3 Yoga Teachers On What The Practice Means To Them

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Yoga is a practice that I have returned to time and time again since I was first introduced to it in high-school. I have had (flow) flings with all styles from yin to Bikram to Kundalini; but, what never changes, is the appreciation that I feel for my body while on the mat. Some of my favorite people are those that I have met through yoga, and so I wanted to introduce you to my favorite teachers in Cleveland and pick their brains about what yoga means to them. What is so interesting to me is how different each of their responses was to each question, which just goes to show how personal yoga truly is.

Say hello to Isabel, Savannah, and Jen!

Isabel, @isabel.ballard.yoga

+ Introduce yourself!
Hi! I’m Isabel. I’ve been teaching yoga for just over two years! I currently teach at Next Level in Cleveland, Ohio. The last five years, I lived in Houston, Texas, where I completed my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training and gained most of my teaching experience. I have three beautiful rescue dogs who are the light of my life: Cleo, Chloe, and Maya. I am a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, pursuing a Master in Social Work.

+ What first attracted you to yoga?
Savasana was what attracted me to yoga. The very end of class hooked me. I remember the first yoga class I ever took being really HARD. Like, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through, and I was a young athlete, completely capable of physical challenges. What brought me back to the next class was Savasana. Savasana is the end of class meditation that you spend the entire class building up to. Some people don’t know that is precisely why we even do yoga. We move our bodies in the Asana practice of yoga (one of eight limbs or parts of yoga), so that we can meditate in Savasana, or what some of us refer to as: complete yogi bliss.

+ How has your practice changed since you have been teaching? 
Teaching yoga has brought consistency to my practice. If I’m not able to get to a studio, I know I can move and meditate at home. It is really empowering to be able to roll my mat out in my room and close my eyes and flow with my breath in a way that feels good. Teaching has also made my physical practice a lot stronger. I was my strongest when I was teaching full time and doing yoga every day. (Some people do Yoga Teacher Training just to strengthen and deepen their practice and never even plan to teach.)

+ In what ways do you think yoga affects other areas of your life?
My yoga journey is one of the big reasons why I am in graduate school right now. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I’ve always been passionate about mental health. Yoga is a big part of my personal journey with mental health, and as a teacher, I get to experience the positive impact yoga can have on others. This drew me to dive deeper into mental health, and I’m now working toward becoming a mental health counselor with my Master in Social Work.

Another way yoga affects my life is the community that unexpectedly came with it. The yogi community is strong. I found an amazing yoga home and community in Houston, and I am just starting to connect with the Cleveland one. It is comforting to know that wherever I go, I have the ability to connect with like-minded people.

+ What would you tell someone who has never stepped foot inside a yoga studio before? 
This is my favorite question. When people tell me, “I’ve never done yoga,” I like to point out that at some point, all of us had never done yoga. We are not born doing a downward dog. There is no expectation of being able to do everything perfectly the first time you take a yoga class. Or the second time. Or ever. That’s the beauty of yoga: IT’S A PRACTICE! There are zero expectations for you in a yoga class. The first class I took, I struggled, I contemplated leaving, I wondered why I even came, I sat down, I lay down, I gave up and then tried again. Yoga will always find a way to push us, to challenge us, to require us to dig a little deeper. The first class is only the beginning, but it’s a beginning we all go through. All that said, I like to recommend finding a beginner class and go in with zero expectations for yourself. If you can’t find a beginner class, go to a slow flow or a basics and put your mat in the back, watch everyone in the room, and do your best. You will pick it up faster than you think! There are also a lot of great yoga apps and online classes that are a good way to break the ice if you are feeling nervous about diving right into a public class. But remember, we’ve all been there!

+ How about someone who is growing bored with their practice?
For those of you growing bored with your practice, try a new studio or a new teacher. As creatures of habit, we get stuck in our routine, and sometimes we just need to mix it up. I would also recommend attending a workshop (forearm stands, inversions, backbends, Thai massage). Workshops can strengthen and deepen your practice and usually open up other aspects to your practice you haven’t tapped into yet!

