TBY Teacher Feature: Michelle Fiore

TBY Teacher Feature
Michelle Fiore: The Path to Joy


Interviewed by Julia Jonson

Michelle Fiore’s love of music combined with her journey into yoga has led to a very interesting path in life. She’s a musician who plays the bass, the guitar, drums, gongs, you name it. Michelle is a recording artist, teacher of Tantra and a Kundalini Yoga teacher at Total Body Yoga. She explains Kundalini energy as the powerful creative energy that dwells in all of us. Kundalini yoga is a technology for awakening this energy. When awakened, it can help us to live in our fullest creative potential, supporting us in all of our hopes and dreams. Practicing Kundalini yoga is very healthy for the body because it works all the internal systems. Practitioners typically report leaving class feeling refreshed, renewed and revitalized. I had the joy of sitting down with Michelle and hearing about her life path.

J: I loved talking with you recently about your Midwestern roots and your musical background. Paint a picture of your journey to your yogic present through your musical past.

M: I found yoga just when I needed it. It saved me. I was young, healthy, had a great marriage, financial security, a successful business and all the material items I was told would “make me happy.” I was far from happy and this is when my soul search began and when I discovered yoga would lead the way.

As I went deeper into my own practice and into certification programs to become a teacher, my life began to change. Others around me began to notice an inner joy.

All of this led me back to my musical roots. I began incorporating my music into some of my classes, which elevated my own practice immensely. I saw it affecting practitioners too.

Yoga combined with music have empowered me to maintain things in life that both fulfill and fuel me. Music and yoga help to bring purpose to my life.

J: Andrew and I were humming along to the lovely sounds of you, and fellow Kundalini yoga teacher Carol Crawford, rehearsing recently. Tell us about being a recording artist with your band Preet.

M: I wasn’t even looking to start a yoga band, but life’s synchronicity's led me to become part of “Preet.” My yogic name is Puranpreet, fellow member Carol is Sahejpreet and band member Kitty is Sangatpreet, hence the name. The word “preet” in Kundalini yoga is one form of unconditional love. How fitting!

Our signature sound is a unique blend of acoustic guitar music that is decorated with celestial harmonies. The message of our music is all about going within (oneself) so that we can create more love in all aspects life.

We have performed at Kundalini Yoga Summer Solstice Celebration in New Mexico, which is the World’s largest annual Kundalini Yoga gathering. More recently, we appeared at the Midwest Women’s Yoga Retreat held in Wisconsin. We have regular events in various studios throughout Chicagoland and our CD “Celestial Essence” will be out later this year.

There are few greater joys in my life than sharing this music in combination with yoga.

J: There’s a huge theme of “sound” in your life ….

M: Sound is such a gift! I started playing the guitar when I was eight years old. Music always stayed with me. I completed college at NIU with a Masters in Music Performance. Every single time I perform I feel comforted, soothed and healed.

Whether I’m playing with an orchestra, harmonizing with friends around a firepit, singing on a Saturday night, or performing in a “Preet” event, music offers the magic of joy and connection for me.

In fact, the vibration within sound is so transformational that I have come to know vibration as one of the languages of yoga. It is so powerful.

J: You have so much education and experience teaching yoga. I was excited to hear that you were invited to start the process of teaching teachers. Please elaborate.  

M: It has been a dream of mine to become a Kundalini Yoga Teacher Trainer, which will be my 5th yoga certification. It’s a dream that’s coming true as I’ve been invited to be a junior trainer at Spirit Rising Yoga (the main Kundalini Yoga training center in Chicago). I’ll be working closely with Shiva Singh Khalsa and Shabad Kaur Khalsa, who are my trainers. Both of them studied with the master Kundalini Yoga teacher Yogi Bhajan.

As the Latin proverb goes, “by learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn,” I know this will take my knowledge of the ancient teachings of Kundalini Yoga to a whole new level.  While it will take me many years to complete my training, I’m committed and feel a great sense of purpose. I’m blessed to be fulfilling my destiny while helping others to find their own passions.

