Every so often, you meet someone who steps into a room and their radiance is almost tangible. That’s Jess Antony. I won’t forget greeting her for the first time in my studio in early 2020. This Winnipeg writer and editor joined our recent eight week challenge online, wowing our coaching team with her rapid transformation. YES – she created changes in her body, but the true revolution happened on a far deeper level, and she explains it best below.
One of the things I love most about her results? She’s taking all the transformative tools she’s learned with us back to the rack. I can’t wait to see what happens with her powerlifting game once she unleashes her mighty physical strength in tandem with her new Rebel Mind. Take it away, Jess.
It’s only in retrospect that I realize that when I started Erin’s eight-week Rebellion Challenge I was searching for someone to hold my hand.
I wanted someone or something to guide me toward a new routine and lifestyle — one where I was a super healthy fit woman who structured her day around hardcore home workouts and a strict set of guidelines for what to eat and when to eat it, and who knew how to turn her household furniture into the vehicle by which to drop all of the weight that had crept up on me as COVID-19 took over and my mental health took a nosedive. Sure, there might be a global pandemic and my freelance business has grinded to a halt, but what about the scale?! That was clearly much more pressing.
Up until this point I knew a bit about Erin’s studio from my friend Teghan, an enthusiastic champion of the studio and its community, and even got the chance to experience two workouts at the studio when I visited Teghan in Cambridge in February. I have a background in competitive powerlifting, so I was used to long, tough workouts with heavy weights and had experienced the highs and lows over the last five years of building strength, cutting weight, achieving goals, and coming back from injury. Despite being admittedly shocked at how hard a workout without a barbell was for me when I did that first Rise + Flow class in the studio, I thought that this challenge would be a great way to ease myself back into the strict training regimen I saw as the only solution to my spiralling health. I thought to myself: Bands and planks? Pfft, I got this. I’ll just sign up for two classes a day every day and stop eating everything but tuna and then I’ll be happy and healthy and my problems will be solved!
I love a challenge. I’m the kind of person who works in extremes: all or nothing. Challenge me to do hot yoga every day for 30 days? I’m on it. Challenge me to a “Sober October”? Easy. The Rebellion Challenge seemed like the best way to distract myself out of the uncertainty that had painted my life since COVID-19 hit. I can remember telling Teghan, “I want to lose 8kg, that’s my goal for the challenge.” In response, she gently suggested that I think about why I’ve chosen a number on the scale as my goal and what holistic alternative I might choose instead. “Oh yeah, also to be less anxious I guess,” I replied. But, despite having gone through this before in the past and knowing full well that altering my body composition will not significantly benefit my mental wellbeing, I couldn’t help but think that losing 8kg would really take a load off not just the scale but my anxiety.
At Teghan’s encouragement, I started tuning in for Erin’s morning mindset practice on Instagram.
I had been told by so many people that mindfulness was really helpful, but I could never get into it. Meditate? Just like, sit there and breathe? Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for that. The few times I did try, I’d just end up distracted by making mental lists of everything I had to do that day.
But having someone guide me through a mindfulness practice in such a clear and relatable way (without telling me I need to buy crystals or start drinking kombucha or wishing me “light and love”) was a game changer. Soon I went from tuning in a few times a week after I’d had my coffee, to joining live every morning and creating my own practice on the weekends. Ask me now, and I’ll tell you that I won’t start my day without it.
And then there were the workouts — those “bands and planks” I thought I had in the bag. The first time I had to hold a plank I wondered if I’d ever really done a goddamn plank in my life. Why is this so hard oh my god I’m going to die are we holding this for ten minutes what is happening?! I had done some at-home workouts at the beginning of quarantine and never really felt like you could train hard enough outside of the gym. But Christie’s Master’s classes proved me wrong. Her full-body circuits kick my ass in the best way and leave me feeling accomplished and strong. When I developed some stress-related injuries, Amanda’s advice and Stretch + Relax classes pulled me out of intense pain and reminded me of the power of recovery. Taryn’s early morning weekend classes have quickly become my favourite way to start my Sunday. But more importantly, the workouts were never the focus of the challenge. My body is an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s just one piece. I took the conversations from the Rebel Mindset Zoom calls to heart. I listened to Jess Paladino’s advice and explanation about how our bodies react to stress and inflammation and the importance of rest. I set goals for myself that didn’t revolve around food or body composition. I rethought how I organize my day and prioritize my time. I asked for help and got advice that went beyond, “Here’s your meal plan, if you’re off by a gram that means you’re not committed, also have you had your 4L of water today or do you not really want to succeed?”
My days now start at 5:45 a.m. with coffee and a mindfulness practice. My mornings are such an important part of each day that I find myself excited to go to sleep at night just so I can wake up and experience it again. I’ve never journaled so much in my life. My therapist told me she is “inspired” by how committed I am to mindfulness — inspired! I’ve kicked a sugar addiction that had a death grip on me, where I’d use making cupcakes for friends as an excuse to eat buttercream icing by the spoonful while I powered my way through a bottle of Chardonnay. I haven’t had a drink in over 50 days. I no longer make 7-Eleven runs when I’m having a bad day (instead I take my dog for a walk or read — and those bad days are fewer and farther between). I no longer end my days by eating snacks in bed while I scroll through social media (instead I read a book, as my bedroom has a strict no-screens policy now). Despite editing and writing for a living, I’ve read more books for myself in the last two months than I have in the last two years combined. I no longer have wild mood swings or regular anxiety attacks — I still get pissed off or sad or anxious, but instead of letting those feelings run my day or numbing them with wine, I sit with them, acknowledge them, and move on. Most importantly, I’m not terrified that I’ll lose all of this progress because the challenge is over.
I used to think, if Erin stops doing these mindfulness practices each morning, I’m so screwed. I know now that I can manage this on my own.
So, I suppose it comes down to this: the biggest gift I’ve received from this challenge is the confidence in knowing that I can handle what life throws at me. Maybe I always knew deep down that I could. Maybe I’ve always known that going from extreme workouts and dieting to the extreme cupcake-eating contests that I’d have with myself were just self-sabotage. But now it no longer feels like it’s too hard or too much work or I don’t have the time to prioritize the balance of my mind, body, and soul. Instead, I simply don’t have the time not to keep doing these things for myself — something that rings especially true as I turn 39 this month. Going forward, I know that I’m not always going to be the most mindful, or the most fit, or the most healthy. I’ll still struggle with body image and I’ll still strive to be stronger, work harder, and be kinder. But I can see now how sacrificing one part of myself for another just means I’m always sacrificing myself. I’ve gained the confidence to manage those issues when they do arise again, now that I have practiced using the tools to best deal with them.