A natural born teacher, Mandy Trapp has been inspiring others to live happier and healthier lives for the past two decades. She began her career as a personal trainer, but it wasn’t long before she began to explore a more holistic approach to wellness.
Growing up in a super athletic family, she was steeped in sports for as long as she can remember. Friendly competition amongst her family was a normal part of their Sunday night dinners. From the time that she could walk, Mandy was kicking a ball, and as soon as she could catch a ball, she was throwing it right back. It was no surprise to her family then, that she went to school to become a Personal Fitness Trainer.
Mandy spent her younger years as a gymnast developing a relationship with time and space and as a result, she feels much more comfortable in the world upside down than she does right side up. Those formative years were critical in building self-confidence and trust in knowing what her body could and couldn’t do, but that’s not all.
“There is something wonderful that happens when you spend a lot of time upside down,” she says. “You get a whole different perspective on life. And at just 13 years old, I had no idea just how important that perspective would be.”
Fast forward 10 years and she is knee deep into her Personal Training career at a top private studio in Edmonton. She had a packed schedule as a trainer, was leading yoga and Pilates sessions for athletes…and she was pregnant. On one hand, Mandy felt excited and delighted by the surprise news that she and her new husband had just received, but on the other hand, she felt blindsided and wondered what her future would hold.
“There comes a point, where the natural instincts of the body kick in and override the mind chatter that seems to have its own set of preferences around how things should be,” she says. “I remember a very distinct and defining moment around that time where I was taking a yoga class in California with 300 other people during a big event that I was at. About halfway through the class we were all instructed to move into child’s pose and when I got there, I struggled with finding a position that was comfortable enough for my bursting belly, and all of the pressure in my back that resulted from carrying that weight. It seems that one of the teachers was also watching me struggle and at some point, she found her way through the sea of bodies, to me, and gently placed her hand on my back. But it wasn’t the kind and nurturing gesture that broke me down that day, it was what she said to me. She leaned down and whispered in my ear, “it’s okay. If this is too difficult for you, you don’t have to participate.”
Mandy knows now that her invitation to withdraw was sent from her heart with utmost love and care, but for her, the fires of anger, frustration, and shame were blazing a trail of their own. She sobbed for the rest of that practice, but it wasn’t just a pound of tears that she left on the mat that day… She also left an important part of who she thought she was, and who she thought she had to be.
There’s a saying that goes “To be who you really are, you must first let go of who you thought you were.” She has no idea who said it, or where she first heard it, but now, at 41 years old, it makes so much sense to her.
Down on the mat that day, Mandy was given the gift of perspective. Had she not been taken down by the discomfort of what (or who) was growing in her body, it would’ve been another normal day on the mat. There would’ve been no separation between her and the rest of the class, no way to know where each one of them ended, and where Mandy began. That “a-ha” moment took her back to the gym and catapulted her to where she is today.
Now, a mom to 3 teens, a wife, a teacher, and the Founder and Lead Educator at Lifestyle Meditation, she is by nature a deep and contemplative person, but also super playful and loves to play practical jokes on people.
“I am a conundrum in the meditation world as I am obsessed with the science of mindfulness and am neck deep in the research but am constantly falling down the rabbit hole of quantum physics while looking for life within the matrix,” she says.
Mandy began meditating when she was very young. She had some traumatic experiences as a child and the practice of meditation was very intuitive for her. She knew how to find the peace and stillness inside herself, although it was never shared with her, nor was it modelled. It wasn’t until she took her first yoga teacher training when she was 20 that she was stunned to see a photo of a beautiful Indian woman sitting with her legs crossed and focusing her thoughts. She remembers staring at the page and thinking, “Wait, what? so this is a thing?” Her world was instantly changed.
After seeing that first picture, she was hungry to learn more. And as synchronicity would have it, Mandy met a woman that was very good friends with Dr. Deepak Chopra, and she invited her to learn all about meditation from her. She signed up for a weekend course and within the first hour, she knew that she was where she was meant to be, and that meditation was what she was meant to teach.
