Harmony Yoga Retreat | Yelapa, Mexico

This was my first time out of the country and my first yoga retreat, so it was an amazing adventure, to say the least.

Yoga Journal Conference Midwest

Dharma Mittra, Seane Corn, Aadil Pakhilivala, Maty Ezraty, Jim Bennitt... Need I say more?

Reflect Yoga Therapy | Champaign, IL

I opened my own yoga studio with three other amazing women!

Thursday, July 30

Cecil: Don't Be Demented

Footage of Cecil the iconic lion of Hwange with his pride.

If you haven't heard about Cecil the lion who was tragically (and illegally) hunted down by a Minnesota dentist in Zimbabwe, you've managed some form of media blackout and I want to know your secrets.

Before I launch into my concerns about Cecil's death, here are a few facts about me. This site knows me as a fumbling yoga practitioner (who is very much out of practice, but still excellent at fumbling). I am also vegan—by its original definition—for animals (though all the other reasons are great too, animals are what keep me vegan). I also have an environmental science degree from the University of Illinois. I started going to school to become a big cat/exotic animal vet (accepted into the vet program at UIUC even). Due to huge changes in my life I found myself on a different career path, and as a result my largest contribution to society to date is being a graphic designer for nonprofs and socially responsible businesses, or as I like to call myself... A graphic artivist.  I am extremely liberal and what some of my friends and family refer to as a dirty hippie. Why dirty, I don't know, I shower. Maybe it's my childish sense of humor when people say "box" or "duty"—anyway!

I have one glaringly, upsetting issue with everything surrounding Cecil's death (outside of his actual death, of course). Activists everywhere are in an uproar. Vegans everywhere even more so. A lot of people are mad because the masses are gathering in disgust over the death of Cecil while simultaneously eating a cheeseburger. Or the masses are gathering in disgust over the death of Cecil while ignoring zero change in gun control after so many shootings or the state of our racist nation or... pick anything wrong really, there's plenty available.

My disgust for media covering Cecil WAY more than any other topic is overwhelming, but this is not an article on crappy media, well, not directly. Nor do I believe the media represents accurately where people stand on these issues. This is an article on why people (mostly animal activists) are aiming their anger at other animal activists. 

In the past I've been asked why I don't put my efforts towards homelessness or kids' education, for example, instead of animal activism. That's insulting. I do put efforts towards a lot of issues, but—and because—I'm most passionate about animals. Luckily there are other people who are equally passionate about different issues, thank goodness, because I am only one person. My effort to support one topic in no way means I'm against other topics or taking away from them. In fact, my support of one topic pushes me to educate myself more and seek out ways on how I can help.

And I'm right there with you, vegans, on feeling helpless by people's disconnect to animals in their back yard while connecting with one animal on the other side of the planet. Here's the thing though —criticizing someone not on the exact same page as you will never be the catalyst to opening eyes, minds, and ultimately hearts. 

Cecil's death is a moment to uplift people's energy for a positive movement. When you have the masses joining together to fight against trophy hunting, that is a beautiful step towards self-discovery in compassion towards a lot more than one lion. Am I the only one who needed 35 years to become a full-fledged vegan?! Am I the only one who needed multiple learning experiences to truly articulate why I'm a feminist or an LGBT ally or why I promote an egalitarian society in general?! I doubt it. And I can tell you, it wasn't the judgey-mcjudgersons of the world who were my catalysts. It was the patient wisdom of those who led by example and/or were passionate enough to share with me what they learned in a nurturing way. Those who shared through vulnerability instead of anger.

And I'm in no way saying you shouldn't be angry. I'm angry about all of the disconnects too, but shifting attention to those who aren't rebelling exactly the same as you is taking the momentum away from an important movement. Be angry at the dentist. Be angry of the two Zimbabweans who led the illegal hunt. Be mad at poor legislation and law enforcement. Be mad at how sentient beings can be bought and sold in the blink of an eye. And for those us who aren't strictly animal activists, be mad at the media for covering fuzzy animals more than gun control or police brutality or how black lives really do matter and never once referring to the protesters outside a dentist's office as a riot. 

Don't be mad at someone who is agreeing with you. Instead connect those who are dipping their toes in animal activism for the first time to other stories, other pursuits, other paths for self-discovery in compassion. Introduce them to inspiring people, maybe the same people who helped you. If they can't make the connection, connect with them. Be vulnerable. Learn from them (just because your forte is animal activism, doesn't mean they can't bring ideas to the table from their own interests/expertise). Share in the experience and lead by example.

Please, if you have other suggestions on how to contribute to a positive catalyst, comment below. I think a safe space for conversation is way better than passive aggressive memes on social media. 


