Student Spotlights on our members and their journeys through yoga.
Michelle has been practicing with us since before we opened the studio and we thought it was about time we found out what inspires her to keep coming back to her mat every week:
"My yoga practice has exceeded my expectations for strength, flexibility, energy, and stress relief while building my confidence and redefining my self image." Michelle
How long have you been practicing yoga and how did you get started? I started my yoga practice about 2 years ago, when Joan was teaching at the Fremont Rec Center. My husband Mark, encouraged me to go after high impact exercises had started to cause pain and injuries for me. I was skeptical if yoga practice could give me the stress relief, energy, and strength I had traditionally gotten from high impact workouts. Honestly, yoga seemed like something old people do and I was only 50ish clearly not old enough!
What do you like most about having a dedicated studio right here in Fremont? The dedicated yoga studio is my sanctuary where I can be flawed yet confident, uncoordinated yet balanced, older and yet still growing. There is a comfort in going to Branch Out Yoga that is beyond the beautiful setting and smells, it lies within the yoga community of new and old friends, building connections through ideas, encouragement, and friendship.
You have taken advantage of all the Breath Workshops and Reiki Workshops we have sponsored - what have you learned and how have these helped your practice? In partnership with my yoga practice, Reiki and Breath workshops are my way of managing and coping with stress through mind, body, and energy balance. I realize how new agey "mind, body, and energy balance" sounds, but it is the best way to explain how these workshops have transformed my energy in a way that, in turn, transformed how I think and accept myself and others. If you haven't tried a workshop I would encourage you to be vulnerable and open to a few hours of bliss.
What advice do you have for someone who is just starting a yoga practice? As our yoga community grows I would encourage new students to accept themselves as they are on their mat, be patient, and use my mantra, "you are enough"!
When you are not at yoga, where can we find you? What else do you enjoy doing? Away from yoga I am an Medical Social Worker, activist, dog and chicken wrangler, loving mom and wife.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure? My guilty pleasure; homemade chai with steamed half and half.
Teresa has been practicing with us for six months now and has made so much progress, we wanted to sit down with her and find out what motivates her and what she has learned:
Our understanding is that you are new to yoga, what prompted you to join the studio and start a practice? "Initially I was looking for something to help increase my flexibility and reduce my lower back pain. One of the first classes I went to was a restorative class and I immediately realized I was getting so much more than flexibility from yoga. I keep going because yoga has helped me manage my stress and anxiety, in addition to the physical improvements."
Speaking of physical improvements, can you tell us about what yoga has done for your body? "In January, I had an "InBody" test done at Tamarac, and a follow up in March that showed me how much weight I've lost in pure body fat. In those 2 months I lost 10 pounds, with the scan showing me that 1 pound was from each of my arms and 5 pounds from my core- I know that is all from doing yoga as it has been my only activity, other than chasing my kids around! This has been a huge motivator to continue doing yoga."
One of the biggest things we hear from people is that it is hard to make time for yoga. You work full time, have two small children at home, and a busy lifestyle yet you still make it to the studio often - How do you find the time and what keeps you coming back to your mat? "The night and weekend classes are great for my schedule. I don't get to go as much as I would like to, but I've been able to attend classes 2-3 times every week. I also squeeze in classes when I have scheduled days off work. My husband knows it is important to me so he takes care of the kids when I attend classes. I learn something new at every class and see little improvements in my postures. I love how I feel during and after class so it is easy to keep coming back."
We are creating a yoga community right here in Fremont - what do you like most about being a part of this community? "I've met so many nice people. It is awesome to see when someone completes a pose they have been working on, we all share in the excitement."
So far what has been your favorite yoga pose and why? "Savasana :) I love the relaxation and reflection time. I also love to flip my dog because its fun."
You have taken advantage of a lot of our special events and workshops - what has been your experience in how these enhance your practice? "I LOVE the workshops! As much as I love learning the poses and working on the physical aspects of yoga, the workshops have been very beneficial to me for working on my mental and spiritual body. I love learning new breathing techniques, and the restorative postures we use in the Reiki workshops. The workshops have really helped me with the relaxing part of the savasana. Initially I couldn't wait for savasana to end so I could go on with my day, now it is my favorite part."
Have you been able to take what you have learned off the mat into your every day life? "Absolutely! I work a desk job and I do poses I've learned in chair yoga sessions at work. I have also learned a lot about proper posture and correct myself constantly; when at work, on the couch at home, and in my car. I have also used some of the breathing techniques when I feel overwhelmed, which has helped me with reducing my stress and anxiety."
When you are not at yoga, where can we find you? What other things do you like to do in your free time? "My family and I love to go camping - we can't wait for summer! I also enjoy cooking and baking, I'm famous at work for my chocolate mint cookies and pumpkin bread."