+ An effective yoga move to do at home?
Forward Fold. First, a forward fold is going to stretch the entire backside of your body. Second, a forward fold is going to calm your nervous system. You are turning your gaze inward both mentally and physically. The biggest mistake I see people make in a forward fold is not bending their knees. BEND YOUR KNEES! Bend your knees so much that your belly and chest connect with your thighs. Keeping that connection, send your hips into the sky another inch or two. Allow your head and neck to relax, so your gaze falls behind you (try closing your eyes). The great thing about a forward fold is you can also do a seated forward fold! The same rules apply, just seated on the floor, or couch, or your bed, maybe even your chair at work. Yoga isn’t all about touching your toes, but working on a forward fold promotes a healthy spine and slow breathing, all good things!

+ Is there anything new in yoga that you are excited about?
What I’m excited about is the push for mindfulness and meditation in our everyday lives. That is yoga, and the combination of the physical and the mental is where a lot of magic can happen. As yoga became more popular, it was branded and marketed, and people have missed out on its true meanings and gifts. Yoga is a lot more than the physical practice. The physical practice is one out of eight parts that make up the yoga practice. That being said, it’s okay if people come to the practice through the physical part, it is often how most people come to the practice.

Savannah, @savannahdenysegoins

+ Introduce yourself!
My name is Savannah Goins, and I am thirty-one years old. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, and I moved to Cleveland 3 years ago. I have been teaching yoga for seven years, and I am also a certified Barre instructor. Currently, I teach weekly at Yoga Strong Studios in downtown Cleveland and GrooveRyde in the Van Aken District. I also represent and work with Athleta, you can catch me at their Crocker Park location throughout the week!

+ What first attracted you to yoga?
I played competitive soccer almost all my life, and in college, I thought yoga would be a good stretch for my body. I quickly learned balance, core strength, and breath were also great benefits as an athlete.

+ How has your practice changed since you have been teaching?
My practice has been continuously evolving over these past seven years. Starting as a physical stretch or workout, which I wanted to implement into the training programs for the soccer teams I coached. So, I decided to go through my 200 RYT at It’s Yoga Cincinnati, which was such a transformative experience and hugely impacted my practice. This is where the mental benefits of yoga started to come into play. The breath and mindfulness became a tool that I could utilize in my dealings with others and situations in my daily life. Then a few years ago, I was introduced to Katonah Yoga, which strongly influences my teaching and practice today. My practice now is about showing up and holding myself accountable to make time and space for my body and my mind. To be able to sit with myself and gain insight to show up in my own life as the best version I can be, both physically and mentally.

+ In what ways do you think yoga affects other areas of your life?
Yoga impacts every part of my life! My practice is as essential as brushing my teeth every morning. As I said above, it allows me to be at my best physically and mentally, which then impacts my relationships and interactions with everyone I meet throughout my day. It affects my mood, decisions, awareness, etc. So whether I need calm or clarity or even a good kick in the ass, my practice provides the tools for me to get over myself, around myself, through myself and be able to enjoy life!

+ What would you tell someone who has never stepped foot inside a yoga studio before? 
You start by showing up, especially when you don’t want to. Usually, the things in life that we avoid or scare us are the things that we need. Plus, if you don’t try, then you will never know. And we all have to start somewhere.

+ How about someone who is growing bored with their practice?
Yoga isn’t about this or that; it’s this AND that. Keep adding to your practice! Try new classes, teachers, styles, hobbies, etc. Go for a walk in the park, an adventure, a cup of coffee and be with yourself. Read books, listen to podcasts, paint, make pottery; they are all the practice and give you insight into your life. Be inspired or even uninspired by the things and people around you!

+ An effective yoga move to do at home?
Plow or any forward fold variation. Especially as a yoga teacher, I am continually giving. This pose allows me time to come back to myself to recharge my batteries and fill up my cup. It’s like a big warm hug that I give to myself!

