why yoga

Student Spotlight: Heidi Vanderpool

WHY YOGA?
I fell in love with yoga at a time where I was falling in love with holistic medicine. My pathway in life as a Massage Thera­pist and Acupuncturist is complemented deeply by my yoga practice. Yoga is vital to my life in every area. I have found that over the years, when times are rocky or delightful, I can always turn to my mat and create a sacred place to connect with the Divine. Read More…

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Student Spotlight: Rich Burke

WHY YOGA?
I watched and admired a friend practice yoga. It appeared to be not only physical, but also spiritual which really appealed to me. I thought about trying it for sev­eral months, and luckily I found Yoga On High. I begged my way into a full Dynam­ic Hatha for Beginners class with Marcia and have been hooked ever since. Read More…
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Student Spotlight: Michele Winship

WHY YOGA?
I absolutely require physical activity for my mental health, and over the years, I have tried just about everything, includ­ing every piece of exercise equipment ever conceived (yes, I had a Thigh Mas­ter). However, yoga is the only movement form that allows me to be totally present, a state that has been difficult for me to achieve in any other way. Yoga has also shown me how to have a compassionate relationship with my body, something that eluded me for much of my life. I call yoga my “moving meditation,” and when I practice, I am having an ongoing conver­sation with my body, asking and listening in mindfulness and giving my body what it needs on any given day. This conver­sation has been critically important over the last decade as I have spent much of it healing from injuries and surgeries. Read More…

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Mentoring a Healthy Community

This April, the Middle College National Consortium (MCNC) held their annual student leadership conference in Columbus, Ohio.  The Conference was hosted by the Charles School at Ohio Dominican University, a local 5-year early college high school.  The students in these programs are from under-resourced and under-served areas around the country, most will be the first in their families to attend college, some will be the first to graduate from high school.
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Featured Teacher: Linda Oshins

Why do you practice?
Honestly, I don’t know how anybody makes it through life without a yoga practice or something like it. I’ve practiced for different reasons through the years, depending on the challenges in my life, and yoga has always been the basis for change, growth, acceptance and, at some point, joy.

Why do you teach?
I teach to be part of the big practice—mine and other peoples’ experiences.

Inspirations?
I am grateful to a large number of teachers who have helped me through the years, but true inspiration for me comes from nature. The body/mind, part of the natural order are endlessly miraculous.

Who have you trained with?
Too many to mention. Right now, my teacher is Richard Miller. Also, Marcia Miller was my first yoga teacher and continues to be a inspiration today.

What style do you teach?
I used to teach what YOHI calls “hatha,” a style that uses props and sequences each class or personal practice differently, depending on the class feels at the time. Discerning ours actual needs is a practice in itself. Now I teach breath awareness practices, pranayama, and meditation, especially yoga nidra.

What’s your favorite food?
Bread, and I try not to eat it. But I love to cook and eat a wide range of veggies prepared in all different ways.

Do you own any animals?
I don’t have any live-in pets but I’m an avid bird watcher and know the birds at my feeders personally. Some are trained to take seed from my hand.

What’s your favorite yoga accessory?
Round bolster.

What style influences your teaching?
Iyengar; Angela and Victor’s energy based, internal practices; Richard Miller’s body sensing practices; Richard Miller’s iRest yoga nidra work.

Favorite yoga pose?
Back bend, any variation. Love to  open that front body!

What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?
Lily or Rose

Your favorite item of clothing?
Loose pants!

What did you want to be when you were little?
A fiction writer

Best trip you’ve taken, or dream trip you’d like to take?
A trip to Morocco for a friend’s wedding. Being part of those festivities was unforgettable.

What is your mission?
My mission right now is to leave a legacy for younger yogis as I move toward retirement. I want to make opportunities for other people to realize their dreams.

What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?
Marcia and Martha, along with a small group of my other close friends, saw me through the death of my husband. That was a long commitment. They were there supporting me for a couple years through the most intense period of grieving.

