Yoga Changed My Life & It Can Change Yours Too

About four years ago, when I was 22 years old, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. When the doctors told me of all the things I could no longer do, of all the things I’d have trouble with in the future, and the very real risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), I felt broken. As I began taking medication in hopes of controlling my seizures, I started experiencing side effects that further interrupted my ability to complete normal daily tasks. I felt like a prisoner. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded that I was sick. I started to believe there was no way out and that I would never get better. I felt as though epilepsy had not only taken control of my body, but it had taken control of my entire life.

11071684_735073349945270_6255481979544981169_nAs conventional medicine only seemed to exacerbate my overall condition and put further strain on my family, we began searching for alternative forms of treatment in hopes of turning things around. When my mom came across an article that explained how both yoga and meditation are effective therapies for seizure disorders, I figured I’d give it a try.

In my very first class, I watched as the guy in front of me proceeded to get into a headstand, or as I called it, “sit on his head.” I was amazed. For th11100230_735085419944063_9110207024116922311_ne first time in what seemed like forever, instead of saying, “I can’t do that,” I found myself saying, “I can’t WAIT to do that.” Yoga quickly became a place where I could explore—where I could discover things that I was capable of doing. As I continued to show up to class and my teachers pushed me to try, I started to feel powerful. When I was on my mat, I wasn’t sick and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. Slowly, my diagnosis stopped taking precedence. My energy went into my practice and I began to heal from the inside out. Yoga was the vehicle that allowed me to see myself beyond my diagnosis. As soon as I stopped letting my diagnosis define me, I was not only able to imagine a life for myself outside of my epilepsy, but I found the strength and courage to make it happen.

Currently, I am wrapping up my first year of graduate school in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Canisius College. Due to my grades and service work, I was recently inducted in to Alpha Sigma Nu, a National Jesuit Honor Society. I am working at the college as an ESL tutor, Advisor and Peer Mentor for both at-risk and international students. I am also in the process of launching Project1 in 26, a not-for-profit program meant to bring epilepsy awareness and education to schools. I have been seizure free for over two years.

Yoga brought me back to life and allowed me to dream again. One of my dreams is to share with others all that yoga has given me. I hope to one day incorporate counseling services with yoga to promote healing and empowerment for survivors of trauma, domestic violence and abuse, as well as those experiencing grief and loss.

11050801_735085899944015_3931736966002410025_nYou don’t have to be flexible, skinny or in perfect health to do yoga. You just have to show up and try. When you let go of expectations and all of the ways you tell yourself you can’t, or that you’re not good enough, you open yourself up to the possibility of achieving what you thought was impossible, both on and off the mat.

IMG_1772Article written by Alyssa Scarano. Alyssa is one of our YIS teachers working the Summer Saturdays project.

Reflection: Yoga at the Resurrection Church

I remember the class when Catherine mentioned an upcoming volunteer project that she was very excited about. My ears perked up. I was already interested even though I didn’t know what it was. You see, my boys are growing up and don’t need me as much (sad face). The last time I had volunteered was for an adaptive ski school program for children with special needs. It was a great experience during our long winters. But now, yoga has taken over my life and I was ready to spread the love.

image1Fast forward to my first YIS meeting. I reluctantly went. What did I possibly have to offer with my two years of practicing yoga and no formal training or certification? At the beginning of the meeting, we went around the room introducing ourselves and sharing our experiences. Ugh, I was dreading my turn. I shared that I was an elementary teacher of 25 years. But I kept hearing, “I did level one, I teach yoga, I’m going for level 2,etc.” I came home that night and told my family that I was “just a teacher” and I didn’t even know where I fit in this whole YIS experience. My husband reassured me that my teaching experience with kids has huge and he was so proud of my efforts.

So the first day of my volunteering, there was a travel ban due to snowy weather. I felt guilty for not going. The following week, I was ready and eager.11050801_735085899944015_3931736966002410025_n

We practiced yoga, worked on partner activities and before I knew it, class was over. But I wanted more! I was lucky enough to car pool with a fabulous new YIS friend, Alyssa. We babbled on and on about how fabulous the whole morning was. We were already planning the next Saturday together!  I was also fortunate to attend the Easter Egg Hunt at MLK Park. I hitched a ride with Catherine and her girls. We jammed to Wham and rapped our way to the Park.

It was a fabulous time letting the children “show off” their yoga moves while the Easter Bunny and Mayor Brown shook hands with all ages.

