Yes, I Can Change my Reality

Life is funny.  Last week, after writing this post, I learned from Hilary that her theme is for the month is Yoga Sutra 2.33, which says: When disturbed by negative thoughts, cultivate the opposite mental attitude (Vitarka-badhane pratipaksha-bhavanam).  No doubt, the universe is definitely trying to tell me something.

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So, March is here and it’s still cold, and frankly, I’m not loving it.  I’ve lived in the northeast for more than half of my life, and I still find it hard to believe how cold and snowy March can be! 

In years past, I have managed to do a pretty good job of buckling down and dealing with it - - but not this year.  For some reason I just cannot get over the fact that it is still cold and there is STILL snow in our forecast!  I keep googling the groundhog and his prediction for spring - over and over and over.  

Yesterday, we “sprang forward”. In ten short days, the spring equinox will arrive.  But I know, in my heart of hearts, that I will still have to pull on my boots and put on my coat, and my hat and my mittens, because it will still be cold -  for many weeks to come.

Friday, March first, I woke up and felt the burden of a seemingly never ending winter upon me.  I didn’t want to get out of bed.  I didn’t want to get dressed.  I didn’t want to go outside.  Basically, I threw a little hissy fit about it and did as little as possible for the entire day; I didn’t even go to my 10AM yoga class.  Consequently, by the end of the day I was so down I couldn’t even get myself motivated to go out with my husband.  Thankfully, he was very understanding, and we settled in to watch a mediocre movie on Netflix instead.  When the movie was over, he reminded me of something I had allowed myself to forget.  “Let today go.  It’s over and done!  But tomorrow, put your yoga clothes on as soon as you get up.  That way, you will have no reason for not going.  I bet after class I will get a text telling me how glad you are that you went.”  As per usual, the professor was correct!

While I begrudgingly pulled on my yoga pants that Saturday morning, and cursed the light snow that had accumulated on my car overnight, the moment I walked into Jaya, and Renea greeted me in her ever joyous voice, I knew everything would be alright.  And it was.

Erin started our class by reminding us that this was our time.  We were there and for the next 75 mins everything else could wait.  I closed my eyes and set my intention for centered peace.  As I began to breathe, slow and deliberate, I felt unburdened.   At the end of my practice, I was reminded of the prayer for the serenity to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can.  

I cannot change the weather.  It is what it is.  BUT, I can make an effort to change my attitude.  This morning I read an article about an elderly person who said they spent many years hating winter and complaining.  Then one day they realized most of their life was behind them, and they simply could not stand the thought of spending one more minute bitching about it.  Right then and there, they decided to acknowledge their gratitude, each and every day, for another opportunity to rejoice in the gift of life - no matter what, even in the midst of the bleak mid-winter.

The practice of yoga has been a steadfast teacher.  I am learning to accept so many of the things I cannot change -  about myself, about this world, and about life in general.  I am also learning to find the courage to make changes where I can.  And if I get distracted and find myself off my mat more often than on it, I know yoga will still be there, welcoming me back with open arms and loving kindness.

Namaste

Can we be a culture of Love Thy Selfie?

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Be honest. Who hates Valentines Day?

If you’re not in a relationship, it can bring up feelings of loneliness and dread. If you are in a relationship, it can be disappointing or anticlimactic.

V-Day has the power to create depression and self-loathing in many people because of societal attachments to love and worth coming from another person. Society perpetuates the idea that if we don’t have a romantic partner in our life on February 14th, then we are worthless. This is an idea yoga looks to eradicate.

Society has become a “Look At Me/Watch Me” culture. More and more people are placing their value and self-worth on “likes” and “follows” on their social media. It’s mind blowing.

Many of us have become so busy creating an energy of being seen, noticed, and heard in the world, that we are attaching inappropriate value to our social media accounts. We compare our followers with other people’s followers. Seriously, are humans only worth-while and love-able if we are in a relationship and have a gazillion followers? Is that truly what will make a person love another person?

Social media has given us a culture of watching, but are we really seeing ourselves? And not through the eyes of social media, but through our hearts, souls, actions, words, and deeds. Aren’t these the things that warrant merit, the things others really love about us?

As yogis, we strive to practice awareness, acknowledgement, and non-attachment. It can be challenging to take that practice off the mat and into our lives. Yoga was, is and always will be about learning things on the mat to get better at living life off of it.

Likes and follows, by their very nature, are counter intuitive to the non-attachment of yoga. Are you posting for a result or to represent the work, self-expression, and the artistry itself?

This valentine’s day, let’s switch perspectives. Try cultivating value in yourself. Strive to see, hear, and notice yourself with merit and worth. And, finally, be more open-hearted and loving with the reflection in the mirror. Forget about a preplanned post for social media fame. Live for you, practice for you, and, if you post, post for you.

❤️

Hilary's Monthly Musing - January

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Some days it’s impossible to get to the studio, because, let’s face it, life happens.  So does weather.  That’s why we created Jaya Daily.  Now you can get your zen online, anywhere, anytime.  We wanted to make it possible for you to join your Jaya tribe whenever, and wherever, from any device in order to meditate, practice, or work on one of your favorite poses with a tutorial.  The new online platform allows you to stay consistent in the face of life’s little speed bumps.

Maybe you struggle to cultivate a home practice.  Jaya Daily can help.  Distractions happen.  Have pets, kids, to-do lists?  Your home practice doesn’t have to look just like your studio practice.  In fact, it should look different.  Maybe you get on your mat and pop in for a quick class while your laundry is in the dryer.  Maybe it’s 10 minutes of handstand or crow play.  It could even be your favorite restorative posture in front of your favorite tv show. 

 A little more than five years ago, the studio was booming and I was teaching. A lot.  What I wasn’t doing as much of was practicing.  Free time was devoted to new playlists, covering other teachers classes, etc.  Often we overlook ourselves to get those to-do lists done.  So, on a cold, December day I threw down my mat and haven’t looked back. 

Some days my body knew what it needed and guided me.  Other days I needed to be led and videos helped.  The best classes were those led by my teachers, speaking my language, and that’s what I want Jaya Daily to be for you - an extension of the incredible in-studio community and an opportunity for people to stay connected when they can’t make it to Jaya.

I get on my mat. Every. Single. Day. And each day my practice looks different.  One day it might be two shorter practices, with one in the morning and one in the evening.  Another day it could be Yin or Restorative; some days a vigorous vinyasa.  The point is perfection is a myth.  Throw on a video.  Listen to a five minute audio meditation while you fold laundry.  What it looks like is up to you.  Videos or no videos, make the time you do have the right time. 

Resolutions vs. Intentions

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The New Year is a time to start fresh and make changes. It’s a metaphoric clean slate.  But we get a clean slate every day, every hour, every minute.  It’s our mindset.  Do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?  Want the secret to starting the year with a no lose mindset?  

Let’s start by kicking resolutions to the curb! Resolutions are an archaic unforgiving idea you need to toss out with last night’s trash. Resolutions are absolutes. They feel judgey and have a connotation of you not being good enough as you are. This is the opposite of yoga. They are outdated and unforgiving, much like an ex. Remember they are exes for a reason.  

The key to success lies in Sankalpa or intention.  It’s single pointed focus and resolve. Intentions aren’t absolute; you don’t fail with a misstep. And lets face it we are humans. We are imperfect creatures and there will always be missteps.  

Quickly swallowing a sandwich in the car on the way to a meeting or enjoying a 4-course meal at 6pm is still considered eating. It’s the intention that matters.

Are you trying to race through the meal or enjoy it? Savor it?  What is the motivation? Is it dinner, supper, fine dining or grabbing a bite? 

Intention is deciding to improve on what is already there.  Like yoga, clearing away the clutter to reveal what is buried beneath.

Create your Sankalpa. Say it aloud. Write it on a post it note or ten. Breathe it in on your mat. Make it a word or a statement that is realistic and can be supported with action steps.  

And if you make a mistake, veer off course; intentionally choose to get back on the path. Seriously when one door closes, open it again. That’s how doors work.

The Breath

This week we are pleased to share an article from one of our newest Jaya teachers, Erica Nealon.  While the topic of breath is always important, it can become even more relevant during this season of the year.    

The Breath

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Take a second and listen to your breath. Watch your chest rise with each inhale and fall with each exhale. Think about where that breath is going when you take it in, and what is being released when you send it out.

