Finding the Mahadevi: Jeny Jones

Mahadevi: “devi”/goddess, Great Goddess, encompassing all female deities/goddesses

 

Since the beginning of time women have played many roles. Women are mothers and nurturers—taking care of family, children, the earth, and animals. In prehistoric times women were gatherers – responsible for gathering water and plants while taking care of their children and household. In some societies, women would help fight and were warriors; in other societies women were viewed as goddesses and held in high regard due to the ability to bear children and perceive things in different ways.  These goddesses were given gifts of gold, adorned silk robes, jewels, fine tea and linens, anything beautiful one could imagine. As time progressed, women were able to move into the workplace, climb the corporate ladder, all while keeping their household in check. While women can accomplish and do great things, sometimes our lights get dimmed by today’s patriarchal society and the high expectations women set on themselves. By doing so, we remove ourselves from the goddess that is within. We have traded our silk robes and linen gowns for power suits, a baby on our hip, and a paycheck. This progression in society has propelled the importance of the female into the stratosphere. However, this meteoric rise can lead to emptiness as we continually empty our cup to give to others and deal with the variety of stigmas placed on women in society today.

 

Over the past few years as I have dove deeper into the healing arts and have had the joy of meeting strong, powerful women, I have noticed a trend. A trend of reconnecting today’s modern women to her inner goddess or devi. These women are teaching other women the power their words have, how to take back their own control (control of body, mind spirit), and to reconnect themselves to the beauty that is within. One such woman that is doing this in Knoxville is Jeny Jones.

 

Jeny and Her Daughter Dancing a Hoop Duet

 

Jeny Performing a Hoop Dance Routine

 

I have recently crossed paths with Jeny in Harper Addison’s contemporary dance class. From the moment I met Jeny, I admired her gentle and wise spirit. Her dancing was passionate, ethereal, almost other worldly. After class, we would chat and the more I got to know her, the more I saw her passion for helping women find their goddess and encourage them in their life choices. Jeny helps women connect with their inner devi through her practice of Mahadevi Healing Arts.  Mahadevi Healing Arts combines all of Jeny’s passions: dance, yoga, hoop dance, and massage.

 

Growing up in Kansas City, Jeny always had a love affair with movement and dance. It wasn’t till she transferred to a magnet school that she began formal dance training. From that moment, she was hooked and found her outlet. Dance was Jeny’s way of healing. Jeny notes, “Throughout most of my life, I suffered from depression and anxiety, and dance helped to calmed me, and elevate my mood. Mind/Body connection, breath connection, creative expression, and safe, supportive, encouraging community interaction were all components that helped me to cope and to even thrive”.  The beauty of dance carried her into her college years where she received a BFA in Dance from Washington State University in St. Louis. Not only did she fall deeper in love with dance during this time, she also found another mode of healing- massage therapy.

 

Art Activism- “Dance for the Water” in Boulder Creek, Boulder, CO June 2013

 

 

Jeny Leading a Planet Motion Dance World Class

 

Like most dancers (myself included), sometimes we find ourselves in a career altering injury that causes us to seek other modalities of healing and stress relief. The impending doom of an injury is the worst thought for a dancer, but sometimes these injuries unfold new entities that our soul needs. This is what massage was for Jeny. It was a compliment to her dance career and a career path that could help others heal from their wounds, be it internal or external. The world of massage has led her to study many forms including: Shiatsu, Swedish, Injury Rehab for Dancers/Athletes, Infant, Pre/Post Natal, Ayurvedic Massage, and Hot Stone.

 

In the realm of modern dance, one will naturally stumble upon yoga. She began to study yoga as a teen,  and continued to study into her twenties and with her husband when they lived in Colorado. Together, they studied with Joan Harrigan of Knoxville’s own, Patanjali’s Kundalini Yoga Care-coming to Knox regularly for private studies and guidance. Jeny found solace in this spiritual practice that aided in her life long battle with anxiety and depression. In 2013, they decided to move to Knoxville to study Traditional Kundalini Science and Vedanta with Swami Chandrasekharan and because they fell in love with Knoxville during their visits. When Jeny began to combine all three of these passions and healing practices together, she began her business Mahadevi Healing Arts.

 

Jeny brings Mahadevi to a variety of places in Knoxville. She offers her vast massage techniques to women and mothers at The Wellhouse, “ a parenting and pregnancy resource center”. Since Mahadevi is geared towards women she feels that The Wellhouse is where she  belongs. When she isn’t giving a massage, you can also find her leading a Planet Motion Dance World Class (at Wellhouse) that enables mothers and the everyday woman “who really appreciate having the time to take care of themselves, while having fun! “.  Jeny also teaches contemporary dance, creative movement for kids, and offers a free flow jam at The Emporium Annex. All of her offerings are for those who need time to rejuvenate, reconnect, “connect with the Divine”, and to provide a positive atmosphere for freedom and healing. For more on Jeny go to her website and “Like” Mahadevi Arts on Facebook. ***Pictures courtesy of Jeny Jones.

 

Jeny Performing at Gaian Mind Festival in Maryland in 2009

Peaceful Pieces at Broadway Studios & Gallery

When you hear the word peace what comes to mind? Do you visualize your favorite place or a secluded area? Maybe you see the color white or another color of the rainbow. Maybe peace gives you a feeling deep inside your bones. Merriam-Webster defines peace in six ways, “a state of tranquility or quiet…free from disturbance…freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions…harmony in personal relations…a pact or agreement to end hostilities…used interjectionally to ask for silence or calm or as a greeting or farewell”. In yoga, we strive for inner peace through meditation, physical postures, and the practice of yamas/niyamas. Yogis yearn to find that tranquility through a mind that is as still as water and as free from disturbance as Merriam-Webster describes.

 

If you are searching for some inner peace and don’t want to use the yoga mat, then stop by Broadway Studios & Gallery. I first stumbled upon BSG when I highlighted them on Knoxville Urban Guy’s blog, Inside of Knoxville. I really enjoy the movement that Jessica Gregory, Cynthia Tipton, Anne Freels, and others at BSG are doing to propel art into the community and bringing Knoxvillians to Old North. Each month BSG holds an exhibit–the work of an individual, group shows, or themed exhibits. This month BSG is bringing a small section of peace to Knoxville with their latest exhibit, Peace Works.

 

 

 

 

With fifty-one peace-pieces in the show, there is a variety of interpretations of the word peace. All the artists in residence at BSG were in one accord with this theme. Jessica Gregory, one of the driving forces behind BSG, found this show as a way to express feelings that can be said but “expressed visually through art”. Cynthia Tipton, an artist in residence at the gallery thought that “it might be a good outlet for people”. Together they hope that this exhibit will provide a way for people to “listen to one another and find resolutions that we can all live with, but we all must live together”.  What Jessica, Cynthia, and the other BSG artists describe is what we strive for through our yoga practice, a way to live in peace and harmony with one another despite our differences.