What books are you reading right now?
Rereading The Heart of the Yogi by Doug Keller because Jasmine asked to me write up a short, concise summary of the difference between dualism and non-dualism. I checked a couple good quotes and before I knew it I was deep into philosophical history again. Dipping into Making Love with Light as a daily contemplation; this book was a present from Marcia and has already earned a place on the bookshelf forever. For fiction, I’m reading Fall of Frost by Brian Hall, and poetry-wise it’s Stanley Kunitz’s Passing Through. I’m also addicted to Japanese Death Poems (my non-yoga friends think I’m crazy). They were written by Japanese monks on the verge of death. Here’s one by Daido Ichi’i.

A tune of non-being
Filling the void:
Spring sun
Snow whiteness
Bright clouds
Clear wind.

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All The Space You Need

By Angie Hay

Years ago I came across this quote from supermodel Cindy Crawford: “They were doing a full back shot of me in a swimsuit and I thought, “Oh my God, I have to be so brave.” See, every woman hates herself from behind.”

I was recently reminded of this arguable statement when I received an invitation from my colleague to be photographed doing yoga for the studio’s new promotional materials. The instructions specified that one’s hair should be neat, and included hopes that clothing for the shoot would be provided by a fancy national yoga gear chain known for their behind-flattering pants.

My brain, known for occasional moments of cruelty, instantly flooded me with images of my out-of-control dreads, my big butt, and the package of vegan cookies I ate almost entirely by myself the week before. They sent this to everyone, my brain said, but clearly they didn’t mean you. I mean, let’s be realistic.

Oh. Right. You’re probably right.

I took my first yoga class when I was twenty-one through Gahanna Parks & Rec. One day, unannounced, a guy from the local free paper showed up asking to photograph our class. The other yogis refused, but I was feeling fearless and said yes. In class I felt like a gazelle, like a water lily, like the Grand Canyon, and it was new feeling for me. Why not capture it in pictures? I practiced like he was shooting a feature and waited anxiously for the paper to come out. The image that made it to the cover was my face in profile in Trikonasana. My round cheeks. My soft neck. Me, just me. Not the yoga model I expected to see. My face was as serene as a bonsai tree, but it was difficult to see that through my disappointment. I didn’t even save a copy, not one.

These are the facts: there has never been a body shaped like mine on the cover of Yoga Journal. Lululemon’s snazzy yoga gear isn’t made in my size. They don’t look at me and see a yogi. But, miraculously, I do. Almost every hour of the day, almost every day of the week. When seeing myself as a beautiful and valuable person is the hardest thing I have to do all day, I stay in the fight. But not in that particular moment when I was invited to have my picture taken. In that instant, it was a fight I couldn’t win. It was bravery I didn’t have.

As a fat lady, professions other than belly dancer and yoga teacher might have made more sense. Maybe there are jobs where a big gal is just the thing. I worked in a café for a year where the boxy men’s chef coat I had to wear because the ladies sizes didn’t fit made my eyes sting with tears. For two years I sat in a basement office where all anyone talked about was how few calories they allowed into their bellies. The truth is that there are no safe havens for fatness, not yet. So I take my body to the dance floor and the yoga mat, the places it feels best in the whole world.

This is the type of bravery I do have. To stick with it. The courage to be the fattest lady in class so another woman doesn’t have to worry that it’s her. The courage to come to the mat as I am, even if I’ve never received the “yoga body” promised by the world’s ad men with the purchase of your first mat. The body I see in the mirror is a yogi’s body shaped by fifteen years of practice. A dancer’s body shaped by sixteen years of undulations and shimmies. The body of someone’s favorite aunt, someone’s beloved girlfriend, a girl who watches hours of vampire TV and eats too much ice cream, who rides her bike singing down High Street in the spring. A body created by two lineages of exceptional women who I am proud to call my ancestors. I am shaped exactly like myself. On this point I am unfalteringly, unshakably clear.

Though the yoga industry does not make space for all of us, the practice of yoga does. I believe there is a room somewhere with a vacant space that is exactly your size, waiting for you to roll out your mat. I promise to greet you there exactly as you are, with my head bowed and my palms pressed together in front of my heart.

If what we want does not exist, it becomes our responsibility to create it. Knowing this, I will put on my own clothes, and, when invited, turn to face the camera.

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Practicing Empathy: On Teaching Yoga to Children in the Public Schools

Colleen Leonardi, dancer, choreographer, writer and yoga teacher, has been working with the Yoga on High Foundation for the past two years, bringing yoga to students in under-resourced schools.  Colleen not only inspires those she teaches, but also those who know her, with her sensitive, thoughtful nature and creative spirit.