We never spend much time thinking about our breath. We may only think about it when it’s cold and we can see it, or when we have exhausted it and our breathing is labored. 

The focus of the breath is essentially our practice in yoga, but we don’t really have to think about it. We just do it. We just breathe.

Our breath is what keeps us here. It’s what can take us back to the present moment. It keeps our bodies working. When we breathe, we send oxygen to every little cell in our body, keeping them working and expelling carbon dioxide with each exhale. 

Breathing is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do before we die. 

Dolphins are conscious breathers. They do not breathe automatically like we do; they decide when to breathe. They actually have to think about it while they are sleeping, which means that a part of their brain has to remain constantly awake in order for a dolphin to remember to breathe. 

Humans can have prolonged periods of unconsciousness and not have to worry that our breathing will stop because we are no longer thinking about it. 

Dolphins use what is known as unihemispheric sleep - only one hemisphere of the brain can sleep at a time in order for the other one to control the breathing. For breathing purposes, they rest on the surface of the water while they sleep. This means they are actively thinking about their breath, always.

Imagine if we had to think about breathing. Imagine if you had to make a decision whether or not to breath. 

If I decide not to breathe at this moment, I can decide if I want to live or die; however, we never think about our breath in this way. Most of us never really think about our breath in any way. We just know we do it. We know that it is important, but we never take the time to focus on it. We think about breathing in terms of living. The breath gives us life. If we are no longer breathing, we are no longer alive. We don’t think about breath in terms of dying until we have to.

Have you ever watched someone take their last breath? When you know someone is leaving this Earth, you do not focus on their kidneys; you do not focus on their heart; you do not focus on their brain. You focus on their breath. 

There are patterns of breath that come before death. While the other organs may be failing and causing the actual death, it is the breathing that we can see and hear. As death nears, the breath becomes irregular. Rapid breathing may occur at first, followed by a period of little to no breath. The time between each breath becomes longer. It can just be a few seconds or it can be as long as a minute.

When you are watching a loved one in this state, that is what you are watching - the breath. When the final breath is taken, you know. You know that the person has left this Earth.

Do we focus on our own breath? We should. 

Focusing on our breath keeps us in the present. We live each moment by each breath. The next breath is not guaranteed. Each time we breathe, we are sending oxygen to the brain. We are sending it to the places in our body that needs it in that present moment. 

Taking some time each day to focus on your breath will ground you in the present moment. It does not matter what is happening around you; it does not matter what thoughts are racing through your mind. As soon as you stop and focus on your breath, that becomes the only thought. It becomes the only focus. 

It’s good to take some time each day and focus on the thing that keeps us alive, to be grateful that we can breathe.

Hilary's Monthly Musing - December

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Do you take better care of your cell phone than you do of your mind? 

Let’s be honest.  For many of us, our cell phones have become so important that we sleep with them, eat with them, and, quite possibly, feel anxious if they are out of sight.  As a society, we have become completely dependent on this tiny, electronic device.  We collectively spend more time and money (fancy cases, apps, etc.) on our phones than we do taking care of ourselves.  

But here’s the thing people - - self-care is the new health care.    

Health begins and ends with peace-of-mind.  Science supports the negative affects of stress on our bodies, and, let’s face it, never in modern history have humans been so stressed.  We live in a constant state of it.  Most of us are so used to it, we aren’t even aware we are taking shallow breaths, experiencing muscle tightness, suffering from adrenal fatigue…and the list goes on.

Are you worried? 

Here’s something to think about - what is it that we really, truly need VS. what we want in order to make life easier or, as the saying goes, keep up with the Jones’?   

Who hesitates at the thought of buying a gym/studio membership because of cost, but gets that new phone case with no hesitation?  Who has thought going organic was too expensive, but has been eager to upgrade to the newest iPhone every time one is released?  

Desire is an imposition on peacefulness.  Why?  Because peace is desire-less; it needs nothing to exist.  Cell phones, and electronic devices in general, prevent us from experiencing quiet.  And let’s be honest - in our modern world, silence can be uncomfortable.  

Are you starting to fidget at the mere suggestion of it?  

Most of us have had that experience - sitting in stillness, hearing the thoughts, but not wanting to think them, and trying to find a way to distract ourselves.  Most humans want to avoid feeling uncomfortable.  In fact, many will go to great lengths to avoid discomfort.  

As a society, it seems we are developing an Avoidance Disorder.  Our coping skills are failing.  Because of the modern world, people don’t want to feel anything.  If Siri or Alexa can’t fix it, the slightest struggle can send people onto a tailspin. 

Electronic devices, in general, provide humans an easy out; a way to avoid doing the hard work and the heart-work. The energetic vibration of a cell phone can mess with our energetic vibrations and vice versa.  We are out-of-sync with our selves, seeking answers from an electronic device when we are the only true knower of the answers we seek.  

A cell phone, iPad, or any electronic device is replaceable; however, you are not.  While these devices are expensive, you, my friend, are priceless.   

So, please, know your worth.  Spend the extra time and money on yourself, rather than a device.  Use the tools Meditation, Yoga, and Reiki provide to live a healthier, happier, more peaceful life.

Namaste

Jaya's Pose of the Month - December

December’s Pose of the Month

Jaya's Pose of the Month - December

Each month we introduce our "Pose of the Month."  You won't necessarily find any dedicated focus given to that pose in your classes at Jaya, although some teachers may chose to do so; it is more about the idea of exposing us to various poses and how we might benefit from incorporating them into our own personal practice.  

This article is designed to give you basic information on the pose, as well as step-by-step instructions (accompanied by photographs of our Jaya teachers as illustration) to guide you.  We expect many will be familiar, while some may be new to you.

As always, we look forward to hearing back from you as you read our weekly posts.  We’d love to hear your feedback!  And, of course, feel free to share with your friends!

Plank

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Plank is the perfect pose to tone the core for the holidays!  It also strengthens the wrists, arms, and spine.  Plank helps lay the ground work for more challenging arm balances and is also a key pose in Sun Salutations.

Start in Adho Muhka Svanasana (Downward Dog.)  Inhale, then shift your weight forward until your shoulders are directly over your wrists and your torso is parallel to the floor.  Spread your fingers wide.  Firm the bases of your index fingers into the floor -  essentially, press the earth away.  Broaden your shoulder blades.  Lengthen the crown of your head forward and your tailbone toward your heels.  Hold for 30 seconds to one minute.  For a more advanced variation, try lifting one leg up at a at time.  

Spotlight On…Cindy Condella

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Each month we will present an in-depth look at one of our Jaya teachers/practitioners.  This month we are shining our spotlight on Cindy Condella.

Cindy is another local Jaya teacher, growing up not far from our studio in Clark Summit on Grove Street.  She teaches Slow Flow, Open Level Flow, and Yin.  When I asked Cindy which was her favorite, she told me she likes each one in a different way.  “Yin and Slow Flow are more meditative and methodical, while Open Level Flow is more physically challenging with increased stamina and energy.  All are equally enjoyable to teach.  It’s the students that make the class.”

Active and energetic all of her life, Cindy started dance lessons as  a little girl, in a studio conveniently located across the street from her house.  Over the years, she studied ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop.  As she got older, Cindy started to look for a more rigorous and organized option to dance classes, but in the 90’s there weren’t opportunities for a dance troupe in this area.  She dabbled in various sports, but found cheerleading gave her the organized athletic outlet she craved as it integrated dance. 

Unlike me, Gym was Cindy’s favorite class in school.  When she found herself with two Study Hall periods, she asked to be put into a second Gym class.  For her, quiet time was best spent choreographing routines, and to this day she is best centered and focused when she is practicing yoga.  She takes classes at various studios and practices yoga at home daily.  “Physical activity helps to calm my mind.  Through the physical practice of yoga, we exert our bodies so our minds can be still.  That’s how we get to that meditative state.”

Although she was encouraged for years to try yoga, it wasn’t until 2011 that her friend Mary took her to her first class - Candlelight at Jaya.  For Cindy it was not love at first try.  “I had no idea what I was doing!  The whole time I had my feet turned out, as if I were in ballet.”

The first two years of her yoga practice were sporadic, with Cindy attending class once every two months.  It was “a slow process, a one-step-at-a-time” kind of thing, she told me.  As 2013 rolled around, Cindy found herself committing to two classes each week.  By the time 2014 was in in swing, Cindy was hooked, “110%.”    