 

As I walked through the gallery after being welcomed by gallery dog, Bebe, I was intrigued by all the different mediums and interpretations of peace. There was encaustic sculptures, nature photography, still life paintings, acrylic paintings, mixed media, charcoal, pen and ink drawings, oil paintings, collage, even a dreamcatcher. Each piece of art clearly showed the point of view the artist was trying to get across. In this exhibit, each artist could submit up to three works. The artists who chose to submit three did at least two different meanings of peace. Some of my favorite ones were: David McElyea’s Beneath the Peace (I loved his trash polka inspired, graphic oil painting), Anne Freels’ Reflections of Peace (lipstick and markers on a mirror, reflecting how peace begins with us), Kathryn Aycock’s Every Human Longs for Peace and Love (mixed media), and Jessica Payne’s Rise Up Flower and Wish (acrylic paintings).

 

 

Every Human Longs for Peace and Love, Kathryn Aycock

 

 

To my surprise there were two artists who I had featured on AUM in the Arts, Misty Fritz Tippens and Robert H. Thompson, had submitted pieces for Peace Works. It was exciting to see their works being showcased and both won awards. Misty had three pieces in Peace Works and this was her first showing. For a first showing, I’m going say she did great! Her piece, {Ethereal Spirit, Fruitful Thoughts, Gentle Words~Peaceful Being} won an honorable mention. Each of Misty’s pieces were inspired by walking with empathy, compassion, having faith, and the commonality in all of us. Misty believes that anyone, not just artist or yogis, can contribute to a peaceful world by walking with empathy and practice patience with others. Robert also won an honorable mention for Conflict Resolution. His work is about, “methods of resolving conflicts-making progress towards peace-may not be apparent at first but may be discovered through a closer study, a willingness to change perspective, and a humble approach”. Like everyone who participated and juried the show, Robert believes that “art has the capability to promote social change”.

 

 

{Etherial Spirit, Fruitful Thoguhts, Gentle Words~Peaceful Being}, Misty Tippens

 

 

Conflict-Resolution by Robert H. Thompson

 

 

Best in Show was awarded to Marianne Zeigler’s work, Great Hearts Think Alike. Marianne took the part of the show, “what peace means to me” seriously and wanted to create something truly unique. She strived to make this work not just about peace, but a real piece of herself. Marianne combined her love for photographing urban decay with this element of peace in Artist’s Alley/Armstrong Alley off Market Square. She wanted to capture peace by observing a moment–observing a metal sculpture. Marianne didn’t know what she had captured till she was uploading the pictures to her computer. As she took a closer look, she saw graffiti on a doorway that said, “We outnumber him. Resist”. Marianne was truly excited on how this piece came together. She loved that a message from “some beautiful stranger reminding me that I’m not alone in the world. There are others out there that share in my concerts for equality, minorities, for refugees”. Marianne appreciated how the way this graffiti was laid out was in a non-violent manner, it reminded her that how when we all come together to seek peace, we are a “human shield…protecting what’s right and good in this world”. The end result is truly something to behold. You can easily see and feel why the jurors chose her as Best in Show.

 

After my goodbye belly rubs to Bebe, I left BSG with a sense of inner peace. It is always nice when art makes you think, charges your mind, and you leave feeling different than when you came in. Peace Works was a great way for me to get my daily yoga practice in mindfulness and meditation upon viewing the work; removing outside obstacles, and reflecting on what peace means to me. I hope Peace Works moves others to think about what peace means to them. You can view Peace Works anytime BSG is open: Thursday-Saturday 11 AM-7 pm, the exhibit closes March 30th. Follow BSG on IG (@bsgknox) and Facebook for all the latest exhibits and showings.

 

 

Great Hearts Think Alike, Marianne Ziegler. Picture Courtesy of Marianne Ziegler

A Mile of Mindfulness: Amanda Kilday

“The Miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk the green earth. Dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive”. –Thich Nhat Hanh

 

In yoga we are obsessed with walking. We talk and read about being mindful with our walking. How we can walk peacefully without disturbing those around us. Yogis like to walk quietly, feeling each and every part of our foot on the ground, the sun shining on our skin, the smell of flowers and clover wafting in the air. Sometimes we take our walking as a form of meditation-synching the inhales and exhales to our steps. Yogis are not only obsessed with walking mindfully in a physical sense, but also in a mental. How can we walk with peace and mindfulness in other people’s lives?  Yogis are on a mission to make the world a better place with each physical and mental step we take as we step off the mat and into the world.

 

When I think of peaceful walking, I cannot help but think of today’s feature, Amanda Kilday. From the moment I met her in her tiny studio co-owned with other AUM in the Arts feature, Amanda Bliss, I saw her inner peace. Amanda is one of the few people who I generally feel is of the earth and this comes across in how she lives her life, when she teaches yoga, and how she interacts with the world around her. As you get to know her, you will see how she uses her grounded mindset to impact the lives of others and help them find their own inner peace.

 

Amanda Kilday

 

 

Photography by Amanda

 

Like many of my yoga colleagues and friends, Amanda is full of surprises and talents. Amanda not only teaches yoga, but she creates beautiful jewelry, photography, pottery, reclaimed wood transfers, and tends to her farm. She is always creating and finding new ways of bringing items “back to life” whether it is one of her senior adults in her yoga classes or reclaimed items she finds.

 

Amanda’s journey on her mat began on the beaches of Miami, Florida in 1999. She would attend classes on the beach and went solely for physical purposes (like many of us). It wasn’t till her first child, Ian Reed, was born that the practice shifted and it became more than the physical. With this new inner peace, Amanda wanted to take it out into the world and bring things back to life.

 

Amanda Loves The Great Outdoors

 

Photography by Amanda

 

After suffering a miscarriage, Amanda not only relied on her yoga practice for solace, but began creative art as a way to deal with the trauma. With this pain “creativity began to bubble” and seep out.  Her first artistic endeavor was jewelry line called Reeds of Gray (named after her two children, Reed and her daughter Gray). Amanda then branched out into photography, taking pictures of life on her farm. Amanda would capture moments of life blossoming each season, with each picture paying respect to the earth and as a way to give thanks for the beauty of God’s creation. Over the past three years she has stepped into a new medium, pottery. Amanda has fallen in love with clay and is sharing it with others through her own private home pottery studio. Amanda and her students can bring this clay to life by making plates, vases, wall pocket garden pieces. Amanda’s is also fond of picture transfers on reclaimed wood. Amanda searches her farm and all round her town of Greeneville for wood scraps from old buildings, wooden forests, or any places where “lives were led and memories were made” she also uses and repurposes old tin, buttons, and beads she finds and then “daydreams” about the previous owners as she brings these items back to life with her photography.

