Health and Hope… an Upcoming Seva Class
By Laura Mills
When I received my lupus diagnosis back in 2009, I already had a history of anemia and constantly-cold, color-changing hands; rashes after time in the sun; occasional redness on my nose and cheeks; general tiredness; and a little bit of stiffness, especially in my legs. But after the official diagnosis, I struggled to digest the fact that I now needed a regular medication regimen as well as to get blood drawn and visit a rheumatologist every few months. I could barely believe that coping with a chronic and unpredictable autoimmune condition would characterize the rest of my life.... Fortunately I found a rheumatologist I liked and trusted, and after accumulating a sizeable history of lab results and follow-ups, I understood enough to know I could coexist with lupus as long as I stayed mindful of my health and took responsibility for it.
Lupus can affect anyone, and cases run from mild to life threatening. It can flare up at any time and affect all parts of the body: skin, joints, internal organs, even the brain. Thankfully, my case has so far remained mild. My chief symptoms are currently fatigue and sensitivity to cold; as long as I’m smart about my rest and my skin exposure, I manage pretty well. And, as long as I keep up with my lab tests and rheumatologist visits, any worsening of my case will likely be caught early enough to manage.
And then there’s my yoga practice.... While I’m far from an expert on lupus, I believe I feel as good as I do today because of yoga. It makes sense. The physical postures promote mobility, flexibility and strength, and they keep bones, joints and muscles in the best working condition possible. Yoga encourages improved circulation; not only does it keep the blood moving, but also it tones and massages internal organs and helps move fluids and nutrients throughout the body. In addition, yogic breath work encourages one to breathe more deeply, using greater lung capacity. And it includes relaxation strategies that enable one to better focus and calm, more effectively handling stress.
Plenty of days my legs still feel stiff and I am generally achy, or else I am just too tired to practice more than a few simple postures. And plenty of times I look at test results and worry that they mean an increase in medication or another more dramatic intervention. But overall, physically and mentally, I feel more energized, alive and positive than I ever have. With yoga, my mood, my demeanor, my entire outlook brighten considerably—regarding lupus and so much more.
Which is why yoga seems the perfect way to help others who must coexist with lupus as I do.... On Saturday, May 28, I will be teaching a donation-based class in honor of the Lupus Society of Illinois, an organization dedicated to the support of Illinois lupus patients as well as lupus education, awareness and research. I would be honored if you joined me in a celebration of the path we all walk towards feeling good in body, mind and spirit!
Teacher Feature: Page Webb
(Page Webb pictured 8,500 feet up hiking Montana's "The Beaten Path")
interviewed by Julia Jonson
You’ve had quite a journey with yoga. Where did you first start and what attracted you to the practice?
A friend took me to a Bikram class. I taught group fitness, so the hot, sweaty type of yoga made sense to me. I loved the way I felt after a class. I continued practicing hot yoga for years but gradually moved toward different styles. Where else are you invited take child's pose or savasana in the middle of a class! The depth of yoga keeps me returning to my mat.
I always know that when I take a class with you, I’ll leave more balanced than when I walked in the door. And as a teacher, you’re firm and direct, yet deeply compassionate. How do you stay centered so that you can give all that you do during class?
First, thank you for the compliment. I truly love teaching yoga. The more years I teach, the more I trust my knowledge. I practice and continue to study with other teachers. Being a student makes me a better teacher. I wish for all those in my class to glimpse their light through my eyes -- we are often harsh judges of ourselves and need to be reminded of our awesomeness.
There’s a long line of extremely reputable and respected teachers you’ve sought out for ongoing education. Tell us about your teacher training in Chicago and the on-going study that’s a part of your current path.
I did my teacher training with Daren Friesen through Moksha Yoga. During our training we had the opportunity to take workshops with many renowned and knowledgeable teachers from different lineages. This provided a wonderful breadth to our training.