“I began feeling better, sleeping better and found I was more accepting.  I was a better person when I practiced yoga, and people around me could see the difference.”

As I hear from many regular yoga practitioners, there was a correlation between Cindy’s evolving commitment to yoga and how things began to play out in her personal life.  

When Cindy graduated from Marywood University, she continued her career in the hospitality industry, and eventually found herself working as a wedding specialist with a local historic hotel.  While she enjoyed her work, she knew it wasn’t what she wanted in the long run.  She had ideas; dreams of something more, and on her own terms.

In her early 30’s, Cindy found her personal and professional life at a crossroads.  She began to question every decision she made, and eventually this led to an anxiety attack than landed her in the hospital.  “I was physically and mentally unhealthy.  Yoga helped me realize I had to let go, that I can’t control everything.  Our past mistakes are in the past and worrying about our future is futile.  We learn through our practice to be present in the moment and observers of both our physical and mental state, taking the necessary adjustments to be the best versions of ourselves.” 

In 2014, Cindy made an important decision.  She left her corporate job and started her own business as a wedding planner.  2016 brought more positive changes and happiness.  It was the year she started Teacher Training at Jaya and it was the year she and her long-time love, Gerard, were married.

When asked what made her decide to commit to Teacher Training, Cindy responded, “ I don’t remember exactly, but I had no expectation outside of the desire to deepen my practice and learn about the philosophy and discipline of yoga.”

Cindy shared that it took her a year of teaching regularly to find her voice and style as a teacher.  “It will take years to really develop as a teacher, but that’s exciting.  With yoga there is no end.  It’s sustainable.  I can teach and practice forever.”

I asked what was the best part of Teacher Training, and Cindy was quick to respond, “It was the relationships we forged.  It was intense.  Many of us came up together, started to practice together.  Through the teacher training, we got to know each other in a significant way.” 

The worst aspect? “When it was over, I wanted to keep learning.  I love to learn!  And I missed the connection with the people I went through the process with.”

Cindy’s favorite pose?  “Half moon.  It exemplifies flexibility,  balance, and stability.  I’m also really into inversions right now, handstand variations in particular.”

Least favorite pose?  “It changes, but right now it is back bends, camel.”

Cindy’s favorite way to unwind after a long day is yoga, but she also enjoys a glass of wine and luxuriating in a warm bath.  “I always enjoy taking a walk with my husband and our dog, and any other dog we decide to bring along with us.”  (Cindy and Gerard are known to take other peoples’ dogs out with them on their walks around their neighborhood.  Nice neighbors to have!) 

Biggest pet peeve?  “Negative self-talk.”

When asked what her health and wellness philosophy was, Cindy told me, “It’s simple.  Make time for your own physical and mental health.  Stop making excuses and make a commitment to yourself.”  Can't argue with that!

I asked Cindy where she saw herself in five years.  “Well, I’ve actually been thinking about the next phase of my career.  I don’t really know, but I will be doing what I love.  Yoga is my passion.”

While both Cindy and I assumed our interview would be short and sweet, we ended up talking longer than expected with a few of my questions leading us astray.  And, it seems, it’s often in those moments of going off road that I find the sweetest take-away.  I’d like to close by sharing one of those with you.

In talking about the influences Cindy feels she brings to her classes, she shared these thoughts with me.  “My practice is still advancing.  I’m not sure what I bring to my classes other than the notion that as we age, we don’t need to think limiting thoughts.  We are always growing, learning, and developing.  That’s why yoga is so vital.  You know, the flow in yoga is about transitioning; flowing/transitioning from one pose to the next, just as in life.  I find the energy in my classes amazing.  I love being able to step back and see people in their practice.  As a teacher that’s what’s fulfilling.  Yoga is just you and your mat - - you vs. you and not you vs. another person.  There is no competition.  Yoga teaches us to keep our egos in check while continuing to challenge ourselves.  We learn to celebrate and support each other; we learn to care for our physical bodies, which will alleviate issues as we age; and we learn to care for our spiritual needs.  In turn, we are better able to serve others and achieve personal happiness.  ”  

A Season of Gratitude, All the Good Year Long

Download and fill out your own gratitude journal

Download and fill out your own gratitude journal

As we settle into the season of gratitude, I always get the same feeling I do when Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Valentine’s Day rolls around.  Why is it that we are so focused on being thankful, and showing or sharing our gratitude, during this season?  Why not all year long?

Hallmark has cashed in on the idea that we are a nation of people who are too busy and too overwhelmed to show love and respect for our mothers, fathers, and partners most days of the year.  We are urged to spend upwards of $3 on a card (let’s not forget the gifts) to send to someone who raised us, sacrificed for us, and loves us in May, June, and February.  

Similarly, as October winds down and November leads into December, we are assaulted by products that remind us to be grateful, to give thanks, to gather. 

It’s been well documented that gratitude is good for our general well-being.  Studies have shown feelings of gratitude and thankfulness are related to overall good mental and physical health.  

When we experience gratitude, we sleep better, feel less stress, work harder and are more focused, and are, let’s face it, nicer to those around us.  Obviously, gratitude won’t make us or our lives perfect, but you get the gist. 

So why all the focus on gratitude just in November and December?  Again, why not all year long?

Research tells us humans feel gratitude in two ways.  The first is obvious - when we receive a gift or something good happens to us, we feel grateful.  The second is more of a life-style choice and harder to stick with - it’s a general inclination towards a happy and appreciative attitude.  

But let’s be honest, not everyone is born with that in their genetic make-up.  And it’s no sin.  Some people struggle more on a day-to-day basis and feeling appreciative doesn’t always come easy.

Most of us are familiar with the first example.  As children we’re taught to show gratitude when someone does something nice for us, such as give us a gift, invite us to a party, or compliment us.

But once that good deed is over and done, how many of us continue to feel fueled by gratitude days later?  

Honestly, in today’s world it’s hard to cultivate a daily habit of gratitude.  Face it - we have full and diverse lives.  For example: school; romances gone right or wrong, either way it’s a struggle; two career marriages; maybe a couple of kids to look after; a dog or cat; a lawn to mow; committees to participate in; children with special needs or illnesses; parents who are aging; a significant other who needs and desires our attention; a boss who is demanding; bills that need to be paid; extended family and friends who want to spend time with us.  And, let’s not forget, our own hearts and minds that need to be cared for and cultivated.  

We can’t depend on people doing nice things for us, or for good luck and karma, to keep that feeling of gratitude alive within us.  

When we are facing the reality of our modern lives, it is not uncommon to move through our days without feeling a moment of gratitude.  It happens to all of us.  In fact, studies shows it can happen so often we may go days without realizing it.  In the end, everyone suffers - we do, as well as those around us.  

That’s where the second, more fulfilling example of gratitude comes in - cultivating a general inclination towards a happy and appreciative attitude.

How do we cultivate a life where we are inclined towards this happy and appreciative attitude?  Where do we find the time for that? Every.  Single.  Day.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think it would be normal to be flying high all the time.  Sometimes things happen and we just don’t feel grateful, no matter what.  Constant happiness is not some kind of goal for us to reach, nor is it proof that we are enlightened spiritual beings.   

In fact, forced or fake gratitude has been shown to be just as detrimental to our overall well-being as a lack of genuine gratitude.  

Pretending does not allow us to sit with our pain and disappointment.  Life is full of bumps and bruises, some more serious than others, and it is important to acknowledge these struggles and to live through the journey in order to pass through times of stress. 

One thing I know for sure is this.  Even during the worst heartache - a divorce, the death of a parent or a spouse - or the most trying of times - loss of a job, a child who is physically or mentally ill -  the sun rises on a new day every 24 hours and, eventually, a new day will dawn that presents a little less pain and anguish than the day before.  That is when we must decide - am I going to continue to dwell on the problem and prolong the agony, or can I find a way to focus some of my attention on something better?  

I’m not suggesting that if we are depressed or struggling we just need to buck up and get over it.  Far from it.  Research shows clinical depression and/or anxiety cannot be cured by that approach.

But there are things we can do that will help us, no matter where we are on the scale, and enhance treatment options. 

What I’m talking about is working to develop a kind of gratitude that comes from the heart and cannot be created in or by our minds.

Recently I read that “gratefulness exercises” do not improve or change the way someone might respond to a gift or a nice gesture.  However, it seem such exercises can aid us in cultivating the general inclination towards that happy and appreciative attitude I mentioned earlier.   This can be especially helpful for those who are experiencing a difficult time.