J: How would you describe your teaching style?   

M: I consider myself to be a dynamic teacher. In a typical class, I will offer ways where the practitioner can expand their awareness around Kundalini Energy so they have the potential to have an experience in their very first class. That is balanced out with quiet moments so the practitioner can really “tune in” and listen to what is occurring for them. It is so much about simply raising awareness. When the student learns the capacity to work with intention, and then sets their focus on that intention, awareness is raised so much that it  can expand!

J: In your opinion, why do you think yoga, in its many forms, has exploded in the Western world?  

M: We live in a time where people are seeking. We want something more than our parents had. We want fulfillment on a deeper level. Yoga offers this. That feeling of peace, calm and clarity keeps us coming back to the mat. This inevitably seeps into daily life, and suddenly the toolbox is filled with tools to keep us uplifted.

J: Tantra is a subject that is very often misunderstood. I know you’ve gone through extensive training for this and your husband and you both teach the subject matter together. Why tantra, and how did you get involved?

M: Yes, I am a Certified Level 3 Tantra teacher, a process that took more than 3 years. My husband John and I have been together since 1990. In terms of our intimate connection, we got to a place where old patterns and habits were creating blocks to expanding our connection. Studying and practicing Tantra helps us to see and to break through those obstacles or blockages. The result has been better communication, more compassion and deepened sensitivity. And while Tantra is not all about sex, it has deeply affected our sex life too. When our intimate life is connected, flowing and prosperous, all else in life tends to flow more smoothly as well. Who doesn’t want more of THAT?? J

J: Tell us something we’d be hard-pressed to know about you, like a favorite pastime. 

M: I love to watch football. Most people are stunned when they hear I'm an NFL fanatic. I’m 5’2” tall with a small frame, but I sure do know how to root for my team. When I was a kid I played football with the boys all the time. I can still throw a helluva TD pass too! J

Michelle's Teaching Schedule:

Sunday 8:00am Kundalini Yoga
Tuesday 6:30pm Kundalini Yoga
Saturday 4:30am Kundalini Yoga Sadhana

*Saturday, October 1st, Gong & Music Event: Good Vibrations 
9/29/2016   Tags:  kundalini yoga music kirtan Direct Link

Sacred Space for Your Home Practice

by Stephanie Rehor

In the yoga community I often hear quoted “we create our own reality.” Meaning whatever we plant inside will surface and bloom on the outside. While this notion is lovely, I can’t deny I often find myself challenging it. Universal law states that everything is constantly connected and the outer and inner worlds are permanently linked. So, in that, can we cultivate what’s on the outside to create a better experience on the inside? 

Asking this made me to realize that I don’t only have to travel to a yoga studio to be immersed in the divine energy of a sacred space. I could use my outer experience to enhance my inner experience by building one in my own home.

So how do we do this? While a sacred space can include a whole room it does not necessarily have to be that. My altar is in the corner of my room and it works just fine. Wherever this place may be, there are some important aspects to keep in mind. This involves lighting, energy enhancers, energy clearers, symbols, and journals.

First and arguably most important is lighting. Lighting creates the mood, as different wavelengths of light will affect different functions of the brain. Usually the physical practice of yoga requires a soft brighter light. As we get more into meditation the lighting should be minimal but not total darkness. I have two forms of lighting in my space, a brighter small lamp and a rock salt lamp. For yoga, I put on both lamps and during meditation only the dim rock salt lamp. It is important to note that natural lighting is best and if a natural light source is available it should be utilized. 

