Nicole's Journey to Yoga Squared

Nicole's Journey to Yoga Squared

 Morning coffee at one of our favorite neighbors, Angel Falls!

Morning coffee at one of our favorite neighbors, Angel Falls!

I started practicing yoga in 2014 while training for the Cleveland Marathon. I was 27 years old and frustrated in many ways with where I was in life. Not that I wasn’t doing well—I had been a nurse for 5 years, I lived with my sister in an apartment I loved in Highland Square, and I was physically in better shape than I had been since high school. However, on the inside, I was unsure of where I was going. I had just gone through a difficult breakup, I felt stagnant in my career, and the weight of my negative outlook seemed to be taking over. Shortly after my breakup, I remember thinking—and even saying out loud to my mom—that I felt like a door to my heart was closing and that it might never completely reopen.

 Post-marathon, 2014

Post-marathon, 2014

                It’s an understatement to say that I needed a shift. I decided to run a marathon—it seemed like the perfect way to make something happen. I started to read training books that motivated me. My job changed at work, and I went from a nurse on the same busy floor to an RN-coordinator in the hospital-wide Palliative Care consult service. I remember reading a quote that played over and over in my mind during this time “I had to decide who I really was and who I really wasn’t; I was so sick of who I was becoming.”

                One day, a girl who attended my Crossfit gym—who was also a yoga teacher and a member of a running club I joined a few times—invited me to a Yoga for Runners workshop she was teaching at Release Yoga in Green. The workshop was $5 and it seemed like a no-brainer to attend—after all, I’d owned an unused yoga mat for the past seven or so years. I remember wearing socks into the class and realizing with embarrassment that I was the only one wearing them. I wasn’t expecting to like the class, but I knew my hamstrings needed help so I stuck with it. Surprisingly, when I left I felt really, really good. A small seed had been planted.

                At this time, I was running long training runs on the weekends and attending Crossfit and Pure Barre classes during the week. Slowly, I started to choose yoga classes over my other activities. I noticed that when I ran, it was easier to breathe. I felt less stressed when I got fatigued. The first time I cried in class, I was stunned. The instructor told us at the end of class to give ourselves a huge hug—“Because you deserve it, because you love yourself.” I felt overcome with emotion. This continued to happen—unexpected tears after my first twenty-mile run, tears on my mat, tears when I thought about how positive and accepting my yoga teachers were. I felt that door over my heart start to open.

                Because this is a blog, and not a novel, I’ll skip ahead a bit! About two weeks after completing my first (and as of now, only!) full marathon, my sister and I were in a car accident while driving home from California and I broke my hand. This put my yoga practice on hold for awhile but for the first time ever, I found that I couldn’t wait to get back to it. As soon as my cast came off, I looked for ways to resume my practice—folding up a towel under my left hand or modifying the classes. Yoga was now a part of my life that I didn’t want to let go.

                Two years after first stepping on my mat, I decided to apply for Release’s teacher training program. This was scary, but it also felt like such a natural step. I loved teacher training and the connections I made with my classmates (many of whom are now teachers at Yoga Squared!). Teaching was so intimidating, but it felt good. Working with patients in my capacity as a palliative care nurse changed my outlook completely, and I started to really realize how short life can be, and how important it is to strive for happiness and fulfillment even when change had always pushed me way out of my comfort zone.

 Teacher Training grad party, 2016

Teacher Training grad party, 2016

                So much had changed in those two years since I’d found yoga. I was in a relationship again, I was training to be a yoga teacher, had become certified in Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing. My life had evolved, but something told me that I had another shift coming. I remember my boyfriend at the time asking me what I planned to do with my teacher training once it was complete. My response was, well, teach yoga! But the more we talked, the more I realized that it might be possible to turn yoga into a career. I’d felt such a dramatic change in myself as a direct result of the practice, and the thought of helping to guide others in a more real way to see the possibilities in life made me feel at peace.

                I was afraid to tell anyone that I was thinking of opening a yoga studio. I had no experience in business and in so many ways it was a spur of the moment decision. I feared negative feedback, of being told I was crazy for even thinking that owning a studio was something I could do so early in my career as a yoga teacher. However, I quickly realized that there was far, far more positive energy out there than I thought.

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                The first place I looked at was 764 W. Market Street, Suite B…that’s right, the current location of Yoga Squared. When I saw the location, I knew it was perfect…on the outside. When my sister and I walked inside, we were a little nervous. The space was divided awkwardly into cubicles and was painted an ugly shade of light green (my family might have thought I was crazy for choosing mint as a major YS color!) and there were numerous other issues. However, the realtor I met with, Susan, told me right away that she could see my vision and that she thought it was possible. The building manager, Naeno, is a local DJ who has collaborated with YS on multiple events—he could see it too.