As I drive to the school where I’ll teach another yoga class to children, I’m witness to what has now become a familiar scene. Homes boarded up with eviction notices on the door. Yards littered with well-used, rusty objects and trash. What looks to be young, young children wandering alone along the busy street, dangling one foot out into the road as if to tempt fate. I drive slowly, carefully. The scene is markedly different from where I live in the Short North, a neighborhood of bright flowers and clean windows—a place that feels like a place of privilege, now.

This is hard for me. I am sensitive and extremely thoughtful by nature. I think about how one of these homes might be the home of the one of the children I teach. I think about how one of these children might be a friend or sibling of one of my students. I see the interdependency of things in this neighborhood. My yoga practice and teaching does not start and stop at the door of the school. I am acutely aware, before even entering the classroom, of what I’m truly stepping into. My heart is full of what I think I know and all that I don’t.

It is a humbling experience to teach, always. But it is even more humbling when teaching children in need in the public schools. The need is great. The children have such big hearts. And all I want to do each week is stay and play with them for more than an hour. I want to love them more because I see the need. But I know I must trust that my hour with them is enough. It has to be.

That is the reality of my relationship with them. The other reality, the one I speak of above, is much greater for them and for me. I can help them breathe and create space in their body for movement and play. I can help them relax in savasana. I can help them stand tall and strong in tree pose. We can do a lot together.

But I cannot move them to a nicer home. I cannot make sure they’re getting enough food to eat to help them stand tall and strong. I cannot make sure they have someone in their life who will take the time to learn, laugh and fail with them, as we learn and laugh when practicing the poses and falling out of them, saying together, “Oh, that was hard, wasn’t it?”

So my yoga teachings and classes becomes an offering I dole out to them and the teachers who take the class with me. But when I’m preparing to teach I also know that I’m going to be met with another hardship, another dose of reality that is always hard to swallow. My empathic response is going to be triggered yet again and I am going to be left feeling powerless yet again. So I build the courage and resiliency to face these challenges and teach a good class.

And what is a good yoga class? I continue to ask myself this question all the time. Meditation leader Susan Piver says,
“If you’re not practicing what you’re teaching, than you shouldn’t be teaching it.” I practice yoga daily. But I’m not just teaching the physical aspects of yoga when I go into these schools. I’m teaching kindness, respect, patience, equanimity, balance, self-care and self-love. If I’m doing my job, the job I want to do with these kids, that’s what I am teaching, and also practicing with myself!

So I suppose my openness when I drive through the neighborhood on the way to the school and my ability to see the hardship and breathe it in and cry for the children and their families before walking into the school is a sign of my practice in action. I suppose my empathetic response is a good thing. I call on my training, my knowledge of the human body and my years of experience teaching children and adults, to be sure. But at the end of it all I have to be willing to surrender all that I know. I have to be willing to not think my way through the neighborhood and think my way through the class. I have learned that in order to really reach these children I have to walk to meet them with an open, full heart. I have to be willing to feel.

It takes practice, a personal practice that cannot be cultivated with the use of books and language alone. It is a path—one all of us teachers must walk at some point our lives. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to walk it now, and to write about it here. Namaste.

To support the Yoga on High Foundation consider making a donation or attending our Summer Soiree and Fundraiser Saturday, July 14.

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A New Voice Sharing the Benefits of Yoga

Introducing Michele Vinbury, the new program coordinator for the Yoga on High Foundation. She came to us asking for volunteer opportunities that would marry her skills as a yoga teacher and her life-long commitment to helping those in need. And she became central to furthering the Foundation’s volunteer efforts in general. Please welcome her.

It is an honor to be able to work with Linda, Marcia, Martha and Jasmine contributing to the Yoga On High Foundation (YHF); something that combines two of my greatest passions – yoga and volunteerism.

I began volunteering in high school—making dinners for the local homeless shelter, helping at an annual fundraiser to feed the hungry, answering the hotline at a suicide prevention program, writing letters through Amnesty International. Lest you get the wrong idea, I was not a straight-A student (not even straight-B’s,) nor trying to fill my college entrance paperwork. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to college… I believe my interest in volunteerism stemmed from my parents and also from their friends, a close-knit group of bohemian artist types and activist, whom I have always considered an extended family of sorts.