 

When Amanda isn’t creating, she is teaching yoga and walking mindfully in her students lives. Her yoga teaching path has taken on many shapes over the years from owning a yoga studio in Greeneville with Amanda Bliss, A Simple Studio, to private lessons.  Now she gets her biggest blessing—teaching yoga at an assisted living facility. Her assisted living facility students are “her heart”. Not only does she bring peace into their lives and restore them through her classes, but their “ hugs and energy” reboot her life so she can go on spreading peace. One thing Amanda notices in these classes is the love and eagerness these adults have—they will try anything new and approach the practice with a youthful vigor. Through their yoga practice together, her students have learned how to cope with the stress of being uprooted from their lifelong homes and loss of loved ones. It is when her students tell her what they receive from her is how Amanda knows that she is walking where she needs to be.

 

Amanda’s Photography and Wood Transfers

 

Amanda’s “Heart”-Her Senior Yogi’s

 

Through her practice of yoga and art Amanda brings peace and love back to the earth and those around her. Her philosophy of “yoga is life and life is yoga” permeates all boundaries.  She sees herself as a student of life and “working on progression of self realization and connecting with the divine” is in each and every step she takes as she steps off her mat and into the world. Find out more about Reeds of Gray on Facebook or follow Amanda on IG @akilday .***pictures courtesy of Amanda Kilday.

Yoga & Art as a Recovery Tool

#NEDAwareness  (National Eating Disorders Association) Week is almost to a close and I am going to share my perspective and journey with using yoga and art as a tool for my own recovery. Over the course of my six year recovery journey I have used a plethora of activities to maintain a mostly eating disorder free life. Not only have these tools helped me to maintain recovery and keep relapses at a minimum; they’ve also helped me to keep a hold on my anxiety, depression, and added balance to my hectic “organized chaos” lifestyle.  Many of the tools in my recovery toolbox have changed over the years but two have stayed the same:  yoga and art. Yoga has shaped my life, body, mind, spirit, and recovery. Art, in the form of dance/writing/collage making has given me an outlet to always express feelings that I am needing to make sense of in the present moment. How does yoga and art fit into my post eating disorder and exercise addicted life? Read on…

 

 

Yoga

Yoga has a wonderful and uncanny ability to creep into your life and mold itself to whatever box you are in,  and when it is released it takes on a new life and helps you to realize how much bigger the universe is. It reminds me of the beast from Fantastic Beasts, an Occamy. With yoga being more than just a physical practice, it lends itself perfectly to a recovery program, completely customizable with a fluidity that helps break down the rigidity of an addicted life.

 

Yoga became more than an exercise program when I got really serious about becoming one with my body. Those of us with EDs have an acute and creepy body awareness.  We feel each and every sensation that happens in our bones, cells, muscles,  and nerves. Add being a dancer on top of that and you have an extreme awareness of everything around you and within you. EDs make you believe you are in touch with your body but in fact it is the opposite. You are only in touch with how bad your ED makes you feel about your body. Your body is bad. Your body is fat. Your body is imperfect. Your body is trash. Yoga on the other hand, shows you the opposite– that your body isn’t bad, fat, trash, or imperfect. Your body is a temple and a vehicle for great things. Most importantly it teaches you that you are more than your body, which is the complete opposite of what EDs tell you.

 

 

Photo by Steve Soaringoak Steigenga

 

 

Yoga also teaches you how to be present in the moment and how to acknowledge discomfort and move on. While I still struggle with this I am more aware of it then I ever was. I cannot tell you how many times I have missed out on opportunities because I was worried about calories, about not being perfect, and about failing. I missed drinking wine at midnight on top of a mountain in Maine because while I was there I was worried about-breaking the rules, calories, and taking a risk. I missed out on parties because there was going to be food there and I didn’t want to indulge in food or have people ask me why I wasn’t eating.  I missed out on how great an outdoor hike could be because all I was thinking about was how many calories I was burning. Yoga and the practice of mindfulness helped me to take everything one item at a time and to feel everything. It showed me that feeling isn’t bad but good. Truly feeling my feet on the earth, the sun shining on my skin, and the smell of flowers tickling my nostrils is unlike anything my ED could give me.

 

Lastly, yoga teaches me how to energetically align and balance my body. With a mix of Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science) and the use of the Chakra System, I can tailor my home practice to what my needs are. If my anger and anxiety are high I practice on my first and second chakras while incorporating restorative and yin style poses. Even though I may really want to do a fierce flow to get my anger out, it would make things worse. If I’m feeling insecure and closed off I will focus on backbending and inverting to stimulate Chakras four through seven. I also try to bring a sense of awareness to parts of my body that I am avoiding to feel and truly try to send them positive prana or just get to know them better through going within. One of my favorite yoga therapy tools was a practice I got from Integrative Yoga Therapy. It taught me how to structure a class/practice for either anorexia or bulimia. I would sit down with that paper and practice the recommended sequences, mantras, mudras, and meditations. That is one of the ways I started a home practice.

 

 

Photo by Steve Soaringoak Steigenga

 

Art

Art Therapy is a fantastic tool to have in one’s recovery tool box. Art Therapy has been proven time and time again to alleviate symptoms and unlock root causes of addiction, self-harm, trauma, etc. I have used a variety of mediums to aid in my recovery with my favorites being: collage making, writing, music, and of course dance.  Each one has a special quality to it that, like yoga, can easily fit into what I need at the current moment. Again, the fluidity of this practice can make it easily accessible and there is always something to do.

 

When I first began recovery I made a lot of collages. I’ve loved collages ever since I was little. I loved searching for pictures, words, and colors that spoke to me. I had binders filled with inspiration and I would search and layout the pictures. I never knew what the collage would be about and what shape it would take till after I was done. When it was complete it was a masterpiece that definitely always fitted the moment.  Most of the time they talked about the different elements of femininity but sometimes they were just humorous and colorful.

 

 

Photo by Katie Norrell

 

In addition to collage-making I started to write. Growing up I had dreams of becoming a poet or a published story writer. I began writing when my Mom gave me my first journal when I reached the ripe old age of 8 and never looked back. I use to chronicle my life (my “memoirs”, I was going to publish them when I became famous) all through high school and college. I began writing poetry when I was in high school and loved everything about poetry. I wrote poems till my freshman year in college, when my ED took control of my life. I even stopped writing my “memoirs”, or wrote them less frequently. It wasn’t till I was in therapy and started a recovery journal that I remembered how much I loved to write. While I haven’t picked up a pen to write a poem I did start my first blog, imageoftheheart, where I wrote about recovery. Now I write this blog, keep up my recovery  blog, and have written for several local blogs. Writing for me is meditative because I have to choose the right words. I get to explore places and meet fascinating people and share stories of intriguing individuals. It helps me get my mind off my food intake and whether or not I exercised that day.

