.”

She rebranded and regained the trust of her clients and community.

Her practice, like her purpose-driven life, focuses on the importance of diversity, inclusivity and social justice. Students are of all backgrounds, ethnicities, body types, religions and creeds. “We support, and celebrate, initiatives such a Pride & LGBTQ+, FemCare Health Initiative for Menstrual Health and Equity, Black Lives Matter movements, Sexual Assault Centre of Waterloo, and African Camp.”

Students are taught to consider how they move in the world, and whom they affect. “I live by the words of Maya Angelou “I come as One, but I stand as 10,000.”

Embracing the power of storytelling Debs was instrumental in co-building the Woke Women’s Event, showcasing an army of diverse women in our community through TED talk style delivery of music, dance, and poetry. This sold-out event was the first of its kind in Waterloo Region featuring keynote speaker Marva Wisdom director of the Black Experience Project and co-founder of Canadian Black History Projects.

You can join Selam and explore the healing power of community here

Take a break from hating your body, it’s International No Diet Day

Written for and published by Kitchener Today

Toss the scale, abandon the calorie count and break out the elastic waistbands, it’s International No Diet Day (INDD).

INDD was introduced as an effort to educate the dangers of dieting, emphasize the importance of eating for health, not weight-loss – and encourage body positivity. Stacey Reinsma, Social Worker with the Canadian Mental Health Association says, “people typically diet in an attempt to change and control their bodies, and by promoting a day where they don’t do this, we are encouraging them to let their bodies be as they are.” 

Knowing that most diets fail, and result in disordered eating and eating disorders, Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition (WWEDC) has been promoting INDD for the last 10 years. They do so by reaching out to local store owners, asking them to display messages in storefront windows that encourage alternatives to dieting. This year, WWEDC has distributed to approximately 100 stores in Guelph, Kitchener, Cambridge, Waterloo, and St. Jacobs.

Debra Joseph is the owner of Twice is Nice, Twice the Man, in Uptown Waterloo. She has been participating for five years by placing the signs in her front window and on mirrors in dressing rooms. “We leave them up year-round. It’s just nice to send a positive message to women of all shapes and sizes. We hear so many beautiful women come out of change room with negative messaging and body shaming. We want to reinforce a positive way of looking at themselves.”

WWEDC says when storefronts participate than anyone who walks down the street sees a positive message wherever they look.  They believe that participation will help onlookers feel better about themselves after seeing these messages.

“This doesn’t mean we have to like or love our bodies, but rather we choose a stance of being ok with our bodies that can deeply impact how we engage in our lives and with others,” says Reinsma.

April Gates, registered Social Worker with The Wellness Collaborative and member of WWEDC adds, “store keepers, locally, welcome this one-week campaign and have received many positive comments from the public, applauding the body positive/affirmative messages that are so rarely broadcast in our present-day oppressive diet culture.”

This year, in addition to window signs, WWEDC are also providing stickers for shop owners to place on changeroom mirrors. The positive messaging decals include: “Take a vacation from hating your body.” “Change your mind, not your body.” “Be a good role model – say positive things about your body.” “26, 000 diets have been invented. None work.” “Don’t fight your genes, just change your jeans.”  “Confidence is beautiful. There is no ideal body” and “It takes a lot of willpower to give up dieting!”

Waterloo Region residents are encouraged to participate in the INDD body positivity awareness campaign. Residents can raise their voices on social media, by posting messages throughout the day and joining the fight against dieting, body-shaming and eating disorders using the hashtags: #edrecovery #eatingdisorderrecovery #nodieting #antidiet #losehatenotweight #bodypositive #healthateverysize #HAES #internationalnodietday

Joseph, of Twice is Nice, reiterates her desire to “gently reinforce a positive approach to looking at ourselves. One little store won’t fight the social media tsunami, little grains of sand won’t build a mountain. It’s shocking how many beautiful women need to be more compassionate to themselves. Love yourself, just as you are – not 20 pounds from now.”

For more information on eating disorders, size acceptance and the Health at Every Size movement, check out the following websites: National Eating Disorder Information Centre; Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition; or Healthy At Every Size.

An open letter to my daughter

As your mother, I worry.

I grew up in a much different world than you will, one that allowed privacy and encouraged imagination.

You will be inundated by over-stimulation, and at times, intruding transparency.

