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courtesy of dorothea lange

Yesterday, I discovered this news item from The Associated Press:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The women snuggle into nests of pillows and blankets.

A light breeze, like a mother blowing on a baby’s boo-boo, falls from ceiling fans and tickles their backs. The room is dark, silent, until they crawl out of child’s pose and chant, “Omm.”

This is free yoga for the unemployed: a different kind of jobless benefit where former managers, laid-off limo drivers and others can turn to the grown-up version of nap time to ease the stress of being out of work.

With national unemployment just below 10 percent, $20 yoga classes don’t qualify as necessities for many out-of-work people who’ve pruned luxuries from their budgets. So in a gesture that’s part send-good-vibes-to-the-universe and part community outreach, a handful of yoga studios have decided to cut the unemployed a break.

“We didn’t want them to have to choose, ‘Should I eat today or go take this class?’ We wanted to give them the ability to do both,” said Zack Lynn, a computer techie by day who teaches a free yoga class for people out of work in Columbus.

The Integral Yoga Institute in New York started offering free weekly classes last year when some students lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to pay $17 per course. Now, a dozen or two jobseekers drop in for free sun salutations and other stretches every week.

“It helps to quiet the mind and helps people realize that this is a temporary situation,” said Jo Sgammato, the studio’s general manager.

Yogis say breathing exercises can reduce the stress of job interviews and post-stretching tea time is good for networking.

“You’re not really thinking about other things,” said Quinn Johnson, a 42-year-old former limo driver who started attending Integral Yoga’s free classes earlier this year. “You’re relaxing. You’re stretching.”

Some students have found work and switched to paid classes. But employment experts and yogis alike are quick to point out that yoga shouldn’t get all the credit.

“Yoga’s not getting anybody a job,” said Wendy Enelow, an executive career consultant in Coleman Falls, Va. “What the yoga studios do — and I think kudos to them — is if you physically feel better, your head’s going to feel better and you’re in a better place to manage your job search.”

Practicing yoga is believed to reduce stress and improve concentration. Some studios offer special classes to help veterans work through traumatic experiences and women cope with pregnancies.

Can’t make it to the weekly class? The studio in New York — and others in cities such as Chicago and Berkeley, Calif. — have given unemployed people discounts on other sessions. At Integral, that means paying $10 per class instead of $17.

Yogis follow a granola-crunching code of honor at the free classes in New York and Columbus. (Asking for proof of unemployment seems like a yoga buzzkill.)

“If somebody comes all the way here and tells us they want to take that free class because they’re unemployed, we’re going to believe them,” Sgammato said.

Back in the dark yoga sanctuary in the Columbus studio, called Yoga on High, Lynn leads a group of unemployed — or barely employed — women through relaxing poses.

It’s yoga more shabby than chic. Most of the students are dressed in T-shirts and hoodies rather than the hip hippie garb of Lululemon. They rely on the kinds of blankets you might find in car trunks.

Apparel aside, the class resembles its full-priced counterpart. Students bend into silhouettes of the alphabet — the outline of an A in downward-facing dog, an I as they stretch long, lean, toward the ceiling.

The din from the street gives way to a yawn-inducing state of silence, the kind of silence that quiets the deepest worrier’s qualms. A sign reminds fellow yogis passing by, “Quiet Please…. Savasana In Progress!”

Lynn adjusts the students’ postures as they ripple through poses. Then he tucks them into forts made of ergonomic pillows for deep relaxation.

“If you are extremely comfortable and want to stay there, that’s fine,” he says. “But I would prefer that you lie on your back for at least a few minutes.”

Bethia Woolf, a 35-year-old who recently started a food-tour company in Columbus, went to her first free class after she lost her job as a rowing coach. She says the class forced her to get out of the house and stay in a routine — something she wouldn’t have been able to afford if she had to shell out $15 per class.

“Even though it has a lot of health and well-being benefits, there’s things you feel guilty about spending money on that aren’t essentials,” Woolf said.

In Los Angeles, there are many yoga studios that are, surprisingly, donation based. And I know of many studios across the country that offer community classes – which are usually much cheaper than regular classes, scheduled at unpopular times (a noon yoga class, anyone?)  and are taught by newer teachers.  But I haven’t heard of any classes that are geared specifically towards the unemployed.  Are there any in your area?

By the way, the photo above was taken by Dorothea Lange. If you’ve never heard or read about her, you can read about her here.

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Cost of local alpine yoga class? $20. Using your yoga mat as a sled? Priceless.

Found an interesting blurb in the The London Free Press today:

Alysha Nensi and her university friends woke up wondering if they’d studied hard enough the night before.