 

Last but certainly not least is my favorite art form, dance. Dance was touch-and- go when I first started recovery because dance had a triggering aspect to it. Performing was a huge trigger—the costumes, people looking at me, being perfect…everything my ED loved. After some time away from dance I found how therapeutic it could be. I learned how I could use class, choreography, or an improv session in the studio to dance out my feelings and release what was holding me back. I could channel anxious energy into a petite allegro. I could and still do use ballet barre as a form of meditation, focusing on every part of my body in the technique. I learned how to stop impressing people when I dance to just dance for myself (still a work in progress!). Now a days dance helps me say ‘NO’ to my ED because I dance in a neo-vaudeville troupe and I sometimes show my belly button! I know this may not sound like a lot, but doing small reveals and showing small parts of my body is a way I am telling my disorder that it is no longer in control. While I may be nervous and anxious about the reveal, I am still going on stage showing my belly button, something that the old Leslie would never have done.

 

 

Santa Baby w/ The Ooh Ooh Revue. Photo by Mike Stewart of Starrlight Images

 

Since yoga and art teach us to be open, honest, and vulnerable I’m going to share with you a work I created over five years ago in response to my ED. It’s called Stop the Presses and it was my second choreographed work. I used material from my recovery journals to create the phrases and gestures for my piece. I even got to rip up a magazine and make a mess, and who doesn’t love making a mess on purpose? So if you want to see a very young and fresh faced baby Leslie press play and enjoy! By the way, I’m cringing at the thought of people watching this…..

 

Babies and Body Image and Yoga! Oh My!: Chelsey Bishop & Leslie Mullins

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) dedicates a whole week to bringing awareness to a very hush-hush topic: Eating Disorders (ED). Eating disorders are more diverse and complicated than what society portrays them to be. Eating disorders are dangerous and deadly. Eating disorders, especially Anorexia, has the highest  mortality rate of any mental illness. What makes these disorders so deadly is that most individuals suffer in private and refuse to seek help. Eating Disorders do not discriminate and any gender, sex, race, and socioeconomic class are susceptible to disordered eating. Eating disorders are more than Anorexia and Bulimia–other eating disorders are: Disordered Eating, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Orthorexia (obessession with clean eating), and within each type there is a spectrum. As an eating disorder survivor I am passionate about bringing awareness and shedding light on this topic. I am also passionate about letting other survivors share their stories to show how diverse and individual ED’s are. This week a few special individuals and myself will be sharing how yoga and/or art has helped us overcome or ED, stay in recovery, and build a positive body image. For  more information on ED’s please check out NEDA’s website.

 

Today my long time friend, writer, and fellow yoga teacher, Chelsey Bishop. Chelsey has a passion for helping and inspiring pregnant ladies to have a holistic and peaceful pregnancy. In addition to her 200 hr TT she has recently completed her pre/post-natal yoga certification and is currently working towards becoming a doula. I am excited for Chelsey to share Leslie’s story because Leslie battled an eating disorder during her pregnancy. Eating Disorders and disordered eating happen during pregnancy more than people are aware of. Leslie uses/used yoga as a tool not only to aid in recovery but as a tool to help her teach her children about body positivity and that their bodies are beautiful. For more information Chelsey’s services find her on Facebook at Moonlight Zen. Here’s Chelsey and Leslie:

 

Fostering a positive body image during pregnancy through yoga

 

Developing a healthy relationship with food starts when we’re little as we watch the relationship our own parents have with it. No other time is a healthy food intake more important than during a woman’s pregnancy. However, the emotional and mental aspect of gaining any weight is met with fear and frustration for anyone with an eating disorder.

 

When Leslie Mullins found out she was going to be a mother, she had only been in recovery for an eating disorder for two years. Leslie and her doctor were both concerned the pregnancy would trigger a relapse. “My eating disorder was well documented at my OB’s office because of bone density loss that it had caused so there was no avoiding it. I was terrified of essentially not being in control of my body for 9 months. In my first pregnancy,  I didn’t necessarily restrict, but I counted the calories of everything that went in my mouth, ate the same things all the time and was obsessive about hitting the exact calorie count I felt was appropriate for a pregnant person. As a lot of people in recovery do, I always had nurses weigh me with me facing away from the scale so I didn’t know how much/how little I had gained until they weighed me at the hospital when I was in labor. I also did have a few binge/purge episodes during my first pregnancy. I’m short, I looked healthy to everyone around me and gained the (exact–25 lbs) right amount of weight during my first pregnancy but my brain was constantly thinking about it and it was hard to enjoy being pregnant.”

 

 

Leslie With Her Two Daughters

 

 

How yoga can help you foster a positive body image during pregnancy

 

Yoga brings all aspects your body, mind, and breath together, which creates a path to self-acceptance and love. It gives us the skills and outlet to cope with life’s up and downs. We begin each practice concentrating on the connection of our mind with our body and our breath. In these moments, we can be faced with all of our limitations, flaws, and insecurities. But, we quiet our mind and focus on our breath. As we flow from pose to pose, we go only as far as our breath and our bodies allow. We have to let go of the image of what we think we should look like and instead we have to meet ourselves just as we are in that present moment. We can begin to change our perspective from how big we think a body part is to how strong it is. Yoga encourages us to shift from self-blame to self-love, and to accept ourselves just as we are.

 

When Leslie first went into recovery, she said she tried yoga, but found it difficult during the early days of her healing. She became so focused on the body parts she hated during yoga. She first needed to change her perspective about how her body looked to what her body did for her. “I would tell myself that my legs were bigger because they carried me through the day, etc,. To be honest, I had to be really selfish. I put myself first because part of my disorder was from trying to please everyone and take care of people.

 

Stats

As many as 5-10 percent of women struggle with an eating disorder, according to Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry. “The onset of these disorders is typically in adolescence or young adulthood, ie in a critical phase of a woman’s reproductive life. These disorders are not self-limiting and many have a chronic course.”

 

As young women when we’re most susceptible to developing an eating disorder, we might not see the ramifications that will follow us into adulthood. This affects our ability to show our babies a healthy lifestyle and relationship with food that, as mothers, we so desperately want for them.

 

Leslie describes how different her second pregnancy was from her first. “During my oldest daughter’s first year, I realized very quickly that she would pick up on everything I did. An eating disorder is something I never want my children to experience. I found clarity and a lot of peace in the resolve I now have. I’m raising my girls to love every bit of themselves and to respect their bodies. I’ve said many times that my oldest daughter saved my life. I was much more relaxed in my second pregnancy and pretty much ate whatever I wanted. Ironically, I gained the exact same amount of weight. It’s amazing what happens when we treat our bodies with respect and let them do what they were built to do.”