                Of course, the process wasn’t THAT easy, but almost! There were some stressful moments as I attempted to negotiate a lease agreement (which I ended up signing and over-nighting from Los Angeles while on a “last-hurrah” vacation with my best friends!), changed from full to part time at work for the first time in almost 8 years, and started to reach out to teachers. You might not think this about me, but I’ve always considered myself an introvert who needs a lot of alone time. I suddenly found myself working seven days a week, cold-calling and emailing teachers and other professionals, and learning about insurance, business plans, loans…it was overwhelming at times.

 

 Redwoods, 2014

Redwoods, 2014

                However, things lined up in ways that I never could have expected. I’d heard about synchronicity, being supported by the universe…but I’d never experienced this phenomenon first hand until I started the real work of opening the studio. I saw the schedule materialize with amazing teachers—some friends, and some soon-to-be friends. My parents helped me in ways that I can’t put into words. One of my favorite yoga teachers, Sarah Clark, designed the YS logo and website and helped me clarify my vision of what the studio should look like in order to feel the way I wanted it to feel. My best friend Allison Kirby helped me build shelving, design the bathroom, and her dad put up the woodgrain wallpaper behind the desk (which he had laying around his house, just waiting for an occasion to use it!) and painted the lobby wall the perfect mint green—as a housewarming gift to me and the studio. And my electrician uncle worked with me on heating and lighting—not once, but twice!

It seemed like every time I needed help, it was there. I met Kelly, a business mentor I was connected with through the Women’s Network, an area agency dedicated to supporting women in business. Kelly and I clicked right away, and she was a neutral person for me to speak to about my anxieties and fears. Over time, Kelly and I became close friends, and now she’s a member at Yoga Squared! Even the lawyer I met with to reassure me about my lease agreement has been to multiple workshops at the studio. Recently, I had to reach out to my insurance agent to renew my policy, which brought me back to my communications with him as I was planning to open—he was incredibly supportive and made things so easy for me, and even stopped by the studio after it opened just to give his well wishes. It sounds crazy, but every time I had to tackle a difficult task, I met someone who somehow made it easy. After years of perceiving life to be difficult, unfair, not seeing the meaning or reason…I was surrounded by people who every single day reaffirmed the idea that we are all connected by universal support.

 Neighborhood shapes

Neighborhood shapes

And then, the day came. Monday, December 5th, 2016. I’d worked a 16-hour shift at the hospital the day before, and had to be up bright and early to teach my first class at the studio at 5:30am. I remember arriving at the studio that morning. I was terrified. I had been told not to worry if no one showed up to classes in the beginning, and I prepared myself for the worst. But then, a few friendly faces arrived. My mom and my siblings. The sisters of my best friend who lives in Pennsylvania. I started to relax.

After that, we were off! I attended my first class at Yoga Squared at 9am that day, taught by Kevin James Karas. My parents were there, and he introduced them to the room in such a warm way. The class was packed, and after my practice I felt so calm and reassured. Yes, it was a stressful first week. A few long-time area teachers I really respected and admired showed up to take my classes during those first few days of business. As touched as I was that they were supporting me, there was a part of me that didn’t feel I deserved it. Which brings me to my biggest challenge, and my real yogi transformation… learning to not only believe in the others around me, in their help, in their support, in their belief in me. Learning to believe in, support, and love myself.

So much has changed in the year since that first day in the studio. Some of the changes haven’t been easy, but they’ve always felt exactly right (i.e., tearing down a major wall three months after the studio opened!). As I gained confidence in myself as a yoga teacher, a business owner, and even as a yoga student, I started to pay more attention to what I felt and what I wanted in my life. Most of you know that Katelyn and I met only recently—on December 6th, 2016, to be exact. Over the next few months, we became friends. The incompatible relationship I was in had been drifting apart and ultimately ended, which was another lesson in overcoming fear. Katelyn and I started dating soon after.

 Kate knocking down the wall, March 2017

Kate knocking down the wall, March 2017

So, when I say that a lot changed in this past year, a LOT changed. Some of the changes I expected—longer hours, less “free” time, but an overall more fulfilling life. Others took me completely by surprise. My relationship with Katelyn is the most obvious, and has been impactful to my life—and my transformation as a yogi—on every level. She started out as a student of mine, signing up for my Beginners’ Series in January. If you were in the workshop—or you know Kate—you know that she jumped in right away and helped me plan unique things for us to discuss. She was currently in teacher training, and we talked a lot about our respective yoga journeys. She was one of the first yogi transformers. We got certified in Reiki 1. She graduated from her TT program and started teaching at the studio in February. She helped tear down the wall in March, which at that time felt symbolic to a lot of things that were going on in both of our personal lives.

 Partnership + Love

Partnership + Love

It’s definitely the transformation this year—and in my life—that brings me the most happiness. Not that it’s easy to work day in, day out alongside your partner. Our relationship was pretty new when we started to work together, and there were—and are—ups and downs. There are those days when we can’t get away from our phones or out from under the weight of our daily tasks. When most “days off” are punctuated by trips to the studio…or shopping for the studio…or fielding texts and phone calls about the studio.