Currently, I take class and apprentice with Gabriel Halpern of Yoga Circle once a week. Taking his class has made me physically stronger. Apprenticing is a wonderful challenge. Gabriel’s ability to see small asymmetries in alignment and help a student inspires me. His willingness to share what he has learned humbles me.
Your study goes so far beyond yoga. Give us a snapshot of your background from fitness to massage to nutrition …. and how have these things influenced your teaching style.
I began teaching aerobics in the late 1980s for fun, got certified as a group fitness instructor and continued to teach after I quit working full-time when I had my first child. I was certified in Shiatsu massage in 1992. In my late 30’s I went back to school to study dietetics with a plan to be a registered dietician. I was very involved with the creation of the Davis (CA) Farm-to-School program in which we supported school gardens, created Farmer's Market salad bars as part of our school lunch program, and farm visits for each second grade class in our district. My family made the difficult decision to move for my husband’s job. Unfortunately, my program of study was not available in this area, so I could not finish my dietetics degree. Needing something to keep me busy as my kids were older and I was new to the area, I decided to get my yoga teaching certification. Yoga is a perfect fit for my holistic view of healthy living. The Yamas & Niyamas are a wonderful guide -- moderation, contentment, self-study, etc make sense to me. Whether it's taking time to just breath, meditate or eat a cookie, I want to savor it all.
Anyone who knows you, knows you are at home on your horse! Tell us about your beloved Bodhi and how yoga goes hand-in-hand with your other favorite pastime.
Bodhi! One of my greatest teachers. He is a 16-year-old gelding with lots of personality. I practice natural horsemanship and enjoy trail riding. When he gets nervous, I have to remember to breathe. When he is unsure, I have to be firm. When he is relaxed, I have to enjoy the moment. All things that I find challenging for myself. He is definitely in my life for a purpose. I am blessed to be able to spend time in nature with such a beautiful creature.
Family life clearly keeps you centered -- and you do it so well. Tell us about your jet-setting husband and children and how they keep you grounded even when they are scattered in far away places.
You are right, my family is my polestar. My husband, Scott, travels frequently for work (in the US and Europe) but does come to yoga class when he's in town. My son, Connor, is 23 and lives in Bozeman, Montana studying to be a Special Education teacher. Connor is always up for anything. He is a great backpacking buddy -- as I get older, he carries more weight! We both find our peace in nature but especially in the mountains. My daughter, Eliza, is 21 and a student at Butler University (Communications & Spanish). She is fluent in Spanish and studying at a Spanish university in Murcia, Spain this semester. She has already led yoga on her rooftop terrace and spread her love of essential oils. We like to hike, drink coffee and shop together. We all spent two weeks together in Montana over Christmas and will all meet up in Europe in June. I love nothing more than when the four of us are together.
Food, glorious food! Please share how you make a vegetarian diet seem downright delectable.
I definitely show my love through my cooking. I've been vegetarian for more than 25 years and love it when someone enjoys my food. I never met a recipe I didn't want to play with. (Which is why I'm not a baker -- exactness is not me). I think of a taste or have something in the fridge that “would be great in this recipe” and I throw it in. The downside is I often don't remember exactly what I did when I'm asked to recreate it!
Monday 5:15 - 6:15 pm Level 2
Wednesday 9:15 - 10:30 am Level 1/2
Friday 9:15 - 10:30 am Level 1/2
Friday 10:45 am - 12:00 pm Basics
Teacher Feature: Andrea Harris
TBY Teacher Feature
(Andrea Harris photographed by Reid Sanders)
Interviewed by Julia Jonson
It seems almost everyone has that memorable first moment when they discovered that yoga has this distinct way of making you feel at home in your body. Describe your first foray into yoga.