 

 

Leslie & Her Daughters

 

How you can help others

There many different types of eating disorders. We can’t know just by looking at someone if they have an unhealthy relationship with food. So, next time you see a pregnant woman, whether she’s in your family or your social circle or your community, pause before you comment on her weight. Ask yourself if what you’re about to say is necessary, even if you consider it a compliment. See if you can reframe your comment into something that doesn’t have anything to do with her size. Try to refrain from anything along the lines of: “OMG you look like you’re having twins!” or “Dang girl, you’re all belly!” Instead, mention what a great mother she’s going to be. Tell her she has a beautiful glow. Compliment her on her hairstyle or clothes. Her stamina. Her patience. Her work ethic. Her soul. Her other children. Anything other than the size of any body part even if you think it’s a compliment. Because you can’t look at someone and know their deepest struggles. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.

 

If you know someone with an eating disorder and would like to reach out to them to tell them you care, here are some tips on how to gently reach out:

“You deserve to be happy.”

“I’m here for you no matter what.”

“Is there anything I can do to help you?”

 

Something along those lines. Tell them you are supportive of them and compassionate toward their struggle. You might not understand it, and that’s ok. But, let the overall message be that you support them as a person and you’re there for them in any way you can help. We all fall short. Everyone needs support and compassion from those around them, even when we don’t understand each other’s struggles.

 

In closing

Leslie is still in recovery and has a pretty good relationship with food. “There is always a small part of me that is extra aware of what I put in my body (you can’t forget all the calorie counts you have memorized) and occasionally have days when I slip up. My 2 year old weaned and then I had a miscarriage so my body was changing a lot this fall and that brought up a lot of old feelings but I managed to keep myself from being symptomatic. Watching my girls grow keeps my head in the right place. I never want them to see that side of me and I always want them to be confident and love their bodies.”

 

There are good things inside of you. A healthy life comes from more than just what you’re eating and drinking. It also comes from your thoughts and your words.

 

Feed your mind positivity. Feed your body beautifully.

Give the gift of recovery to your children by showing them how to do difficult things as an act of self-love.

 

Leslie With Her Husband and Daughters

Finding My Way Out Of My Eating Disorder With Yoga: Nikki Lambert-Nitzband

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) dedicates a whole week to bringing awareness to a very hush-hush topic: Eating Disorders (ED). Eating disorders are more diverse and complicated than what society portrays them to be. Eating disorders are dangerous and deadly. Eating disorders, especially Anorexia, has the highest  mortality rate of any mental illness. What makes these disorders so deadly is that most individuals suffer in private and refuse to seek help. Eating Disorders do not discriminate and any gender, sex, race, and socioeconomic class are susceptible to disordered eating. Eating disorders are more than Anorexia and Bulimia–other eating disorders are: Disordered Eating, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Orthorexia (obessession with clean eating), and within each type there is a spectrum. As an eating disorder survivor I am passionate about bringing awareness and shedding light on this topic. I am also passionate about letting other survivors share their stories to show how diverse and individual ED’s are. This week a few special individuals and myself will be sharing how yoga and/or art has helped us overcome or ED, stay in recovery, and build a positive body image. For  more information on ED’s please check out NEDA’s website.

 

The first woman to share her story is Nikki Lambert-Nitzband. If the name sounds familiar she is part of the Norwood Community Yoga program that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Nikki is an incredible woman. Here is her story:

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I had battled for at least 12 years and finally admitted defeat. I was 83.5 pounds at 5’6½ ”. I was 24 back in 1998 when I found my way to Florida for treatment for my eating disorders. Back then, there weren’t any facilities specializing in this complex addiction any closer to my family here in Tennessee.

 

In my intense homesickness within the first few days, I remembered that several years before I had learned to use meditation to bring calm to my mind and soothe any emotions to which I wasn’t completely numb. I quickly fell back into the habit of prayer and meditation, which helped me tremendously to have faith that my almost four year old son was going to be O.K. without me for a little while. I did not miss him any less, but I was given the peace that I was doing the right thing. After all, he was my main motivating force to seek the kind of help that would save my life.

 

In this facility, the staff immediately put me on strict exercise restriction. Just to stay alive was consuming more calories than I was able to take in. No bicycling, no running, no walking. By nature, I’m not one to sit still. I needed to do something. I needed to move.Thank Goodness for good behavior rewards! On an outing to a bookstore, where I naturally gravitated to the meditation section and browsed my way to how-to yoga books, I was mesmerized. I formed my argument to present to the staff back at the center, and soon vowed to practice yoga in only the gentlest of ways.

 

 

Niki in King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) with Mermaid Arms

 

 

B.K.S. Iyengar taught me, via those black and white pages, how to bring alignment into my body and connect with my breath. Imagine my excitement when it clicked for me that his teachings, along with my tried and true meditations, were all part of an integrated practice that made me feel at home in this place far away from my own.I was in a new space indeed. My depression and anxiety began alleviating, and I needed less prescribed medications. I had this sudden desire to fully accept whatever were my responsibilities to facilitate quicker healing. I had become 100% committed to my recovery.

 

Next thing I knew, this girl who absolutely despised any kind of confrontation was discussing with her mother the hurts between them, and giving her would-be ex-husband the choice to stop playing games, to either stay or to leave. Although I didn’t totally believe it, I found comfort in making it perfectly clear that I would be ok with or without him.

 

I didn’t know what exactly was happening, but I was actually enjoying my experiences in this recovery center. I was hopeful, optimistic, and on the ready to help my peers through their difficult moments. I realized my progresses and my setbacks, and I declared that I would overcome and someday use my eating disorder experiences to help others.

 

 

 

During my Christmas visit with my family in Tennessee, while on my yoga mat in my own living room, I realized I had already been given all the tools I needed to survive. At this point, I needed to decide if I could do it on my own or if I really did need to go back to the center. Actually, I realized, I did not have to do it all alone. I had my faith which grew deeper every day through Yoga. I had a newfound courage to ask for help from the people who loved me.

 

Let me be completely honest. I still struggle with eating disorders. Food is a basic survival need one simply cannot live without, therefore I cannot avoid it to protect myself. I am a vegetarian with Celiac’s Disease, along with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgic symptoms, which means I have to restrict certain foods from my diet for health reasons. Food restriction could be a huge trigger for someone whose primary eating disorder is anorexia, yet, Yoga plays a vital role in keeping me from my default eating disorder mode, which is always just a bite away, even all these years later.

