Fern Olivia wears many hats. She’s a yoga and meditation teacher, founder of ThyroidYoga™ training program and creator of an essential oils based beauty line Ajai Alchemy. She also travels around the world leading retreats and she just released an online course with MindBodyGreen.She’s a busy lady.
Fern’s life wasn’t always so glamorous, spiritual or fulfilling. It was her health that propelled her to finally break free of her hard-partying lifestyle, emotionally draining relationships and long hours at a job that paid well but didn’t fill her soul.
We recently sat down with Fern and asked her some questions for our Woman Up series – a collection of inspiring femmes that live large, work hard, fall often and always get back up.
You’re very open about your diagnosis, struggles and healing journey with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disorder. What should our readers know about Hashimoto’s and what are some symptoms they can look out for?
I am extremely open about my body and healing journey, precisely because I know that when I was struggling with my symptoms, I felt alone, hopeless, confused, and misunderstood. I WISH someone had been putting out the honest information that Parsley Health and I are sharing with the world now. It breaks my heart that the sophisticated knowledge about holistic healing that we are advocating for was just not as available several years ago!
Hashimoto’s hypothyroid disease is what I had been diagnosed with over a decade ago, though before I get into that, let’s take a step back and talk about the thyroid and why it’s so important.
Though it weighs less than an ounce, the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in the middle of your lower neck plays a very important role in the dance of your life. It produces hormones that influence every cell, tissue, and organ in your body.
Your thyroid regulates your metabolism—the rate at which your body produces energy—and in turn, it affects critical body functions, such as your energy levels, heart rate, and fertility. Your thyroid gland is also involved in gastrointestinal function, blood-sugar regulation, stomach-acid production, brain chemistry, and liver detoxification. I also call it the “beauty gland” because it is a major player when it comes to your skin, your hair, your weight, and how you feel every day. So when something goes wrong with your thyroid, it can manifest in many different ways.
Most thyroid conditions result from an out-of-balance immune system attacking the thyroid. This can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, toxins, a gut imbalance, poor stress response, and/or a chronic infection.
Hashimoto’s, the condition that I had been struggling with for years, is the autoimmune form of hypothyroidism. My own immune system was destroying my thyroid cells. This “attack and destroy” can cause wild symptom swings from hypothyroid to hyperthyroid and back. Often times, this means a lifelong dependence on thyroid hormone medication.
The most common signs that you have a thyroid imbalance – whether that may be hyperthyroid, hypothyroid, Graves’ or Hashimoto’s – are issues with weight, irregular (or lack of) periods, low sex drive, problems getting pregnant, and depression.
Can you tell us a bit about the mind-body connection with the thyroid?
Your subconscious is a very strange place. It’s part of you, but for the most part, you’re unaware of it, even though it’s driving your thoughts and feelings. The more I learn about emotional health, the more fascinated I become with the intricate inner workings of our bodies.
Did you know that there is a direct link on your ability to communicate and express yourself with authenticity and confidence in the world, and the health of your thyroid?
Our thyroid conditions have manifested from emotional patterns that have been replaying over and over again since childhood, and often times from our mother, our mother’s mother, and beyond that. So these symptoms coming up are your body’s way of saying “hey, listen to me! Stop the garbage! I’m telling you to recognize patterns of co-dependency, insecurity, and mistrust, so you can finally be liberated and feel like yourself again!”
For six years, I was in a relationship with a man whom I loved very deeply, but our relationship couldn’t work because we weren’t evolving together and I found myself scared to speak up and communicate what I needed in the relationship.
I never told him how I was feeling, or how his words or actions hurt me, until finally they weighed me down so much that my body got very, very sick. Why? I was simply too scared to speak up. Frightened to the point where I would sacrifice my own needs because I didn’t want to risk rejection, judgment, or an argument.
The fear of asking for what I needed in relationships, essentially holding my fear inside, brought stress to my whole glandular system, and when I don’t release that stress by speaking freely, the blockages bring up my autoimmune hypothyroid symptoms.
In both my romantic relationships, and also in my family, friend, and work relationships, even as young as a small child, I never felt confident or worthy to ask for what I truly wanted – when it came to intimacy, emotional or financial support, or simply what I needed in order to feel heard, loved or understood. I never felt “good enough” to live up to the expectations of my parents, or even to step outside the corporate box and leave my career in finance to live the creative lifestyle of an entrepreneur, for the fear of letting my parents down or being judged for my decision or my voice. Clearly, this being silent and repressed had a negative effect on my thyroid, as my symptoms were at their worst when I was working in the office and not doing any of the work I was born to do – and it makes complete sense that when I left the environment and started doing my work as a healer, sharing my voice through my teachings and writings, that I finally began to feel good in my body.
How did yoga and meditation transform your health?