But despite the difficulties, we have the most fun life ever! She teaches me yoga, I teach her yoga. I “borrow” her songs, she tells me which one of mine she’s tired of hearing. The fact that she’s my student and my teacher holds me accountable in my own practice in a way that I didn’t expect.

Months have passed, and every day I feel more thankful for the gift of transformation. What I’ve noticed above all else is that most of these changes can’t be seen from the outside. When I first started practicing yoga, I was physically in the best shape of my life. Mentally, not so much. It’s taken years of both dedication and failure to arrive in the space I’m in now, and the absolute best thing is, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in SO many ways and I know I still have an infinite amount of lessons to learn! When I look to 2018—and Year 2 of Yoga Squared—I can say a few things that give me immense confidence and happiness. I’m in a happy, stable relationship with someone I can spend 24 hours a day with—someone who has brought YS into the light as far as marketing, creativity, and true partnership is concerned. My mom and my sister have both completed yoga teacher training and now teach at the studio. I respect and admire every teacher at YS from the bottom of my heart. And the students at YS have opened my eyes in a real, real way.

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My dream when I first thought of opening a yoga studio in Highland Square was to bring a diverse group of students and teachers together and create an inclusive space where all feel welcome. Sometimes I look around and realize with amazement that my dream came true. I also hoped to see people walking around the Square with yoga mats—I’ll never forget the first time my best friend texted me to say “OMG I JUST SAW SOMEONE WALKING DOWN MARKET STREET WITH A YOGA MAT! Your dream is coming true!” This was probably the first week that the studio opened. That text brought me to tears.

 Family @ Mustard Seed after Vinyl + Vinyasa: Pink Floyd

Family @ Mustard Seed after Vinyl + Vinyasa: Pink Floyd

I’ve had so many of those moments since last December 5th. Unforgettable moments in time in which I truly felt every minute of my life come together for exactly my purpose on earth. When I think about how lucky I am I forget about all the 4:30am wakeup calls (hundreds of them 😉) and anxieties over The Wall, myself as a yoga teacher, and my personal life. I get to say that I teach alongside my mom, my sister, my girlfriend, and some of the people I respect and love most in the world. I get to teach my whole immediate family the practice of yoga. I am greeted every day by students who have become close friends.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to read my story, and to all of you for being vital people in my life.

Namaste!

Nicole

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Dave's Yoga Journey

Dave's Yoga Journey

Hi Friends!  

First off, I would like to thank Katelyn and Nikki for asking me to share my transformation story. It truly is a privilege. I found yoga a little over a year ago in a local studio in Akron. At this point in time I was suffering from severe depression and anxiety, soon after being diagnosed as bi-polar. In addition to that, I was battling a very serious eating disorder.  

I remember my first class very clearly. Right off the bat I disqualified myself by saying that I didn’t have the body to physically do yoga. At the same time, my ego told me that it was a good idea to take the most difficult class that they offered.  I now realize that’s probably the reason why I couldn’t do the majority of the poses in the class. I fell in love right away. For an hour and fifteen minutes I was able to stay present and live in the moment.  

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Since then I have been hooked.  Yoga is a time for self-discovery and self-love for me.  Not too long after that, a very good friend of mine told me of a yoga studio that was opening in Highland Square. I decided to check it out. I fell in love with Yoga Squared. The instructors are awesome, and they have a good variety of classes.  I like that I can do things at my own pace; some days I want to take hot power class, and other days I just want a nice gentle stretch.  I love being a part of yoga studio where I can go in and they know who I am. If I do something like forget my mat they have me covered.  

Nowadays things are a lot different.  I now realize that I don’t have to judge myself for the things that I can’t do yet on my mat, but be grateful for the things that I can….and the journey.  

I’ve received so many benefits from yoga. It’s one of the ways I’m able to feel centered in life. I’ve been clean from my eating disorder since January of 2017, and have received help with mental health. I also think that an interesting note regarding my journey with yoga is that every health professional that I’ve come in contact with has been an advocate of yoga for me in some way..  

Thank you for reading

Namaste

Dave

Highland at Heart: Laura's Yoga Journey

Highland at Heart: Laura's Yoga Journey

I lived at 93 Grand Avenue until I was twelve years old, just down the street from Yoga Squared.  The fire station on Dodge Street was behind us and when the men got off duty they’d climb over the fence to throw back a few beers with my parents.  (Maybe that’s why my brother is a fire/medic)??  I used to walk up to Capri Pizza for my mom to pick up the pepperoni pizza that she would order for us and pay with the coupons that were cut from the boxes the pizzas came in.  My brother and I would walk to the Highland Theater on Saturdays and pay a dollar to spend the afternoon watching cartoons.  All the neighborhood kids would play kickball in the street with the gas attendants of the old Sohio gas station that was across from my house. I lived at the library in the summers.  I attended Portage Path Elementary and am still in touch with some of my grade school classmates.  When I met my husband many years later he lived next door to the house I grew up in, while I was living in one of the apartment buildings on West Market Street in the heart of the Square.  Needless to say, Highland Square is a part of my existence.