As well as light, energy enhancers and clearers are also very important in building this space. Within our spiritual practice we tend to release a lot of energy, so we want to make sure this space is clear and calm and that it will assist us is getting to a meditative state. For me, I use crystals as energy enhancers. There’s an amethyst stone, which balances the crown chakra, aiding in emotional balance and the opening of our spiritual centers. I also keep a clear quartz crystal, which absorbs any negative energy. There are a lot of different crystals that serve different purposes so it’s important to do some research and find a crystal that resonates. I find that amethyst and clear quartz are good ones to start with. To balance energy, we also need energy clearers. In my space I use white sage. When in doubt, smudging is the way to go to clear energy. Burning sage will cleanse, purify, and protect the space. Again, it is necessary to do more research about sage and how to smudge properly. If the smell is unpleasant or if smoke is bothersome, try using essential oils in a diffuser. Some good ones for clearing are rose, frankincense, or lavender.

Additionally, using symbols can be a very powerful in a sacred space. I find symbols are the basis for making it personalized and unique. This can be anything that holds importance. A couple I have in mine are laughing Buddha to symbolize my intention to not take things too seriously, and the word “serenity” to symbolize my intention to uncover peace within. Again, the symbols in the space can be very personalized. For example, someone may put a feather on their altar as a to represent freedom and letting go. These are what we make them; just make sure that they represent the intention of the practice.

Finally, it is good to have a journal in the space to record anything that may come up during the practice. When we clear the mind we are more receptive to messages, some which we desperately need to hear. Resist the urge to resonate on it; this is why it’s good to write it down to look at it later.

So while it’s no secret that our inner experience affects our reality, we have choices about our surroundings. If we consciously make the choice to fill it with sacred energy then we see the space was within us all along. 

6/21/2016   Tags:  sacred space home yoga practice Direct Link

June 21st, International Day of Yoga

What a gift it is to practice yoga! This ancient discipline that's been around for thousands of years is a seemingly perfect way to connect to the heart of who you really are. Yoga makes you healthy, vibrant, more aware, more alive and ultimately more peaceful. Yoga, which has the full attention now of many Western healing models, also has the attention of the United Nations. They've named June 21st International Day of Yoga since U.N. officials see the healing value of yoga when it comes to making people and entire communities more peaceful and connected. Won't you join us for practice tomorrow? In celebration of this special day, that coincides with the Summer Solstice, all Total Body Yoga classes are $10. So bring yourself, or bring a group -- and get connected with your highest self and your community.

Wishing you peace. 


6/20/2016   Tags:  international day of yoga Direct Link

Teacher Feature: Christine Stock

TBY Teacher Feature:
Christine Stock
Yogi and Lover of Life! 

(Christine pictured in Revolved Side Angle Pose)

interviewed by Julia Jonson

You are a dancer, have a degree in dance and used to teach. Explain how moving from this discipline into yoga was transformative for you.

I love the way the body moves. I think it is fascinating! Dancing gave me this precise awareness of my body’s posture, and movement to music. But yoga gave me this mind-body connection that actually made me more in sync with my body, more than dancing ever did. Yoga heightened my awareness of my emotions, my breath, and even my organs. Yoga taught me how it feels to live in my body and to appreciate it, flaws and all. It has taught me how to nourish my body starting from the inside and then moving outward. And I love sharing that feeling with my students. I want them not to just think that they are doing a pose correctly by looking at me or another person in the room and mimic that, I want them to really feel it. “Does it feel good?”  How can they move into a pose and even out of it and make it more integrated? Yoga is about being kind to your body and making it work at its most optimal level. Yoga is very personal and a different experience for every student. Each practitioner has a different story, their bodies and minds have been through unique journeys. So the same pose to me is going to feel different to someone else. I am a stickler for proper alignment though. Practicing a pose (asana) correctly is essential to makmg you stronger and more aware.

Like so many Sanskrit terms, the word dharma has different meanings. Using the interpretation of “doing what you were meant to do on this planet,” explain how your chosen path of yoga teacher is your true calling.  