I wish I could accurately describe that first experience … I know so many people who have the story of cautiously trying yoga for the first time, instantly falling in love and never forgetting that moment. That was not me. I was a dabbler in and out of yoga for many years. I loved the way it made my body feel. I was annoyed by the discipline and the stillness that was so far out of my comfort zone. We had an on and off relationship for a long time. I was familiar with the poses, I was physically strong and always looking to enhance that physical strength. I basically showed up and left knowing I did just that. Until the day it became something more. There was a sense of agitation and friction that reached far beyond what my muscles could do. I found myself, for the first time in years, asking myself questions. Questioning the ways I could contribute to my own happiness. Realizing that there is a strength much deeper than physical that I could tap into. I wish I could remember the exact date, I’ll go with 9 years ago, but I’ll never forget the moment. I was a student in this studio. I remember exactly what I was wearing. I remember walking out as a completely different person.
You’ve had a mothering experience like non-other having two sets of beautiful, identical twin girls! How has your yoga journey guided you in your day-to-day activities as a mom and beyond.
It is such a crazy experience to be the mother of 4 girls, 2 sets of twins. I’ve been that person for so long that I forget how weird it is! I wasn’t born with the patience of a saint, or the organizational skills one might need to happily navigate this fun journey! I honestly think that’s why I was gifted with this plethora of double trouble. I was forced to learn things that I didn’t even know that I was supposed to know. My yoga practice strengthens all of them. While it’s not always easy, I have a better handle on patience. I’ve learned to breathe through the toughest moments. I’ve learned to embrace the chaos, and see the growth in every challenge. There’s never a moment (and I have two 20 year old girls now…) that I don’t have faith in the path that’s constantly unravelling in front of us.
When you teach, you’re clearly tapping into the deeper art and science of yoga. Explain, as both a student and teacher, why you feel delving into yoga philosophy is just as important asana practice.
I honestly do not know how to teach yoga without philosophy. I remember starting out, I would take jobs at gyms and health clubs. They would have these rules about all the things you couldn’t talk about. They were all of the things that yoga is actually about. So, what I was left with was the precise number of inches your hand should be from your foot … then a whole lot of awkward silence. Yoga literally means “yolking.” It’s the unity of body and mind. I am just incapable of removing the mind/spirit aspect. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are such a beautiful guideline. They have no dogma, expect no allegiance, they just say the most simple, philosophical truths. These truths appeal to almost every human being. Why not use them to unite not only our own minds and bodies, but each to everyone else sharing the same space?
Vinyasa … this word takes on many meanings in a classroom setting. Describe how this is part of your teaching style and how music goes hand-in-hand with the flow you create.
Vinyasa means to flow. It means we have the ability to move through and connect one moment to the next. It means that nothing exists in isolation. I am such a fan of that concept that I love to take it to the next level on the mat. There are not just poses. There is not just philosophy. There is not just music. There’s a constant flow between all. Something is always moving. Whether it’s internal rhythm or external rhythm it’s flowing. I am insanely mindful of the playlists I make. I understand that for many, music and lyrics can be a distraction. I choose the music because I want the lyrics to be heard, and the rhythm to be felt. It’s always my hope that it enhances and energizes the asana, but even more so, deepens the philosophy.
Speaking of music, you have a really fun and memorable way of celebrating the Grammy’s each year. Do tell!
Ah, yes the Grammys! So, I did this my first year teaching. I had no intention of creating a tradition, I just put together a class based on my extreme passion for music. Everyone loved it, and basically made it an awesome thing I do every year now. It’s my favorite!! I have such a passion for music, and I have such a passion for seeing people from all walks of life, all different genres, and all different beliefs come together and celebrate something that unites us all. It’s like the Olympics of music. My post-grammy playlists are so so so fun. That makes the energy and asana that much more fun!!
I know you to be quite the study bug when it comes to schooling yourself on yoga. How has this been an integral part of inspiring you to keep growing as a teacher?
I am such a big nerd when it comes to expanding my horizons. I diligently read real books in an age when no one actually has to get a real book anymore. I love the ritual of cracking the spine, smelling the pages, and then diving into someone else’s point of view. I am more often than not reading about struggle and resolution. I am always fascinated by the routes through which people find strength and peace. Whether I’m reading an in-depth study of the chakras, or a fictional depiction of love and loss, these insights always find a way onto my mat.