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Moving forward a number of years, I currently live in West Akron and am a married mother of two beautiful girls, one in high school, one in college.  I work full-time at an oftentimes stressful job.  My parents have health issues so I try to help out as much as I can.  I’m an active volunteer.  Just like so many of you, I was(am) always busy and rarely made(make) time for myself.  I was sleep deprived as my insomnia that I’ve had since college, had gotten worse.  As a result, I was exhausted and being pulled in so many directions, trying to make everyone happy, trying to give, give, give until I reached a point in my life at the end of last year where I felt I didn’t know who I was as a person. As Me.  As Laura.  And I realized that although I had a good life overall, I was also incredibly sad, quick to anger and felt like I was sinking into an abyss.  Around this time, a co-worker of mine was sharing with us that her daughter was opening a yoga studio in Highland Square.  And as she excitedly shared the details of the studio’s progression, I became a little excited, partly because I have watched her daughter grow up over the years and partly because I had always been intrigued about yoga but was never brave enough to look into what it was about.  Plus this studio was opening in my beloved Highland Square! 

I decided to sign up for a beginner’s workshop in February and thus began my romance with yoga.  I. Love. It.  I love everything about the studio, I felt at home the first time I walked in.  Maybe because I remember frequenting the same space when it was a video rental store back in the day???  The instructors are down to earth, caring, and take a personal interest in the yogis.  I regularly run into fellow yogis outside of class and in class have reconnected with people whom I haven’t seen in forever.  I love that yoga is an ongoing practice and that there is so much to learn – trust me I have SO much to learn.  I love that you are doing it for yourself and not for others.  I love that I can practice at my own beginner’s pace and I don’t feel awkward.  I love that I don’t feel envious seeing someone fluidly moving into an inversion as I flip my dog on top of my neighbor.  I love closing my eyes, learning about the breath and how the poses affect parts of the body.  I love the names of poses and figuring out why they’re named that way.  And I love that some days I’m just not able to connect with the breathing or letting my mind relax, or being just plain gawky in learning some of the poses and that that’s okay!

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 And slowly over these past 8 months I feel like I have regained some inner peace – I’m not mom, daughter, wife, sister, employee or volunteer while I’m in class.  I’m ME.  I’m not perfect and that’s perfectly okay.  I feel better about myself, I have lost almost 20 lbs, I’m more flexible and have toned up.  I am sleeping better.  Most importantly, with the help of yoga I am learning to let go of the guilt that I have built up over the years in not being able to do more or help more or solve all the world’s problems, lol!  Yoga is ageless and I look forward to continuing my physical, spiritual and relaxation journey.

Namaste,

Laura 

Returning to The Source

Returning to The Source

Returning to The Source: Cortney's Spiritual Journey

Anxious

Self-medicating

Incessantly right ALL the time

Egocentric

Negative

Angry

Irritated

Disconnected

I know what you are thinking…sign me up to be around that person!

Well, that person was ME, and unfortunately, that meant I got to hang with that person ALL the time through my early years into my late twenties.

Fortunately, life brought me opportunities for growth…lots of them.

And yoga and Reiki were my spiritual connections that shined the light on what was “real” during those times.

A decade of yoga has afforded me physical benefits such as: I can easily touch my toes, my blood pressure is an easy breezy 106/63, side crow is accessible on most days.

But, as I get older I quickly realize the real hurdles are:

·       Can I watch my breath for a full 60 minutes without incessant brain chatter,

·       is there an underlying sense of peace instead of anxiety in the back drop of my life,

·       can I find a way to release the resistance that I’ve accumulated on my physical trail?

With yoga and Reiki, most days, the answer to these questions are a resounding hell YES!

Years ago, during my teacher training, I learned about the 8th and last limb of yoga: Samadhi. “The state in which you reach union with the divine”

I remember thinking...Seriously!? I want THAT.

Yoga and Reiki provide me with glimpses into this state of being; the more I practice the longer the glimpses last. Sometimes its only seconds, sometimes hours.

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Life continues to bring me more opportunities for growth. Always at the perfect time.

Enter Yoga Squared…

After two years of not teaching yoga and only practicing at home, I found YS, a truly special community like none I’ve seen over the last decade.

And again, I began to grow and evolve.

The biggest shift is with my perspective…

I see glimpses of the “old” me in others’ stories, not the drunk or angry me, instead, now I see it for what it really is…the confused, disconnected me.

But it makes me happy, not sad because I know these souls are teetering on the edge of realizing their wholeness, their perfection, their freedom. Just as I am.