Yoga found me on a lunch break. At the time, I was working 14-hour days in finance and muting my creative voice in exchange for a six-figure salary and two weeks vacation a year.
After work, I was binge drinking and dancing on tables in NYC’s most glamorous night clubs.
I was fiercely out of control and afraid of the woman I was born to be.
My relationships and partnerships didn’t give me the opportunity to shine, for my light was always dimmed by my fear of speaking up for myself. It was easier to play small.
As my yoga practice deepened, I realized the way I was treating myself and showing up in my life had a direct correlation to the persistence of my Hashimoto’s hypothyroid symptoms.
As I moved my body mindfully while moving through asana (postures), the mental cloudiness I’d always felt magically lifted. I became introspective. I’d stand in tree pose and think, why am I always nauseous and dizzy after eating? In twists, why do I experience sharp stomach pains after certain meals and have to unbutton my pants at my desk? I’d move into downward dog and think, why are my migraines worse on certain days? Why do I feel puffy and foggy on some days, while other days light and graceful in yoga class?
Each time I returned to my yoga mat, I not only felt a new sense of clarity and balance but also felt safe, comforted, and loved — feelings I had been lacking in my life—and I realized that this practice allowed me to connect with myself in a way that I hadn’t been able to elsewhere.
Who was your biggest influence on your healing journey?
Donnalynn Civello was my very first yoga teacher in New York City. She has been an inspirational force in my life and is now a dear friend. When I was struggling with the worst of my symptoms, I joined her cooking and nutritional classes at Jivamukti Yoga School and began seeing patterns between my symptoms and food choices: I would often get headaches after eating prepared, microwaveable meals or bagels and pizza. Paralyzing stomach pains flared up if I ate anything with dairy, gluten, or soy.
Thanks to her classes, I began experimenting with blending soups and smoothies. I started spiraling vegetables and creating creamy sauces with nuts and seeds. I knew I was on a path to healing because I felt entirely different: I felt alive and free in my body and mind. I deepened my understanding of my own life’s journey and lessons through her guidance in numerology and spiritual teachings.
I’ve continued to study yoga, spirituality, and to clean up my micro biome. I now understand how important all of these modalities are for sustained well-being. I’ve learned how to manage my symptoms—not only through yoga but through meditation, breathwork, and holistic lifestyle rituals including energy work, essential oils, and herbal tonics.
In the last few years, I have recently discovered the power of Kundalini yoga practice and have since incorporated a daily Kundalini sadhana—or daily morning practice—into my life. It has become a life-changing component of my signature Thyroid.Yoga™program. I’ve witnessed hundreds of clients notice a new, powerful ability to magnetize opportunities into their lives and heal their bodies on a mitochondrial level.
We are all in some way asleep and need to awaken to our true selves. As Donnalynn told me, often times, we are called to awaken suddenly. An awakening call can come as a form of disease/dis-ease, accident, or heartbreak. Such a call often comes as pain. However, the touch that brings awakening, the touch from our soul speaking to us, is one that often brings us to a deep spiritual practice. I am forever grateful for her guidance throughout the times in my life where I felt lost, confused, and in the thick of the most difficult choices in my life.
What is one thing that many people out there don’t know about yoga OR what is one of the biggest misconceptions about yoga?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that yoga is doing bendy photos on your yoga mat.
Yes, that can be yoga, absolutely.However, I believe that true yoga reaches far beyond that. It’s not about touching your toes, or how flexible you are. True yoga is about union—the integration and true understanding of how your mind, body, and energy are all one. True yoga is about how you can harness your intuitive wisdom in every moment to live your dharma, your authentic truth. To live a magnificent, fulfilled life.
Yoga can be a healing practice. It can be an athletic practice. It can be anything you want it to be, and that comes down to your intention each time you come to your yoga mat.
Let’s talk about the therapeutic practice of yoga. When practiced consistently, yoga and breathing techniques work by clearing the stagnation around our organs, resetting the balance of our endocrine and lymphatic system, which ultimately supports overall endocrine and glandular health—regardless of whether the practitioner is experiencing overactive or underactive thyroid symptoms or had the thyroid removed.
Yoga detoxifies your lymphatic system by strengthening and supporting your immune and glandular systems, and promotes digestive health. When you’re on your mat, you’ll notice everything about your body. You’ll notice how you’re moving, or how you’re stuck – if you have an off day where you feel heavy, you’ll become aware of your nutrition, your digestion, your skin, your muscles, everything. You’ll notice how your choices affect how you feel. You’ll strengthen your neurology – tapping into your mind-body connection and ultimately discovering your powerful inner healer.