As you can see, you don’t have to be a yoga teacher to love volunteering at the Resurrection Church or for YIS. Just be ready to spread the love of yoga. Hope to see you there!11002582_738709506248321_2366283849508467148_n

Article written by Sheri M. Curry

Project Update: Easter Egg Hunt and YIS Demo

10422177_738704546248817_3417935340716509864_nBuffalo City Council member Demone Smith hosted the annual Masten Easter Egg Hunt at MLK Park on Saturday April 4th.  The event drew thrones of eager children and parents as well as special appearances by Buffalo’s Mayor, The Honorable Byron Brown; Buffalo City Court Judge, The Honorable 1508533_738708686248403_2628921827585962780_n
JaHarr Pridgen; and Erie County Family Court Judge, The Honorable Deanne Tripi.  Among these honored guests, our very own Catherine Cook-Cottone was asked to put on a yoga demonstration for the crowd.

Yogi’s In Service showed up BIG for the event with at least a dozen members assisting and demonstrating for the crowd.  Making the demonstration interactive and fun, Catherine awarded prizes to participants who could hold “tree” or “warrior 3” or “crow” the longest.  In addition to sharing their love of yoga, many Yogis in Service joined in the dance contests and showcased their love of dance! Our own yogi, Eric, was honored with a prize for his “current” dancing skills during the Mayor’s dance contest while Mary G. Carney got honorable mention for her “old school” style.

11133854_738702412915697_9027307369555350842_nThe YIS demonstration was quite popular, and many attendees asked about where to find Yogi’s in Service again.  We happily replied “Resurrection Church on Doat & Genessee every Saturday at 10am! And coming soon to the Delevan Grider Community Center!”  We can’t wait to return next year with some new dance moves and more yoga for fun.

Article written by Mary Carney


Project Update: Yoga at the Resurrection Church

After a long week of classes, grading, and hours in the chemistry laboratory, coming to Resurrection C10451136_728500723935866_5112139742609023019_nhurch every Saturday to share my love of yoga with others has quickly become the high point of my week.  Our first class was taught by Catherine Cook Cottone with the assistance of her family, who braved the winter snow to teach.  Mary Carney graciously provided the healthy snack.

The following Saturday, Nicole Desimone, Marissa Bland, and I taught our first class at the church with the help of several University at Buffalo students and the support of Catherine Cook Cottone.  Although we were not completely sure what to expect, we overcame our nervous jitters and were soon teaching a variation of navasana, which inclu10339667_724005437718728_7892195842113163668_nded rowing your boat and singing “row, row, row your boat.”  After a rather rigorous class, everyone was ready for a snack, which consisted of homemade granola bars and clementines contributed by Leah Feroleto.  Leah was kind enough to share her recipe, which is listed below:


  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal • 1 cup sliced almonds • 1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter • 2/3 cup honey • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 12-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper. Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut together on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture. Add the dates and cranberries and stir well. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool for at least 2 to 3 hours before cutting into squares. Serve at room temperature.


The following week, our third YIS Saturday class proved to be another success.  We combined the Baptiste style flow with yoga games, such as the mirror box and yoga cards.  Mirror box consists of one person who leads the class through a series of postures while being absolutely silent (although we did have quite a few talking mirrors in our class).  The class pays close attention and mirrors what the leader is doing.  In addition to mirror box, we let the students choose a card from a deck which contained a wide variety of poses.  We then flipped the class and let the students be the teachers.  Class was again concluded with a healthy snack provided by Dene Grabianowski.

Our fourth YIS Saturday class began by introducing the theme “the power of positive thinking.”  During our centering, we repeated the following aphorisms: “I 11042992_724003231052282_1058966233415826749_nalways try my best,” “I’m feeling on top of the world,” “I believe in me,” “I deserve all good things,” “I can do anything,”, “Everything is going to be okay,” and “life is tough, but so am I!”  Although we introduced several challenging postures, we returned to our theme in order to overcome thoughts of self-doubt.  At the end of class, we made mind jars and then practiced a brief meditation with their use as a visual aid for calming the mind.  Class was again concluded with a heathy snack provided by Mary Carney.

Our fifth and most recent YIS Saturday class was focused on the theme of trust.  We began class with a centering that emphasized the importance of developing trust in ourselves and others and how this can be cultivated on the mat and also implemented into our daily lives off the mat.  We proceeded to practice a round of the mirror box with several students jumping in to help lead the class.  Following the game, we practiced a yoga sequence with our eyes closed.  This enabled us to draw the senses inward and to cultivate stability and trust in ourselves.  Finally, we spent the rest of the class doing several partner activities.  Nicole led us through a much needed relaxation and class concluded with a healthy snack provided by Julie Swiatowski.


As this weekend quickly approaches, we have already begun planning Saturday’s class.  The theme this week will be the importance of surrounding yourself with all good things (including people!).  Come down to Resurrection Church this Saturday and sweat, smile, laugh, and snack with us!

Article by Marta Schoenle