 

I remember the day I heard myself say out loud I want to use Yoga to help others heal from eating disorders and other addictions and traumas. I’ve not quite reached that point yet, with Mommy Duties taking priority, but I have consistently practiced Yoga – now including all Eight Limbs – to help me remember that I deserve to treat my body with balanced nutrition and exercise. Yoga has helped me learn to surrender my perceived control over most situations. Yoga has helped me realize that instead of trying to make myself invisible, I deserve to honor and speak my truth. Yoga has helped me change unhealthy thought patterns into positive affirmations. Yoga has brought my monkey mind to one of clarity and focus. Yoga has helped me develop a healthier self-esteem and has given me permission to show myself some love by taking time for self-care and rest. Yoga has helped me change behavioral patterns which now encourage positive relationships. Yoga has given me more efficient and much healthier go-to coping mechanisms for all my difficult times.

 

I give Yoga credit for saving a life that Eating Disorders tried to destroy. I give Yoga credit for teaching me how to live, when in the past merely surviving was too much to bear. What can I say…Yoga makes everything better!

 

Nikki practicing Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) with a Bind

All Huddled Up: Yoga + Art Huddle

“And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”

Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art

 

Unless you have been living under a rock or on top of secluded mountain, you are aware and living in the current situation that is plaguing our nation and world. There is a huge divide and abyss that is causing massive separation between individuals, neighbors, friends, and families. We are in a state of unrest and insecurity that is affecting people’s mental states, jobs, well-being, and ability to love one another. It seems that peace and understanding is slipping far from our reach and we are unsure on how to reclaim what little peace there was in our world.

 

 

Sara McNally at the Women’s March on Washington

 

 

Lately, small groups also known as Huddles, filled with scientists, artists, religious workers, or anyone who wants to make a difference have been trying to come together to form networks that will help bring about peace, love, and use their gifts as a way to bring about awareness of societal events. These Huddles promote acts of nonviolence and simple activism; spreading the message that “We are all the same. We may speak different languages, believe different things, and have a different skin color, but at the end of the day, we are all the same and should be treated as such” (Guerry). Besides the history making Women’s Marches that happened in January, other forms of awareness and women oriented events have taken place: 100 Days of Action, postcard making, art exhibitions, support groups, or symposiums on a variety of topics. One of the most popular actions that have been happening in the Knoxville area and back in my hometown of Johnson City, has been that of postcard making. These postcards are created, almost like works of art that will be sent to Washington or the state government on any topic that raises concert or disagreement (environment, immigration, human rights, etc…) to the individual creating the card.

 

 

(L to R) Denita, Tracy, and their friend Becca at the Knoxville Women’s March

 

 

The Huddle Movement (if you want to put it that terminology) has taken off all across America and a few have popped up in Knoxville. There is a Huddle coming up this weekend that is unique. This Huddle is combining Art (with postcard making) and Yoga/Meditation. The Yoga + Art Huddle is spearheaded by local yoga and art advocate/teacher (and a pretty frequent feature in AUM in the Arts), Tracy Riggs, local artisan and part of Little Red Hens Production, Sara Blair McNally, and last but not least, local scientist who will be participating in the Scientists March on Washington here shortly, Denita Guerry. All three participated in the January Women’s Marches (Sara in DC, Denita and Tracy in Knoxville). All three women believe in nonviolent, peaceful protest and showing women how to use their voice to speak up and better the lives of others.

 

 

Tracy Riggs

 

 

Their goal for Yoga + Art Huddle is to “gather together in nonviolent resistance, seek peace, distress, create art that will speak of our beliefs, ideals. We want equality to be noted, we stand for the immigrants in our country. We seek to promote the security of our environment and the welfare of our public schools. We will write postcards and form further actions that can be taken together or individually forward” (Riggs). McNally views this Huddle as therapeutic due to the stress relieving nature of both yoga and art and the meditative approach they are taking in this event. Not only will you be creating work of art postcards and practicing yoga/meditation, you will have the opportunity to be with like-minded individuals and women who want to encourage you and show support; not tear you down for your differences.

 

 

Sara McNally

 

 

Yoga + Art Huddle will have a “meditative movement” yoga class and guided meditation practice lead by Riggs who is an advocate for yogis, yoginis, and yoga teachers to use their position to bring about change. Tracy sees yoga as the best route for bringing about change because “the intention of yoga is meant to be a selfless journey. Yoga is a pathway to samadhi, or enlightenment, or where the existence of “I” disappears…When the ego, or “I” centered soul disappears, then one can think of others. Yoga provides a pathway to melt away the ego”. Along with the yoga and meditation session Sara and Denita will lead the art portion, guidance, and activism of this Huddle.  Guerry will facilitate the group by “promoting better understanding related to upcoming proposals and political changes that are happening on the local and national level”. Guerry has also lined up a variety of local activists to share what they are doing in the community and how their fellow Huddlers can get involved. Sara McNally will lead the artistic side and postcard making. McNally sees art, like yoga, as a powerful tool for change and as a way for individuals to make sense of whatever situation one may be facing. Sara says, “art helps make statements stand out” and that now more than ever we need to “take our eyes off the screens” which is something that art can do. Instead of being angry on Facebook we can use any form of art that speaks to us to be productive, gain understanding of ourselves and the world, all while making something beautiful; something a vague or angry Facebook status update can’t do.

 

 

Denita Guerry

 

 

If you are interested in joining this Huddle, please reserve your spot here due to the small size of the space. Yoga + Art Huddle will be taking place THIS Sunday 2/26 from 2-6 pm at a1 Lab Arts located in Emory Place across the square from Crafty Bastard Brewery. This Huddle is free, but please bring a yoga mat. For more information on Huddles and how to start one visit the official Women’s March website. ***Pictures courtesy of Tracy, Sara, and Denita.

Meditate with Creativity: 5 Ways to Add Creativity to Meditation

This post has been in the brewing stages of my mind for some time. Lately, I have been constantly drawn back to the action, art, and practice of meditation. From last week’s post about Meghan Henley, to taking workshops in cultivating mindfulness in the new year, I am being lead to restart my meditation practice; this aspect of yoga is coming to the forefront of my life. I know I’m not the only one who believes that this limb of yoga is the most difficult. Meditation is difficult because it isn’t “normal”, there is also a stigma about meditation that it is just sitting still or emptying the mind (see last week’s article intro). Meditation isn’t so much about emptying the mind, but as one of my yoga teachers, Philip Clift said, “meditation is not something we do, but a natural state of consciousness that we surrender into. The modern world affords us few opportunities to practice surrender…students need to become familiar with what surrender really means–a deep, visceral, understanding of surrender”.

 

If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. The easiest and most universal way to understand this meditation surrender is by doing it! Once we surrender to the practice and try to meditate–making it a daily habit–it will eventually become easier and second nature. There are plenty of ways to mediate that don’t include sitting on a zafu listening to the sound of silence. This post is reminiscent of a previous post, 5 Ways to Get Creative With Your Yoga Practice.  I can’t take all the credit for these ideas because many of them are from my friends who are fellow yoga teachers or devout yoga and meditation students. I hope these tips, tricks, and ideas inspire you just as much as they are inspiring me. Here we go!