“We were supposed to have a renal exam this morning, but it was cancelled,” the medical student said.

She and four friends were out using their yoga mats as sleds at Doidge Park, happy they didn’t have class.

“We noticed it was snowing (Sunday) night, so we wondered if it would be cancelled. Then this morning I went on Facebook and they said to check uwo.ca or Twitter and I think it was Twitter that had it out first, that any exams or classes after 10:30 were cancelled, so we figured it was a good time to come tobogganing,” Nensi said.

Surrounded by squealing kids and happy parents, the future doctors said they couldn’t recall the last time they had a day off to play in the snow.

“Snow days are a rarity, so we’re going to grasp this opportunity with all that we have,” said Jenn Huynh, another second-year medical student.

“(Tuesday) we’ll probably have to be back at school.”

Apparently, this isn’t these future doctors were not the first geniuses to use their yoga mats for sleds.  About this time last year, Washington D.C. had an absolutely unbelievable snowstorm. In a piece published for Newsweek online, one journalist described his difficulty trying to find a sled to purchase for his children as most stores had sold out.  The result?  A great blog post about ways to go sledding without a traditional sled.

The best item to sled on (that is not traditional sled)?  That’s right.  A yoga mat.  Apparently, they are “fast and furious.”  Go figure!

 

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Today’s edition of Yoga Tattuesday profiles Jennifer Tallini, who many of you might know as the founder of Yoga with Style, an “online emporium of all things yoga”!

Here’s a picture of Jennifer’s tattoo:

Now, I know you might be thinking, “Whaaa?! That’s not a yoga-inspired tattoo…that’s a celtic cross!” Well, you’d be right…or, at least partly right. While the latter part may be true, the former part certainly is not.

Stay with me here.

Jennifer’s middle name is Erskine, an unusual family name which she shares with her great aunt Ruth. When Aunt Ruth died, she left a number of family heirlooms to Jennifer, one of which was a necklace with a celtic cross (pictured below) that Ruth had purchased during a trip to Paris, France. Although Jennifer never met her great aunt Ruth, she always felt a special connection to her given their shared name. She explains that family connection has always been very important to her because she lost her father at a very young age.

After Jennifer and her husband had children, Jennifer admitted (like many moms out there can likely attest) that while she had practiced yoga very regularly for a long time, it became more difficult to maintain her regular practice while raising two young kids. Although her practice was not as regular as it used to be, she noted that it was because of her yoga and meditation practice – as imperfect as it was – that she was able to define herself and become comfortable with her true self without judgment. Around this time, Jennifer was choosing her symbol for her next tattoo and was having great difficulty deciding. One day, she was wearing her aunt’s celtic cross and it hit her: she would have an image of the celtic cross tattooed on to her body. Jennifer said:

The cross reminds me of my connection to [my great aunt Ruth], a soul that is part of me, and it is something I cherish. It defines my background and is symbolic of my family’s heritage. It is also, to me, a personal mandala – so I had it placed in the center of my lower back. So it’s not a specific yoga symbol as an OM or lotus etc, but it was born from learning more about myself through yoga and embracing myself and all that I am, my own personal mandala.

And there you have it. A yoga-inspired tattoo which reminds one pretty cool yogini to be true to herself. Jennifer runs the web-based business Yoga with Style, which she started while recovering from a hip injury. She is opening her first boutique on December 2!  I highly recommend this website for any yoga-related purchases you might require for the holidays.

Thanks, Jennifer, for sharing your tattoo and your story with us!

If you, or someone you love, has a yoga-inspired tattoo and would like to share it with the whole wide world, please follow the instructions below:

How to participate:

1) Please email me photo of your tattoo: My email address is: yogabird03@gmail.com.

2) Along with the photo, please also include your name, where you’re from, what you do, etc. Be sure to include your blog, your website, etc. (if you have one), so that I can link to it in the post.

3) Please also include any information about how you started practicing yoga. 4) And most importantly, tell me why you chose your yoga-inspired tattoo! I look forward to hearing from you and to seeing your ink!

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I love reading stories about people who teach yoga for seniors, and stories about seniors who practice yoga. For a while, I’ve wanted to do a profile on my grandmother, who, at more than 80, practices aqua yoga at her local gym. Until I’m able to do that, I bring to you a story from small town newspaper Roseville Press-Tribune, which profiled the members of a senior yoga group called Second Wind Yoga Group, out of Roseville, California.

Helen Daley always feels better after a morning of yoga.

The active senior likes to stay in shape and travels often, having recently returned from an extended trip to Paris where her son lives.

