We must admit, we came across Sjana during an instagram stalk. Who was this girl doing some incredible yoga poses, posting positive quotes and delicious food pics? When we dug a little deeper we also found her blog page where we saw 1000's of the tumblr generation writing in and asking her questions.... Each answered with a thoughtful, considered and most of all positive message. We were totally hooked and just had to meet her. When we did, we met a happy, energetic young woman who was also brutally honest about her past and how she turned her life to the light....

Tell us about your journey into leading a positive life – how did you come to it? 

One day at a time...
Both an undiagnosed medical condition since birth and the effects of being bullied in high school resulted for me in significant anxiety, depression, hospital admissions and even some suicidality around the age of 15-17. The darkness and struggle absorbed me entirely to the point where I was fighting against all the medical and emotional support I was given. While diagnosis of the metabolic disorder and subsequent treatment triggered a physiological healing, it was only when I decided within myself that I no longer wanted to live my life hating myself, that I started listening to all the wisdom and noticing the wonders around me and I started to improve emotionally.  It wasn't instantaneous, and there were certainly bumps in the road, but I knew that there was a reason I was still alive, and my existence did serve some sort of a purpose. I started small; appreciating the small things in everyday life that I was thankful for; sunrises, hugs, cups of tea, fresh sheets, good music, good company and helping others. I found that when I did these things, I felt a little bit of joy (smiling on the inside as I like to call it) and I made sure to engage in these things. I was very lucky to have such incredible support from family and friends also, especially my Mum. And they helped me stay proactive - reminding me that there was good things in every day, even if every day was not good.

I began a blog, which somehow evolved into an advice blog and felt that listening, caring and helping others made me feel fulfilled and gave me a sense of purpose. And as I was helping others, I was unconsciously helping myself also. I got to a point where I ruled over my depression, I was HAPPY. (depression often makes you forget what happiness is) I could look back and remember what I felt and the way I saw the world, and used that to empathise with those who needed some guidance and support. I gave myself little daily challenges to fulfill that I knew would continue to enhance my life… and I've done that ever since! Nowadays I'm addicted to happiness. I know that DOING good, actually FEELS good. I wake up excited and curious about what the day ahead holds! 

You have found your path at a very young age – what do you think has been the big contributors to that? 

I'm a huge believer that everything happens for a reason. So looking back I am now able to see that there wasn't just one thing that led me to where I am today, but rather countless of tiny turns along the way that have led me here. Sometimes those turns were orthodox and planned, other times they were spontaneous off-track adventures, and sometimes those twists and turns were imposed on me, or were just a part of life - but ALL those turns were learning curves; the lessons I learned defining the choices and turns I choose in the future and teaching me ways to negotiate those life- changing turns I can't control or avoid. And that excites me because I know that where I am now isn't the final destination, and that life will continue to work in mysterious ways to put us all, not just me, where we are meant to be.

I have also learned to not let fear stop me from taking risks and appreciating opportunities and experiences. There is a little saying my Mum told me when I was younger that says "Aim for the moon and you will always land amongst the stars". It's stuck with me throughout my life, and has kind of become integral to the way I live I suppose. Reminding me that the only form of "failure" is from not trying at all. So I guess fate along with determination (and my natural stubbornness) have guided me towards my goals.

I will be forever grateful for the support of my family above all else - they're the ones who I know I can rely on no matter what. I am extremely blessed to have them… I really really am. Any kind of success I ever have will be because of their love, compassion, support and guidance. Not only would I not exist if it wasn't for them, but they continuously keep me in check and aren't afraid to set me straight when I need the push. They have always supported me in my ambitions, and encouraged me to chase after my own passions and goals. I wouldn't be half the person I am if it weren't for them.

You post some inspirational quotes on your social media and must do a lot of reading, which are your top 3 most inspiring reads? 

Dr Seuss (any of his books).. I don’t think I’ll ever be too old for his books! They actually hold an incredible amount of wisdom if you think past the surface. 

“Treasure Yourself” by Miranda Kerr  

and “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, a series of books and stories, full of insight and love.

Before taking up yoga you were an elite gymnast and cheerleader – what made you get out of gymnastics and cheerleading and into yoga? 