Some animal rights inspiration: 
Link: Vegan Feminist History (women vegans—I apparently need to design some images for The Google)

Thursday, January 22

Reflect Yoga Therapy | Champaign, IL

I've been away from this blog of mine for some time now. One part, because my myofascial massage therapist took me off of all exercise (except walking) until she realigned me. And trust me, on our road trip through Birmingham down to Tampa and back up through Chattanooga, not being able to visit new studios was depressing. But with the new year came the approval to start yoga again—HOORAY!

The other reason I've been out of the blogosphere... I OPENED MY OWN STUDIO!!! Holy moly, head 'sploded, when did that happen, where am I? Yep! Three other owners (two of my fav yoga instructors in C-U—Hayli and Jodi—and my amazing myofascial massage therapist mentioned above—Laura) and myself joined forces in a whirlwind of events that suddenly had us opening a studio before I even told my own mother about it. I am so very excited to introduce you to Reflect Yoga Therapy.

There are a million reasons I'm buzzing about this studio—obviously—like access to all my favorite instructors in one location, having a voice in the type of classes or workshops I would like to see at the studio, or bringing all my favorite bits from the other studios in my travels to one location. But the way we're offering yoga to the community is what I find the most exciting...

CONTRACTS: We offer up our class packages similar to what you'd find at a park district. Sign up for one package and when it's done it's done. There's not a monthly fee coming out of your account for the next year. You can change up what your yoga routine looks like from month to month, and the flexibility of when you go to classes is available to you within each program.

UNIQUE PACKAGES: There are four types of yoga offered 
  • Aerial (FINALLY, aerial yoga where I live!!!!): After you take the Aerial Yoga 101 workshop (to see if you like it and to get all students on the same page), you can sign up from anywhere between 1-4 classes per week. And though you will do some beautiful inversions and playful flying—the surprise really comes as you use the swing as a tool to improve your yoga. You don't have to be a Cirque du Soleil performer to attend. In fact, these classes can be therapeutic for many issues, as the swing will hold the weight of your body which allows you to stay in a pose longer by taking pressure off the parts of the body you're still strengthening (ex: in downward facing dog the swing will pull your hips up into the air while taking pressure off your wrists).
  • Exec Yoga: Many people have insane schedules with jobs that barely let them leave for lunch. But if you were given one hour to do yoga and a healthy meal with flexibility of when that hour happens—it would be a lot easier, right? Exec does just that! With classes starting at the top of every hour (11am, Noon, and 1pm), you can get in a 45 minute class and (in the very near future) grab a healthy meal to go. This program also offers you gym access on opposite days of classes from 11a-2p downstairs in Studio Helix, so you can house your yoga and gym in one location. I'm excited for the future of this program as we expand into breakfast and dinner options too. 
  • Pivotal Yoga: This is a sponsored quarterly package that works with local businesses/organizations to create a yoga program specific to their needs. Currently we're working with the Illinois Women's Tennis Team and very soon we will start our Yoga for Runners sponsored by Christie Clinic in prep for the Illinois Marathon. We foresee this option growing in many different ways as groups and individuals discover what helps them live a healthy lifestyle best. This is really the highest quality yoga you can experience because it will be specific to you. Depending on the program, before you even get on a mat there is a one-on-one assessment with one of our yoga therapists. You'll learn where you are strongest and where you need more work, and the instructor will learn how to adjust the class to better guide you. At the end of the quarter you can do another assessment, if you like, to see how far you improved!
  • Community Yoga: And for those still exploring their options or trying to get familiar with the space/packages, we offer Community Yoga. These are a variety of classes divided into two pricing packages. Community Yoga with our Junior Instructors [1+ Years Teaching | 100-299 Hours Training] or with our Senior Instructors [4+ Years Teaching | 300+ Hours Training | Anatomy + Physiology Training]
So maybe you start off doing Community Yoga in February, but then hear everyone talking about Aerial Yoga. So at the end of February you take the workshop... discover you love it... and decide to have March be your month to play in the swings. You know April is going to be really hectic, so you switch over to Exec to nurture your health when you need it most, but in a way that doesn't make life more hectic. And now you're hooked because you see all that our instructors and programs are doing for you—so you take on a full quarter of Pivotal Yoga to truly integrate yoga into your well-being.  

INSTRUCTORS: We really are looking at our instructors in a new light. We love all this community offers us in yoga, but when we sat down to think of our dream team it included those who have studied anatomy and physiology. Those who look at their students and see how they tick. How they hold themselves and what that means for their overall well-being.

Personally, I can't believe how drastically my yoga improved when I integrated it in with a massage therapy session. Obviously your body opens up more after a beautiful massage, but my massage therapist was also my yoga instructor. Hayli, now one of the co-owners of Reflect, would have me go to her yoga class before my massage. She could see how I was holding my body, where I was tight, where I was weak... She could watch how this machine of mine was moving. Then, once on the massage table, she could get right to the point. It was incredible.

Our Senior Instructors are those we believe look at the body this way. So when they're engineering the lesson plan for their class they are paying attention to details and fine-tuning along the way. Our Junior Instructors may not have that same experience, but we see incredible potential in them and are excited to train them into Senior Instructors.