On the advise of my mother, some years ago I started the practice of trying to set aside some time every day to think about, if not put down on paper, a list of at least one thing for which I felt grateful.  Thus began my attempt at a “gratefulness exercise”.  

This hasn’t been easy and I haven’t always been successful.  Some days really suck, and my brain is so clouded, that the fact that I am alive and have a roof over my head or that my children are safe and warm or that my husband is healthy never even enter my mind.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but there have been times when the only thing I can say I’m grateful for is my dog Roxie.

And, like many people, a day or more can go by - maybe I’m stressed or maybe I’m having a run of really good luck - when I forget to stop and make my list.  This is where my yoga practice has made all the difference.

A happy and appreciative attitude is not built on what is happening TO us or FOR us that makes us feel good.  It arises, instead, naturally from a heart that is centered and this aids us in releasing stress.  It helps us develop our inner life rather that being focused on getting awards or achieving goals.  And this is how we begin to cultivate a general inclination towards a happy and appreciative attitude.

A regular yoga practice leads naturally to feelings of gratitude and thankfulness.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Google it!  Just the act of being present on your mat, as you move through the various poses and focus on what your body is telling you, opens a space inside that generates positive energy.  And positive energy breeds thankfulness and gratitude.  It happens without us even thinking about it.  It’s this amazing involuntary, subconscious side-effect.  It’s our body and brain chemistry working to make us more open and accepting of ourselves and of others.

Don’t forget - Yoga and meditation are about controlling our mind so it cannot control us.  Together, they can be an invaluable tool to help us, although they are not a substitute for care or treatment if depression and anxiety persist.  

With the help of my “gratitude exercise”, and the added support of my new yoga practice, I’m striving to continue the season of gratitude and thanksgiving long after December has turned the page to a new year.

Is this something you have thought about and want to implement?  Maybe some of you have been working on this for a while now.  We’d love to hear from you!

Please take a minute to share with us your thoughts on cultivating a happy and appreciative attitude - whether the idea is new to you or old hat.

And, as always, we appreciate the time you spend here on our blog.  And, please, keep sharing with your friends and family!  

Namaste

Ahimsa

It’s no secret that we’re living in divisive and fearful times.  Yoga at its very core means unity.

The first tenant of yoga is do no harm, yet judgment is everywhere and as harmful to the self as to the person or persons, you are slinging judgment at.  Stop and ask yourself: How many times a day you judge yourself? Others? And how much energy do you give to these thoughts?

Low self esteem, insecurities and self-doubt can lead people down a path of judgment. We all experience these moments. Maybe we judge ourselves in comparison to others. Ever glance at someone on a nearby mat and think how graceful and beautiful his or her practice is and start trash talking yourself?  The habits we discover on the mat we usually find off the mat as well. What kind of people we would have in our lives if we allowed them to talk to us the way we talk to ourselves?

Maybe we judge others because by making someone else less, we feel we become more. This rationale may work for a moment but moments don’t last very long. In the end it makes the division wider and the pain greater.  It’s difficult to sling mud and keep your own hands clean.  

It’s easy to embody our yoga when things are going well and we are all in a good mood but in the face of adversity who shows up?  If you squeeze an orange you get orange juice. Every single time. What you fill yourself up with is what is going to come out when life puts the squeeze on you.  How do you want to show up? What do you want to release when you are faced with the tough stuff?

Judgment in and of itself created division, the opposite of yoga. 

Sometimes we forget we are not our thoughts. We are NOT.  Don’t believe everything you think. Everything is energy, including you, me, all of us. Our energy speaks the moment we enter a room before we open our mouths.  Judgment creates negative energy. The end.

I am not immune to temptation. Thoughts can pull us into the future and into the past without warning. Yoga and meditation offer tools. These tools help us practice awareness. The moment we notice we are slipping into judgment we have moved out of autopilot. We are conscious.  We are aware. Mindfulness, another valuable tool, allows us to make an intentional choice to stop judging.  We can decide to change our thoughts. We can make a choice. If we are aware of something we can then decide if it is serving us or not. If it is we can strengthen it, If it’s not we can eradicate it.  Life is all about choices. What will you choose?

Jaya Vita Yoga Teacher Training 2018

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Yesterday marked graduation day for the Jaya Vita Yoga Teacher Training Class of 2018.  Jaya’s 200 RYT training program is a seven month long program that runs either once a year or every other year.

Teacher Training is a way to delve into the practice and teachings of yoga, whether you desire to teach or not.  This group of yogis built a supportive, nurturing community for each other, and it truly was a pleasure guiding them these past seven months.  

We asked our graduates a series of questions in order to give our community some insight into their training experience.  Here is what they had to say. 


Tara Atkins, the organizer extraordinaire, wife, and momma of two grown up kiddos;

Danielle Krimmel, the ICU nurse and mother of two, with two bonus kiddos that make four! 

Abby Healey, Jaya’s own photographer, and an aspiring art therapist.  Abby has been practicing yoga since high school;

Erica Nealon, the always smiling nurse-to-be.


What made you want to do the teacher training?  

Tara Atkins: I wanted to learn more about yoga, and why we are doing what we do.  I didn't go into this thinking I'd become a teacher.  I just wanted to learn something new and challenge myself. 

Abby Healey: I felt compelled to take part in the Jaya Vita Yoga teacher training as a way to deepen my understanding of yoga and the ways in which it enriches the practitioner’s life.  I have been practicing since 2013 and had been seeking to expand my knowledge of what lies beyond a sixty minute class with the hope that I could bring the benefits of what I would learn to others.

Danielle Krimmel: I wanted to dive deeper into my knowledge of yoga, and learn more about the philosophy of yoga. I felt like the more I did the physical practice of yoga, the more I wanted to learn how to truly take yoga off my mat. Yoga is not just the movement of the body through different asanas, but noticing your mind/your thoughts without judgement. I wanted to dive deeper into living my life as a yogi.

Erica Nealon: I wanted to expand my knowledge of yoga, and not just in the physical practice, but in the philosophy of yoga and the mental practice.

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What was the best thing about training?  

Tara Atkins: Getting to know the other girls and experiencing this process with them, learning from Hilary and all she has to share and teach (she’s an amazing mentor), and  learning safety while teaching.  As a former dancer, I never had that.  I feel it will help me be a much better teacher!

Abby Healey: The best thing about training was the bond formed between my fellow trainees and I, and learning from each other’s experiences and perspectives. 

Danielle Krimmel: There are a multitude of experiences I enjoyed throughout this training, but I think it's the unexpected experiences that I cherish the most. I absolutely loved our close knit group of trainees and getting to learn with them.  To learn from them was such a great experience for me as well.

Erica Nealon: I loved spending the whole weekend with friends, learning about something I truly love.  We all had to dig deep within ourselves to find an understanding of much of the material and to be able to teach others about yoga.  It was fun watching everyone grow in this way.  I also just loved learning about everything!  I truly love yoga and it has saved me in many ways.  I’d love to be able to share that with others.

  

What was the biggest challenge?  

Tara Atkins: The biggest challenge for me was fighting my body.  I had to learn to meet my body where it is and be ok with that.  I became the queen of modification, which I think will be a plus while assisting others! 

Abby Healey: The most challenging part, over the past seven months, was the way cultivating all of the elements of teaching, when put together, feel. Finding balance while vocalizing what you are guiding a student into, cueing breath, and remaining mindful of alignment and safety provided an intensified appreciation for the instructors who inspire me.

Danielle Krimmel: Biggest challenge.....not believing everything I think, which I am still working on.  Strive for progress not perfection.

Erica Nealon: I think some of the readings were very challenging.  Now that I have a little more understanding, I would like to go back and read them again.  Applying the philosophies from the readings is challenging as well, but it has opened me up to a new, deeper way of thinking and questioning the mind.  Is this thought valid? Why am I thinking this? Do I have to believe this thought? Should I be attached to this way of thinking?

What surprised you?  

Tara Atkins: What surprised me most was all the other things we had to learn that had nothing to do with the actual poses - the history, the chants, the human body, the LIFE of yoga!

Abby Healey: The biggest surprise has been the feeling of vulnerability that accompanies learning about myself in tandem with our yogic themes. This training is far from just academic and has moved me to strive for the best version of myself so that I can share that energy with those who may be in my classes. Yoga asks you to confront and process your emotions, through compassion and honesty, in order to discover your most wholehearted self.