“I travel all over the world,” she says. “Why wouldn’t I?”

After all, the Roseville resident is only 90 years old. In her yoga class, she can still touch her toes and do all the positions in class. She’s been practicing yoga at local gyms and studios for the past 22 years.

“I attribute my health to going to yoga,” Daley says. “We just love it. We’re like a family. I’m probably too old to be doing this, but I’m not going to stop. I’ll stop when I’m 100.”

On a recent Monday morning, Daley and the other women in her yoga group roll out their floor mats in a large room at the Anti-Gravity Dance Studio on Harding Boulevard in Roseville.

The ladies practice yoga as part of the Second Wind Yoga Group, a class geared toward women between 60 and 90 years old, although they have a 56-year-old in the group and the eldest member has already hit the upper-age limit. That’d be Daley.

“Helen is our matriarch,” says Rosemary Dinse, 64, at the start of a recent session.

Auburn resident Cindi McKeown teaches the class. The instructor started her group at the Roseville Athletic Club where she had been a director for 19 years before the gym closed in February 2008. She and a handful of students moved to a different location before settling at their current spot at the local dance studio.

McKeown primarily teaches people who may require additional assistance, such as senior citizens, pregnant women or those recovering from injuries.

“I like teaching special populations,” she says. “That’s really important … the main goal with this group is to enhance their quality of life.”

The National Institutes of Health counts yoga among the activities that may be beneficial to older adults. Research suggests that this mind-body practice improves muscle relaxation, overall physical fitness and flexibility, and can reduce anxiety disorders, stress, asthma and high-blood pressure.

Some of the women in McKeown’s class have participated in the group for 15 years. Dinse, a four-year veteran of the group, is still considered new. She joined after retiring from her job as a middle school teacher in the Roseville City School District for 20 years. In fact, Dinse says, five of the eight women in the group formerly worked as educators.

She knows this because the women have become friends over the years. Some of the ladies meet for coffee at a nearby McDonald’s before class once a week to chat and catch up on news from each other’s lives.

“It’s a nice group of people who support one another,” Dinse says.

During retirement, Dinse wanted something physical to do that she could handle. She finds gyms to be a little intimidating because of the plethora of flexible, young people.

“This group was perfect,” she says. “Cindi does a great job of gearing her instruction to the skills we need as we get older to live independently. I think that gives people a lot of confidence in going about our daily routines.”

The Roseville resident uses the breathing techniques she’s learned through yoga to calm down during stressful situations. The women practice poses to develop their strength and balance.

During Monday morning’s class, the women begin with the meditation pose, sitting cross-legged, tall and straight as they concentrate on breathing. The instructor advises her students to enter a calm place where their minds don’t chatter.

They stretch — keeping their backs straight to strengthen the muscles — and match their movement to their breathing and vice versa.

The women, all dressed in black from head to toe, lift their legs and hands off the ground for the next yoga pose, as McKeown sets her watch’s timer to 60 seconds.

“Hang out there,” she says. “We’re going to be there for a minute. You can do this. Think how flat your abs are going to be.”

About 45 seconds later, a few of the women drop their legs but then try again, and each of them releases a heavy sigh of relief when the minute finally ends. McKeown continually offers them words of encouragement.

“I want to see a smile on everybody’s face,” she says, calmly. “You’re doing yoga.”

What an inspiring story! Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Recently, I wrote a post about my discomfort with the whole idea of circular yoga mats. For some reason, it has continued to be one of the most popular posts on this little blog.

Last night, the creator of the circular yoga mat, (also known as the Mandala Mat), Desiree Kleemann, commented on my post:

Hi Birdie,

Your post made me smile. You gotta love freedom of expression.

I never expected people to want to take it to a studio as the size is an issue. But I know that many teachers are using them when they instruct. And in my studio I have special classes where we all use a round mat.

I loved your post and if you ever think you could use Mandala Yoga Mat with your head exploding : ) let me know.

If you would like to see my DVD to see how I use the let me know and I would be happy to mail it off to you.

I like this Desiree Kleeman. After doing a little research on her company, she seems like one cool yogini.  Her company, which produces the Mandala Mat, is a small, grass roots, company, that is environmentally conscious. Moreover, after realizing how difficult it was to start a small company, Desiree decided to donate a portion of her proceeds to help other small business owners across the globe in need of financing. So, for every mat she sells, Desiree donates $5 to www.kiva.org, and organization that encourages entrepreneurship to eliminate poverty.

While I still believe my head just might explode if someone came to class with this sucker, I can understand its purpose. It seems a lot of Desiree’s customers are yoga teachers who find it useful when demonstrating. Also, studios who offer “mommy and me” yoga classes find the extra space beneficial.

