Carrie Lehtonen of Firefly Community LLC shares her insights – with MysticMag – on transformation and holistic wellbeing for a more fulfilled and grounded life.
Would you describe Firefly Community to be fundamentally about transformation?
Yes, absolutely. My intention for Firefly from the beginning has been to assist people in igniting their inner light. I believe that what the world needs most is for each person to shine their unique light. That’s what led to Firefly’s motto of “Ignite. Thrive. Shine.” Each program I develop, class or workshop I teach, and retreat that I lead is linked back to at least one of the three, if not all of them.
Firefly was born from my own transformation from a stressed-out, human resources professional climbing the corporate ladder, to someone who lives each day with intention, connected to my purpose.
My wake-up call came at 31 years old when I survived a heart attack. I thought I was doing the right things, but even though I was in good physical shape as a triathlete, I felt disconnected from myself. I was caught up in the common belief in our society that success is measured by how busy you are, and how accomplished you are in your career.
My near-death experience opened my eyes to the fact that I needed to change. After learning more about heart disease, the #1 killer of all Americans and 80% preventable with lifestyle changes, I was inspired to do whatever I could to reduce the impact of heart disease. Too many people die from heart disease, and I believe we can change that. I wanted to learn what I could do to help others transform their lives BEFORE suffering a heart attack.
I embarked on a long journey that included education in nutrition and life-coaching methods to become a holistic health practitioner, and training to become a yoga teacher. Along the way I picked up tools and resources that helped me connect to myself, find my way, and stay on track. I started my own business as a side project in 2013, but in 2018, I finally left my corporate job to focus full-time on operating Firefly so that I could help more people, and stop splitting my energy.
What does it take to lead a retreat and how do you guide people to navigate this terrain?
Leading a transformational retreat is a big responsibility. I was inspired by the first retreat I attended in Costa Rica in 2012, followed in that same year with a retreat in India.
When I led my first retreat in 2015, I was mostly focused on the yoga classes, and ensuring participants got to experience all of the wonderful things that Costa Rica has to offer. All of the logistical pieces were easy for me as someone who is detail-oriented, understands financials, and can handle all of those less-desirable pieces like contracts, handling payments, creating schedules, etc.
But, leading a retreat also means creating a container, a sacred space, where people feel safe to open up and share their true selves within a group setting. It involves having a good mix of time to explore, learn, and be with each other, and time alone to process what’s coming up and to contemplate what that means for them.
With travel, especially international travel, even more so now in the time of COVID, you need to be flexible, be able to pivot and have back up plans in place if things don’t go exactly as intended. As the leader, you need to be able to go with the flow and stay calm in stressful circumstances to support the retreat participants.
The majority of the work for a retreat occurs before the retreat starts. I put a lot of time and thought into creating and designing my retreats to ensure things go as smoothly as possible. I communicate as much as I can before we depart by providing packing lists, Frequently Asked Questions and tentative schedules. I keep my groups to 15 people or less and focus on creating an environment that allows each participant the opportunity to meaningfully connect with each other and me.
All of this takes a lot of energy, but seeing the transformation that happens for people on retreat is incredibly rewarding and keeps me going.
Generally speaking, what does one fundamentally walk away with after a retreat?
I design Firefly’s retreats to help participants connect with self, others, and nature. The kind of things that I hear from people at the end of a retreat is that they experienced healing for body, mind and soul, and that being on retreat is a life-changing experience.
Retreat participants feel nourished, refreshed and rejuvenated. Leaving behind the stress of everyday life gives them the opportunity to slow down and hit the reset button. They either start or continue work on tapping into their purpose and passion. They open up, and start to hear and pay attention to their inner wisdom.
The connection with others is one of the most meaningful parts – participants listen, provide support, and lift each other up. They form bonds with each other, and many continue to return year after year.