Danielle Krimmel: It was more intense than I thought it would be.  Creating an hour long flow is much more difficult than I thought.  The teachers at Jaya make it look so easy and seamless.  I strive to get to that level one day.

Erica Nealon: I was very surprised at how hard it was to actually get up there and teach, especially the first time.  I practice almost every day, sometimes twice a day, but actually standing up there telling people how to move through their practice was difficult. The best thing to do is to just practice!

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What was the most important takeaway from the training?  

Tara Atkins: As a perfectionist in so many ways, I learned it’s ok to fall - - just get your butt back up and try again!  Some days will be harder than others, but you have to love your strengths and not dwell on your weaknesses because it can all change tomorrow!

Abby Healey: The most important takeaway has been knowing that the learning does not stop with graduation. Every instructor will always remain a student of yoga and must follow their curiosity to best serve their students and their own practice.

Danielle Krimmel: Hmmm…again, there are so many things to choose from, but I think the most important thing is to stay true to yourself as a teacher and as a student.

Erica Nealon: There are so many important concepts that I will take away from this training. I think the general idea of "non-attachment" is so big. We are attached to so many things, so many thoughts, so many actions. Should we be? If we are attached to a certain outcome, what happens when that outcome is different? Or exactly what we wanted? Are we disappointed? Do we want more? For me personally, I’ve found I was attached to a life I thought I wanted, until I got it. It wasn't what I expected. I don't think many things are what we expect them to be. So, if we are not attached to that expectation, maybe we can find something deeper in that outcome. I did want to win the Mega Millions, but when I woke up this morning to a few losing tickets, I was not attached to the idea of buying a beach house or three after I quit my job and hired a personal pizza maker.

Would you do it again?  

Tara Atkins:  I would, but I would like to see more of it all together.  I liked the time in between, but sometimes I felt I needed it more often.  Also, I feel now that I have a taste of all aspects of the yoga world, there are some things I want to learn more about! 

Abby Healey: Yes.  I look forward to future trainings and learning opportunities.

Danielle Krimmel:  In a heartbeat!!!

Erica Nealon:  Yes, in a heartbeat. I will miss my weekends filled with yoga and new friends. We didn't just learn about yoga; we have learned a new way to live.

Jaya's Pose of the Month - November

November’s Pose of the Month

On the fourth Monday of each month, we introduce the following month's "Pose of the Month." You won't necessarily find any dedicated focus given to that pose in your classes at Jaya, although some teachers may chose to do so; it is more about the idea of exposing us to various poses and how we might benefit from incorporating them into our own personal practice.

This article is designed to give you basic information on the pose, as well as step-by-step instructions (accompanied by photographs of our Jaya teachers as illustration) to guide you. We expect many will be familiar, while some may be new to you.

As always, we look forward to hearing back from you as you read our weekly posts. We’d love to hear your feedback! And, of course, feel free to share with your friends!

Pashimottanasana or Seated Forward Bend

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The changing of the seasons brings cooler weather, which can bring on colds or even mild depression. Pashimottanasana, translated as “intense stretch to the west”, can calm the brain and help ease stress. It is also touted as good for soothing headaches, reducing anxiety, and lessening fatigue. Other benefits might include stretching the spine, shoulders, and hamstrings; stimulating the liver, kidneys, ovaries and uterus; and improving digestion.

We could all use a little more Pashimottanasana in our lives!

Begin on the floor, seated on a folded blanket, with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Flex your feet and rotate your upper, inner thighs in towards each other, as you press them down into the floor.

Inhaling, extend your arms towards the sky and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, hinge forward from the hips, leading with your heart, and extend your hands towards your feet. If possible, grab your big toes with your first and second fingers, resting your thumbs on the top of your big toes.

If this isn’t possible, let your hands fall comfortably on top of your shins, thighs, or alongside your legs on the floor - - wherever they can comfortably rest. Another option is to loop a strap/belt/man’s tie around your feet and hold firm. Be sure your elbows are straight, not bent. With each inhale, lengthen your spine ad with each exhale, deepen your forward bend.

Never force yourself into a pose. If you experience tightness in the hamstrings (backs of your legs), try bending your knees or sliding a rolled up towel or blanket under the knees, or both.

Stay in the position anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes.

Want to share with us a photo of you practicing this month’s pose? We’d love it see it! Have a friend snap you in the POM, tag us @jayayogastudio, and use the hashtag #jayspom.

Autumnal Apple Cake

I grew up baking with my mother and her mother, first as their helper. Then, when I was nine years old, one day my mother took out all of the ingredients for my grandmother’s chocolate pound cake, place the recipe card in front of me, and said, “Have fun, and please leave the kitchen exactly as you’ve found it.” (Which meant, it better be impossible to tell someone has been using the kitchen for anything!)

When had a family of my own, I baked every week, from old family recipe cards, for my children and baked treats for their class parties all through elementary school. I loved it. Baking brought me a great deal of pleasure and relieved stress. It was also a creative outlet.

Fast forward to last year when I married a fella who basically does not eat sweets because of sugar and carb content. BORING! (He has no health issues what-so-ever. He’s just super disciplined and careful because he’s a biochemist and his research centers around disease. 🙄)

Shortly after my marriage, two of my three daughters decided to go vegan. UGH! Talk about a double whammy let-down!

But, as my youngest said, this is just a challenge and I am always up for a good challenge!! As it turns out, it has been far easier to find recipes without refined sugar and wheat that actually taste good, and are not dry, than it has been to find vegan recipes that taste good. Both have required research and a lot of trial and error, plus creative thinking.

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d share a delicious Apple Cake that happens to be vegan. You don’t have to be a vegan to eat this. It really tastes just like most any other apple cake I’ve made.

AUTUMNAL APPLE CAKE

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Ingredients

For the batter:

  • 2 cups flour (measure and sift twice!)

  • 3 teaspoons of baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon of pink sea salt (or any salt)

  • 1/4 cup of sugar

  • 4 tablespoons of softened vegan butter (I use earth balance)

  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened apple sauce (I use a very generous 1/4 c)

  • 2/3 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk

For the filling:

  • 4-5 apples, peeled and sliced thin-ish (I use a mix of green and cortland apples)

  • For the topping:

  • 2 tablespoons of white sugar

  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon of allspice

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 375*

Generously grease a 8x8 baking pan

1) Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

2) Add butter, apple sauce and milk.

3) Mix until it is just combined. Be sure not to over mix. This makes the batter tough.

4) Press the dough into the prepared baking pan.

5) Place the apple slices one-by-one deep into the dough, with the rounded side up. The dough is going to rise up as it cook up, so make sure you press them down enough.

6) Sprinkle the top evenly with the sugar/spice mixture.

Make sure to place the pan on the middle oven rack.

Bake 35 mins. I always set my timer for five mins short of prescribed time because you just never know how your own oven cooks compared to others. I do cook this 35 mins.

Make sure to test with a toothpick.

Cool only slightly before serving. It’s very good with vanilla ice cream (vegan or regular!)

Enjoy!!

Hilary's Monthly Musing - October

Recently, someone asked about my first experience with yoga.  It might seem odd, but for me it was definitely not “love at first try”.

As many of you may know, a month after college graduation I moved to Los Angles.  Whenever the topic of fitness came up, all I kept hearing about was yoga.  On sets, at coffee shops, the gym, you name it, LA was on the yoga train and my curiosity was peaked.  

After two years, I was able to coerce my roommate to check it out. (Lisa and I had gone to college together and she was always up for an adventure.) As we walked into the multipurpose aerobics/spin/yoga room at my all women’s gym, we were greeted by a petite brunette dressed in black from head to toe.  Let’s call her Jenny. 

“Are you new?” she asked curtly. 

“Yes!” we replied enthusiastically in unison. Could we be more obvious!  

What came next was an unexpected, and equally unenthusiastic, “Great, I guess I’ll figure out something.”

Jenny was clearly not excited to have newbies in class, but Lisa and I did our best to follow along. I’ll never forget the feeling of having my beginner foot kicked from Warrior 2 to Warrior 1.  And what was this Savasana business? 

We did not go back to yoga the next week. Instead, we decided to try our hand at Hip Hop.  And no, there are no photos. 

