Well Woman Weekly: Bryde MacLean on Boundaries, Vulnerability, and Mind-Body Connection

Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman and this week we’re excited to introduce Bryde MacLean. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Bryde MacLean is a Prince Edward Island-raised, Halifax, Nova Scotia-based yoga instructor, actor, podcast host, and massage therapy student. 

In 2006, MacLean completed her yoga teacher training in Thailand and soon began working full-time as an instructor at Modo Yoga (formerly Moksha Yoga) in Montreal, Quebec before relocating to Toronto, Ontario. By 2011, MacLean had become the Manager of Yoga Teacher Trainings for Moksha International.

While in university, Bryde met her future husband, Jeremie Saunders. Ever the significant year, the pair also married in 2011 and eventually decided to open their marriage. In 2017, the duo launched Turn Me On: a no holds barred podcast for the intimately curious. The hosts dive into meaningful conversations about sex, polyamory, relationships, and life with a wide array of guests ranging from sex workers to psychologists to authors and everyone in between.

Bryde MacLean photographed by Matthew Manhire

Lots of congratulations are in order! The third season of your podcast, “Turn Me On,” just premiered, you started massage therapy school, and you hosted a “Human Connection Through Touch” workshop in the spring. It’s clear that you’re interested in the intersection of physical touch and mental wellbeing, and it comes up frequently on the show. Can you share a bit about what draws you to this work and what you wish more people knew about this body-mind connection? 

I’m drawn to work that slows us down, enhances awareness, and facilitates ease. The mind-body connection is a constant current running in the background all the time in each of us. When we pay attention, we can notice how our senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch—are the input for all experience, and then our mind (thoughts, feelings, beliefs) does its thing interpreting all that information into stories and conclusions based on whatever other previous experiences we’ve had.

Anything observed is changed. Whether it’s easier to notice the physical sensations or easier to notice the thoughts and feelings, start with that and then look for correlations in the other. You can create change by an outside-in approach or an inside-out approach. What we do physically affects our mental state, what we repeat mentally affects our physical state. Noticing is the first step.

In a time when physical touch has been extremely limited, many have been using the phrase “touch starved.” How do you think this lack has affected our relationships, especially as we head towards a world where we can engage in this again? Do you think the importance we place on touch in our relationships—platonic or romantic—has changed? 

There is no doubt an actual chemical effect of having less touch in our lives. Touch is a primary way we communicate and is a prosocial behavior that enhances trust, safety, bonding, and compassion. I hope we can learn how to open ourselves up to this kind of contact again, with the added piece of consent in consideration during those interactions.

We all respond to trauma in different ways. Early on in the pandemic, I was grieving the loss of both of my grandmothers, the two matriarchs in my life, as well as the terminal diagnosis of my father. I became acutely aware of how I did not want to be touched. Consent to touch became a very new issue in my interpersonal relationships. I was not raised to express love through touch, and though I had always felt a little awkward expressing this type of affection, I learned to express love this way for my partners. In this heightened sensitive state I felt at times infuriated if someone even came in for a hug without asking. 

Even in my massage therapy program, I can tell that consent is a new and important priority in the education of new therapists. Perhaps the reintroduction of touch post-pandemic combined with the new mindfulness around consent could be a great relearning experience for all of us.

As a yoga teacher, you know that movement can be healing, and sometimes the body knows things that the mind does not. Does holding this intimate relationship with your body impact the ways you consciously connect with the world around you?

After 37 years in this body, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I am a very sensitive person. I feel things deeply and move from high to low at a dramatic pace. The best coping mechanism I have for all these deep feelings is movement. Sometimes it’s a movement practice like yoga, where I’m finding a way to hold and feel all of the feelings and breathe through them. A lot of the time it’s through improvisational dance or even a good long walk that I can move these feelings through me and then feel them transform into some other energy. I’m also a big encourager of sound-making to release tension, and there’s science behind this that has to do with the nervous system and vibration of sound. So basically I’m pretty noisy and rarely sit still, consistent with what my elementary school teachers would note on my report cards!

I have learned so much from your podcast that has changed my perspectives on life, love, and relationships. I’m sure many others can say the same. What has been the most monumental conversation or piece of advice you’ve gotten from discussions with a guest (or Jeremie) that has stuck with you? 

Kerri Isham is a child safety champion and runs an organization called “Power Up Sex Education.” She guides children, parents, and educators in age-appropriate sex education for kids age 2+, and has an incredible resource of workshops and books available. It was through that conversation that I came to understand how empowering kids with this knowledge could be the most important and impactful way to prevent childhood sexual trauma. This particular type of trauma has influenced the lives of such a staggering number of people and as a result, it affects us all. Folks who are really resistant to the idea of comprehensive sexual education for youth may be in fact those carrying the most shame. After our conversation with Kerri, I felt compelled to email all the parents in my circle to encourage them to check out her work, and still feel strongly that she’s doing some of the most important work in the realm of sexual health.

The other guest that comes to mind immediately is fertility awareness educator Lisa Hendrickson-Jack. Lisa wrote a book called The Fifth Vital Sign and hosts a podcast called “Fertility Friday.” She teaches women to chart their menstrual cycles for natural birth control, conception, and monitoring overall health. Why have we never been taught this? We are not meant to suffer on our periods! People with periods haven’t been trusted with this education and as a result, we think pharmaceutical birth control is the only way, and every month for most of our lives we numb away painful indicators that something in our body needs us to slow down and pay attention. It’s bananas! I love that this guest had the same effect on Jeremie as well—mind blown. 

