Representing YIS and Namastadium

On Saturday, March 6th, hundreds of yogis came together for a historic event – practicing in Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, with all proceeds going to Women’s and Children’s Hospital. I was there with Yogis in Service. We had dreamed, planned; we even had a countdown going, and today was finally the day! Armed with awesome YIS t-shirts, generously donated yoga mats, and full, excited hearts, our troops marched right into the stadium and firmly took our place on the turf that we’d only seen on TV.

1795773_769092539876684_4950996951688873518_nRight away, I noticed something. It didn’t matter if you arrived in a Ferrari or a bus. Your age wasn’t a concern (people of all ages took naps on their mats, a nice change of pace from the practice I’m so used to). Your size, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation…none of that matters on the mat. In an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people, our little yogis found their inner warrior and thrived. Wherever they took their mats, they had a home, a community. I’d like to think the YIS instructors had a part in this, but really, the kids did the work. They showed up, in every sense of the phrase. And together, we embraced a beautiful day, a heart-opening practice, and – most importantly – we embraced each other.

1939721_708723052570915_1156914414132421695_nIt’s easy to think of yoga as a way to look more toned in a bikini, (you usually do anyway), or just really great physical exercise, (which it is).
But that day, hopefully, everyone felt the same euphoria I did. The sense of community. The unity. The oneness. The true meaning of the word “yoga.” YIS is yoga. Sometimes, the kids get it way more than the teachers.

11266503_769946879791250_2288656103019992916_nThey’ve taught me that the best way to truly improve your practice is not obsessing over your handstand or making sure your core is always engaged. The way to be your best yogi, and best human, and best part of this universe, is to practice off your mat.

Endure when things get tough. Life can be a real chair pose sometimes, and the kids in YIS know that better than almost anyone – seriously, we have a particular student who lets the entire East Side know how much he hates chair, every single time it is asked of him. They’re honest, and they’ll tell it like it is, but they grit their teeth and dig the f in. Checking out is easy when you are surrounded by unemployment, poverty, and violence. I know, in my bones, that yoga helps these kids check back in. To know their bodies and minds are capable of doing the seemingly impossible. As teachers, we see this, and we are inspired. We try to give them as much hope and courage as they give to us. So give to others, even if you don’t feel like you have a lot to give. You do. You really do.

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We were all tired, hungry, and deliriously happy when we took a picture around the fifty yard line. Staring up at the enormous blue sky, I held the hand of a little person with a future. He could be a doctor, a lawyer, a great dad, or maybe even a yoga teacher. The best part is, he knows this just as well as I do. He believes in himself, and YIS believes in him. We were in a circle of possibility, and all of us – rich, poor, black, white, in between – will carry that circle, and that day, with us, for the rest of our lives.

Thank you, yoga, for everything. And thank you to all my amazing teachers, especially, on this day, Catherine Cook-Cottone and Steven Procknal. You two are sharing your multitudinous gifts so beautifully, and I am beyond blessed to know you both.

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Article written by Hannah Duke.

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.

Rachel’s Experience

Buffalo_ChangeNext month (April), Lindsay Blamire and Wendy Guyker will be teaming up to bring yoga to Rachel’s Experience. Rachel’s Experience is a faith-based, low-cost, multi-session retreat that promotes empowerment and wellness for women. Rachel came and spoke with YIS at our last (February) meeting about her next retreat –which includes a one-night hotel orientation, six consecutive Thursday evening sessions at Sisters Hospital in Buffalo, NY, and a final celebration dinner. Attendance is anticipated to be about 20 women, and Lindsay and Wendy will orient these amazing women to yoga, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques with six 45-minute practices. Rachel is an LMSW who, through her studies as well as her personal encounters of facing and overcoming challenges, was inspired to 1618320_552274734879689_1713257511_ocreate an experience for women that would give them tools and each other to heal and practice healthier living together. Rachel truly embodies our sentiment of “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and YIS, Lindsay, and Wendy are honored and excited to bring yoga to this special group! To help with these efforts, YIS is looking for TWENTY yoga mats, blocks and straps to help make this happen. Please let Lindsay, Wendy, or Catherine know if you have a gently used mat or other yoga equipment that you would like to donate.

For more information on Rachel’s Experience, please see: https://www.facebook.com/rachelsexperience

Article by Wendy Guyker