I find yoga and stretching soothes my body, mind and soul. Having always moved my body a lot, I unknowingly became reliant upon the flexibility. So suddenly stopping it when I moved away from home, I soon became very agitated, anxious and stressed. I began stretching again as it was an instant relief for my tension. As I began challenging and questioning my body's limitations, yoga became the next step. After beginning to explore yoga, meditation soon followed, and I've gradually been learning more and reaping the benefits of it. I have even found Yoga, as I become more skilled at the deeper mindfulness side of it, is powerful enough to calm some of the symptoms of my metabolic disorder. For someone whose adrenal system is constantly pumping out adrenalin, I can experience a real whole body-mind-soul calm during yoga that I have not been able to experience before.

"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape” – Author Unknown 

Your tagline on your website is SMYLE – secrets to make your life exceptional. What are your top 5 secrets to make life exceptional?

Well really the E can stand for Exceptional, or Easier, or Energised, Enthusiastic, Excellent, Empowered etc. So my top 5 strategies, secrets or tips ( in no particular order) would have to be:

  • Being thankful – thankful for everything we are blessed with and ESPECIALLY the things we are not.
  • Laughing – allowing ourselves to feel, express and spread happiness in the simplest way possible. Letting “happiness bubble over” as I like to think of it. Even if it’s just a smile – the silent kind of laugh! There is nothing that will bring a smile to your face faster than putting a smile on someone elses!
  • Allowing room for mistakes – no one is perfect. The acceptance of this knowledge is one of the most important things. As it is the picture in our heads of how we think our lives SHOULD be that creates most drama… letting go of that and accepting our faults and flaws allows infinite possibilities for yourself
  • Kindness. Kindness, kindness, kindness! It’s really not so hard to be nice to others, and equally nice to yourself. I think that if there is one legacy I would like to leave behind, it is being lovely to people, despite how they treat me. My parents brought me up to know that kindness and common courtesy is the bare minimum ever expected of us.
  • Love. Feel it, express it, receive it, give it. Love is limitless and will never ever be short for resource. Embrace that, and fulfill the life of yourself and those around you by loving as much as possible. I try to make a point everyday to remind someone how much I love them and how much they mean to me; a parent, sibling, friend, colleague, partner etc.

So in summary it would be to stubbornly and actively seek Happiness, and show Grace, Acceptance, Love and Kindness. 

You get asked a lot of questions through your tumblr and take so much care in answering them all – where do you find the inspiration to answer them all so positively?

From the anons asking the questions really… People don’t reach out and ask for advice or support if they don’t need it. The least I can do is try to help, in the hope it will make them feel a little more positive or hopeful in themselves and empower them to take steps to seek some sunshine for themselves.

I actually feel selfish at times because of my advice blog… I find helping others liberates and empowers me also. It gives me joy and I find a great deal of fulfillment in it. The people who are asking for advice, have unknowingly been a huge source of my recovery and happiness!

As for the positive element in my answers; I feel that our attitudes are contagious. I want to spread positivity rather than exhibiting negativity for others to catch. I do have my bad days, as we ALL do. But I don’t bring that negativity anywhere near my blog – it’s not the kind of environment I wish to create! 

You lead a very healthy lifestyle in terms of diet as well as fitness – you said you can’t remember ever making the same thing twice but could you please share one of the most favourite meals you’ve made?

My favourite meal is one of my Mum’s specialties: San Choy Bow! Pork/Veal mince, chopped water chestnuts, grated zucchini, grated carrot, rice noodles and a honey soy sauce wrapped in lettuce leaves! Mm mm mmmmm!

What are the future plans for Sjana – do you plan on becoming an inspirational speaker, yoga teacher, etc?

It sounds so cheesy, but my future plans are not to have any plans. Not thinking ahead too much, nor worrying about the past; living in the present moment and taking each moment and opportunity as it comes. I am happy directing my learning and my growth in the direction it is currently heading, and taking opportunities as they arise – it’s the journey not the goal that energises me. And it is also the curiosity about what life has in store for me that motivates me. 

I think we should all be constantly trying to improve and further fulfill our lives and selves.  So I’ll certainly be indulging in things that interest me and if the opportunities arise to become involved in things such as yoga instructing, public speaking etc – I’ll happily jump at them! I have been given a couple of opportunities to play a role in some charities so any formalised “plans” I have are around those events at the moment. I do admit I have a Bucket List however - but they are dreams and hopes, not plans. For now, I really am just enjoying the journey! 

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Photos + interview produced by thebharanieffect - our talented photographer is Maclay Heriot.