Yogi helping women find passion and purpose
INNER peace and a party. That's what you'll get at one of yogi Amy Lou Wilson's Yoga Seeds retreats where she unleashes the life force of Brisbane women who feel lost in the noise of everyday life.
At her quarterly retreats at Santosha Yoga Space in Paddington, exhausted mothers, overwhelmed students and stressed-out businesswomen learn restorative yoga to connect mind and body and a raft of practical self-help techniques.
Then there's the joyful, soul-shaking dancing, just because it feels good.
So good that when a government employee finished the one-day retreat last year, she immediately invited Amy to host another for 30 female leaders visiting from the Pacific Islands.
Amy's retreat would become the wellness component of the Australia Awards Women's Leadership Initiative program, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) funded program for the next generation of global leaders.
Held in September 2018 at the Mercure Clear Mountain Lodge, about half an hour northwest of Brisbane, Amy's first cohort comprised female ministers of the Samoan parliament, community leaders from Papua New Guinea, and women rising to positions of power in the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.
She knew the class was a success when a tearful Samoan minister said, "I've never felt this peace".
"And that's why I do this," says Amy, 37. "Because before I discovered yoga, I had never known real peace either."
Amy's "mishmash of techniques" in yoga and life coaching helped her through some dark periods in her own life.
Originally from Mudgee, NSW, she moved to Sydney at 17 to study acting, moving in with her Dad, who suffered with schizophrenia.
Her parents had separated when she was eight.
"Living under the same roof as him, I realised very quickly that his mental health was really bad and that was scary because I didn't know how to help or what to do."
A few years later, her dad took his own life.
"He was the biggest advocate of my acting and all of a sudden I had no one there to bolster me," she says.
"I wasn't prepared for the rejection the acting world had in store for me and within months of Dad passing away I dropped out, packed my bags and went travelling. That was my grieving process."
Later she begrudgingly joined the corporate world in telecommunications rather than face the stage again.
"I was really good at my corporate job, but my soul was just empty," she says.
That was until she fell in love with her colleague and now-husband, Scott Robinson. Around the same time Amy discovered exercise as a blissful reprieve from work.
"I remember being like, 'Oh my God! I didn't know you could feel this good', and so I left the corporate world and qualified to be a personal trainer."
Becoming a yoga teacher was next on Amy's to-do list, to complement her current fitness offering.
"I remember holding the warrior 2 pose in class and hating on my teacher because it was hard and I was ready to strangle her. Then all of a sudden an incredible peace came over me. It was breath. And I was hooked. I didn't practise regularly once I left drama school, but I always came back to the mat to find the peace."
But just as she was ready to get serious with her yoga, a "beautiful surprise" pregnancy changed her plans.
"Early on, I completely devoted myself to raising Charlie (now 12) to the detriment of everything else in my life, including my love for personal training and yoga. Looking back I maybe even had some postnatal depression," she says.
The birth of daughter Elkie, now 8, tested Amy further.
"I didn't know how to split myself in half for my kids, and I was lonely. I'm a people person," Amy says.
Her solution was to pack up her life and go abroad.
With Scott and their two young children - Charlie was 3 and Elkie 6 months - the family travelled across Western Europe for eight months, living out of a campervan.
"We had some amazing days, and some diabolic ones but that trip really set us up as the family unit we are today … it connected us."
As was the plan, they flew out of Sydney for their adventure, but returned to Brisbane to be closer to family.
After settling in Paddington and with the kids starting school Amy had to figure out her next move.
"I had used my kids as an excuse to not step into my power. I think a lot of women do that," she says.
With more free time on her hands, she rediscovered her love of yoga, and qualified as a teacher. Amy says she finally felt ready to use all of the lessons she had learned along the way to help others.
"My absolute passion in this world is helping women find their passion and purpose. And that looks different for all of us. If raising a beautiful family is your version of success then that's amazing, but you need to take care of yourself in order for that to flourish. It's about women being a leader for themselves and then for their families, and then for the people around them. If you're not filling up your cup first, you can't give to other people."
These days Amy Lou teaches weekly yoga and meditation for Brisbane City Council's staff wellness program; leads children's yoga holiday workshops; and runs Yoga Seeds sessions for kindergarten children at C&K Paddington and Rosalie.
Scott has followed suit and thrown in the corporate towel.
He has turned his love of home brewing into the 100-seat Soapbox Beer brewery and pub, which he opened in Fortitude Valley in December.
"I could never have imagined our life turning out this way," Amy says.
"Our life is an adventure."