We also have programs in place to take care of our instructors. There is an educational fund they can use to deepen their yoga knowledge. We offer investment opportunities, to not only benefit them further for all they bring to the space but to also have a louder voice in how things are run. We compensate instructors more than norm with the intention that they'll no longer teach a million classes with the same lesson plan, but less classes with diversity and at a higher level of quality. We make sure they're only in the classrooms. Instead of being distracted to check students in or help with the retail side of things, we have a front desk staff to take care of those needs.

LOCATION: This. Building. Is. Incredible. What once was the old Sears building in downtown Champaign is now a wellness oasis conjured up by the incredibly intuitive Laura Kalman (Reflect co-owner and Studio Helix owner—aka my myofascial massage guru). Her careful efforts to restore, recycle, and reuse have been recognized by many, including the PACA Heritage Preservation Award for our attention to detail, sensitivity to historical architectural relevance, and LEED-based restoration. Salvaged doors, exposed brick walls with original murals, welcomed natural light, and fresh air on demand creates this peaceful haven.

I'm so very proud of what our team is passionately working on to offer our community. We only opened on January 4th and already we are finding ways to grow and learn and inspire others. It has been (and I can only imagine will be) an amazing adventure! 

Please do come visit when you can — and if anyone is interested in reviewing my studio, I would love to feature it on this blog!

website | facebook | instagram


Monday, August 11

DoYogaWithMe.com » Starting an At-home Practice

This last week I started my home yoga challenge. If you've followed me on here or facebook or know me personally, you're probably aware that I've been struggling with getting back to my yoga routine for well over a year. Then my friend said something to me the other day that clicked, "I don't know, your body responds to yoga... Maybe that's why you're having such a rough time." Maybe she was right. I've tried the gym, I've tried changing my diet, I've tried a bazillion vitamins a day... but my body is not having it. Stress is at such a constant rate my hormones and immune system are having a full-on battle with me.

On June 10th we added a new member to the family, Gertie. She's now an 8 month old miniature pit bull who recently recovered from her first ACL surgery (it didn't take, she will be getting a second surgery when she is full grown—we're guessing end of October). To take advantage of a mostly-working leg we started going on walks in the morning. My morning routine is to die for:
  • wake up to two kitten faces telling me to feed them 
  • instead of jumping out of bed I read a few pages from a book
  • feed kittens + get ready for a walk
  • let Gertie out her crate (we're still transitioning with the cats + her—Mariah no longer comes downstairs anymore, so I'm feeling guilty about one pet at all times) and we have some morning cuddles. It's the best, Gertie runs to the couch and waits for me to hold her like a baby and rub her belly. She nuzzles into my chest and I melt over her sweetness... Then she starts chewing on whatever is closest... she's still a puppy. 
  • so we deflect and go for our walk 
  • when we get back she plops on the couch for a morning nap + I go do my yoga in the basement (gated off from all pets) 
  • shower
  • I make a french press of decaf coffee and some sort of breakfast to start the work day by going through emails
Pretty great, right? So I brought up Gertie because, as a puppy, she needs routine to feel safe in her environment. Hmm. I seem to like routine too. Sure, take me on an adventure, but some parts of the routine still remain so I feel like I'm home (in myself, not physically in a building). Her need for routine prompted my awareness of needing a routine too. This week we're adding yoga back into that routine!

I've always been challenged by a home practice. Doing the same video over and over immediately turns me off. I like when I go to a studio the class is different every. single. time. I also like the instructor prompting us to do poses in a particular way and correcting us so we don't hurt ourselves. Doing a home practice without a video leaves me to discipline myself... and I suck at that! 15 minutes in I think I've done a full hour. When I look at the clock I'm defeated and give up. Then I discovered DoYogaWithMe.com — to be completely honest, it's been bookmarked on my computer for probably six months now. But I'm glad I held on to it.
DoYogaWithMe.com is a free, constantly expanding resource of online yoga videos created by a passionate group of experienced instructors. Our yoga videos include classes, poses, breathing techniques and anatomy videos. Every one of our hundreds of HD videos can be viewed in its entirety without payment. You don’t even have to sign up. The site is supported by donations, by sales of DVDs, downloads, programs, and advertising.
So here's my first week with DoYogaWithMe.com!
Day One I immediately love that I can narrow the search down by difficulty, class length, style, and/or teacher. I went for 40-60 minutes at an intermediate level. I had a lot of energy on my walk this morning, so I thought I should ride that wave. One of the classes was called In the Moment, and I liked it's description:
As with all of Tracey's yoga classes, this one is full of her playful energy and unique flow sequences. 
What made me think I should attempt a flow class on my first day of home practice is beyond me, but I already started the video and wanted to follow through with the class so I could fully make a decision on it. The reason I don't like flow classes isn't because they're challenging... or I should say isn't because I'm scared to raise my heart rate and sweat out some toxins. I actually love to do that. I don't like flow because I really enjoy sitting in a pose—activating my muscles and finding the calm in all that effort is incredibly rewarding. Also, in flow classes I feel parts of my body respond with pain because I (personally) need the time to find the pose. I don't just naturally fall into them. Clearly, this was not the class for me. Not today, at least.