Meet Mary Jo
We first met Mary Jo the day we opened the studio and we have had so much fun with her! She has been so dedicated to her practice (she has visited the studio more than anyone else) that we decided it was time to sit down with her and learn more about her and her practice:
It is our understanding that you had never done yoga before, what got you interested? "I had never practiced yoga before I attended the Introduction to Yoga Workshop at Joan’s studio this past June. I had been researching the benefits of yoga for about a year and when my friend Carrie told me about Joan’s new studio in Fremont, I was all in! I turned 60 years old this past December and as a former competitive Marathon runner, I was suffering from years of wear and tear on my joints, tendons and muscles. A recent bone scan showed that I have osteopenia and my doctor advised me to stop running, continue walking and start lifting weights. The idea of pushing weights around at the gym did not appeal to me. I thought what better way to lift weights than to lift your own body weight through practicing yoga while gaining some much needed flexibility."
What keeps you coming back to your mat? "Sure, I have gotten so much stronger and definitely improved my flexibility but I have gained so much more than I ever could have anticipated. I keep coming back to the mat because of what I have gained off of the mat. While yoga started as “all about me” and work to improve myself, it quickly became more about shaping my relationships and my behaviors in response to others. Joan told me early in my practice that yoga was all about improving the day to day little things. This has been so true. I now jump up to help my husband move the picnic tables across the yard, I easily fit under the sink to change out a leaky faucet but I am also less anxious driving in the passenger seat with my husband. I react more compassionately to my everyday kid issues. I judge less. I am less critical. I do have more clarity and more emotional balance. I feel more connected, more authentic. I like this new kinder version of me!"
You are the artist that created the beautiful "Aesop" The Lion Quilt that hangs in the studio, can you tell us more about this piece and how it came about? "I am a registered pharmacist and have spent much of my career involved in clinical research focused on using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. While I love the in-depth science related to my career, I also have an artistic side that is expressed through my quilting. I started quilting about 40 years ago when my mother-in-law taught me. I began to create “Aesop” the Lion quilt just prior to starting yoga in June. I really had no clue why I was making this quilt. I normally make a quilt for a very specific reason. I need inspiration from someone or something. When I first entered Joan’s yoga studio, I immediately knew she loved the color orange. Then several classes later when we practiced the lion’s breath I knew my quilt belonged in her studio. I am thrilled to have the quilt displayed in the studio for others to enjoy."
You were a competitive athlete, tell us how yoga fits into the picture and how it has shaped your outlook? "Most of my life I played competitive sports. Just to give you a taste of how competitive I was: I was co-captain of the first Class A Michigan State High School women’s basketball championship team, Dominican High School. I still hold the high schools half-mile track record. I played college basketball at Wayne State University. I came in 7th place in my 25-29 year age group in the Old Kent River Bank Run. I continued to run half marathons and marathons and qualified for Boston a few times. I played softball on numerous teams until age forty. When I turned forty my body started breaking down. My shoulders froze up, my hips were in constant pain. I gave up all competition, completed several rounds of physical therapy and just started walking and jogging to stay in shape. I lived on Aleve to sleep at night and suffered from chronic pain. I was working 60 hours a week and traveling non-stop for my job. I had no time to deal with the mess I was in. Fortunately I was able to unlock the golden handcuffs that secured me to my career, retired and started taking better care of myself. While athletics played a very positive role in my life and helped to build me into a successful leader, my life lacked balance. Even my first few years of retirement lacked focus. Yoga is helping me to find a sweet balance that I never before knew existed. I truly enjoy life in a way that I never could before. It is just me and the mat at yoga practice. I accept where I am each day and I no longer worry about having anything to prove to anybody. How liberating."
You recently took Alec's Breath Control Workshop, tell us about that experience and what has changed for you since? "I am still working on being more patient. I want everything to happen now. I took Alec’s Breath control class because I heard about how much stronger you can be practically overnight. I have experienced the benefits of feeling more energized and being able to do push-ups for the first time in a very long time. What has been the most amazing for me is my ability to meditate. My mind feels more clear, less distracted and I have a sense of calmness that is very new to me. I feel more patient. When you add in a few sessions of Alisha’s Peaceful Flow class, and feel the amazing calming energy from Adam’s Hatha class, the effects of Alec’s workshop can be quite powerful. I feel a deep happiness and contentment from within myself. Plus getting to know Alec better is an added bonus."
What is your favorite thing about creating a yoga community in Fremont? "I originally grew up in the Detroit area and moved to Grand Rapids 35 years ago. Steve and I began coming up to the lake in Hesperia in 2001. One of the added benefits of being a part of the yoga community in Fremont has been meeting new people. There are so many folks in the area that have been here for a lifetime and it can be difficult as a transplant to connect, meet and make new friends. Since attending yoga I feel that I have a new group of friends that are genuine, loving and non-judgmental. "
What’s your favorite yoga pose and why? "So far, my favorite yoga pose is the shoulder stand. When I started yoga just a few short months ago I did not have the core strength to lift my butt up off the floor. Now when I do the shoulder stand I feel like I can touch the ceiling with my toes! The pose really helps to calm my over active brain and it seems to relieve any stress that I may have from my day. I feel weightless and free. I seem to sleep better too."