You are an interesting person and you have both a remarkable and kind way of viewing the world. I’d love a snippet of your thoughts on why there is such a surge in yoga’s popularity in the West.
Wow, that’s a super high compliment and a deep question all in one! I honestly think that at some point, we just want to give in to our primal craving of using our amazing physical bodies, access our amazing mind, and give in to our desire to just relax sometimes. When you separate these things, it becomes so over complicated. We’ve made it so hard. If you’re physically unwell, join a gym. If you’re mentally unwell, take a pill. If you’re unrested, sleep more. Many of us have tried this regimen and found it unsatisfactory because there’s no connection. Yoga is a way to combine all and for many who choose that path, they open up doors into themselves they never knew existed. That’s exactly how it was for me.
Any juicy details or little known facts you’d like to share about living life to it’s fullest?
I wish this was a more exciting answer, but it is what it is. I talk to everyone. That’s how I feel heightened and living to the fullest. There’s rarely a time that we leave a restaurant, a store, or a gas station that one of my kids doesn’t ask “Did you know that person?” I am baffled that humans don’t acknowledge each other more. If you’ve ever felt lost, alone, isolated, whatever… say hello to another human being. Our general sameness is so much more powerful than our small differences. I’ve always wished that it was socially appropriate to ask personal questions to a complete stranger. I want to know the stories that make each person who they are. If you’ve been in my classes, you know I share so many of mine because I believe we should. Why hide the things that make others feel normal? Why not randomly smile at the person next to you at a red light. Why not connect? That’s life to the fullest for me.
Andrea’s teaching schedule:
Monday 4:00 - 5:00 pm Level 1
Tuesday 12:00 -1:15pm Level 2-3
Thursday 4:00 - 5:00 pm Warm Flow
Saturday 7:45 - 9:00 am Level 2
Sunday 4:30 - 5:45pm Level 1
Teacher Feature: Mara Campbell
interviewed by Julia C. Jonson
How and when did you first practice yoga?
It was around 2002 in Madison, Wisconsin, in my hometown where I began taking a Thursday evening gentle class at a local yoga cooperative. I was looking for stress relief from being an elementary school teacher and I found that I was a gentler teacher to my students each Friday and felt better physically than I had in years. I kept attending that yoga class each week and it took me over two years before braving an intermediate class. I will never forget how challenging downward facing dog was for me, as I had zero upper body strength! I began to slowly realize that the more I gave to yoga, the more it gave back to me. I gradually added more and more yoga to my life eventually taking a teacher training in 2007.
How has your own practice affected your day-to-day life?
My practice has become my safe place to just be with my body and myself in a compassionate way. When I take the time to connect with my breath, body and spirit, I am so much more pleasant to be around! Yoga for me is not just the time on my mat but also throughout the day, when I take the time to be fully present and to witness instead of controlling life. For me yoga is a practice of trying to show up as my very best self on any given day.
You’ve done a lot of learning with renowned teachers. This must have inspired your teaching!
I simply enjoy learning about all things yoga. Almost every week, I try to commit to learn from an experienced teacher, in person or online, so that I can stay fresh as a teacher. I never want to become stale or offer the same thing week after week. Staying inspired is important to me since I think students can feel when an instructor is excited and passionate about what they are teaching. I have been lucky enough to study more in depth with many top Anusara teachers; John Friend, Noah Maze, Desiree Rumbaugh, and Jordan and Martin Kirk.
In addition to being a teacher and leading a yoga teacher training you’re very busy with your family life. Give us a view of a day-in-the-life with “householder Mara.”