What I did learn during this class was great though—if I didn't feel safe going from pose to pose, fine. But my ass was staying on that mat and finishing an hour of yoga. So I did my own poses in areas I didn't like. I would NEVER do this in a studio, way too disrespectful to the instructor (short of me going into child's pose because I'm pooped), but I enjoyed my little rebellion in the comfort of my own home.

Day Two Learning from day one, I decided maybe it's best to pick out my class the night before. I know it doesn't allow for the moment to decide what my body needs, but it does give me the time to read more about the class and the instructor. While I was in Tampa visiting my mom this past year, I tried out a Kundalini class—I really enjoyed it and was excited to see there are a few videos on DYWM. I'm trying to do an hour of yoga each morning—so I went for Kundalini Yoga to Recharge and Master Your Domain. Maybe this weekend I'll try one of the longer classes offered. They're all beginner, so that's nice too.

Kundalini challenges me on so many levels, I think that is why I enjoy it so much. Physically it's asking me to work, mentally is asking me to work while doing weirdo breathing exercises, and egotistically it's asking me to stop calling it weirdo breathing exercises. This class also offered up more of what I'm use to—opening breathwork to center the mind and body, some meditation and some Oms... or Kundalini's version of Om-like stuff (think more in singing short mantras). If ever you felt uncomfortable singing in a class, you have no excuses now... belt that mutha' out! 

Why I am so surprised over and over again by Kundalini? Although I feel silly doing fire breath while trying to do leg lifts... The breath work really does warm up the core and loosen up the muscles. I find myself going deeper into poses when I do a Kundalini warm up more than any other class (short of maybe a Yin Yoga class). 
Join Dawn on a serene, west coast beach as she calmly guides you through an invigorating practice that is sure to leave you feeling totally recharged and empowered.
Yesterday I didn't bother setting up an account for myself, but today I did because I learned you can bookmark classes you like. This class is bookmarked!

Day Three Today I'm going to a studio class—Tuesdays from 10:30a-11:30a Hayli teaches yoga at the McKinley Fitness Center. She just got back from India, so I'm excited to be back in a classroom with her (and at a dinner table with my friend and camping with my friend and giggling with her and her family again and... Can you tell I missed her?). 

Outside of seeing my friend though, it will be good to be back in a classroom setting. I don't know what this mental road block is with me and yoga, but I'm open to learning and hopefully staying aware enough without over thinking the whole thing.

CORRECTION: Her class is actually 10-11am... just like it's always been... just like it says in my calendar every week... Sigh. Even further proof that routine is a good thing, it keeps you organized. Oh well, I will report back in an hour with the next video I try.
Gravity and Grace: Ron's unique style and wonderful guidance help you rediscover your body and relate to yoga in a new way. Have fun with this one, as you play with balance, flow and the breath.
Ron introduced himself as, "a yoga instructor, a dance artist, and dance maker." After working in the performing arts, terms like "<insert craft> maker" bother me. It comes off pretentious when actually most of those people using the term really are talented, but lose their credibility with me by the schmooziness they just created. It's not fair. I know that. People can call themselves whatever the hell they want. So I kept with the video.

We jumped right in—there was a warm up, but no mental centering. Breath work through the whole class though. He used a sail as a metaphor throughout, and I really did enjoy it. Acting as a sail in different directions helped open me up in new ways. At the same time, the class was challenging enough to make me sweat while not being so challenging I went off and did my own thing. He offered up variations for those less experienced here and there, but what he really did well was offer up variations for those more advanced (which was cool—I can't do it, but I always find it fun to watch).

I bookmarked it for future practices!

Today I also set up my yoga room—claiming the space officially for me to get on my mat. Gathering all my yoga stuff from around the house, I had no idea what I had from over the years (I still need to put my exercise ball and headstand table in there—if only the ceilings were high enough to get my yoga swing in there too). Now it really is an exciting space for me to go back to over and over again.

Day Four
Today I am SO grateful for my first meeting with Laura, the owner of Studio Helix. They were a sponsor for this year's That's What She Said show, who is one of my clients. Part of the sponsorship was a trade for training, and the girls at TWSS shared that trade with me.

Sitting down and talking with someone who finally takes all the pieces of my puzzle (that I KNEW were connected but no one truly could put together) and makes sense of it is not only a relief but an incredible learning experience. Laura took what I said, agreed, and then explained in detail why—from hormonal imbalance to nutrition to stress levels to bone alignment and back again. Then she laid it out for me on how we were going to fix it. She was honest, straight forward, and oh so knowledgeable. I left feeling heard, validated, and empowered. I can not recommend her enough... and I haven't even had my first active training session with her.

