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.

No Worries, Africa

Rules for going to Africa:

  1. Don’t drink the water
  2. Take Malaria pills
  3. Don’t eat raw fruits or veggies
  4. Don’t Fall In Love
  5. Use bug spray
  6. Sleep
  7. Wash your hands
  8. Don’t Share the same water bottle
  9. Don’t step outside the hotel
  10. Walk in pairs
  11. Stay Fit
  12. Stay Vegan

I am pretty sure I broke every rule in the book. I ventured on this journey to Africa to receive a certification in Baptiste Yoga (200Hours), and travel to a place that has always sparked my interest. I was quickly awakened when I found:

  • The only muscle that grew was my heart
  • I Gained an entire family of brothers and sisters
  • I Made a promise to return to Africa
  •  I have an appreciation for anything called food
  •  I have a love for chapati (carbs)
  • True Freedom
  • Internal happiness
  • A Support system
  • A plan for solving world hunger through yoga
  • Healthiest I’ve ever felt (not vegan)
  • Best Friends & new lingo
  • NO WORRIES

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Drop What You Know

As I heard the captain speak first in Arabic, 5 hours into my flight from Dubai to Kenya, I knew something sounded off. Then in English, “Since we cannot fly over Yemen because of military unrest, we will take another route.” Never have I traveled internationally by myself, so I thought this was the end (haha). My flight was 4 hours late, and with customs, ebola check, visa, and waiting for my bag- I was 6 hours late. As soon as I stepped outside there were hundreds of people crowded around the airport with signs. I thought that no one would ever find me -but just as a I went to sit down I saw an Africa Yoga Project member, Irene, and my beautiful Egyptian roommate, Omniya, (both who i met on Facebook) waving with excitement. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and carried my overpacked bag to the driver-this was only the beginning.

The air, the people, the music, the dance, the acrobatics, the sweat, the tears, the hope, the feel, the bond, the love, the possibility all struck me instantaneously as a place I wanted to forever call home. When we arrived to the Shine Center, it was filled with people from every country and continent. There were two members that were deaf, and one that was completely blind, and I thought how are they ever going to do this yoga? Yoga in Africa is for everyone and the talents they had to overcome their disabilities were unbelievable. Paige did not treat them any different, but pushed and encouraged them to dive further. People were doing acro-yoga all over the room, handstands, and inversions with the biggest smiles I have ever seen. Our first mission: Stand up,walk around and greet everyone with a hug. This became my favorite part of the day as we all shared a genuine feel for love.  And,Yes, Paige is as breathtaking with her presence and we all imagine!

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Shift Your vision

With my regular daily practice at Power Yoga Buffalo, I thought that Africa Yoga had nothing on me. Well, let me tell you, with 400 people at the Shine center gathered for a free community class, Paige did not let us have it easy. People from off the streets, fathers with their babies, families, first timers, all gathered on a saturday morning to share this practice-and it is not a quiet one. All the yoga I have tried has been silent and introspective, but in Africa they tell you exactly how they feel all the time. They do not hide anything or hold it back, it is all let out through sighs, words, laughs, cries, and lots of sweat. At first I thought this is crazy, and not the yoga I know. After many silent giggles and eye rolls, I tried it and IT FEELS SO GOOD! SO LET IT OUT!

Be Up to Something Bigger Than Yourself

When we think of a yoga teacher in America, we think a low paying job. In Africa, it is a chance for employment, a way to connect with the community, a way of healing, possibility, and to provide service to others. For every paid class a yoga teacher teaches they give multiple free classes in the slums, jails, hospitals, special needs centers, and schools as an outreach project. They are less concerned with how much money they are making and more concerned with spreading this practice throughout Africa. As we walked through the slums, the flies were swarming, the smells were unbearable, the children with no clothes, the drugs, the alcohol were all around us. There are no mats, no incense burning, no candles, no oils, no blocks and no cool lululemon clothes. There are no means of proper hydration, sanitation, nutrition, or places to call home. These people practice the same sequence with nothing but dirt floors and lips pointed up to the sky. To think that the same yoga we practice is also being emulated in a third world country, with much bigger problems, makes me think world peace is possible through yoga!