 

 

Getting Creative with Meditation

*note: there are many approaches to meditation, but only one or two that will resonate with you. When beginning a meditation practice, it is important to try one approach daily for a few weeks and try another style till you find the one practice that resonates with you*

  • Get Appy With Your Practice. Using an app was the number one meditation tool that came across my Facebook feed when I asked my fellow teachers and friends about meditation. Their favorite meditation apps were Headspace and Calm. Headspace teaches basic meditation principles by the way of meditation “basics” with fun info videos and Andy Puddicombe’s calming voice. Calm’s meditations are simple and straightforward with plenty of customizable options (length, time, music, no music). Both offer 10 days for free then you can pay for plans. All my teachers have the paid version. With one saying “it was worth the investment” (Tracy Riggs) or “the only way I’ve been able to accomplish this 37 day streak” (Heather Mullins). Calm also has nice pictures with the meditation theme on them–my friends post them on Instagram.

 

 

 

 

  • Get Romantic With Your Practice. Candles aren’t just for romantic nights and dinner but make a great visual and ambiance for your meditation practice. Candle gazing is one of the oldest meditations there are, but here are some suggestions to take it to a new level. In traditional candle gazing you light a candle (if it has a smell please make sure it is natural fragrance not synthetic) and stare at any part of the flame. My fellow YTT peer and now teacher Rita Gregory adds a unique twist to her candle gazing practice. After she gazes on the candle she will close her eyes and continue to imagine the candle. Rita also builds on top of that by adding in some pranayama (breathing exercises) to her meditation. Rita likes to practice Dirga (3 Part Breath) Pranayama while imagining the candle with her eyes closed.

 

 

 

 

  • Get Physical With Your Practice. Take a cue from Olivia Newton-John and take your meditation practice to the gym or even the great outdoors. For those of us who find it difficult to be still, even if our lives depended on it, a physical meditation practice is the way to go. This is usually how I meditate and probably the only time I truly meditate is when I am in dance class, because I cannot think about anything else, just my breath and body. There are a variety of physical meditation practices. I have had great success with a Walking Meditation inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh. As you are walking outside (or anywhere) sync your breaths to your steps-count how many steps you take as you inhale and repeat on the exhale. You can also take this time to feel your feet on the ground (if barefoot), or feel the wind and sun touch your body. One of my mentors, Melissa Hite, says her favorite way to practice a moving meditation is on a stepmill or cycle in the gym. She likes using them because “{the stepmill} isn’t fast and I have to monitor where I place my steps. The cycle has a cadence and rhythm that lull me into a similar headspace”. You can easily do this with other activities such as running, swimming, dancing, weight lifting, hoop dancing, etc…

 

 

 

 

  • Get Visual and Go Exploring With Your Practice. Besides using an app for meditation, the second most popular response from my peers was that of visualization due to the accessibility factor. Everyone can go somewhere in their mind and that comfort can help you stay in a meditation zone longer than non-visualizing. Amanda Kilday, another yoga teacher of mine, uses visualization exercises in a retirement facility in Greeneville where she teaches. She guides them to go to a place they haven’t been to in years or a favorite place that brings them joy and happiness. From that moment she notices how they begin to relax, smile, and after class they all tell her they wish they could stay there longer. Also by practicing visualization, you can always access it and for beginners its provides a more concrete and tangible dynamic. Some great places to go exploring on your meditation are: woods, taking a walk through a forest, going to the beach, lying down in a field of daisies, etc…you are only as limited as your imagination. Maybe next time you are losing your mind in the Knoxville traffic you can imagine that you are on a boat on a smooth sea and you can smell the salt water, hibiscus flowers, and the cold glass of your favorite beverage….

 

 

 

 

  • Get Artsy With Your Practice. Last but not least, it’s art. After all, this is a yoga AND art blog. Jennifer MacIsaac, owner of The Basement Community Art Studio (Where I teach a yoga & art series), shares some of her favorite ways to bring art to a mindful meditation practice. They are: line drawing (using ink so you learn to be OK with mistakes) and filling up your page with lines, drawing shapes (similar to the line drawing, but can add color), explore painting dots and color blends with watercolor paints, and her favorite–collages. Jennifer likes making collages for meditation because of the multi-sensory, tactile, and focus on creating an image with found objects, magazines, glitter, etc.You have to be quiet and still to find out how they all go together. Other fun ways to add art to your meditation practice are: mandalas (sacred circles), coloring pages (meditate and mindfully choose the colored pencil, feel the paper, feel the hard or softness of the pressure you are transferring from hand to pencil to page), needle felting (you got to focus so you can’t stab yourself!), knitting, crocheting, or an old time favorite–cross-stitch (you got to count because like the old adage says, A Stitch in Time Saves Nine).

*Some other meditation examples are mala beads, mantras, affirmations, making cups of tea, taking a bath, pranayama, and playing with your furry best friend.*

 

 

I hope this list has inspired you to start or re-work your meditation practice. I’d love to know what you have to say and if you find any other these suggestions helpful. Share your stories in the comment section below or share them on AUM in the Arts’ Facebook page.

Meditation as Art: Meghan Henley

Meditation is a term that has many different connotations, views, methodologies, and practices to go with it. Most people have a skewed view of meditation thinking that it is reserved for Buddhist monks or that the goal of meditation is to not think about anything. Both of those ideas are far from the truth. Meditation isn’t about not thinking less, but about training your mind to think more clearly; to focus it on one thing, to de-clutter your mind and make it ‘less’, very similar to the minimalist lifestyle that is taking over from the consumerist lifestyle.

 

Meditation can also be executed in a variety of ways. So many people think that it is just sitting there. Well they are wrong. Meditations can be moving—you can walk, paint, dance, sing, or even do yoga asanas. All that is required for meditation to be meditation is for you to be present and focused on one thing.  An individual that is bringing meditation to the forefront of her lifestyle and practice is local instructor, Meghan Henley. Meghan came to yoga after many years of teaching group exercise classes. After suffering a back injury her current yoga practice turned into something deeper.

 

At an art showing of her work the infamous and wonderful Jen Coffin bought one of Meghan’s creations and invited her to one of her yoga classes. From there Meghan was hooked. Jen showed Meghan how yoga can help her manage and heal her back pain, open up new ways of creating movement off the canvas, and facilitate constant self-exploration. She learned about the endless possibilities of a yoga practice and destinations it can take you to.