About a year or so later we decided, once again, to try this allegedly relaxing, good-for-you yoga thing that remained all the rage in the city of angels. After carefully selecting a class time, and an instructor different than the first one (yes, you are correct; we intentionally chose a different teacher), we set off to give it another chance. 

Excitedly we opened the fitness room door, and guess what? Are you thinking this is the moment I knew I was moving back east to share my love of yoga, that I fell in love, and my life changed forever? 

Not even close.

Guess who was subbing? Jenny.  She saw us.  There was no escape from the class, but we never went back. 

That was the day yoga died, for ten years. 

You may be asking yourself why we didn’t got to a yoga class at Lisa’s gym.  The answer is simple; they didn’t have yoga classes yet.  At this time in LA, yoga wasn't as readily available as it is today.

My point? Not all yoga is love at first try. Mine clearly was not. But like true love, it has to be the right person at the right time. 

The right teacher and the right time for me came years later, through a yoga/Pilates fusion class.  And, needless-to-say, it was at a different fitness center.  But It was a seed that grew and grew and grew, until it was so big that it changed my life.  It was that seed that inspired me to do something more meaningful with my life.  It eventually led me to make the decision to leave Los Angeles and turn my passion into my life.  

Working with beginners always reminds me of my first class. Honestly, I wouldn’t change that experience because it taught me a valuable lesson - - how I want to show up, the kind of teacher I want to be.  To quote Kelly Clarkson: it’s “because of you” that I am inspired every day to give students a warm, welcoming, loving yoga experience.  And to this day, I thank Jenny for being one of my teachers. 

Namaste.

Kicking off Jaya's Pose of the Month

On the fourth Monday of each month, we will introduce the following month's "Pose of the Month."  You won't necessarily find any dedicated focus given to that pose in your classes at Jaya, although some teachers may chose to do so; it is more about the idea of exposing us to various poses and how we might benefit from incorporating them into our own personal practice.  

The article will give you some basic information on the pose, as well as step-by-step instructions (accompanied by photographs of our Jaya teachers as illustration) to guide you.  We expect many will be familiar, while some may be new to you.

As always, we look forward to hearing back from you as you read our weekly posts.  We love your feedback!  And, of course, feel free to share with your friends!  

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October's Pose of the Month

Vrksasana or Tree Pose

Vrksasana works to improve balance and strengthens thighs, calves, ankles & spine. A great one to practice in the kitchen while making dinner or standing in line at the grocery store ;)

Begin in Mountain Pose (Tadasana).  Shift the weight onto the right foot and bring the left foot to rest on the calf or to high on the thigh. Avoid placing foot directly on knee.  Press sole of foot into thigh and resist with standing leg.  Tailbone points down, hips stay squared forward. Choose a drishti, (a focal point on the floor or wall in front of you) to focus on and help keep your balance.  

If you are struggling with balance use a wall for support.  

Arm variations include hands to heart, stretching arms straight up toward the sky, parallel to each other, or touch the palms together forming an inverted V with the arms. For an extra challenge try closing your eyes.  Practice the pose for thirty seconds to one minute.  

Spotlight On...Katie McElhenny

Each month we will present an in-depth look at one of our Jaya teachers/practitioners.  This month we are shining our spotlight on Katie McElhenny.

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Katie grew up in Scranton, the second of five children, plus her cousin, in tight-knit family.  As a kid, she was athletic and enjoyed participating in team sports;  when she entered high school she joined the swim team.  At some point, she can’t remember when, she took up running. 

After high school, Katie entered the University of Scranton and majored in Special Education.  With the end goal being a teaching career, she did her student teaching in the Western Wayne school district.  But, as is often the case, a few things derailed her path.

In October of Katie’s senior year, her mom died of cancer.  It had been barely over a year since her original diagnosis.  Not long after that, Katie was offered a job in Switzerland to work as an Au Pair.  One might think she would jump at the chance to run away, but she declined in order to finish her degree.  As the end of college drew near, Katie was thrilled to receive another offer to work as an Au Pair, this time starting after graduation - an opportunity she could not turn down!  So off she went to Switzerland.

While she was there, Katie ran her first marathon - - in Zurich. 

After a year away, Katie returned to NEPA to accept her current job as a Learning Support Teacher at the Evergreen Elementary School.  Still reeling from the loss of her mom, and at the urging of her mother’s sister Patti, she decided to try yoga in an official setting.  Prior to that, Katie had only practiced yoga periodically at home with her aunt or through video instruction.

And so it was, on April Fool’s Day, 2008, that she attended her first in-studio yoga class.  Actually, as Katie puts it, her aunt dragged her, and boy was it a doozy!    “It was hard.  There were tears.”  But there was a lot going on beneath the surface.  The day before she and her boyfriend had broken up, and, of course, she was still moving through the process of grieving the loss of her mother. 

But it’s funny how life works out.  April 1st, 2008 just happened to be the official opening day at Jaya Yoga Studio - - which is the place Aunt Patti took her.   

When I Katie asked if it was love at first try, she answered an emphatic YES!  And it only got better.  

About a month later, she attended three classes in one day.  It was Mother’s Day.  The significance of the day, coupled with the fact that she had not eaten all day, created the perfect storm so-to-speak.   Before the end of the third class Katie got sick, but this did not deter her one bit!   

There was no question about her moving forward.  It seems yoga at Jaya offered her exactly what she did not know she was looking for.  She began a regular yoga practice, taking class one to two times a day the first five months.  And with that, everything began to flow.  Katie found yoga to be the catalyst for her journey to work through her grief and allow the healing to begin.

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After one year of continuous practice, she committed to Teacher Training.  When asked what inspired her to do the training, Katie answered, “It was the obvious impact my practice had on my physical and mental well-being.  Honestly, it was the fist time I was able to just sit in my shit.  All of it.  I was holding a lot inside.  Yoga changed me.”

As an example, Katie told me when she added a Restorative class to her schedule, her siblings could tell when she had not been able to take the class.  Apparently, she was way less fun to be around!  Much more tense and stressed out.

I asked Katie what was the best and worst aspect of TT.  Immediately she told me the best part was the opportunity to get to know the other yogis.  And through that process she began to open herself up to others. The worst part of the TT?  Feeling like her core principles and values weren’t in alignment with the teachers of the training.  

Still feeling a bit trepidatious after her training, at first she helped out with the children’s and beginners’ classes.  However, not long after, Hilary needed someone to take over the Restorative class and asked Katie if she would step in.  And she did.  Now Restorative is a major part of her teaching and yoga practice.    

As a student in her class, I already knew Katie’s least favorite pose - - Wide-legged forward fold.  (Her inner thighs are super tight, and her lower back is stiff.)  Like most of my teachers, Katie shares her struggles with her students so we don’t feel different or less than. 

 Her favorite pose?  Pigeon.  (It relaxes and recharges her.)

What’s Katie’s favorite way to unwind?  She takes a book (memoir is her favorite genre) and heads out into nature.  If you're looking for a good book to read, she loves to give recommendations.

Her biggest pet peeve?  Rude people. 

Katie has a simple approach to health and wellness - - everything in moderation.  She was a vegetarian for three to four years, but now just thinks in terms of REAL FOOD/WHOLE FOOD.

To close out our interview, I asked Katie where she saw herself in five years.  “So, what’s down the road for you?”

She looked me square in the eye and almost immediately answered, “I don’t know.”  Three times.  “Right now I am just living day-to-day, and that’s fine with me.  Obviously, I want to continue to feel happy and fulfilled.  Not sure what that means exactly, but that’s my goal.”

What Yoga Means to Me

When Hilary asked if I would writing a blog post on what yoga has meant to me,  I jumped at the chance to share my experience.  Then I sat down to write and realized it would be a hard assignment and, perhaps, a long one, because this isn’t just about what yoga has done for me; this is really about what yoga at Jaya has done for me.  So, in order to do this justice, I need to take a step back and tell you a little bit about me and my life “before Jaya”.  Please bear with me and don’t worry; it’ll be the abridged version :-)

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In February of this year, I turned 55 years old - - or young, depending on the day.  Some mornings I wake up and feel my age, with ankles and lower back creaky from tightness. Other days I hop right out of bed full of energy, yet when I look in the mirror I wonder who the hell is looking back at me, because mentally and physically I feel at least 15 years younger than the person in the mirror!  Then there are days, though few and far between, when I just feel ancient.

