Working My Way Back

It’s been a while. I’ve often thought about writing, but, when push came to shove, just never seemed to know what I wanted to say. It has been a while since I’ve felt two feet solidly on the ground.

While these last 4.5 years have been filled by so many important milestones, relationships, areas of growth, hardships, beautiful moments, and so much love, they’ve also been dominated by something more powerful than I ever could have imagined. Infertility.

My family and I have spent years, tens of thousands of dollars, literally tons of blood, sweat, and tears, within this process. On one hand, I have the most incredible gift I could ask for, my beautiful son, Drew. I know, firsthand, how lucky I am to be not only a mom, but his mom. I am grateful every single day.  On the other, however, I cannot ignore that I have also gained so much loss, tragedy, confusion, and paralysis. Since 2011, when the studio opened and I almost simultaneously learned our seemingly only chance of having a child was through advanced technologies, I will have been given (or administered myself!) roughly 150 shots, primarily intramuscular (think the achiness you feel after a flu shot), had about 30 eggs retrieved, been on so many pills I can’t even count them (taken both orally and in ways I don’t even want to think about anymore), had three miscarriages, been the primary caregiver for a baby, now rambunctious (have I mentioned incredible) toddler, and, as a business owner,  in all of that time, never a full day off from work. I am sore. I am tired.

Deciding to close the studio was such a difficult decision. I knew I couldn’t continue as I was going. And, I knew I didn’t want to. This process, the physical, mental, and emotional beatdown that it causes, has changed me. I don’t have what I used to have to make sure that this sacred home continues to meet the needs of all of those who have come to rely on it. And, I’m sorry. But, I know that everything that we created will continue to live on in each student, each teacher. Hopefully, even in this space (I’ll keep you posted as that is all figured out).

As I write this, I am 5 days past my most recent 5 day frozen embryo transfer. I am one month past my most recent crushing miscarriage. I am a little over two months past announcing the closing of Allay to our community. I have let myself feel all of the emotions. I believe I’ve touched the bottom of the pool and I’m working my way back up. Back up to the surface where I can take sweet breath. Where I can safely open my eyes, and see clearly. Where I can climb out and walk forward with both feet.

I’m going to *try* to be better about writing. I want to put our journey out there. I want to put this process out there. Of being a ridiculously lucky mom and business owner. Of being these things and being weighed down by the battle of infertility. Of figuring out what I can contribute to the world that can help ease the wounds of this battle.

Allay means: to put (fear, doubt, suspicion, anger, etc.) to rest; calm; quiet ( I named the business Allay because this is what I wanted to do. For myself. For others. I wanted to create a space where this could happen. And, I believe that I did and, although the format may be different in the future, I hope to be able to do this always.



Yogi Spotlight: Lynne Schaffer

Hi Yogis! Welcome to our August Yogi Spotlight, organized and written by the fabulous Kathleen Reynolds! Today’s feature yogi is Lynne Schaffer! Read about Lynne and her inspirational practice in her own words below!


Having been an avid power walker for many years, (my user name is “lynnewalks”), I switched my regimen in my mid 40’s to the elliptical cross trainer, free weights, and floor exercises — before trying yoga last summer as I was turning 67. In October, at the suggestion of my good friend and Allay Yoga enthusiast, Nancy
Kotz, I started taking classes at Allay Yoga, and ever since the studio has been my “happy place.”

I especially appreciate the warm and caring atmosphere, and all the teachers who contribute to
that. I have taken classes taught by Juliet, Kathleen, Nicole, Marisa, and Pam.

Retired from an exciting and fulfilling career with the Smithsonian, I was a
program coordinator researching, planning, and orchestrating events for The Smithsonian Associates. I am the proud grandmother of two granddaughters and two grandsons from two sons and daughters-in-law on opposite coasts (one set
nearby). My husband Mark and I celebrated our 46th anniversary in June!

Allay yoga classes give me a very welcome sense of calm over my entire being that extends beyond the duration of the practice. I’ve also noted a marked improvement in my balance. Though I am most comfortable in Level I classes, I
have been able to feel successful in the all-level, Open Flow classes as well by modifying some of the
more challenging poses to suit my ability.

The most fun I have had practicing yoga was on a recent vacation to Santa Barbara, CA where my 8 year old granddaughter, Eliana and I did a yoga session together.

Yogi Spotlight: Margaret Canning

Hi Yogis! Welcome to our very belated  (Pam’s fault) July Yogi Spotlight, organized and written by the fabulous Kathleen Reynolds! Today’s feature yogi is Margaret, a woman very close to our hearts, who has been with us since our doors opened in the fall of 2011 and completed our 200 hr teacher training in 2014!  Read about Margaret and her wonderful practice in her own words below!


I stumbled upon Yoga in the fall of 2011. I was 52 years old with creaking knees and was unable to touch my toes. I had toyed with idea of returning to tae kwon do. I had trained for 10 years in my thirties and forties eventually earning a first degree black belt. The thought of sparing at my age just did not appeal to me. That was when I decided I needed to try something new. It was while I was driving in my Kensington neighborhood, thinking these thoughts that I noticed a new yoga studio had opened. That studio was Allay.

My first instructor was Joanne. She did a great job of giving me a strong foundation in the basics of yoga. I attended many of Pam’s beginner classes, in which I remember her saying in her mellifluous voice ” Just because it’s a beginner class, does not mean it’s going to be easy. I would have stayed in beginner classes forever, because I really enjoyed the camaraderie with my fellow Yogis, however, one Saturday morning Marisa informed me that it was time for me to move on.