The Tao - my favorite spiritual text - says it best:

Watch the turmoil of beings,

But contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe

returns to the common source.

Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,

you stumble in confusion and sorrow.

When you realize where you come from,

you naturally become tolerant,

disinterested, amused,

kindhearted as a grandmother,

dignified as a king.

For me – yoga brings me back to that “common source!”

AND that’s why I’ve been having a full-on love affair with YS for the last 9 months. Because it has not only reignited my deep love for yoga and life (and my husband who just started practicing, can I get an Amen!!), I see it creating a space for so many to open to this transformation. Every single Yoga Squared teacher, I SEE YOU, and extend my sincerest gratitude for creating a space that allows us easy access to “returning to the source” as the Tao says.

 

The words from before having now shifted…

At ease

Clear and sober

You can be right this time (although my husband might say differently)

Mindful

Content, yet eager for more

Grateful

Connected

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My spiritual connection, often found through the practice of yoga, has made me a better wife, a better sister, daughter, friend, employee, and my favorite…a better mom. (I love you Zach!)

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All of you, the YS community, make me better just being in my life, whether you know it or not, because it’s our subtle exchange of energy that I feel and cherish!

AND that, my friends, is yoga!!

xoxo

 Square Rat Meets Yoga Mat

Square Rat Meets Yoga Mat

Hey friends hey! It’s your girl TT from the front desk! First off I would like to thank my KitchenAid for providing me endless motivation to exercise more, my extensive collection of off brand black leggings which are incredibly forgiving, and last,  all my haters. Just kidding-I don’t think I have too many haters, or at least I hope not.  

Around five years ago, while incarcerated, I started developing an interest in yoga. Five years ago I was a very different person then I am now. I was serving time as a result of a very serious drug problem I had developed through my teenage years. My loving mother (god bless her) dropped off a picture book of yoga poses to the community correctional facility I resided in at the time. I understood that my life was out of order, and I thought maybe a yoga picture book would solve the problem, so I started to practice a few of the poses. It did definitely help, but little did I know, my journey was just beginning.  

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Fast forward two years, and my interest in yoga was once again awakened- this time in rehab.  Though this time, I had furthered my practice to actually involving an instructor and a mat; I was coming up in the world! I was also finally willing to give sobriety a try, and I'm happy to say I have been sober and practicing yoga ever since.  

My love affair with yoga began in earnest when Yoga Squared opened. I had been practicing off and on at another studio. That studio abruptly closed and in the same month I realized one of my oldest friends was opening her own studio in Highland Square! Having been born and bred a true square rat, this was more than perfect for me.  Even better, I get to sit at the desk and meet hundreds of amazing people who inspire me every single day.   I never felt that I really fit in at other studios and Yoga Squared completely changed that.   I was welcomed with open arms and open hearts into one of the best damn communities I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of.  

As a result of being welcomed so warmly into this community, I have been able to grow massively in my practice and my emotional and spiritual space.  Being new at yoga can be very intimidating and I never felt I had the right body, the right mindset, or even the right look and I have finally figured out that NONE of that is a real thing!  Yoga Squared has provided me with a space to giggle and fall, and even cry when i need to do it.  I can be vulnerable with the people around me, and provide space for others to be vulnerable with me.  I have also finally been able to be proud of my body! I feel strong and healthy, this is the first time in my life i have been able to touch my toes!

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Y’all may not know it, but getting to know you, and your names (most of the time) has been one of the best experiences of my life.  Meeting you, your mothers, your kids, and even sometimes your dogs is my absolute shit!  The way I live my life today is still certainly not completely balanced (as anyone who has practiced next to me might have noticed), but I am capable of being present, and being open with the people around me, and it is rewarding beyond belief.  I look forward to practicing with you in the future, or just sitting on the floor eating potato chips, whichever one feels right in the moment.  I love all of you, thank you for all you do!

 

Fist Bumps + Arm Pumps: Devon's Yoga Story

Fist Bumps + Arm Pumps: Devon's Yoga Story

First, I’d like to thank the Lawd (Lord), my family, RuPaul, EarthFare Purple Velvet Smoothies, MAC, Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant, Old Navy and the Yoga Squared judges’ panel for this illustrious honor.

 

Anyway, I’m Devon (Deh-vin) Fennell (Fin-nell) , a goofball raised on the mean streets of...West Akron. You’ve probably seen me sweating, struggling or frog posing in class before and thought, “Why does she sweat so much?”

 

The answer is heredity.

 

Or maybe you thought, “What brings this magical creature to class when she’s not being a top-notch writer/petsitter/amateur comedian?”

 

Well, I’ll tell you.

 

Yoga Squared helped me during a really rough time in my life.

 

Back in December, while everyone was feeling the holiday cheer, I was extremely frustrated and overwhelmed by my job and a few other things that were beyond my control. Under normal circumstances, I’m the one who tries to keep things real, light and positive. I’m also the one who finds humor in almost every situation instead of getting all “Lifetime movie of the week”. But during that time, my spirit was heavy, the lightness and joy I usually had was nowhere to be found, my body was constantly knotted up from all of the stress and my blood pressure was out of control.