One of my participants at a recent Costa Rica retreat summed it up well. She said, “I learned that retreats aren’t necessarily about escaping your life. They’re about temporarily removing yourself and entering a positive environment where you can nurture your body and mind, then take that renewed perspective and bring back healthy habits that you can incorporate into your life back at home.” I was thrilled when I read that, because it’s one thing to have a great experience while away on retreat, but taking that home with you is the transformational piece.
I make a point to provide people with tangible tools and resources that they can use when they go back to their day-to-day lives where it’s not so easy to focus on self-care and introspection.
Do you believe the corporate world to be more in need of a holistic approach to health and wellness?
Yes! As someone who worked in the corporate world, and now provides support to businesses that want to improve employee wellbeing, I can attest to the importance of taking a holistic approach. Many organizations have created wellness programs that are focused primarily on physical fitness and don’t address things like mental and spiritual health. Those types of programs tend to attract people who are already fit. Often these programs don’t meet employees where they are, so many people don’t engage, or end up feeling left out.
One of the programs that I developed last year is a Resiliency Challenge that focuses on taking daily actions that help participants connect to their bodies, settle their minds, acknowledge their strengths and accomplishments, and develop more positivity. With everything we’ve been collectively and individually faced with the past two and half years, we could all use some extra help in building resilience. Corporations can play an important part in helping employees cope.
What can you tell us about your Holistic Wellness Program and why one should choose yours over another?
Firefly’s Holistic Wellness Program is continually evolving, but the most important aspect is recognizing that wellbeing is not only physical, but also emotional, spiritual, and mental. Rather than focusing on one thing like exercise, nutrition, or meditation; this program provides support in all areas of life and health. The program covers what you eat, but also the work that you do, your relationships, your level of activity, and your mindset, which in my humble opinion is the most important.
What makes this program different is the holistic-approach, and meeting the person where they are. I don’t believe in quick fixes or fad diets, but rather an approach that helps each individual find the answers within, connect with why they want to improve their wellbeing, and take small steps that support long-term, sustained health and wellness. It’s all about incrementally reaching goals through actionable steps, so you can gain more confidence and make lasting improvements.
The Holistic Wellness Program includes online content that they can access 24/7 and move through at their own pace, coupled with one-on-one coaching sessions to provide support and accountability.
Most of my clients are professional women who experience a lot of stress and are juggling multiple responsibilities. It definitely helps that I’ve been where they are, and can relate to what they’re going through.
Do you encourage the practice of yoga for all your clients, as a lifestyle per say?
Many people in the West think of yoga as simply the physical practice of postures (asana), but when you consider yoga in the broader sense, I do think it’s helpful for all of my clients. I encourage them to at least try yoga to see what resonates – whether it’s using pranayama (breath work) to help manage stress, yoga poses to be more connected to the physical body, or meditation to help settle the constant flow of thoughts.
I view yoga as a lifelong journey – a person’s yoga practice may evolve and change over time. They’ll experience the benefits of yoga off the mat in everyday life as well.
How does Firefly shine through and would you describe your practices as sustainable?
While it’s not always easy being a solopreneur, and there’s a lot of not-so-fun stuff that goes along with operating your own business, seeing my clients light up when they have an “aha” moment, or challenge themselves beyond what they think they’re capable of, keeps me going. My hope is that in everything I do and offer through Firefly, that I’m helping people improve their overall wellbeing in a way that is sustainable over time.
The reason I included “Community” in the company name is that wellness doesn’t happen in a bubble; our environment and those around us have a large impact. The Social-Ecological Model shows us that our family and friends, workplace, community and public policy influence Individual behavior.
I make a concentrated effort to cultivate community and support. I have a Facebook group for clients where they can stay in contact with each other post-event or retreat. I send a weekly email newsletter, hold free online classes once a month and have a free member-area of the website to stay connected and provide tools, techniques and resources on an ongoing basis.
Want to learn more about Firefly Community LLC, visit https://www.fireflycommunity.com/home or follow on https://www.instagram.com/fireflycommunity/