Yoga, for me, is the ultimate elixir and feels like a cure-all.  When I’m sad, I do yoga, when I’m happy … yoga, when I’m tired or not feeling well … the same thing, yoga! It may be just 5 minutes in Child’s Pose or 5 breaths in Downward Facing Dog. Practicing always brings balance. I like teaching and sharing this knowledge and my experiences. If someone says that they do not feel good, I want to help. I believe that yoga is medicine that can improve all qualities of your life. The connections that I make with those I teach are priceless. I love watching them progress and it brings me joy when they say “thanks that is just what I needed today.”

Your path into teaching is fascinating. Describe your teacher training and then the teacher training you’ve been a part of leading.

I got my 200 hour certification in 2003 through Lotus Yoga under the direction of Shirley Walter. My mom was taking classes with Shirley and introduced me to her. Shirley (also known as Sarla) is one of the earliest disciples of Swami Rama and one of the founding directors of the Himalayan Institute in the United States.  She also helped produce some of the first yoga publications in our country. Her instruction and knowledge of Hatha yoga and meditation was invaluable to me. She was an important catalyst in bringing yoga to the U.S. Soon after my certification, I assisted her in her teacher trainings, until she became ill and stopped holding teaching in that way. During and after my training, I studied with Gabriel Halpern, Paul Grilley, Seane Corn, Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini, Desiree Rumbaugh, as well as  many others to enhance my practice.

You’re embarking on an exciting new chapter as a yoga teacher. Tell us about your upcoming 500 hour training.

I am beyond excited to start my 500 hour teacher training with Tiffany Cruikshank, the founder of Yoga Medicine. I share her a holistic approach to health and wellness and her love of anatomy and the human body. I start on May 7th. I will be in Sedona for a week studying the function and dysfunction of the hip joint. I can’t wait to come back and share what I learn. This training will take me a few years to complete because it is all retreat based but, I get to travel to some beautiful places.

What are your thoughts on modern, western yoga? It seems like the practice itself is morphing, changing, evolving as well as being more readily available. What do you think are some pros and cons of this explosion in popularity.

When I first started yoga, it definitely was not as mainstream. People thought it was a religion or an exercise for “hippies.”  I believe that the modernization of yoga is a positive and creative response to this rapidly changing world. Yoga is popping up everywhere -- in studios, the web, and in corporations. I think that is great and I would love to see it incorporated into more schools. There are so many benefits that come from practicing yoga. I think everyone on this planet should try it. Some of my favorite classes to teach are my corporate classes. The people who attend work so hard all day long sitting at a desk or standing on a factory line. They are so thankful to have this offering at their place of work. They say it improves their work day on many levels by making them more excited to come to work, not to mention the camaraderie of meeting fellow co-workers in class. The not-so-good side of so much yoga … well,  I think you have to be careful and really make sure to find a qualified teacher and a quality studio,  like TBY, to avoid injury.

Do you have a favorite pose, or group of postures that you like to practice or teach? (And why?)

I have a few favorites one of them being the dancing warrior sequence. Where you move from Virabhadrasana I to Virabhadrasana II -- to “reverse warrior” (Parsva Virabhadrasana) then on to side angle pose (Parsvokonasana), then through a basic vinyasa. Linking these poses together and  flowing through them with my breath as my guide is a little dance for me. Also, I love doing core work. If you have ever been to my classes, you know I will try to sneak it into every class because I believe that strong deep-abdominal muscles give you better posture and makes it easier to move not just in your yoga poses but in everyday life.

Family life can be hectic, draining, joyful and awesome all at once. How does being a student of yoga help with being a wife and mom?

All I can say to answer this question is that it has taught me how to breathe, breathe, breathe! And I tell my family to do the same. They may roll their eyes at me but they know that whenever life gets to be too hectic, or too overwhelming, the one thing that works consistently every time is to -  “just, close your eyes and breathe!”

Your eyes light up when you are talking about your family. You beam as you talked about your daughter and two sons. I know it will be challenging to keep it brief, but tell me a bit about your very interesting children!