My childhood was riddled with wardrobe faux pas and cosmetic malfunctions, that thankfully never saw the light of day.  You, on the other hand, will have access to editing and filters that will disillusion your self-image and derange your definition of beauty.

And as your mother, I worry.

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When I was growing up, I didn’t know what people thought about me unless they said it to my face.

You are being raised in a society that defines likability with social analytics, and the sentiments of online trolls who find courage behind a digital curtain.

And as your mother, I worry.

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Underneath the facades and the high expectations of a digital world I want you to be able to see the truth.

I loved you before I knew the colour of your hair or the length of your eyelashes.

I was rooting for you before you took your first step.

I have respected you since you uttered your first “no”.

Remember this, because this is what unconditional love is.  There weren’t any filters that made me feel this way about you.  My adoration has no price or limitation.

Long before #metoo daughters were conditioned to accept less, inundated with belittling mantras that said those who hurt you do it because they like you.

Find the ones that don’t use demeaning tactics to gain your affection.

Please don’t accept less.

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For now, you reside under my protective wing.  I have control over the direction of your life, but it won’t be long and this season will pass.

I will have to let you go.

And as your Mother, I will worry.

So, remember this –  strong women have brave ideas and purpose is not fulfilled while hiding behind filters.

You are not the words that others use to define you.

When you can, break the mold.

Seek unconditional love and create a life that makes you want to pinch yourself because this is what dreams are made of.

And as your mother, I will try not to worry…

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How to spring clean your life

Written for and published by Kitchener Today

Spring has become synonymous with words like detox and clean. We burst open the windows, on the first mild day, scrubbing away the layers of darkness, isolation and contagious illnesses. Annihilating cobwebs, and celebrating the longer days ahead, we plant seeds that become new blooms. Yet, often we overlook the importance of weeding, and feeding, the garden of life.

The season of rebirth and renewal, spring, presents an opportunity to take a look at our relationships and personal habits and reassess their relevance to our wellbeing.

Local Life Coach and Nutritionist, Kate Kahvo says, “self-care is one of the first things to go in our lives and one of the most important, essential things we need.” Kahvo is an online coach working to help clients “rediscover themselves, build confidence and find a simpler more joyful life. We do this by addressing mindset, finding clarity on our values and priorities, and minimizing stress, overwhelm and guilt.”

So, you’re convinced it’s time for a life detox, but where do you start?

  • Social media: recreating a positive digital imprint can be time-consuming, but worth it. Here’s a unique opportunity to reinvent yourself. Start by going through your friends list. You can categorize friends as acquaintances, meaning you will see less of them, and remove those you no longer wish to follow. Unlike pages you have lost interest in and remove permissions for games and apps you don’t use. You may also want to consider removing tags, photos and posts that aren’t part of your new, improved, image.
  • Health: a great place to start is the medicine cabinet, take a few minutes to look for expired medication. You can learn more about safe disposal, in Canada, here. Health trends are a dime a dozen but if you’re looking for something unique (and impossible to fail at) try Shinrin-yoku, otherwise known as ‘forest therapy’ or ‘forest bathing.’ Shinrin-yoku derives from the Japanese culture, whose traditions include cohabitating harmoniously with nature. To enhance physiological and psychological wellbeing, all you have to do is visit a forest, and soak in the sights, smells, and sounds.
  • Friends/Family:  belonging to a community is proven to improve cognitive function, but it might be a good time to reconsider the old mantra; ‘friends close, enemies closer.’ For family, blood may be thicker than water, but sometimes it ok to dilute the source of undue agony. Toxic relationships are bad for our health, leading to higher stress levels and unhealthy habits. Breaking up with a frenemy won’t be easy, prepare yourself by focusing on the friends and activities that will help you move on, and give yourself time to grieve.

“The action, motivation and courage it takes to get there can be the challenge. Trust in yourself, be kind, show compassion and take that step forward. These are really some of the most impactful ways to start feeling more calm, confident and clear headed about your future.”

 Kahvo suggests following five steps to “clean your mindset:”

1. Become aware of the negative default thoughts you are having

2. Replace them with more positive language

3. Slow down and take time out to find clarity on what is currently happening

4. Move out of habitual living and into doing things with intention

5. Have courage

“When we take a step back and sit quietly, it allows us to gain clarity on what is currently going well and what isn’t.” Kahvo offers 1:1 coaching as well as a supportive and informative online community called True You. Her March challenge focuses on spring cleaning for our mindset.