Where to begin? At the beginning of course, the very beginning. I was born in the Andean mountains of Peru to hippie parents. My mother had spent 6 or 7 years in the Peace Corps and my father was a wandering surfer and quasi-missionary, looking for truth and an escape from his stuffy and painful middle-class upbringing.

We spent the first few years of my life living communally in Peru and Brazil. When I was 3, my father, mother, younger brother and I moved to San Diego, where my mother had grown up, and then to Rhode Island where my father was raised. Once in RI, my mother went back to school to become a nurse, and my father found work as a carpenter. It wasn’t long after that they separated and divorced.

In South America, my parents had seen the extremes of developing world poverty. My father especially was affected by this global worldview. In the years after returning from Brazil, though we were poor by American standards, my parents knew that we were rich compared to so many others. This knowledge was something instilled in me from a young age—we are rich in love, we are rich in community. We have food, shelter, education, and we are so lucky to be able to share what we have with those who have less.

The years passed. In the beginning there was no car. My father would ride his bicycle to work and pick us up after school. He would ride us home, me on the long bar and my brother in a milk crate box on the back, down wooded streets and over the train tracks until we reached the house he shared with 3 others. I remember so vividly the day he told us he had built us a house – it was better than being told we were going to Disney. I grew up in the house that my father built. In the winters, the woodstove was always burning, and in the summers, the garden was large and bountiful. There were hard times, but there was always love.

In my late teens and early twenties, I hit a rough patch. Things seemed bleak and I seemed to make a habit out of making bad choices, opting for self-destruction rather than growth. In short, I was a mess. But I was a mess with family and resources. When I needed help, it was given to me, by friends, by family, by strangers and by yoga.

I am exceedingly grateful for the help I received along the way, and the love I continue to receive to this day. Now, in my mid-30s, I have a supportive family, a wonderful husband, healthy and happy children. I am safe. I choose growth, I choose bounty, I choose life. I have found my way, and I believe very strongly that my good fortune should be shared. I have done a lot of work in my life, but I also have been very lucky, some might even say blessed. I have a debt of gratitude for these blessings that I very willingly repay though my volunteerism and seva yoga. It is my joy to be able to give back when I have received so very much.

Through the years I have volunteered in a number of different ways with a number of different organizations. I have volunteered teaching philosophy to male inmates at a medium security prison in Maryland. While living in Maryland, I also did work on a Maryland Coastal Bays project as an intern for an organization called PACE (Institute for Public and Civic Engagement). I have volunteered at a domestic violence agency outside of Chicago. I’ve volunteered with voter registration drives and doing voter canvassing. I’ve volunteered here in Columbus with SARNCO (Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio), and then supported and volunteered at my mother’s non-profit, an organization which has given over 60,000 quilts to wounded soldiers over the past 9 years. Most recently, I have completed a training to be a speaker for a local anti-human trafficking organization, and will begin a training to volunteer with their street outreach, bringing services to woman victims of human trafficking in our area.

On the yoga front, I am teaching a class at Yoga on High for volunteers at a local crisis center and assisting in Yoga on High Foundation’s Yoga in Schools program. I have a few other yoga seva projects in various stages of viability and look forward to sharing them with you in the coming months.

I am very excited and inspired by the opportunities Yoga on High can, and does, bring to our community: Yoga in Schools, Yoga for Vets, an upcoming Cancer Retreat and the impending return of Yoga for Diabetics. In order to fund these programs, and to start new ones, the Foundation, along with the generous help and support of Richard Hillis, is hosting a “Moroccan Nights” summer soiree fund raiser this July 14th from 6:30 to 8:30. It’s bound to be a good time with food, dancing, live music, henna artists and much more. Tickets go on sale soon, you can check this link for updated information: http://yogaonhigh.com/community/community-events-groups/summer-soiree-fundraiser.

I would love to hear from you. Do you have a program you’d like to develop or one you’d like to fund? Feel free to get in touch with me at Michele@YogaOnHigh.com, and let’s bring aid, comfort and relief through yoga to those in need in our community!

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