 

Now, I’ve practiced yoga in the past, but I never went to a studio on a regular basis.

 

I stumbled upon a yoga workout on television years ago and would follow along from time to time. Then, I made an effort to try some of the community classes offered in the area. I enjoyed yoga, but it kind of got lost in the shuffle between Zumba and other booty shaking cardio classes. And while I did it randomly, I never forgot how good my mind and body felt after yoga. I knew I had to get back to it. So, when I saw Yoga Squared’s new student special on Facebook, I took it as a holiday miracle from Sweet Baby Jesus. It was like he smacked my forehead with his tiny, cherubic hand. I think he also said, “Put down that pint of Ben & Jerry’s Salted Caramel Core and take your behind to class” in his supersonic voice.

 

Of course, that didn’t really happen, but if it did, I know that SBJ would keep it real. Anyway, the new student special ended up being the perfect way for me to ease back into yoga.

 

From day one, I felt like I belonged at Yoga Squared. Nikki just has a smile that makes you feel like you’re an old friend. I knew that she truly cared about everyone who walked through the door. At Yoga Squared, I was a person – not another membership opportunity. That instantly put me at ease.

 

Another thing I immediately loved was the diversity in the classes. They weren’t filled with yoga bots (no offense to yoga bots) who were decked out in expensive outfits. Instead, I saw people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors. Ahhhnnnd, there were dudes in classes, and dudes teaching classes. Holy schizballs! Who knew all of that actually went down in the real world?!? I did, but I never witnessed it in the classes I attended over the years. I only saw it on the series of tubes (the Internet). Man, it was like a yoga aha moment. I finally felt like I found the ideal place to practice.

 

Once I started attending classes on a regular basis, I felt the joy and lightness that I thought I had lost returning. My body started to feel better (my massage therapist can testify if you need her to), my mind wasn’t constantly in overdrive and my blood pressure wasn’t at terror alert red all of the time. Cue the Hallelujah Chorus, because I found my sweet spot.

 

I truly appreciated the March Madness Challenge because it helped me develop a more consistent practice. It also empowered me to try the higher-level classes. In that 31 days, I took sooooo many classes (Sometimes three or four a day. Hell, that was better than Netflix and stuffing my face with cake all day!) and I surprised myself all the time (shout out to my junior high headstand which is now a freshman headstand). I wasn’t in it for the prizes. I was in it for my health and well-being. It ended up being the best thing that I’ve done for myself in a long time.

 Dev's Junior High headstand ;)

Dev's Junior High headstand ;)

 

Overall, the biggest thing that I’ve learned on the mat is that some things are just out of your control. In life, you’re going to wobble or struggle just like you might wobble or struggle on that Manduka, Jade Yoga, Gaiam or T.J. Maxx ten-dollar holler mat. And you’re going to get frustrated. But you can’t let those wobbles or struggles steal your joy. You just have to keep it moving and find a great group of people who will support you along the way. And what I know for sure is that I have found a wonderful group of people at Yoga Squared.

 Dev's freshman headstand! (More like graduated with honors, right?!)

Dev's freshman headstand! (More like graduated with honors, right?!)

Thank you for putting up with me...and now, my parents. ;) I love you all.

Smooches and snaps. Hugs and high fives.

Fist bumps and arm pumps,

devon 

 Dev's mom at Yoga Squared!

Dev's mom at Yoga Squared!

Casey's Yoga Journey

Casey's Yoga Journey

Hi friends! I am so honored to share my ongoing yoga journey with you!  It is very long but it’s my hope that in sharing my story, someone else will be helped through yoga in the way that yoga has helped me.  I am beyond grateful for this practice that has brought so much joy into my life…but before I get to the good stuff, I better start at the beginning.

It all began for me back in 2014 when a very close friend of mine, who is an ultra-inspiring kids’ yoga teacher, got me the gift of my very first yoga mat.  I subsequently happened to win a gift certificate to a local studio.  The universe was telling me something, and I, although incredibly hesitant and nervous, decided to listen.  In January 2015, I signed up for a beginners’ yoga series and within minutes of the first session beginning, I was hooked.  I attended classes almost every day and was feeling amazing- both inside and out.  I loved the spiritual aspects of yoga just as much as the physical aspects and committed myself to learning as much as I could about the yoga world.  For about 8 months, I was in a routine of practicing regularly.  In August, when it was time to go back to school (I’m a first grade teacher), I let life get in the way and yoga became a once-in-awhile activity for me.  As much as I wanted to attend classes every day, I was just not in the right mindset.  Unfortunately, as the school year went on, work and family and everything else became priorities and my own self-care got put on the back burner.

