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.
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.
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.”