When not in the yoga studio, where can we find you? "I am very fortunate to live on 40 wooded acres on McLaren Lake. If I am not enjoying a nice pontoon ride on the lake with family or friends, then you will find me in my quilting studio, in my kitchen ,or outback walking the woods. Most weekends are filled with family activities. I am one of seven kids and my husband has eight siblings, so there is always an abundance of family functions to enjoy. Between us we have six children and fourteen grandchildren. Needless to say, life is full. My husband, Steve, and I love to travel. We recently went on a pilgrimage to the Holy land and visited Israel, Jordon and Palestine. We took a wonderful trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands where we helped to build and dedicate a Catholic church and several homes for local families. Steve and I have also done some missionary work in Haiti. I spent time working in the medical clinic while Steve helped to build a new orphanage. What an eye opener that trip was for us both."
Ethel has been practicing with us since the day we opened the studio and she recently gave us a big compliment by saying that since she has been practicing with us, she has become a better Physical Therapist! We decided to sit down with her and learn more about her and her practice :
How long have you been practicing yoga and how did you get started? " I started practicing yoga in 2000 with the guidance of Madeline Fessenden who planted the seed and other teachers who nurtured the seed, Nancy Fett (in memoriam) and Ellie Randazzo (in memoriam). I was looking for a form of exercise that connected the body and mind as well as encompassed the practice of nonviolence."
What keeps you coming back to your mat? "On the mat, I feel at home with my body. I am able to face my fear, bring awareness to areas of restrictions and places of vulnerability and use my breath to rise above it. The benefits I gained from practicing yoga have compounded in interest. I used to suffer from pre menstrual syndrome and symptoms of hormonal imbalance tendency. Yoga has helped my body heal and feel balanced. Yoga has also helped me bear the pain of grieving after my mother passed away recently. I learned that healing either from physical or emotional pain is not linear. Yoga helped me transform through those stages in my life."
You recently told me that since you have been practicing yoga with us, you believe it has made you a better physical Therapist - can you tell us how?"The lessons I learned from Branch Out Yoga are lifelong lessons. I am able to share those lessons with my patients in my physical therapy practice. It feeds my understanding of how the body moves in 3 dimensions, how the mind learns one moment at a time and practicing from a place without judgement allows growth to happen. I have learned strategies that will increase patients self efficacy in managing musculoskeletal dysfunction and chronic pain."
As a Physical Therapist, you see you see a lot of people and their injuries. How do you think yoga can help people? "Yoga is a form of active rehabilitation. The meditation and breathing exercises assists in balancing the autonomic nervous system. With each inhale, the sympathetic nervous system is energized to scan for threats and with each exhale, the parasympathetic nervous system is accessed allowing the body to heal, the thoughts to organize in order to see the bigger picture and actions to be more deliberate and response able. Any given pose can be a self mobilization, a fascial release and neuromuscular education combined."
What is your favorite thing about creating a yoga community in Fremont? "Practicing side by side with others fuels my yoga practice."
What’s your favorite yoga pose and why? "Lord of the Dance Pose, to honor my father who loves to dance. The pose embodies strength, flexibility, balance and grace."
When not at the studio, where can we find you? "When not in the studio, you can find me: at Tamarac wearing my physical therapy hat and teaching tai chi, at the golf course looking for pars and birdies with my favorite golf partner, my husband (who I met at a yoga class), on the trails walking my Westie, Lucy, on Fremont Lake on a SUP with Lucy, in my garden landscaping, planting, weeding, watering, getting my hands dirty or walking the labyrinth, in my kitchen cooking, at Michigan Cloud Hands tai chi quarterly gathering workshops, at church singing at home dancing while cleaning the house or halfway around the globe visiting my birthplace Bohol and my brothers, niece and nephews or traveling etc,,,,"
Since Claire has already joined Branch Out Yoga, we decided to sit down with her and find out why she's Branching Out:
How long have you been practicing yoga? "I've been practicing consistently for four years. My first yoga training was in Bethlehem, PA with Pat Morales Poole in 1994."
What keeps you coming back to your mat? "The poses are great but what keeps me practicing is the space between the breath and the pose, those moments are sacred spaces for me."
When you are not at the studio, where can we find you? "My natural habitat is in my kitchen and on the lake. When I'm not at home, I'm at the hospital where I am a nurse."
What are you most excited about for the opening of Branch Out Yoga? "What I value most is having a private space that I can enhance my yoga practice in; a space that is dedicated, peaceful, and respectful."
What is your favorite thing about creating a yoga community in Fremont? "Ilike the idea of increasing the awareness of yoga for better health and well-being. There is also a connectivity that occurs when we practice yoga together."
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure? "Tuesday nights getting together with friends for dinner and cards! And vacations with my husband, Michael...."