Our next appointment is where she'll do myofascial release which sounds like painful massage, to be quite honest. But it will open up all the spots that have locked down over the years—that she connected back to my foot surgery probably 10 years ago (which caused calf tension to knee pain to bad hip alignment to a sacrum injury a few years ago all the way up to bad shoulder alignment and even how I'm holding my head... I'm a hot mess). For nutritional evaluation I will see someone else on her team where they'll look closer at my blood work and decide if I need thyroid treatment of any kind (when I told Laura I had this done a couple times and they always say I am fine—the look on her face was a priceless, "Do you know how many times women have come in and said that to me?" Yes, I can only assume based on the multiple conversations I've had with my friends). 

Day Five Sooooooo, I'm not sure if I ate something funny (nothing odd in my food the last 24 hrs, that I know of) or if the few sensitive spots Laura tested yesterday sent my body into a frenzy (it does make me a little more aware of what could happen after the fascia massage I have scheduled next week with her). I went to bed in my winter coat last night I was so cold. Woke up sweating out a fever like crazy. No other symptoms and I didn't even feel sick when I got out of bed. Just tired from fighting with a fever all night. Insane. I really do think it was detoxing of some sort. Needless to say, I didn't do my normal morning routine... or afternoon routine... or evening routine. 

Day Six So today I want my yoga to be more restorative. Between my battle with the fever yesterday and knowing how much work I have ahead of me (while Laura validated all my concerns she also validated that my body is not healthy and that's hard to hear, no matter how much you already know it is true), I want to nurture myself with some loving restorative: 
Restoring Equilibrium with
David Procyshyn is perfect for seniors, beginners and tight students, this class moves slowly and deliberately through a gentle, delicious sequence of poses. Beginning and ending with a deep relaxation, David guides you through this flow effortlessly, with attention to the breath and body alignment. You will feel calm, balanced and at ease once you finish this class!
The thing with most restorative classes I've taken is they make great use of pretty much every yoga prop you can imagine. As lovely as this is, you may have to figure out some other options for your home practice. I happen to have a bolster, but rolled up blankets or yoga mats work great too. Don't have a yoga strap? Grab some rope from the garage or see if you have any extra long belts around. Don't have yoga blocks? Get a few heavy books. Don't let props keep you from trying a restorative practice at home, just be sure you prepare for it before going straight to your mat.

David's class was really nice... loooooong, relaxing opening followed by some great hip and shoulder openers. I actually would have preferred to stay in those poses longer. And when I wanted to, I did. David also had nice tips/cues for grounding and stretching. He ended with an equally long savasana.

I would have bookmarked this one, but DYWM wasn't letting me login, no idea why.

Day Seven I was going to try another Kundalini class this weekend, but I wanted a variety of instructors for this week in reviews. So today I'm going with another favorite style (mentioned in my kundalini review above), Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga: Sinking into Stillness » Join Anastasia for this hour-long class that spends five delicious minutes with every pose. Breathe deeply, relax your body and take the time to sink into the opening within each asana. It will calm you down immensely and leave you feeling grounded and centered in your body.
I was really happy with this video, and it was definitely highlight in my week of DYWM. Anastasia was able to guide us through poses that latest 5 minutes long—somehow knowing just when my mind wandered and bringing me back. She offered a lot of options with the props (this is similar to the restorative class above in being prepared to have prop options). I used every tip because I really wanted to be comfortable while stretching long in a pose.

It was one part challenging to stay in the moment, recognizing where I needed to let go of tension and one part indulgence in being able to just stretch in one pose for five minutes. No rushing, just melting. Absolutely glorious. 

What a beautiful start to a week of creating better habits. Walking every morning with Gertie has been a refreshing way to start my day while also allowing us to bond and work on some training along the way. And getting yoga back into my life has been beautiful on so many levels... an hour that is completely devoted to me, an hour to work on my breathing, an hour to destress and slow down, an hour to tune in to my mind and body and see where I need work and celebrate where I've improved. I'm truly grateful.