I love to talk about my children. Tyler is my oldest (21). He is my rock star. He is at Mizzou studying Mechanical Engineering but his passion is in his music and his band, Ray Wild. He plays lead electric guitar, writes his own music and performs. I love to watch him play. I’m his biggest groupie, but have been instructed not to stand in the front row, because that is too embarrassing. My 2nd oldest, Matt (18) is my entrepreneur. He is at Indiana University in the Kelley School of Business.  He loves sports, especially baseball and basketball. Right now thinks he is smarter than his parents, which he is, but please don't tell him that. My daughter, Isabella (15) is  beautiful, smart and talented. She dances with the Stevenson Dance Company and Midwest Dance Collective in Barrington. She loves to sew and wants to go into the fashion business. She is my perfect shopping companion.

You’re so filled with life and such a gorgeous smile. You painted an awesome picture of dancing around your kitchen while cooking. Please elaborate and share some other little-known fact about yourself.  

Haha, thank you! With the right music blaring in the background, it makes everything more fun. Growing up in an Italian household, everything revolved around food, and still does. I love to cook healthy vegetarian meals. I believe you are what you eat, so why not eat a nutritious meal and fuel your body to create a vibrant healthy life. But also, if I want some dark chocolate and a glass of red wine, I’m not going to deprive myself.  I think cooking can be relaxing. I like experimenting with new recipes, but mostly just throwing together whatever I have on hand.

My husband and I love going to all kinds of concerts. I am an 80’s hairband girl at heart. Bon Jovi is my favorite and, I also love country music. This summer, I’m going to see County Thunder, Windy City Lakeshake and the Zac Brown Band -- just to name a few. I like to have fun, travel, dance like nobody's watching, do the things that make me happy. I can really say I have a love for life!
Christine's Schedule:
Tuesday, 9:15 - 10:30am Level 1
Tuesday, 10:45 - 12:00pm Basics
Wednesday, 1:00 - 2:15pm Level 1
6/8/2016   Tags:  Christine Stock Direct Link

Teacher Feature: Bette Plass

TBY Teacher Feature

Bette Plass
Grateful for the Journey

(Bette Plass, on one of her many journeys, pictured in Parighasana)
Interviewed by Julia Jonson

Your very presence is peaceful and when you’re in teacher mode you have an eloquent way of sharing that energy. How do you maintain your center so that you can be a source of healing for others?

So funny you should say that – I often don’t feel that way on my way to class.  I have a tendency to always be in a hurry resulting in not being centered. When I reflect on having polio, I realize that a gift of polio was to slow me down so that I could live more in the present moment.  When I enter the studio classroom and see my students, I mentally notice everyone and send gratitude their way for showing up to my yoga class.  Checking in with them and asking for requests helps me feel a connection and calms me.  I begin my class with gentle flowing movements connected to the breath helping both my students and myself to feel centered and to come together in the practice of yoga.  If I feel the class is rushing or I have lost my focus I join the class in a slow flowing movement matching the rhythm of the breath.  Deep breaths are always so calming. 

Incorporating strengthening postures during your gentle classes is something you do so beautifully. Give us a snippet of your own healing journey to build strength in the wake of Polio.

It was a long journey of constantly trying new techniques to help my body move through life with greater ease and strength.  For many years I searched for that one expert that could tell me what my body needed to get through the physical demands of life.  It wasn’t until I became a yoga teacher that I realized I was the expert.  I needed to learn as much as I could from other experts but it was up to me to figure out what helped my body and what harmed my body.  I have seen many doctors who specialize in polio, physical therapists, chiropractors, personal trainers and acupuncturists.  From all of them I have learned more about my body and about healing.  I have taken many types of exercise classes including aerobics, step classes, and dance classes.  I have studied tai chi, feldenkraise, pilates and self massage.  Learning many exercises helped my body but it wasn’t until I took the yoga teacher training that I was able to put it all together to improve my physical being.  This also helped me create a nurturing, gentle practice that helped students gain flexibility, build strength and increase their ability to heal their bodies.