Fast forward to March of 2016, I woke up one morning thinking I had an ear infection.  I had never had one before, but I figured I was susceptible to such a thing in working with little kids.  A few days later, the entire right side of my head and my entire right arm went numb and tingly.  No doctor could figure out what was wrong with me, so they sent me for an MRI.  I got the phone call two days later from a doctor who told me the results revealed “textural changes on the brain consistent with Multiple Sclerosis.” Um…what??  I had no idea what that meant, but they said I needed to see a neurologist immediately- so I did.  That neurologist told me we would do everything we could to rule out MS.  However, after another month filled with all kinds of uncertainty and tests and procedures, a second MRI showed even more damaged spots on my brain and my doctor gave me the news I will never forget- “Miss Smith, this is, without a doubt, MS and we need you to come in and get an infusion treatment immediately.”  At the time, I knew little about MS.  I just knew we needed to try to find a way to stop my brain from becoming even more damaged.  To say I was scared was an understatement.  I did what the doctors told me, got started on a medication, and thought I was good to go.  This was going to be okay.  I was going to be okay.  What I never expected was that, in July, even though I had been giving myself shots of medication 3 days a week, at a follow up MRI, I had even more active damage on my brain.  I honestly cannot describe how hopeless that felt.  I was doing everything the doctor told me to do.  I was starting to accept this new way of life. How could this be?

  Me at an infusion treatment on the day I was diagnosed with MS.

Me at an infusion treatment on the day I was diagnosed with MS.

Over the next 6 months I hit rock bottom.  I’m talking the lowest and darkest of places I have ever been in my life.  I knew depression was a very common symptom of MS, but no internet research could have prepared me for the incredible sadness and emptiness I felt.  At times it became unbearable.  As the holiday season came to a close and the new year began, I told myself that I would no longer let MS control my life.  I have always been a happy, bubbly person by nature and this person I had become was not Casey.  One day around then, a Facebook post about a new yoga studio in Highland Square came up in my news feed and I figured I should try it out as a part of my plan to take better care of myself.  I expected that I would go to a class here and there if I liked it.  What I didn’t expect was to fall in love.  Not only with yoga all over again, but with the amazing community of yogis at Yoga Squared.  I felt accepted and welcomed every time I walked through the doors.  As I attended more classes, I noticed I started to feel better both physically and emotionally.  I decided to throw myself into a regular practice again.  I felt even better.  I decided to eat more mindfully.  Better still.  I decided to practice using mantras each day.  This was getting GOOD.  One day in March I realized I wasn’t depressed anymore.  I was happy.  I felt like myself again. I was in disbelief…practicing yoga both on and off the mat had literally saved my life.  I should also mention that along my journey, I’ve had the support of an amazing group of family and friends who have stood by me through it all.  I can’t tell you enough how meaningful their support has been in my life.

  My little family

My little family

  My family supporting me at the 2017 MS Walk in May- 1 year after my diagnosis

My family supporting me at the 2017 MS Walk in May- 1 year after my diagnosis

You might not be able to visually see my yogi transformation, but when you see my smile or hear my laugh, you’ll know how it has changed me. Yoga has taught me so much about myself and about the world around me. It has helped me to shift my negative thoughts to a place of positivity.  It has built a confidence that has caused me to realize that I can do hard things.  Most importantly, it has taught me to become a WARRIOR and that things can always be better.  I want you to know that no matter who you are and no matter how you are feeling, yoga has the power to help you and to heal you in ways you never imagined.  And real talk- I do still have days sometimes where I don’t feel well.  But I have learned that it is okay to have those days every now and then, and to let them go and get back to the positive.  I have MS, MS does NOT have me.  I have been so inspired by and so grateful for how yoga has improved my life that I have decided to pursue Yoga Teacher Training beginning in October.  It is my hope that I can eventually teach yoga to others with MS so I can help them see the incredible impact yoga can have.

My yoga journey is always helping me to grow and learn.  Thank you for being a part of it and thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. J  

Much Love and Namaste,

Casey

Kristine's Journey to Yoga

Kristine's Journey to Yoga

What an honor to be asked to share my yoga journey with you! I am actually new to yoga, but in the short amount of time I have been practicing, I have fallen completely in love with it. And I have also fallen in love with my Yoga Squared family and feel beyond grateful that this is where I landed! I tend to be a bit of a private person, but this practice has become such a huge and inspirational part of my life, I'm happy to share how yoga has helped me accept and work through a pretty challenging time. I apologize-- although my time practicing yoga is relatively short, the story that goes along with it is long.

 

It is very fitting to be sharing my story this month, in May. As last May, 2016, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, at 31 years of age. Even writing about it now, I still feel like there aren't words to describe my feelings at hearing that news. On a quick weekend trip last April, I noticed a slight dimpling in my right breast. Within a month's time, that dimple grew into an aggressive 10cm tumor. On the day that I had a mammogram, the physician told me, “Your life is about to change very quickly.” And she couldn't have been more right.