Check out Desiree’s company. She was also profiled as an “OmTown Hero” by Yoga Journal where she was designated as the “Yogini Without Borders”.

Desiree, if you come back to this blog…and I don’t blame you if you don’t given that I called your yoga mat an “atrocity” (okay, maybe that was harsh)…thanks for being a good sport and having a good sense of humor.

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This weeks Yoga Tattuesday chronicles some ink not from a yogi per se, but from a practicing Buddhist.  Since the practice of yoga and Buddhism go so well together, I decided to bring you the tattoo of Matthew Williamson…

Matt’s tattoo, which appears on his right forearm, reads “Om Mane Padme Hung” in Tibetan script. This is a Buddhist mantra (also pronounced “om mane padme hum” and many other ways), that is especially revered by the Dalai Lama and his devotees as it is the mantra of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.  You can read a bit more about the basic tenets of the mantra here. Matt’s tattoo touched a particular chord with me, as I learned this mantra and saw it every where during my travels in Nepal.

Matt describes his tattoo as a “moving, living, breathing mantra.”  He became a practicing Buddhist about 4 years ago.  Although he was raised Roman Catholic, as his own family started to grow he began to wonder why Catholicism taught that his religion was “right” and others were “wrong.” Matt began to explore Buddhism seriously after a close friend, a practicing Jain, asked him very frankly why his religion believed that she and her family were going to hell. Matt her question “hit [him] in the gut.”

His tattoo is a reminder of the gift that is life and of his quest for enlightenment.  On his forearm, it is a reminder that is visible to him at all times. My Nepali friend, Buddhi, told me that when someone inscribes this mantra into an object, it gives the mantra more power. I’ve always loved that concept, and seeing it inscribed on Matt’s arm really drives the concept home.

When he’s not meditating on his favorite mantra, Matt is a geek. Quite literally.  He runs his own business called Clevyr, which specializes in all things techie/webbie-ish: graphic design, web design, web development. He even makes iPhone apps. He also has a blog devoted to his Buddhist practice. The latest post, entitled “To Breath a Tree” is beautiful and inspiring to read.
Thanks, Matt, for sharing your precious mantra with us!
If you, or someone you love, has a yoga-inspired tattoo and would like to share it with the whole wide world, please follow the instructions below:

How to participate:

1) Please email me photo of your tattoo: My email address is: yogabird03@gmail.com.

2) Along with the photo, please also include your name, where you’re from, what you do, etc. Be sure to include your blog, your website, etc. (if you have one), so that I can link to it in the post.

3) Please also include any information about how you started practicing yoga.

4) And most importantly, tell me why you chose your yoga-inspired tattoo!

I look forward to hearing from you and to seeing your ink!

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Dear Universe,

You know as well as I do, that I’m a girl who enjoys the simple pleasures in life. Waking up early. A good cup of tea. Dogs. And one of my very favorite simple pleasures is getting to yoga class, unrolling my lovely mat, and lining it up precisely with the panels in the wood floor. I thought I was nutty until you brought blogging into my life and I met this girl and her blog, who showed me I wasn’t alone in my yogic neuroses.

So one could very well understand that when I started reading about people practicing yoga without mats, I started to feel slightly uncomfortable. Maybe slightly panicked. While I admit that I will sometimes practice at home sans mat, and I might stray off of my mat during class for very specific poses, I am not sure I would ever attend a class without a mat. But, Universe, this seems like small potatoes compared to what you presented to me today.

Yes today, I was innocently trolling the Internet – that vast and uncharted territory that is nearly as big as you – when I saw an article on line about these:

I literally sat in front of my computer staring at this atrocity for what seemed like hours. Steam came out of my ears and there were springs popping out of the top of my head. My brain could only think 3 words (and in a very monotone, computer-like voice):

Do.

Not.

Compute.

A round yoga mat!?  Do you see the size of that thing? It is nearly the width of two standard mats put together! Now, I know that in you in your infinite wisdom are chortling at me and my high drama. But seriously. What happens when the day comes – and you know it will – that I’m sitting peacefully waiting for my favorite class to begin, watching the room fill up, and someone attempts to unroll that absolutely enormous…round…thing?

Oh, Universe. Why do you do these things to me? Why do you make me feel unsettled just when I’m settling in? What can these round yoga mats possibly teach me that I don’t already know? That I’m a little nutty? That I like straight lines? That I am still struggling with non-attachment?

I will resist.  Oh, yes. I will resist.

In the meantime, please reconsider.

Yours,

Birdie

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