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.  ”  

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.”