This yoga works because it is accessible to every person, country, culture, body type, age, language, race and economic situation. My favorite part of this entire journey was being able to connect with a little girl who had muscular dystrophy, by placing her in childs pose. To manipulate the muscles and bones in such a way that this girl could experience yoga in her body, was unbelievable. Just being able to connect with someone on such a spiritual level gave life a different perspective on life and made me feel things I have never felt before.

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In order to Heal, You Need to Feel

Two weeks of breaking us down while sharing our past, present, and future residue and challenging the physical and mental was just a stepping stone for having continuous breakthroughs. We cried more than I thought was possible, took off all of our masks, and experienced the present moment. We released all of our toxins and made a path for freedom. This was the most difficult three weeks of my life, but also the most life changing. In Order to Heal, You need to Feel.

Come From You Are Ready Now

The last day was so emotional. I met new best friends from Brazil, Africa, Egypt, Argentina, Zimbabwe, America, Uganda and it was so hard to say goodbye. We shared secrets and sweat for so long that it seemed wrong to leave all of my brothers and sisters. I was hoping my flight would get cancelled and I would be able to stay forever. AtI knew that I had to spread that same light in my own hometown.

Through Africa Yoga Project, Seva Safari, I learned how to truly “Live my Yoga.” I see real similarities in the community aspect of Yogis in Service-which makes me proud to live in an area that values outreach. How will I Live my Yoga? I started a summer project for the Boys and Girls Club Niagara Falls, that runs for 7 weeks, and provides yoga and mats for all of the children. Teaching the staff at Mercy Hospital twice a week during their shifts. Teaching at Lafayette Highschool. Teaching all over Buffalo community and spreading the love! Hopefully returning to Africa to work with Africa Yoga Project on creating AYP Uganda!

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Article written by Sarah Panzica

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

 

Yoga Service Immersion: Heart and Soul Seva

The most pivotal point in any yogi’s journey is the moment we learn to take our practice with us when we leave the mat- to employ the many lessons learned through asana and meditation in our everyday lives.  A step further than that is living our practice with the pure intention of sharing it with others.

Myself and two fellow members of Yogis In Service took a little road-trip to Nazareth college for a workshop presented by The Rochester Yoga Service Network entitled Yoga Service Immersion: Heart and Soul Seva.  Leading this workshop was Carla Giambrone, an absolutely brilliant yogi and researcher who has a way of enrapturing her audience through her passion and enthusiasm.  Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly as representatives of Yogis In Service and settled onto our mats to begin the workshop. The first thing Carla asked of attendees was to reflect in our journals- Why were we here? What did we hope to take away from this workshop? Word for word I wrote “ I will go to anything with the word ‘yoga’ in it, and I have no idea what I hope to take away from this workshop.”  Insightful, right?

Carla led us through a vigorous Power Yoga flow, leaving us dripping in sweat, but also grounded and open. It was an effective way to bring everyone to the present moment, settled and ready to work. Carla shared a little about her research and findings regarding yoga as a tool to be shared in order to promote health, healing, and wellbeing, before splitting us into groups based on the populations we wished to serve.  We were given the opportunity to share our stories- why we were drawn to particular populations (children, senior citizens, adult women, or trauma survivors), and how and why we felt yoga could serve them. Following this discussion, we were paired off and asked to perform a variety of partner activities that required strength, trust, balance, and compromise to be successful.   A particularly powerful activity followed this; to me, it was the highlight of the session.  We were asked to stand and face our partners, and spent the next twenty minutes learning the difference between being a “YES” and a “NO.” We practiced being in each, and observed our partner’s very physical reactions to the energy we presented them with.  Carla utilized these activities along with her LEAN® Coaching Method to teach us the three most important themes of providing yoga as a service – “Be Clear. Be Centered and Grounded. Be Consistent.”

The afternoon ended with a moment of quiet reflection, just as it began.  This time however, my words were very different- “I am here because I want to serve others through yoga. I am so grateful to be leaving this workshop with a sense of purpose.”  Carla Giambrone, together with The Rochester Yoga Service Network, presented a powerful and educational workshop that clearly had an impact on every person in attendance.  We learned how to show up for ourselves, as well as how to most effectively be in service to others by using our practice as a vehicle for spreading love and change.

“May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

RSA

 

Article by Marissa Bland