 

Within a few weeks, I had a series of scans, a multitude of doctors appointments, blood work, two separate biopsies, and genetic counseling. It was determined that I have a genetic mutation of the BRCA2 gene, which increases a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer up to to 87%. This gene also has a high risk for recurrence of breast cancer, high risk for development of ovarian cancer, and increased risk for development of several other types of cancer. My long fight against cancer started with chemotherapy in June. My 20th and final round of “hard” chemo was completed at the end of October. I let my body and immune system recover for a few weeks, then had surgery to remove the remaining cancer in November. Along with removing the right breast, I had my left breast and both ovaries removed preventatively as well, due to the high risk of recurrence or development of new cancer. I started radiation therapy in January and completed 30 rounds at the end of February. I continue to get preventative chemo-type infusions every three weeks, which will finish this coming August.

 

I struggled with how to tell my loved ones, especially my 8 year old son, Ethan, what was happening to me. Fortunately, I have been blessed with an amazing boyfriend, Dave, wonderful parents, and extremely supportive friends and coworkers that have cheered me on and carried me every step of the way. But there are some things that my family and friends couldn't do or fix for me- the internal mental and emotional battle that cancer brings. Like how to deal with reading about and being told my statistical likelihood of survival over the next FIVE years. Or how within two weeks of being diagnosed, I had to make a decision about whether to postpone chemo in order to harvest eggs for future chance of pregnancy, or to start chemo right away. Or how by the end of July, I had lost every last hair on my head and could no longer hide my diagnosis. Or how after surgery, I wasn't sure I was even a woman anymore, having lost both of my breasts and ovaries. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I don't even recognize the person staring back at me. Or feeling like for someone who strives to be organized and in control, I have lost control of not only my own body, but my life. And finally, worrying every single day that the cancer has returned; that every headache/cough/general symptom means we missed something and the cancer has spread.

 

This is where yoga enters my story. Immediately following surgery, I started physical therapy to regain range of motion in my arms from the breast and lymph node removal. I had played with the idea of yoga through home DVDs in the past, and thought trying out a yoga class might help with recovery. I took a seven week session at the YMCA starting in January, then was introduced to Yoga Squared in February by a friend who had recently joined (hey Casey!). Dave very graciously attended a couples yoga class with me led by Kevin and Gwendolyn, and I knew immediately I liked the studio. The following Monday I attended a 5:30am class with Nikki, and was hooked.

 

There are so many parallels between yoga practice and life. And the journey on my mat has helped me truly understand, accept, and get through the emotions of the past year better than any therapy session or antidepressant ever could. Prior to cancer, running was my choice of stress relief. I vividly remember attempting a run during my months of chemo, and sitting on the side of the trail crying after my body started shutting down a half a mile in. I was furious at body, furious at myself, and furious at life. But at yoga, Nikki frequently encourages self-compassion and self-gratitude. And slowly, I have learned to acknowledge that my body has been working hard over the past year, and I should thank it, not be angry. Every day I get physically stronger, I notice poses getting a little bit easier. But every day I also get mentally stronger, and notice that the anxiety and stress get a little bit easier. Like yoga, life is a journey where we have good days and bad days. Some days we strive toward our edge and other days we need to rest and restore. I don't have to be perfect. If I stumble, it's just an opportunity to get back up and try again. If things are hard, I can focus on my breath to get through it.

 

Yoga is also teaching me self-acceptance. After surgery, I spent a lot of time focused on the outside of me. The lack of hair. The lack of breasts. The scars. I wondered what other people must think when they see me. But with yoga, I spend so much more time thinking about what's on the inside. I am figuring out who the new me is. Im transitioning from the “girl with cancer” to the “girl who does yoga.” And that makes me happy. I find comfort in knowing I am doing everything I can to reduce my stress level, and take care of my mind and body.

 

Shavasana is my favorite part of practice, as it forces me to keep my mind in the present. I have a mantra that frequently runs through my mind during this time: “I am strong. I will fight. I will live”.  All through treatment I have thought I have to live for Ethan and Dave and my parents. Then one morning during shavasana this crazy thought popped into my head: I also have to live for myself. I am also important. Previously in life, I have felt so guilty doing anything solely for myself. But yoga is teaching me it is okay to take time to get to know yourself too. Life is short. Do something that makes you happy, too. And by spending a little time on myself, I am finding I have a whole lot more inside to give back to others.

 

Finally, every morning, Nikki asks us to set an intention for ourselves and for our practice. And every morning I set my intention on loving myself, accepting myself, staying positive, and taking life one day at a time. Being present is the best gift we can give to ourselves and to others. And when I'm on my mat, I don't have to dwell on the challenges of the past year, or worry about what the future might hold. I just have to worry about the next breath in, and the next breath out.

 

Namaste,

Kristine

 Kristine, Dave, and Eithan

Kristine, Dave, and Eithan