My day is probably like many part time working parents. Morning begins with getting kids off to school, walking our puppy, and then usually teaching or taking a public yoga class. The afternoons are spent running errands, studying yoga, preparing classes, homework, running kids around and making dinner. As a stepmom, there are times we don't have the kids, when I have more time to catch my breath, reconnect with friends and my husband, read and replenish. If I'm lucky, I will sneak down to my yoga room a few times a week, where just being there helps me to center and reconnect.
Daily practice is powerful, it’s a great idea to have a home yoga routine, but can you speak about the power of community when it comes to practicing as a group?
For me, true, authentic learning and growth comes when I meet up against my resistances, whether they are mental or physical. At home I often don't challenge myself enough to get to that edge that allows me to release and evolve. It is much easier for me to focus on my practice when the distractions of home are taken away and someone is leading you down this path to self-discovery. The classes at TBY fill me with the energy of the all the great people who have traveled though the studio over the years and I enjoy learning from all of our instructors.
I love your classes and I always feel more integrated after being guided by you. Many others agree! What do you think you have to offer as a teacher that makes you unique? (ahem … I know it’s hard to pat yourself on the back, but it’s a good practice right?!)
Hum, that is a hard one. I truly believe each person has a unique gift to offer and that the people that are meant to come to your classes will. I don't expect to resonate with each person and I understand when students learn from various teachers at different times in their lives. People always say I have a calming voice, so perhaps people feel soothed when they come to my class. I always focus on alignment, both in the outer form but also with inner energies and breath. I try to be nurturing and accepting of all students, giving modifications, so students will hopefully leave feeling positive about themselves. My main goal is that each person feels better after class, physically and mentally, than they did before class.
Tell us something we’d be hard-pressed to know about you, like a favorite pastime or a guilty pleasure, or both!
Well I was a bit of a wild child as a young woman. Becoming an elementary school teacher pulled me out of many unhealthy behaviors. The practice of yoga made me realize that my main goal is to wake up fully to my own life and to consciously engage with it. Right now my guilty pleasures are rather tame….dark chocolate, ice cream, a vodka tonic and HGTV!
Mara's Teaching Schedule
6:15 - 7:30 pm Basics
9:15-10:30 am Level 1
9:15 - 10:30 am Basics
11:00-12:15 pm Level 1
Teacher Feature: Brooke Cline
Beloved Brooke Cline
A Favorite Teacher's Transformational Inner Journey
(Brooke in Urdhva Dhanurasana with her daughter Dylan)
Interview by Julia Jonson
What first brought you to the practice of yoga?
I tried yoga for the first time in my mid 20s but I don’t think I was ready for the practice. I preferred more adrenaline based exercise outlets like spinning and running and ultimately I had a hard time slowing down my body …. and mind. It wasn’t until I was desperate to find pain relief for a herniated disc while pregnant with my daughter just over 11 years ago that I connected more deeply to the practice. Not only did I find pain relief where other methods failed, but I started to find that much needed connection between mind, body and spirit.
You’re a huge music fan. Music is the epitome of being in the flow, which is what yoga teaches us. How does music help keep you centered?
My first (nonconventional) meditation experiences were through music. I’ve just always found that I can become so engrossed in music I love that I am totally in the moment …. unconcerned about anything else but the notes I’m hearing. Even as a child, I remember crying while listening to Les Miserables or a beautiful classical song. It was, for a long time, one of the only ways for me to be totally present.
You’re a business owner, a mom, and a talented yoga teacher … How does your own yoga practice spill into, and inspire these other areas of your life?
I thrive on chaos and crazy schedules, and almost feel guilty when I’m not doing something. I have a hard time slowing down, but inevitably I burn out or get too stressed or anxious. Yoga seems to be one of the only ways to slow down and take time for myself and reconnect. With it, I truly feel that I’m a better business owner, mom and person. It teaches patience, compassion and humility (among MANY other things!).
Every year you teach a workshop on how yoga can help with anxiety and depression. Tell us a bit about your own journey through this.