A month before said birthday, I signed up for the 30 day trial at Jaya.  Almost nine months later I can say, without reservation, it was the best $30 I have spent on myself in a long time.

I was raised in the deep south, educated in the Northeast and New England, and raised my three daughters near Boston.  These cultures have one important thing in common - attitude.  It’s all about chin up, work hard, and do what has to be done.  Period.  No navel gazing tolerated.  Consequently, I am not one to spend much time or money on self-care.  And quite honestly, I am not one to think much about it either.  I know I probably should, but truth-be-told for a good 20 years I had three girls to raise on my own and they needed a ton of stuff - my time, my energy and my money.  For years there wasn’t enough of anything left over for me - - I don’t even get my hair cut more than once or twice a year.  (Sometimes my mother tells me it looks like it too!  But I digress…)

A little background: I grew up swimming and playing tennis and taking ballet lessons - basically being your average, girlie Southern gal; not really athletic, but you could take me anywhere and I could assimilate with whatever people were doing.  As an adult, before I had children, I took up running.  What started out as a way for me control my weight, which was hard to handle because of my emotional relationship to food, ended up keeping me sane through 1) a divorce, 2) a subsequent remarriage, and 3) sudden widowhood, plus raising three head strong girls along the way.  I was your basic female non-athlete, who exercised for sanity and weight control.

Fast forward to when I took up rowing - on a dare - on my 47th birthday.  Talk about crazy!  Here I was, the girl who was never good enough to make a team, deciding as a grown-ass woman to give one of the most brutal sports a try.  (Cue laugh track.)  Because of my height and obscenely competitive nature, it turned out to be the sport for me.  But I was lucky too.  All the stars aligned.  I had two daughters who were gifted rowers - winning national championships and college scholarships - to guide me, plus three very excellent and compassionate, if not tough, coaches who immediately saw my potential and believed in me.  I joined a fierce and determined team of men and women, between the ages of 40 and 70, who were in it to be their very best.  In short order I was moved from the novice group to the competition team.  Soon, with a lot of hard work and a committed group of rowers, our team became competitive, and the year before I withdrew - in order to prepare for my move here - we started to win almost every race we entered.  The few times we didn’t win, we came in second.  I felt physically, and mentally, strong and powerful for the first time since I birthed my three girls.  I was riding on an emotional and physical high 24/7 those six years. Being this strong and powerful rower became my identity.

Then my life changed and opened up in a most unexpected way.  So, in order to move forward in my personal life, I needed to put rowing aside to prepare for my move to NEPA. 

Between September 2016 (when I said good-bye to rowing) and January 2018, I did little more than walk (sometimes jog) with my dog about five days a week, but less once I moved here last summer.  I tried yoga before, briefly when I had been injured and had to take a few months off rowing, and I did a yoga series the last three months I lived in Massachusetts.  It was mostly restorative and beginner level stuff, so not terribly active.  

Occasionally I’d go for a long, and painful, bike ride.  There were hikes thrown in here and there for good measure, but let’s be honest.  I went from pushing myself to kick some serious ass six days a week to doing basically very little.  Physically I became somewhat stagnant, and eventually it began to show.  In no time flat, I lost all the impressive muscle mass I had spent six arduous years working to build.  (When I tell you I was one tough broad prior to 2017, that is no lie.  If you happen to meet a serious rower you will understand.)  

Then 2018 dawned, and a few days into the new year I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, in a sports bra and underwear, and cried.  Seriously.  I did not recognize myself.  I had no muscle tone to speak of and, while no one would call me fat or pudgy, I had a head start on, what I refer to as, that “middle-aged female, mid-section pudge”.  

You see, since I stopped rowing, and thus working out two + hours three times a week and 90 mins. another three times a week (yup, it’s pretty hard core), I had also gone through that most dreaded phase of womanhood - MENOPAUSE.  (That’s the time in life when you learn that every trick you used to keep yourself healthy (read thin) and strong all these years, in spite of food issues and three pregnancies where you gained anywhere from 39 - 60 pounds, no longer works.)

While I didn’t actually gain any weight at all, within a year my body did not look like itself.  My once taut and lean arms were devoid of muscle, period, and my thighs, which are your powerhouse when you row, were really starting to show a visible lack of tone.  Don’t even get me started in my core!  It’s like I woke up one day with someone else’s body, in one of those hollywood switcheroo movies, but in the horror genre, not comedy.  UGH!

Today I am closing in on nine months with Jaya.  I take four classes every week: Tuesday at 10 AM, Wednesday at 5:30 PM, Friday at 10 AM, and Saturday at 10 AM.  When I tell someone I love yoga, it’s really an understatement.  And as I said in the beginning, it’s not just yoga; it’s really yoga at Jaya.  While I don’t feel as if I am quite part of the culture yet, I do feel totally and completely connected.  And safe.  That’s a big thing for me.  You see, I suffer from anxiety.  Any new and unknown situation is hard for me.  And as a highly competitive person, with a strong perfectionist streak, going into a yoga class can bring up the worse anxiety ever.  I am constantly fighting to keep myself from comparing my abilities with those around me.  And my former success as a rower, within a relatively short period of time, has only exacerbated this issue.  I am sure the aging process has set me back as well.  

It took me almost three weeks just to convince myself to go in and sign up for the 30 day trial.  I knew I would be right back at square one and I hated the thought of looking foolish, but that was a waste of energy.  I have not met anyone at Jaya who wasn’t welcoming, and the instructors could not be more warm and encouraging.  I feel challenged for sure, but never defeated.  

It has been quite the journey these past nine months.  I have struggled and felt frustrated and annoyed with myself.  When I started, I could not hold my weight up during plank and I used to hold plank easily at rowing practice.  Talk about frustration!  I still have pain in my wrists and shoulders from time to time, because they are weak and tight, and this causes me to take child’s pose more than I would like.  And I am sure those who are on mats closest to me have heard me mutter obscenities out of frustration when I can’t do what I am trying to do.  But no one glares or says anything to make me feel like a loser.  In fact, after every single class all I feel is encouraged.  Lighter.  Brighter.  Calmer.  

And maybe the best and most valuable thing I have gained from my time at Jaya is the fact that when I arrive in a bad mood (my youngest, at 21, was living with us this past school year and she frustrated and annoyed me more than either of us expected) or not feeling quite 100% (I did the Whole30 for the month of April and I definitely did not feel my best most of that month), the teacher of that class ends up totally turning me around.  The little pearls of wisdom that come out of Hilary’s mouth have been such a gift.  It’s like she says them just for me, as if she somehow knows I need it at that moment.  The soothing and gentle voice of Corrin has been a godsend, in spite of the fact that she can really kick it up a notch.  Don’t let the sweetness fool you!  Restorative with Katie has saved my back on more than one occasion.  It has helped me so much I cannot begin to tell you how much I love that class!  And If you aren’t in a good mood and motivated after Erin’s class, well then, I guess there’s just no hope for you! 

There are many other classes to try, and with the new school year I have moved to a different schedule.  So far, so good!  I look forward to the time when I can consider moving past slow flow and into a faster paced class.  But for now, I am in no hurry.

With every class I find I am stronger and more confident.  After about three months, I took a chance and tried a bind in Erin’s class and was able to do it (on one side) and hold it!  I felt just like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, as he stood with Rose at the bow of the ship - King of the World!  

Shortly after that, I noticed plank was easier for me, and then one day I thought, why look there - my arms are getting muscular again!  SCORE!  And more often than not, I am able to focus 100% on the moment - all 75 mins - while in class.  It’s hard for me to do that, but guess what?  As a consequence of that focus, I have days when I make it through an entire class without swearing under my breath, or huffing and puffing, or muttering to myself, or going to child’s pose because I couldn’t hold the pose given.  

I always go into a class with the intention of being mindful and moving with purpose, and some days I am able to fully put that into practice.  I may not be the big, strong rower I was just two years ago, but I am a new version of strong.  Plus the way I see myself has changed.  I have regained my confidence and have found a sense of peace.  I am learning to be in the moment, to be present and to be happy where I am - even if it’s in child’s pose while everyone else is flowing along without me.

So, yes, I do love yoga and it certainly has been good for me, but I have to believe it has been yoga at Jaya that has made all the difference, and for that I am deeply grateful.