You often speak about the topic of vulnerability on “Turn Me On.” As the host of a podcast founded on intimate conversations about traditionally taboo subjects, you’re constantly sharing vulnerable moments with an array of listeners and guests. How has this experience changed how you view, navigate, and engage with vulnerability in your personal life? 

I wish I had a vulnerability expert analyze me and call me out on this vulnerability stuff in my interpersonal relationships, particularly in hard conversations. I don’t quite understand vulnerability yet. 

Somehow when Jeremie and I are recording I forget that anyone else will hear the conversation. The vulnerability of podcasting is more about opening myself up to criticism or judgment of a big, invisible audience. That doesn’t scare me too much. In my professional acting training, I learned that when I put it all out there and risk looking like a fool, at least at the end of the day I can rest knowing that I showed up fully, authentically, and honestly. Holding back has always left me with more regrets and sleepless nights. Not everyone will love it and some people will absolutely hate it. The people you keep showing up with your heart on your sleeve for and ready to make mistakes for are the ones who have the same questions and less opportunity to ask them. 

It seems to me that in most cases showing vulnerability gives permission to others to be vulnerable too, and I deeply want to be a safe person for others. Somatic sex coach Kat Nantz spoke to us about “being the settled body in the room” when she’s in a therapeutic setting holding space for her clients. I find whether I’m teaching a group of people in yoga, or witnessing vulnerability in a guest, friend, family member, or colleague, I think of Kat holding that space, that container for the other. I feel a deep connection to the idea of maintaining a settled state, an anchor for that person to solid ground. 

I love hearing you talk about sharing time with your partners and your metamours (partners’ partners) all together. When people think about polyamory, I think people focus on jealousy, but rarely compersion. (For those who don’t know, compersion is the opposite of jealousy—or experiencing joy when you see your partner experience joy, even when it has nothing to do with you.) Can you speak to your personal experiences with compersion?

I believe I was mentally prepared for the concept of compersion by way of my Modo Yoga (then Moksha Yoga) teacher training in 2006. Mindfulness teacher Frank Jude Boccio (also a TMO guest much later on!) was introducing me to the philosophy of Aparigraha, or non-possessiveness. He painted an image of “loving with open hands.” In this image, love is like a bird that can land and perch in your open hands. If you grasp it or close your hand over it then you have a very unhappy or hurt little creature. If you keep your palms open the bird can come and go. The trust you’ve offered is to let it live its own life and to be able to love it without needing to possess it solely and completely. 

Being happy for others’ happiness and fulfillment is a practice. Frank also taught me that when faced with feelings of jealousy, I could redirect my thoughts to a loving kindness meditation. When I see someone experiencing something I want, rather than indulging in my feelings of desire or frustration or fear, I can turn my heart towards them and repeat until it feels true, “May you be happy and joyful and experience wonderful pleasure.”

In the heat of jealousy, I can also sit with the sensations and name them—tight abdomen, fire in my ribs—and so on. I start to notice after a while that these physical sensations are temporary, moveable, and affected by my attention. The story I’m telling myself about the sensations and all the meaning I’ve attributed to them is where the real suffering is happening.

There’s been recent research on compersion done by The Kinsey Institute. Recently we recorded an episode with Dr. Justin Lemiller, host of Sex and Psychology Podcast. Dr. Lehmiller is an incredible resource and was telling us about how the study suggests that jealousy and compersion are not opposites and that both can be felt at the same time. Keep an eye out for that conversation and for check out Sex and Psychology Podcast for great current sexuality research. 

TMO has evolved so much since the show started and continues to do so. You’ve featured guests ranging from doctors to swingers to pornographic photographers to speech pathologists. Are there any types of guests or areas you haven’t covered yet, but hope to in the future? 

I love that you brought up our conversation with speech language pathologist Charlotte Greville. Charlotte’s initiative is called Through Speech and we spoke about her work with neurodiverse clients and their specific challenges of communication as it relates to dating and intimate relationships. I am thrilled when we get to chat with folks who have used their passion and education to fill gaps in our systems of care. 

All of the -”isms” are present in the history of health sciences and we have so many more bodies and minds than are represented in the research and application of care. I look forward to talking to more guests who have devoted their efforts towards this kind of research. 

For those who haven’t listened to your podcast before, you and your partner, Jeremie, engage in “foreplay” or “aftercare” sessions where you catch up with one another and chat freely about various—sometimes quite personal—topics. How do you strike that balance between maintaining such openness with your listeners and setting boundaries to care for yourself? 

We are a largely unedited podcast so most of what we say in the moment gets broadcast out there. We check in with one another often before sharing big personal stuff, and as we let the flow of conversation roll along we watch each other closely for non-verbal communication. We also need to navigate the boundaries of our other partners when sharing personal stories.

Embodiment coach Kendra Cunov taught us about generative boundaries. We tend to think of boundaries as a “no” or a “stay out there on the other side of this boundary.” Kendra teaches how practicing boundaries is an extreme act of generosity and love, and how we can think of boundaries as what we want to include inside of them. Game changer.

With “Turn Me On” and really in all my work, what I want to generate inside of this boundary is space for authentic and honest communication. As podcast hosts on our own journey of discovery along with our listeners, we may say things that are uninformed or incorrect, and our incredible body of engaged listeners will bring this stuff to our attention and even change our minds sometimes. It’s a generosity that we share back and forth and is a unique, reciprocal relationship that gives back what we put in.

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