Sunday, May 25

Namaskar Yoga | Chicago, IL

LOCATION: Pretty straight forward directions through the Lakeview neighborhood to get to Namaskar and they had big yoga signs for you to see it right away too. Street parking only (some metered, but non-metered is nearby), and as with most Chicago street parking... Read your signs. They're near Wrigley, so show up early on game days to be sure you have a spot.  
$16 drop-in, cash or cards 
STUDIO: Loved this space—they curtained off the front 1/5 of the room for check-in and merch (which included boxes of free Toms Toothpaste, score!). Beyond the curtain was a narrow, long room with a bathroom, dressing room, water, and props at the back.    
CLASS DESCRIPTION: Yoga Hour: This energetic one-hour class is the ideal way to sneak in some yoga over your lunch break or between the day’s activities. Expect a good flow addressing flexibility, strength, balance, connection to the breath and mental focus. Recharge your spirit, reconnect with your body and leave feeling great!
INSTRUCTOR: We were suppose to have Jody, but she had a sub this day... Shawn is a certified yoga instructor who completed the 200-hour Yogaview Teacher Training under the amazing guidance of Quinn Kearney, Geri Bleier, Claire Mark, and Tom Quinn. She has also completed a 35-hour teacher training with Seane Corn and participated in multiple workshops with Sianna Sherman, Natasha Rizopolous, Ray Long and Maty Ezraty to continue to deepen her practice and the teaching element of yoga. Her fun, challenging and inspiring vinyasa flow classes, encourage students to become in tune with their bodies through strength, alignment and breath. Prior to becoming a yoga instructor, Shawn was in marketing and communications and holds degrees from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst and Northwestern University. She lives in Chicago with her family and dog.
CONTACT: Namaskar Yoga

Girls day in Chicago! Girls day in Chicago! A couple months ago I asked two of my gal pals (and amazing yoga instructors) to join me for a day in Chicago. Since we all work for ourselves we could go during the week, which made the day all the better... like we were breaking the law or something :)

We started our morning off with a gorgeous day for a road trip north—blue skies, sunshine, music to sing along to at the top of our lungs, and enough conversation to fill up a 3-day drive if need be. First on our agenda was yoga at Namaskar—we chose it because of it's walking distance to all our plans, the timing so we didn't have to wake up at the buttcrack of dawn to drive, and because none of us have been here before.

When I go to new spaces for classes, it's funny how often I have Hayli + Jodi's voices in my brain reminding me how to adjust in a pose or help out a class I'm not getting into enough (knowing I can modify to take it to the next level or pull it back to suit my body). To actually go to a class I'm going to review with them was a bit of a game changer.

When we arrived, Rachel at the front desk checked us in. She was awesome—I actually tried to recruit her on girls day, because you could tell she was good people. The instructor from the class just getting out was surrounded by students asking her questions. I figured that's a good sign, because she perked the curiosity of her class. As Rachel set up her mat, the three of us followed suit when the instructor said, "Is this how you normally set up the room?" I didn't realize she was subbing someone's class when I responded with, "This is our first time here, we have no idea."

She started us instantly in Balasana (child's pose). I definitely was missing the centering time common in a lot of classes, but starting in child's pose interested me because it's my favorite pose to open up my body. Stretching out the back and knees, recognizing if my hips are shifting to the left or right (usually the left), I always stretch my arms out to open my shoulder (again, my left shoulder is insanely tight, and child's pose opens up both my shoulders nicely), and resting my forehead on the ground is—for a lot of people—immediately calming. I think I'll make this part of my practice before the instructor comes in the room, while everyone sets up their mats.

Then the music started... an odd mash-up of current, American music with a familiar, Indian song. I enjoyed it until the lyrics ended up being english—and from there the music was 100% American. I tried to approach it as a challenge to tune-out the distraction, but when I find myself tapping my toe or singing along... the challenge starts to irritate me. This is why I like instrumental or lyrics in a different language—it doesn't take me away from my practice, it adds to it and guides it.

Shawn then took us through a whirlwind of poses during our hour with her. I found her instruction lacking—almost empty. There was no sense of nurturing coming from her, just an urgency to get through the poses as quickly as possible and run out the door (which is exactly what she did after class). Half the poses seemed to be back bends (so many locusts) with out any counter poses to balance out the body. I found myself going into forward bends on my own to protect my back. She did a few adjustments—one to my friend I knew was unnecessary (which made me cringe because she was adjusting an instructor).

We did a series that had us go from Trikonasana (triangle) directly into Virabhadrasana III (warrior 3). My other friend put it best, "Straight leg pose to straight leg pose isn't natural" and I believe it can lead to injuries if you don't know how to protect yourself. At that point my back was already sensitive from locust and lots of single-leg poses (ever since I hurt my sacrum, I know I have to balance out my hips if the class spends a lot of time on one leg... normally I know to do that regardless of instruction, but we were moving so quickly there wasn't really time for it).

Our last pose was an inversion option—this made me happy since I've been craving inversions. I opted for a modified forearm stand using blocks. I love this because you don't actually have to use much arm strength (allowing you to build it without injuring yourself) + my tight shoulders do not enjoy this rotation (so I can open them up gently this way too). Meanwhile, my back enjoys a massage + reversed gravity (so-to-speak) and, of course, the numerous other benefits that come with an inversion. I'm hoping to work myself up to kicking up, like the third picture, eventually. 
Then we ended with savasana, where I opted for my regular legs up the wall. Ever since I took a yin yoga workshop where the instructor noted legs up the wall as one of the most beneficial poses for your body, I've chosen this as my savasana (unless the instructor is more specific). Shawn woke us up with, what I believe was, a digital chime over the stereo. Which, honestly, was the perfect metaphor for this class.