 

 

Orbiting the Same Scenario

 

 

 

 

While Meghan was diving deeper into her yoga practice her painting career and time began to fall by the wayside. Her energy was being spent with yoga and she lost all passion to pick up her paintbrush. Noticing this she began to use her meditation time as creativity time.  Meghan will meditate, just spending time being still and feeling emotions or thoughts that arise.  Then after her practice she journals. Her meditation journal is filled with sketches of what she saw during her meditation time. She says that “meditation gives me motivation. If I don’t meditate I don’t create”. Meghan also believes that time spent specifically for creating post meditation or a yoga asana practice helps her to focus more on the moments in front of the canvas. She is connected to the “compositions in her mind” and with all distraction gone she can focus precisely on the canvas.

 

While many people see art and yoga (especially those who create or teach) with rose colored glasses and think that it is nothing but sunshine and roses, Meghan (like myself), is very open about the powerful work that yoga and art bring. How they can be frustrating and show you sides of yourself that you may  not be too fond of. Through this frustration, anger, and exploring of our “dark sides”, our best art or self can shine through. Meghan compares art frustration to her handstand practice- “Handstand practice is frustrating, but I do it because for that moment I get it, just hold it, even for a few seconds, it’s worth it. It’s the same way with art…{we go through the trials and we get it’s where it needs to be} it’s yoga practice not yoga perfect”.

 

 

Honeycomb Home

 

 

 

 

Meghan’s practice helps her practice non-attachment. As an artist she is never happy with her final product (but really what artist is?). She always sees things she could have done better, a different color to use, or a re-working of a motif. She is never fully satisfied when she sells a painting but yoga teaches her that non-attachment leads to suffering and to just “let it go”. While she may not be completely satisfied with it, the buyer is and something within her painting is just what the need. Just like a yoga class; am I right?

 

Meghan is so passionate about meditation and how it can be used to fuel not just your creative side but life itself, that she offers a 30 Day Meditation class at the beginning of each year. At The Glowing Body Yoga Studio (one of her many teaching locations) she leads a journaling meditation class. For thirty days she and her students read a book and begin a home meditation practice. They read, meditate, and journal. On Sundays they come together, like an accountability group, and discuss what they are learning. Meghan sees her students reap the same benefits from this practice that she does. It may be forced at the beginning but she sees that even through a “forced practice” that “something good comes out of it”. In this case, her students are becoming mindful and starting a meditation journey that they can travel the rest of their lives.

 

If you are ready to be more mindful and meditative, and begin a yoga journey give one of Meghan’s many classes a try. Meghan has a passion for teaching beginners and offers a variety of beginners’ series at The Glowing Body.  Her bubbly, warm, and authentic personality will make you feel at ease in the class. Check out her schedule here. ***Pictures courtesy of Meghan Henley.

 

 

 

Yoga for All: Norwood Community Yoga

“It’s a community event. Community events create strong communities, and a strong community is a healthy community. A healthy community is a happy community”.

Sandy Smith

 

Ask any yoga teacher, devout yoga student, wellness enthusiast, or anyone who is passionate about public health and they will all agree on the importance of programs that grow a community while at the same time generating an interest and importance of a healthy lifestyle. Tennessee constantly ranks, unfortunately, as one of the most obese and unhealthiest states in America. To help bring about change, it is up to those of us in the health/wellness and public health arena to find ways to reach out into small communities, underserved communities, and rural communities with programs that promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and show them ways that they can become healthier. There is such a program in North Knoxville (Clinton) that is bringing this idea of growing happy and healthy communities with yoga. At Norwood Community School, they offer a free weekly class for those who teach at the school and live in the Norwood community.

 

Jordan Frye is the Norwood Community School’s Resource Coordinator.The Norwood Community School Initiative is supported by The Great Schools Partnership with the mission to create safe and healthy communities. Jordan believes that “an important piece of achieving a healthy community is creating spaces within the community that promote wellness.”  As an avid yogini, she immediately saw how yoga can be used as a vehicle to change the Norwood community. With a passion for yoga and her community, she was determined to bring yoga to the area while making it accessible and affordable for everyone. Jordan didn’t want anyone to miss out on the opportunity that yoga can provide in their lives.

 

Nikki Lambert-Nitzband

 

Jordan reached out to Norwood Elementary School former art teacher and fellow AUM in the Arts feature, Tracy Riggs, to help get the program started. Tracy immediately jumped at the chance to bring yoga back to a school that meant so much to her. From there, Tracy called her other yoga teacher buddies from The Glowing Body, Veronica Carmazzi, Jessica Dalton Carriger, and Nikki Lambert-Nitzband, to help her teach the classes every Wednesday night. All four teachers, like Jordan, have a passion for community based yoga. Tracy, Veronica, Jessica, and Nikki all teach classes outside of The Glowing Body within their own communities. Tracy and Veronica teach at Alliance Brewery in SoKno while Jessica teaches at The Birdhouse, the community space in historic 4th & Gill. Nikki, with inspiration from the Norwood program, is trying to bring community yoga to where she lives in Blount County.

 

Jessica Dalton-Carriger

 

Veronica loves community yoga, especially this program because “yoga can benefit absolutely everyone in some way or another {and} is a great way to spread the gift of yoga to many ages and backgrounds. It is a great way to expose a large group of people to yoga and spark interest in a possible lifestyle and activity that they can delve deeper into”. Jessica Dalton Carriger loves community yoga classes due to the health benefits and accessibility of them. Jessica is aware of how damaging to our bodies our sedentary lifestyle and workplace habits can be.  Yoga is great to counteract that. Another reason she loves community yoga is because it is financially accessible for more people.  She states, “yoga studios and gyms can be expensive. So by providing a free class I feel we are reaching more people who would like to do yoga but normally couldn’t”. It is the commonality and passion for reaching out that is making this program grow.

 

Veronica Carmazzi

 

Since beginning in October, they have seen a slow, but steady growth in interest and participation. All of them love the variety of people who are coming out and trying the classes. They sometimes have families come together, or those who live next door to the school. Jordan has noticed an increased interest and response from those outside the school than those who work inside the school. She is hoping that this will change because yoga has a plethora of benefits for school teachers. When I took class this past Wednesday I spoke to Heather Worley, a third grade teacher at Norwood and she shared with me how much better she feels after class and loves that it is convenient for her to attend. Ms. Worley loves the mind-body connection that yoga offers, but mostly how it helps her decompress after a stressful day of teaching. She is also doing her part to reach out to her fellow teachers and community members about the program.

 

Norwood Community Yoga happens every Wednesday night in the gym from 6:00-7:00 pm. If you don’t have a mat, no worries, they have some mats and props available. This class is also free so there is no reason not to attend. (That is unless you live on the other side of town.) Please spread the word about this program and help yoga “take over” Norwood!

 

Jordan Frye (L) and Tracy Riggs (R)