In my late 20s I struggled quite significantly with anxiety and panic disorder. I turned to medication for help, but was determined to find a natural way of managing. When I started practicing yoga, and really more specifically pranayama techniques, I started to realize I can shift not only my mind but the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic. The combination of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques I learned, in addition to yoga, keep the anxiety and panic manageable.
One of the things I love about your classes is they feel like a journey through my own human anatomy. As a yoga teacher, how do you think this anatomical awareness and alignment in postures helps us to stay present?
I have become an anatomy “nerd.” Our bodies are AMAZING and I love learning all about it. I personally find that the acute awareness of what’s going on in our bodies in any particular pose keeps you present and focused on the moment .… and ultimately safe. And the more aligned our body is, the easier our breath flows and the more therapeutic our experience becomes.
Who are some yoga teachers who inspire you and why?
I have had the privilege of studying with a lot of amazing teachers. My most transformative experiences have been with Tiffany Cruikshank, Jason Crandell and Matthew Sanford. I love Tiffany Cruikshank because she is the ultimate anatomy “geek” and truly is a health and wellness expert (I just committed to her 500-hour training through Yoga Medicine!). Jason Crandell has such an intelligent way of sequencing and I love his humor. And Matthew Sanford reminds me that yoga is so much more than the asanas. He is a paraplegic yoga teacher that understands the mind/body connection better than most.
Seems like everyone has a favorite pose. What’s one of yours and what’s one of your favorites to teach?
I love pretty much any hip opener. Handstand has always been a favorite .... to shift our perspective is always fun. I also love teaching hip openers because as a teacher, you usually find the class is more connected to their breath than usual! And there is nothing prettier than looking at a room full of yogis in Trikonasana (Triangle) or Camatkarasana (Wild Thing) and nothing more fulfilling than the total surrender of Savasana (Corpse Pose).
At the end of each class you say “each breath is a reminder that life is a gift.” I love that, and I remember that when I’m “out there in life.” Tell us more about what that means to you.
An intense answer but true .… I started saying this after I was with my father when he died after a short, but courageous, battle with cancer. Once you hear someone take their last breaths, you have never been more aware of the gift of life.
Brookes teaching schedule:
Sunday 7:45am Level 2
Sunday 9:15am Level 1
Tuesday 5:15pm Restorative
Wednesday 6:15pm Level 1
Choose Peace over Misery!
By Julia Jonson “If peace comes from seeing the whole, then misery stems from a loss of perspective.” This reflection by Mark Nepo, author of the New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening, speaks to why it’s essential to have a regular mindfulness practice. The bottom line is this, we are all human and it’s easy for any of us to get thrown off center. A good friend of mine was reminding me when dealing with my children, “don’t let anyone steal your peace.” That’s profound advice because how often we narrow our focus and one problem feels all- consuming. Simply put, misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything. So perhaps, when feeling low, blue, frustrated, agitated …. just generally miserable …. We must pause, reflect and take a moment to look wider than our hurts and woes to the bigger picture of leading a life filled with daily blessings. So, the daily, off-mat practice becomes: What defines my day -- that one thing that’s going wrong, or the miracles that are always still happening?
By Julia Jonson
“If peace comes from seeing the whole, then misery stems from a loss of perspective.”
This reflection by Mark Nepo, author of the New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening, speaks to why it’s essential to have a regular mindfulness practice. The bottom line is this, we are all human and it’s easy for any of us to get thrown off center. A good friend of mine was reminding me when dealing with my children, “don’t let anyone steal your peace.” That’s profound advice because how often we narrow our focus and one problem feels all- consuming.
Simply put, misery is a moment of suffering allowed to become everything. So perhaps, when feeling low, blue, frustrated, agitated …. just generally miserable …. We must pause, reflect and take a moment to look wider than our hurts and woes to the bigger picture of leading a life filled with daily blessings.
So, the daily, off-mat practice becomes: What defines my day -- that one thing that’s going wrong, or the miracles that are always still happening?