The approach was simple and extremely relatable. It didn’t compete with what she had already known, but rather, it gave it greater meaning. Now, instead of knowing that stress and unhealthy behaviours have a negative impact on overall wellbeing, she knew what to do about it.
For five years, Mandy would go back and forth between Edmonton and San Diego and she would bring all of her new learning home and integrate with everything she was doing in the training studio. She was seeing noticeable differences in what her clients could do with their bodies, but it was what they were able to do with their minds, that amazed her.
Whether someone believed in the meditation practices that she was taking them through or not, every single person noted a change in how they felt about themselves, how they felt about others, and how they felt about the world around them. And it was this shift in perspective that has been studied, to have the greatest impact on every level and measure of health.
“My eldest daughter is just about to graduate from high school,” she says. “She is a highly creative and a very talented musician and what often comes with such an expansive mind is a lot of anxiety. We began to notice OCD tendencies when she was two where she would twirl and pull out her hair when she was nervous. We hoped that she would outgrow the behaviour (which she did), however, her anxiety took on other forms.”
The funny thing for Mandy is that while she would be paralyzed in fear when it came to taking a math test, she could easily step onstage in front of a few thousand people like it was a walk in the park. If there is one thing that Mandy has learned about anxiety is that the symptoms are often misguided creativity. Therefore, if there is nowhere to channel the active imagination in a way that feels creative, the imagination will make up all sorts of things to think and worry about.
Meditation has been invaluable in her daughter’s life and she has learned how, when, and where to guide her focus. In part, this has been made possible because she has a meditation practice, but it is also a result of the ongoing dialogue that Mandy and her husband have with her around acknowledging her stress and what, if anything, can she do about it.
As much joy as the past few years brought her, they have also been her hardest. Three and a half years ago, Mandy opened the Lifestyle Meditation Centre, which was the first of its kind in Canada. It felt very exciting, but as a new concept in a new industry, she held a lot of doubt as to whether or not they would be able to succeed in accomplishing their goals.
To make the stress of it worse, she began suffering with chronic back pain. As physical pain was something that she had always been able to “shake off”, Mandy grinned and bared it for over three years. There weren’t a lot of people that knew what was going on but when, just this fall, she was teaching in California and her legs went numb, she realized something was really wrong.
“Within just a few days I had very limited feeling and sensation from the top of my ribcage all the way down to my toes,” she says.
She went to the doctor a few times as well as physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments and, the consensus of most was that she just had tight muscles. However, after beginning to explore the severity of her symptoms with her neighbor who is a Neurologist, it was quickly decided that she needed immediate help.
One week later, under the recommendation of another Neurologist, she paid to fast track an MRI and she feels that decision is the only reason that she is walking today.
“The results were in and I had a fully manifest meningioma tumour in the middle of my spine compressing my entire spinal cord,” she says. “The surgeons could not believe that the woman they watched walk in was the same woman as in the MRI scan that they were looking at.”
Why Mandy wasn’t in a wheelchair or already paralyzed was beyond them. But for her, she has to believe that it wasn’t how it was meant to be.
“I think that it was hard for my husband, my children, my parents and all of my friends to see me that way,” she says. Afterall, it was Mandy who was always the one carrying everyone else and now she had no choice but to let them carry her.
“People always ask me if I was scared and to be honest, I had no fear about it at all,” she says. “Something in me knew all along that everything would be fine. But that same inner wisdom also knew that there was a great opportunity amidst the chaos. And that opportunity was support.”
By the time she had come out of surgery, she already had over 3,000 messages on her phone. It was overwhelming for her to see the outpour of support. She thought to herself, “how in the world could I not see how supported I’ve been this whole time?” She spent so many years feeling like she had to do it all alone – had to be the mom alone, the teacher alone, the business owner alone. And now, here she was, definitely not doing this very tough thing alone. It made her think back to that moment on the yoga mat over two decades earlier, where she was laying down, eyes full of tears, fully supported by the ground beneath her, and taking in the sea of bodies around her. Only this time, those hands that were reaching for the sky, were now reaching for her.