I bow to you. (Namaste)

Hilary's Monthly Musing - September

For a moment I thought about quieting down the conversation in teen yoga the other day, but then I decided to listen instead.  In front of me was a group of teens, from different schools, talking about the same struggles.  These girls may see a different view every day, but the hurdles, roadblocks, and challenges they meet are the same in so many ways.  We are more similar than different. We all suffer from the human condition and that is so much a part of yoga.

Jaya is a place where no one cares about how much money you make, whether you have perfect hair, or what your job is, etc. There are no consequences here.  If you can do a pose, great; if not, keep practicing. Our value as humans doesn’t come from a yoga pose.  Our character, however, can be strengthened by what we learn when we fall out of one.

Jaya was born from an idea.  I saw a place where people could come to be inspired, to let the best version of themselves shine.  I hoped for a place where people could feel free to be in the moment and celebrate the experience of life.  

The well known quote “practice and all is coming” means ALL is coming - - the good, bad, light, dark, easy, difficult, etc.

Since Jaya opened its doors seven and a half years ago, it has grown to become more than just a yoga studio.  It’s a community center. It’s a church.  It’s a wellness center.  It’s a lifeline.  

Yoga is a way of life and Jaya, and the yogi community, reflect that off the mat.  The connections people have made here are priceless. From our pink ponies to yoga jail, Jaya has it’s own breath, it’s own personality, it’s own energy. It’s truly beyond anything I could have planned or imagined.

Being that September is National Yoga month, it’s the perfect time to extend the reach of yoga and offer more opportunity and access to mindful, healthy content. As you may know, I have been working on relaunching the Jaya blog.  I am feeling really good about this little change that I believe will provide another opportunity for us to connect and grow together. Through the blog, we are building a place where we can share recipes, articles, and ideas, and invite more people to experience the community at Jaya off the mat.  So take time once a week to check us out, and please, let me know what you think.  

And if you find something worthy of sharing with your friends, Jaya yogis or not, please do so.  Jaya is about connection and community.  Thank you for being such an important part of that vision.

September is National Yoga Month!

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Greetings Yogis! 

September is National Yoga Month and we have a few surprises in store!  

Traditionally, September is also a month of change.  Once summer starts to wind down, we know a new school year will officially shift into gear.  As kids, many of us loved the idea of a fresh start in the fall and the feeling of endless possibilities associated with that - - new teachers, classes, notebooks, supplies, and a new wardrobe!  

Now as adults, we notice the sun rises just a bit later each morning and sets a bit earlier in the evening.  With each passing day, the air grows cool and crisp. 

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "The only constant is change." Autumn reminds us that our bodies, minds, and surroundings are always changing and evolving.

Taking our cue from the seasons, we are excited to announce a re-launch of our Jaya Blog starting Labor Day!      

Thanks to the vision and passion of our own Jeanne Foley, Jaya will be offering weekly insights not only into yoga, but also into health, wellness, and recipes.  Basically, all things Jaya and more!

On the first Monday of each month Hilary will start things rolling with a personal note, sharing her insight in  “Hilary’s Monthly Musings.”

On the second Monday we will offer an essay by our blog editor in chief, Jeanne Foley or a guest writer.  Topics will vary, depending on the author, but will be in harmony with the idea of yoga and wellness.

On the third Monday we will offer “Spotlight on … “.  Each month we will share a close and personal look at one of Jaya's teachers.  This will give you the opportunity to get to know your yoga teacher outside of class.  Topics will generally touch on their path to becoming a teacher and insights about their journey.  You never know what you might learn!

On the fourth Monday we will announce the following month’s “Pose of the Month.”  The article will serve as a touchstone throughout the month, should you wish to revisit the information provided.  Photographs of the pose will accompany the article as illustration.  The more you know, the more you understand, and the more you understand, the more you can use that to enrich your personal practice.  Before long you will get to know the ins and outs of that month’s pose, just in time to learn what the next “POM” will be!  This will be a fun and challenging way for each of us, no matter what level, to put our focus into our own practice as we explore in depth the various poses and learn firsthand how they can enhance and expand our journey. 
  
As the next 12 months unfold, we will be offering other fun and interesting tidbits on the blog, so please keep us on your regular “blogs to check out” list.  Let us be your first stop for information, not only on happenings at Jaya, but also on how yoga/mindfulness/meditation can enhance your life.  Perhaps you will find yourself sharing articles from our blog with your friends.

Jaya is all about community, and we are committed to empowering you to be the best version of yourselves both on and off the mat. Life is yoga. Yoga is life. 

Be sure to check us out on Labor Day! 

Namaste,

Hilary & Jeanne

Diastasis Recti and Pelvic Floor Weakness - What they are and how to FIX them

Lets start off with a quick description of Diastasis Recti (aka DR), technically speaking it’s an unnatural separation of the rectus abdominis muscles (six pack muscles).  This separation happens 100% of the time in pregnancy, so at the time of delivery every mom has this condition. The belly has to grow and expand to accommodate baby or babies so it makes sense that these muscles get pushed to the side and stretched out. The fascia or connective tissue that lies between and over these muscles, along the linea alba, gets thinned out, stretched and weakened as well. Hands down, almost every mother out there will tell you that their midsection was never the same after having a child. In fact, 3 months postpartum, nearly 60% of women still have this unnatural separation. It can improve on it’s own, but for a good majority it doesn’t. 

How do you know if you have DR? Some women are checked for DR at their postpartum follow-up appointment, but most are not checked or they are unaware if they were checked. One of the telltale signs of DR is the dreaded mommy pooch that just won’t go away. This pooch can appear all along the area of the linea alba or it can be more pronounced at or below the bellybutton. Another common presentation is when the front of the abdomen appears to protrude. This protrusion can start right under the chest and go all the way down to the pubic area. Low back pain can also be connected to DR in some instances.

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As a personal trainer and someone who suffered from DR I can’t stress enough how important it is to properly assess DR and the sooner the better. Proper assessment is important because the most common ab exercises to “tone” or “strengthen” the core are the absolute worst moves for someone that has DR. Planks, sit-ups, crunches, v sits and rollups are some examples that can further weaken the area and put someone at risk for a hernia or prolapse. So knowing which moves to avoid while incorporating the right moves and breathing techniques is an essential place to start in order to fix DR. 

When I was told that I had DR nearly 6 years ago, my GYN said that I needed to avoid the typical ab exercises. At the time I wasn’t a trainer, but had a personal interest in fitness and all things movement related so I set out looking for what I needed to do to correct the issue. Surprisingly the available info thru books and media was very sparse so I just continued to avoid the ab work my GYN warned me about. Fast forward a few years I decided to take my interest in training to the next level and became certified as a personal trainer as well as a specialized kettlebell instructor. By this time I had found some useful information on exercises to help correct DR and decided to take a certification course (Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist with Dr. Sarah Duvall) that specialized in DR and Pelvic Floor. This course was amazing!! It was the missing link that I needed to completely correct my DR.

An added bonus to correcting my DR was the realization from this course that I also had Pelvic Floor weakness (yeah!!). I would leak when I sneezed and sometimes when I coughed if I didn’t brace for it. I jumped on a trampoline at SkyZone and felt an immediate heaviness in my pelvic floor, it was so uncomfortable that I had to stop jumping IMMEDIATELY. These issues were random so I never thought too much of them, that is, until I took this course. It turns out that sneeze-pee and leaking with or without exertion is so common among moms and we just ignore it or think that its just the norm after having children. Well, let me tell you it’s not normal and you can correct this. I stopped leaking literally 2 weeks after I started implementing the work I learned in the course, it was such an ah ha moment. Pelvic Floor and DR often go hand-in-hand, but they don’t have to. What’s awesome is that most of the exercises and breathing techniques I teach will address both and I can customize it to fit the exact needs of a client. Pelvic Floor weakness can present in other ways as well, like urgency to urinate, difficulty starting or stopping flow of urine, pain with penetration, tampon falls out or moves down on its own or unexplained pain in the genital, hip, butt or pelvic area.

I hope this post has peaked your interest in finding out more about your DR and/or Pelvic Floor weakness. My goal is to help women fix this issue once and for all by implementing specific  breathing mechanics and personalized core strengthening moves while keeping you safe and avoiding injury. Join me at Jaya Yoga for a 4 session Diastasis & Pelvic Floor Fix workshop starting July 22nd. Space is limited to ensure each participant receives a custom program that works for them. Click Here to Register. 

- From Jessica Doncses of Optimize to Thrive