+ Is there anything new in yoga that you are excited about?
I’m obsessed with all things, Katonah! It is a ‘yoga practice developed by Nevine Michaan that incorporates classical Hatha Yoga with Taoist theory, geometry, magic, mythology, metaphor, and imagination – in a practical framework designed to potentiate personal and communal well-being. Themes using asana as origami, manipulating form for function, and developing a sense of personal measure are incorporated in Katonah Yoga practices.’ -Katonah Yoga. Katonah has opened up my practice to a whole new world of revelation, and I keep peeling back more and more layers as I continue to refine my recipe for Joy!

Jen, @jen_neapolitan

+ Introduce yourself!
Hi, I’m Jen! I teach yoga at Yoga Strong and Tremont Athletic Club. I moved to Cleveland three years ago to go to school, and I just graduated in August. I did my 200-hour YTT 2 years ago, and teaching has been a dream. I was lucky to have found my passion so young. And to have had a job that I love during and after school. I get to wear leggings to work everyday… it doesn’t get much better than that!

+ What first attracted you to yoga?
In high school, I had a lot of personal struggles. I felt lost, and no matter how many friends I had, I felt alone. Yoga was always there. It became my best friend. I traded Friday night football games into powerful vinyasa flows, and my weekend hangovers into early morning yoga. I loved how yoga felt like dancing to me. There was no better feeling than being in a room with other people who just wanted to flow, the awesome music, and the community that it provided me. It was my first true love, and always will be. Yoga has helped me through a lot of different parts of my life and journey.

+ How has your practice changed since you have been teaching?
Since teaching, I have not been able to practice as much as I used to (at least in an actual class setting). I teach roughly 11-15 classes per week, so it is hard to find the time to fit in my practice. This has led to shorter sequences by myself, watching videos so that I do not have to think about my flow, and trying to get in a few classes when I can. I have also found a huge appreciation for yin and unwind classes since I started teaching. Being able to slow down and really feel the poses and connect with my body is powerful to me.

+ In what ways do you think yoga affects other areas of your life?
Yoga is not just pretty poses. It teaches you how powerful your breath can be. Finding the mind, body, soul connection is one of the best things you can do yourself. It teaches you to check in with yourself… daily. You discover body awareness that you never thought was possible. Yoga is much more than what happens on your mat. It is how you apply what you learn about yourself on your mat in your day to day life.

+ What would you tell someone who has never stepped foot inside a yoga studio before? 
Just try it out! Be open. You will not like every instructor, every class, every sequence, etc. Go in without expectations. Above all, do not worry that you will be judged or not good enough. Everyone and everybody is welcome. Trust me, people are more concerned about their practice, so just be willing to try and try again. I would also read class descriptions and call the studio if you have any other questions (the level of the class, if it is heated, if they have mats and towels).

+ How about someone who is growing bored with their practice?
If you’re growing bored with your practice, then change something up. Maybe try a different style of class or new instructor! Take some workshops and explore! Do not be afraid to back off in class or maybe push yourself past your comfort zone. Just check in with yourself and ask why you’re growing bored and then listen and try something. It is okay to take a step back from your practice if you need to, as well. Remember that simply breathing mindfully is yoga!

+ An effective yoga move to do at home?
LEGS UP THE WALL. This pose is my favorite. I do it all the time (at least once a day.) It is great before bed or when you are feeling stressed because it promotes relaxation. It is also a great pose for lower back pain, increases circulation, and can help with swelling in your feet or ankles. If you are someone who spends a lot of time on your feet… aka everyone… then you should be doing this pose! I also do it to help with digestion and bloating. The list of benefits can go on, but I think this is a solid start

+ Is there anything new in yoga that you are excited about?
I love how willing teachers are to learn new techniques, styles, and continually wanting to learn more. Realizing that yoga is not a one size fits all. I especially love to see all of the growth in Cleveland! It is inspiring to watch. I have also seen the growth in my practice thanks to these instructors that are willing to challenge yoga norms. Yoga has been around for a long time, and it continues to evolve.


Do you consider yourself a yogi? Why or why not?

Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. Meditation helped me immensely while grieving.

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