You are the epitome of someone who ages gracefully (and we all start aging as 20-somethings). How has yoga helped?

Aging gracefully is a constant challenge but has become easier as I constantly rely on yoga’s gifts to help me face new challenges.  Physically, yoga has helped me with balance, strength, alignment, deeper breathes, flexibility, and pain management.  Mentally, yoga has helped me listen to my body and come up with a yoga approach to help the body cope with aging.  Meditation practice has helped me listen more to my intuition on what my body needs and helped me discover its amazing healing ability. Through meditation practice, I have realized and more importantly, accepted that I am on a life journey with a beginning and an end.  This has resulted in my effort to face every new day with gratitude and try to make the most of each day I am given.  Emotionally, yoga has helped me accept difficult times in my life and know that although I may be having a rough or sad day it will not last forever.  Socially, the yoga community has supported me through hard times, has given me wonderful new friends, given me the opportunity to teach my love of yoga and take part in new adventures.  All of my students have touched my heart, inspired me and enriched my life.

And to that end, tell us about some of things you’ve been working on, such as Ananta and your upcoming, September workshop, to help guide anyone of any age through this inevitable process of life?

I have the honor of working with Wendy Dahl on a shared passion of getting the message out that anyone can do yoga.  We have created the workshop Ananta with Maryanna Gibbs on the inclusiveness of yoga and how to modify yoga so that anyone can do this powerful practice.  In September, I am doing a workshop on coping with midlife stiffness (September 10th, 2:00 - 4:00pm, watch TBY's website for details).  I noticed that people become aware of stiffness sometime during their middle years.  I want to challenge the assumption that stiffness is something you just have to accept as part of aging.  I have spent my lifetime working with a body that is physically challenged.  I want to take all I learned about coping with changes in the body and help students develop a practice to improve their physical ability and get in touch with all that is beautiful within themselves during this journey in life.  In this workshop I will be explaining the aging process and how to cope and actually improve your physical well-being through your journey of life.  The students will experience how to open the body, how to discover what the body needs, and how to build muscles to support the alignment and flexibility they have gained. The workshop will end with the wonderful nurturing practice of restorative yoga. 

Hard work honing your craft has culminated with the final stages of earning your 500 hour certification. Please share about your latest learning endeavors and share how your studies have helped you to grow your teaching ability?

I enjoy working and studying with many different instructors.  Everyone has their own approach which gives me even more options when I create a class plan or work with a private student.  Last year I had the privilege of studying with David Lurvey and Mirjam Wagner In an advanced therapeutic training in Brazil to complete my 500 hour certification.  I learned so much more about therapeutic and yin yoga.  I am fascinated by how our amazing bodies work and how we can help them when they are in pain.  It was so rewarding to spend a full week focused on teaching yoga.  I was very touched by how they approached their students.  They dedicated time to get to know each student’s life story.  They were extremely supportive and very inspiring.  It was fascinating to meet yogis from around the world and learn from their approaches to yoga classes.

We talked about how hard it used to be to find yoga, let alone yoga studios, in the Midwest decades ago. What are your thoughts on yoga’s rise in popularity in Western culture?

When working with a physical therapist after an injury I was surprised how many of their stretches were from yoga.  A few years ago I was taking classes from a personal trainer and would constantly laugh about several of the things we did that came directly from yoga.  When I was taking Pilates classes to be certified, I was surprised at how many movements came from the physical practice of yoga.  Many health practitioners are learning the wisdom of yoga practice.  I get referrals from several practitioners because they are impressed with not only the physical practice, but also the holistic approach of yoga.  If we want to change our bodies and improve our lifestyle we need more than physical exercise.  We need to treat the whole person, looking at their attitude about their body, their motivation, their lifestyle choices, how they view the world, their reaction to stress --- so much more goes into being healthy.  It is not just a matter of physical exercise.  Yoga is popular because it effectively changes how a person lives their life since it includes healing the body, the mind and getting in touch with our beautiful spirits.

