When Alex Mazerolle—aka Ally Maz—started teaching yoga at 20, she was dealing with “an eating disorder, lots of mental health struggles, anxiety, and depression—a lot of things I couldn’t name [at the time],” she says. “I came from a really competitive dance background, and was conditioned at a young age to be in competition with all other women and girls around me.” She began practicing yoga as a way to stay fit when she stopped dancing, but over time, she realized that it had so much more to offer than simply strength and flexibility.

“I started to learn how to calm myself down and self soothe, and how to start to respect and appreciate my body versus feeling like it was the enemy,” she says. Wondering how different her life would have been if she’d had access to yoga as a teen, Mazerolle was inspired to launch Girlvana, an organization that uses community and mentorship to introduce yoga to female-identifying Gen Zers as a way to support their physical, mental, and emotional health. “So many young people find it overwhelming or intimidating to meditate and just be with their feelings,” says Mazerolle. “You move through the body and notice the breath, and when your mind starts to slow, and you feel more focused, it’s safer to explore feelings of sadness and grief.”

Beyond simply the poses, Girlvana gives teens the ability to go within and connect with others, which sets Girlvana apart. “What I started to see was that there could be a balance to ensure yoga was really for everyone,” says Mazerolle. Today, Girlvana mixes movement and meditation with introspection via journaling and discussions, so that the experience hits deeper. “When girls are showing up to the classes, it isn’t just about the physical part… it’s really about the connection and community, and being seen and heard in a non-competitive way,” she says.

Now, Mazerolle is bringing the Girlvana experience to an even wider audience with the launch of her book, Girlvana: Self-Love, Yoga, and Making a Better World ($17).It took me a long time to write this because I didn’t want to be another person taking up space in the wellness industry [writing a cute yoga guide for teen girls] that made people feel like they needed the right outfit or to be eating a certain type of food,” she says. “I wanted to create something more political and intersectional and feminist-driven that has bigger conversations in the youth yoga space that no one is really touching. It addresses these big topics like inclusion and diversity… and I think young people are ready to hear these things and actually seeking them out.”

The result is a 263-page guide meant to make Girlvana’s mission accessible to all. “There have traditionally been so many barriers to getting into yoga—the financial barrier, the intimidation barrier, the fact that some people are uncomfortable with teenagers coming into their spaces—so I wanted to meet people where they were at,” says Mazerolle. “The book has yoga and breathwork sequences, meditations, and journaling prompts, and the whole idea is that you don’t need a studio and a guide. It’s right there with you and you are the teacher. I want to empower people to know that you don’t have to have the right outfit or the right mat to access yogayou can really do it all in your bedroom.”

Girlvana’s tagline, “the world needs you to be you,” is meant to encourage girls to live as their authentic selves through yoga, and it’s Mazerolle’s hope that the book will help an even wider community to do exactly that. “I think there are so many narratives that society gives to us as young woman and how we need to look and be perfect, but once you start to break down those myths, real healing happens,” she says. “We can break out of those stereotypes and live a life that feels genuine and expressive on our own terms.”

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