You’re constantly cleansing your body as you rinse out toxins and stagnation from the body. Energetically, you are allowing the currency to flow through your body, clearing the garbage and releasing it out. When you breathe deeply, you’ll clear your lungs, focus your mind, and your body relaxes and lets go of stress. As you’ve learned, chronic stress manifests as stagnation in your kidneys, which triggers adrenal fatigue, taxes your immunity and digestion, and ultimately wrecks havoc on your thyroid. By relieving your body and mind from the chronic state of “fight or flight” – a consistent yoga practice will provide a huge benefit to your well-being.
Many people believe that there is only one “right way” to do yoga. The truth is, there are many truths, there are many lineages.
I’ve been teaching yoga for six years, studying in many different lineages: Vinyasa with Donnalynn Civello and my teachers at Jivamukti Yoga, Katonah Yoga with my mentors Elena Brower, Nevine Michaan, Abbie Galvin, and most recently, Kundalini Yoga with Guru Jagat, the founder of Ra Ma Institute in Venice, California.
You’ve created an amazing thyroid healing program called ThyroidYoga™ . Can you tell us why you created this program and how it’s different.
In this immense pressure of our time, we must study, teach, and advocate for healing practices that go deeper and more subtle than a traditional asana (movement) practice.
What makes my work unique is that I bring together the strongest possible offering for the physical, emotional and cultural health of my students and community.
For these powerful reasons, I am offering Thyroid.Yoga™ training. as a comprehensive immersion November 3-6, 2016 in Los Angeles at RA MA Institute for Applied Yogic Sciences & Technology. This training will also be available virtually online on RA MA TV.
The benefits of this unique immersion go far beyond “another certification.” After completion of this training, participants will come away equipped with the tools and resources to confidently provide value-added offerings and resources for their clients and students. And you certainly don’t need to be a teacher or wellness practitioner to take this training.
It’s for ANYONE looking to understand how to use the power of ancient wisdom to profoundly ignite a deep energetic, emotional, and physical healing.
The Thyroid.Yoga™ training. immersion will feature expert Nutritionists, Functional Medicine Doctors and Ayurvedic Practitioners to give you an in-depth look at your entire thyroid, glandular and nervous system health. In addition to Kundalini and Hatha yogic practices, pranayama, meditation, and anatomy of the throat and neck, we’ll also cover the powerful practices of Sat Nam Rasayan®, Emotional Freedom Technique, and Akashic Record & Astrology and how these modalities can be applied to understand the energetic body and release deep-seated patterns of fear, self-doubt, and limiting beliefs so you can liberate yourself and those who may come to you for healing work.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone that is intimidated by yoga and meditation?
You’re already perfect at yoga and meditation. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone, ever. Even if you think you “suck at yoga” or “can’t meditate” you’re just telling yourself lies and kicking yourself in the knees!
How do you stay balanced with all the work, travel and pressures that may come from your career?
If it weren’t for my committment to my self-care, I would be a hot mess. In fact, some days, I am. The truth is, burn-out is often far too common among wellness practitioners on a mission – we aren’t immune to stress, either! Balance is something that I have to make a conscious effort to maintain, because the truth is, as a driven entrepreneur, I work A LOT.
For that reason, I start every day with 3 rituals. These are the habits I’ve made holy.
- Daily meditation
I’ve made my daily meditation practice non-negotiable, and as my teacher, Guru Jagat says, “How can you expect to have the relationship, the job, the body — whatever the ‘thing’ is — if you’re not committed to your sadhana every single day? If you’re doing it ‘almost every day’ then you’re just going to get almost ‘the thing.'” It’s so true — when I start and end my day focused internally, on my own healing, I feel empowered, powerful, and laser sharp.
- Cold Plunge in the ocean (or a cold shower if I’m not home in Venice)
After my meditation practice, it’s a run out my front door, through the sand, into the cool Pacific Ocean. Splashing in the waves invigorates me and stimulates my lymphatic system — and as a bonus, cold water plunges are incredible for thyroid and immune health. I’ve noticed that I feel significantly more energized when I have my ocean plunge first thing in the morning.
- Essential Oils
Every morning, I began applying essential oils to my thyroid (base of neck) and adrenals (lower back) as well as the thyroid and adrenal reflexology points on my feet. In the evenings, I began applying oils specific to supporting the thyroid and adrenals to the bottoms of my feet, massaging my feet with essential oils and coconut oil on the thyroid and parathyroid points. Ever since starting this practice, I’ve noticed an astounding change in how I feel! You can experiment with creating your own blends, or try my Radiance Alchemy, a special blend I created for thyroid and overall hormone balance.
I attribute my health, happiness and success to precisely this – showing up for me, and saying no to anything that is an energy leak! Upon every visit to New York City, I always book an entire day to go off the grid and enjoy solitude at the Great Jones Spa. It is my priority to take care of me, where I am not answering to anyone else except my own inner healer who needs the healing just as much as everyone else I give to!