My all-time favorite poem is by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken (“two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference”). It certainly seems as if you’ve chosen to live this way. Your career adventures alone read like a good novel. Give us a snapshot of some of the amazing things you’ve done and jobs you’ve had.

I went to college in the late sixties, a time of rebellion, rapid change and a whole world of possibilities opening up for women.  I wanted to lead an exciting, adventurous life.  I was fascinated by psychology and became a social worker working with young people in street gangs.  We had a unique program were we would meet young people wherever they were:  on the streets, in the schools, at a drop-in center or at their homes.  It was an exciting, scary, amazing time in my life.  During this time, I went to funerals of young people and could not cope with the sadness.  I would lay awake at night wondering how could we save these young people.  It was at this time I discovered the wonderful world of yoga.  Savasana taught me how to relax and get sleep so I could continue my work.

After my children were born I started training other people how to work effectively with young people.  I became in charge of an outdoor adventure training program which included rock climbing and high rope courses.  I trained police officers, parents, teachers and other social workers.  I then decided to go to law school and became a prosecutor for Cook County working in family court and later in criminal court.  The transition between nurturing social worker and aggressive lawyer helped me experience the yin and yang parts of my personality and the two different approaches to life.  I then started my own business consulting with corporations on team building and leadership skills.  I was also an adjunct professor teaching leadership skills.  After I retired from these jobs I sat at home and asked myself:  “Now what?”  “What can I offer the world to stay involved and try to improve this human experience?” I decided to take a yoga teacher training course to improve my own practice.  With the support and encouragement of Wendy Dahl I became a teacher and love every moment of my latest career.

How does your personal practice affect your role as mother and grandmother?

Throughout my life as a mother I have encouraged my children to keep moving and respond to the needs of the body.  When a body becomes stiff or is in pain it should not be ignored.  I love when one of my five children comes to me and asks about a physical discomfort they are experiencing.  We discuss it and discover together how to take care of the problem.  Teaching yoga to my grandchildren is a joyful experience.  They have such a fun outlook on yoga.  They really experiment and play with the poses.  They are so proud of themselves when they learn a new pose.

When I retired, I wondered what I would do with my life.  I wondered if I had anything to offer.  I wondered if I would be looked upon as one of those old people who just lived in the past and had nothing to offer in conversations but memories.  My love and passion for yoga keeps me interesting.  My search to learn more about yoga has introduced me to amazing people.  The rewards of helping people feel more comfortable in their bodies and enjoy movement is so amazing and rewarding. I am truly blessed by yoga.

Bette's Schedule:
Monday 10:45am Gentle Basics
Wednesday 10:45am Gentle Basics
*Workshop on Allieviating Mid-life Stiffness September 10th 2:00 - 4:00pm
6/8/2016   Tags:  Bette Plass Direct Link

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! 

4/29/2016   Tags:  Laura Mills, Lupus, Seva Saturday Direct Link

Teacher Feature: Page Webb

Page’s Path

A Peek at Page Webb’s Eclectic Yoga and Life Journey

(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!
Page's Schedule:

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
4/24/2016   Tags:  teacher feature; Page Webb; interview Direct Link

Teacher Feature: Mara Campbell

Teacher Spotlight
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


4/24/2016   Tags:  teacher; Mara Campbell; interview; feature Direct Link

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

4/24/2016   Tags:  teacher; feature; Brooke Cline; interview Direct Link

Teacher Feature: Andrea Harris

TBY Teacher Feature
Andrea Harris
A Deeply Examined Existence 

(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
Thursday 4:00 - 5:00 pm Warm Flow
Saturday 7:45 - 9:00 am Level 2
Sunday 4:30 - 5:45pm Level 1 
4/24/2016   Tags:  teacher feature; Andrea Harris; interview Direct Link