Before I was done cleaning up my stuff the instructor apologized for rushing out the door. I like to think she had such a busy day she couldn't invest herself in any part of it—maybe it was a one-time thing? I don't know. I do know I'd like to try other instructors at Namaskar, because I feel our class was a reflection of the instructor's day and not the studio.

We chatted with Rachel after class again + then headed off to the rest of our day. The three of us all seem to be on the same page with our experience. And to be honest, I felt bad choosing this class since I had friends with me... You know, when you plan the day out you want everything to be perfect. At the same time, when you're with such amazing women, if something isn't perfect it just adds to the story of your adventure together and you wouldn't trade that for the world. I absolutely adore Hayli + Jodi and I'm SO grateful I spent a full day with them in Chicago. I'll share our day in pics/captions below.

Thank you Namaskar and Rachel for a lovely start to our adventure—namaste.

Yum Yum (Hayli) and Ja Ja (Jodi) — my nicknames for them after today!
Props to the left // Water, bathroom + changing space on the right
Asado Coffee — I drink decaf, and it was so good I had to make sure it was actually decaf.
My elephant logo (NEOI + Mowgli) + Ahimsa (sanskrit for nonviolence toward all living things Ⓥ)
What an honor to design Hayli's tattoo—
(based on The Harmonious Brothers » Bird = Jodi, Monkey = Hayli, Elephant = Anni)
Our amazing tattoo artist (and Hayli's friend), Gentleman Joel
Chicago Diner!!!
THE best finale to our day—sharing this chocolate shake on our drive home

Friday, May 9

Gray Bear Lodge: Rest + Relaxation Retreat | Hohenwald, TN

LOCATION: Gray Bear Lodge | Hohenwald, TN
COST: $275-$425 (includes veg*n food, shared sleeping or you can upgrade to a cabin, yoga, and so much more)
STUDIO: They built a separate studio off in the woods that is possibly THE most beautiful yoga studio I've ever set foot in.
Their popular R and R weekends are based on our basic need to take time for ourselves. They are rooted in simplicity. During this time there isn't a specific program, but rather you'll have time to live and enjoy life exactly as you desire. Their attentive, caring staff will be there to nourish your body. Relaxation, tranquility beautiful evenings, rejuvenating days... all are waiting for you at Gray Bear.

Choose to join, or not to join as you see fit, your schedule is your own.
  • Daily morning Meditation and Yoga class
  • Luxuriate in our wood-fired sauna
  • Hike our trails, enjoy being in nature
  • Soak in the tropical paradise of our WATSU pool and stone hot tub
  • Schedule Massage Therapy, Thai Massage, WATSU or Breema
  • Spend some time journaling or just sitting in silence
  • Choose to sleep in, watch the sunrise, the stars shine and your spirit soar
INSTRUCTOR: Linda Mills was our instructor for the weekend, from Studio Mills in Kingston Springs, TN. Linda's passion of joyful body movement began in her early childhood years. Linda is now a certified yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance. She is thrilled to be able to introduce yoga and other joyful body movement and fitness classes.
CONTACT: Gray Bear Lodge

I'm going to be very honest with you... this weekend was so special, so sacred, so very my own that I'm going to have a hard time doing it justice in the review and... well... I don't want to share it completely. I feel like I'd be smoldering the magic + the mystery of Gray Bear if I gave you all the nitty gritty details. This place holds a special place in my heart, and I plan to visit them regularly. I know Gray Bear isn't all mine from the rest of the world, but in my world, it is. Does that make sense? So, I'm going to focus on our awesome yoga instructor and let you discover Gray Bear, for the most part, on your own.

I had a seven hour drive ahead of me. It was a frantic week of trying to get everything done by Thursday (with some major chaos the morning of my trip). But once I hit the road in gorgeous weather and found some really good radio stations to sing my heart too—all was well with the world.

The second I ever cross the border into Tennessee, I'm quite sure I'm home. I don't know what it is about this state that feels so right—there is no history here, short of driving through it back n forth to Florida or a couple of amazing trips to Nashville as an adult. It doesn't matter, I just feel at ease in the state of TN.

You should know there is no address for Gray Bear. It will not be in your GPS. So what I did was GPS to Hohenwald, then grabbed the directions Diann sent out. It suddenly becomes a little adventure of "take a left at the museum" and "turn right at the fork in the road". Street names, who needs them? As you get closer to Gray Bear, you will feel like you're driving on hiking paths—but it's a road and you keep following it. If you own a tiny sports car, I would recommend borrowing/renting something that can handle an off-road-like adventure. 

Diann and Adam actually greeted me at my car before I even parked. They got me settled in to my cabin and then explained a few things — where to go for dinner, where bathrooms were, etc. What little I got to see before it was dark had already won me over. 

Sacred Circle Opening
The circle of "tell us your name + say <insert instruction here>" is always a bit overwhelming for me. So many faces and names and bits of information I will never remember. But Adam started us off with some quiet centering and meditation. Then we shared a little bit of ourselves, and Diann walked us through a few of the things to expect.

Restorative Class
Linda didn't plan on doing a class on the first night, but when she offered up restorative we all jumped at it. I couldn't think of a better way to shake off the drive and ease into my first evening at GBL. It was a really nice class of gentle twists, reclined heart openers, and quality time focusing on the breath. Bliss.  

Saturday Morning Class
Before class started, I went in early to play with the Iyengar yoga wall. I've been craving some inversions and I thought I'd go in and play. Gathering more information on it now, I see I did my inversion so wrong—but it did the trick for me. I definitely wouldn't recommend doing this alone. Once I was upside down, I realized if something went wrong I was screwed for the next hour. Not smart.  

Linda started us off with what she called a circle dance—it was really great. We all formed a circle, we would inhale as our arms stretched up around us (like the start of a sun salutation)—gathering all the good mojo in the room into your heart, take a few steps towards the center offering your energy to the group, and then step back to start over again. We probably did this 5-7 times? I can't quite remember. It was a lovely way to start connecting with the ladies without even having a conversation with them.

Next she did a Purna A.M. series. This was extra nice for me, because one of my favorite classes at a Yoga Journal Conference was a day-long workshop with Aadil Palkhivala (who is a Purna Yoga instructor). She followed this with some standing poses that worked up a nice sweat, and then we closed with a little bit of the restorative class we did the night before.

Sunday Morning Class
I learned a new series in today's class » The Five Tibetan Rites. It was a series of poses you could repeat up to 21 times during each pose—all the while setting an intention for your day, week, month, whatever called to you. Some of these I could do 21 times, some... not so much, but I really enjoyed this series.

We then did a 2 minute plank challenge. Lol, I lasted 45 seconds, but that was the first time I think I timed myself doing a plank, so I call that a good starting point!

Then we did a ton of partner yoga. I'm usually not a fan of this—which is just a reflection of me being uncomfortable and even more reason I should do it. Today, after this weekend, I was game for anything. We would move from partner to partner, so we got to share time with everyone doing a bunch of different poses. Working with partners is always great because they can add more resistance or help you breathe into a pose deeper (sorry, all I hear now is my friend Rich saying, "Boom. Encouragement. Yes!" and I'm cracking up... Ok, ok, pull it together Poppen).

Sacred Circle Closing
After our last class we held the closing in the yoga space—which was really beautiful. Again, Adam had us center ourselves in a circle. Focusing on our breath. Then, after some quiet time, Bliss (the reiki therapist) suddenly started singing Amazing Grace. I did not see this coming—no one did, I assume—but you should probably know a little something about me. Amazing Grace was my dad's favorite song, he whistled it every Sunday—whether we sang it at church or not. When I was a freshman in high school he actually asked if I would sing it at his funeral some day—to which I had to tell him I wouldn't be able to keep it together. So, when he passed in '98 we got a bagpipe player to play it instead—he loved bagpipes too. When Bliss started singing it this very special Sunday afternoon, I lost it. Tears. Tears. And more tears. I felt like my dad was sitting right next to me in this circle. Hugging me. Enjoying Gray Bear Lodge, right along with me. Wow. 

Other Bits of Gray Bear Goodness
Along with all of this... the food was vegan-friendly (97% vegetarian, minus one meal with fish—always with a vegan option) and SO yummy (they should do a Gray Bear Cookbook), there is wifi—but it's recommended you don't access it (you do need to ask for the password) and cell phones don't really work (you truly get to unplug from the world, or as Diann said, "plug-in to yourself"), the wood-burning sauna with a cold-plunge tub sitting in the spring water was incredible, the wood-burning hot tub they built themselves (they built pretty much everything themselves) was a beautiful way to star-gaze at night, the hammocks everywhere to read/journal/meditate/nap were bliss, the land itself was healing, and most of all... MOST of all, our hosts Diann and Adam were nurturing sages out of a dream the second I met them. They have built a very special oasis in the middle of—what I think is some sort of magical vortex—Hohenwald, TN.

I look forward to going back and enjoying some of the services they offer—Watsu was raved about most, I definitely enjoy Reiki, and who can pass up a massage ever?! This weekend I decided to upgrade to a cabin though + once you add in the gas money of driving seven hours too, I was out of funds for extra pampering. But I knew I'd be back, so I wasn't upset.

Linda, thank you for beautiful yoga everyday. All the people I met and were so lucky to share this weekend with—thank you for the heartfelt memories I will never forget. All the staff at Gray Bear—thank you for taking such good care of us. Diann and Adam—thank you for your generosity, for seeing what the world needs to heal and become stronger, and for creating what I definitely consider a slice of heaven here on earth. Namaste.

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I took so many pictures, I'm just posting the album straight to Facebook—feel free to see a little bit of Gray Bear through my eyes :)