I have had many wonderful instructors at Allay; Christina, Rachel, Daisy, Stephanie and Nicole to name a few. They all contribute to evolving my yoga practice. Of course Pam and Marisa are the heart and soul of Allay. Last summer I participated in the second ever Allay teacher training course. I did it, not necessary to become a instructor, but to get a more in depth knowledge of yoga. Pam and Marisa certainly accomplished that. Even though I was told that I am not ready to teach yet, I would highly recommend this course to anyone wishing to truly deepen their yoga practice.

Anyone who has attended classes with me knows my favorite poses are back bends. There is something about trusting yourself to bend backwards into the unknown and opening the whole of yourself to the world I find very freeing. Yoga is not about doing only what you like or what comes easily to you. I find balancing poses and inversions are very challenging. My crow has yet to take flight. It may be that my crow will never fly, but I keep working at it. As Marisa is always saying, “yoga is about the journey, not the pose.”

I will be 56 this month. I have decided to take an early retirement in October so I can spend time with my 91 year old father. One of the things that I am looking forward to doing when I retire is more yoga ! I currently take 3 to 4 classes a week. I am hoping to do it every day when I retire. I would also like to develop a home practice. Currently the only yoga I do at home is mediation before going to work. I find it really allows me to control my stress level. I am currently a telephonic triage nurse for a large HMO. Being calm and focused while making possibly life or death decision at work is very important. I find that even 3 to 4 minutes of mediation very helpful in achieving this.

In a year or two my husband and I plan to relocate to Europe. Spending are summers in Ireland and the rest of the year in Spain. I have already checked to see that there are yoga studio in both places we will be living. I hope these places will be like Allay. A studio where everyone is welcome regardless of their ability. Where people feel encouraged and nurtured. If not, maybe I will open a studio of my own. If I do, I would want to create one just like Allay.

Let’s Talk Yin Yoga

Hi Yogis! Today’s post is from Kathleen!

Yin Yoga can be a wonderful complement to your regular Yang practice. Unlike a dynamic practice that engages muscular energy, Yin poses are held for longer lengths of time (usually beginning around 3-5 minutes per pose), and they focus on the joints and connective tissues instead of muscles. Yin poses can be very meditative. A great source of information on Yin Yoga is The following three Tattvas (or tenets/principles of Yin Yoga) are provided from this page:



I enjoy balancing my more dynamic flow practice with Yin poses throughout the year, but summer is an especially good time I find to bring some Yin in, as the season is Yang in nature, and the Yin “cools off” the mind and emotions that can get overactive and heated up with the hotter weather. Below, I provide a little qualifier to the second tenet, based on my own experience with Yin Yoga:


The following are a couple of Yin poses I’ve brought into my practice and classes recently. As you explore Yin, you’ll find similarities between them and what you may have been exposed to in your flow practice. For example, the Anahatasana pose is what you may know as “puppy dog,” a heart-opener and gentle inversion.


Here is a variation of this pose that I really enjoy — stretching one arm out and holding for a few minutes and then switching sides. You can always come to child’s pose as a counterpose after you’ve done both sides.


Below are two other Yin poses: Swan pose (what you may know as Pigeon) and Frog pose. Both these poses are wonderful hip-openers, but they can also serve as variations to the Anahatasana pose (varying the leg position). Recently I brought in the figure-4 Anahatasana pose to one of my classes, and Kim, a fellow teacher at Allay, offered up to me at the end of class that taking Pigeon with the legs instead and extending one arm while resting your head on the opposite forearm could be a great alternative, as she found herself wanting to be drawn to that position in the lower body as we held the pose in class. I tried it out, and it was a wonderful variation!

Starting from Swan, I did the same figure-4 with my arms as pictured above, relaxing my upper-body down (a variation on Sleeping Swan). I personally found it was great to extend the arm on the same side that the back leg was extended, but the opposite was useful, too. Since this is a deep hip-opener with external rotation of the femur, it is many times the case that one hip or the other won’t be as grounded. Therefore, extending the arm on that side can assist with balancing the weight distribution between upper body and lower body and help to ground the hip that needs to settle. You can also use props such as a blanket underneath the hip to help the hips stay aligned.


Frog pose can be intense, so it’s important to move into this one slowly. Starting from a wide-kneed child’s, you would turn your feet out to a comfortable angle, and (as pictured below) have each knee on a blanket or towel. Then, you slowly, use the blankets/towels to slide your knees out to the sides. You can begin or stay on forearms or move into extending your arms and melting your heart more if your body allows. The most important tip I learned in this pose is to shift the hips up and forward to lessen the intensity of the groin stretch. So, try getting into the pose slowly and then adjusting your hips forward to allow for a hold that is sustainable for a few minutes.


I hope you can find a few quiet summer nights to try out some Yin poses to complement your practice. Stephani teaches a Yin and Restorative class on Thursdays at 8:00pm, and Marisa’s leading a “Yin Yang Summer Workshop” on July 11th (1-3:00pm). So you can dive into some wonderful Yin in the comfort of your comfortable yoga home at Allay!

Stay cool <3,

How I Got Into Yoga: A Romantic Comedy

Hi Yogis! Today’s Post is From the Fabulous Kathleen Reynolds!

“How I Got Into College” is a mediocre movie from 1989 that tells the story of Jessica, the all-around high school superstar, and Marlon, the classic underachiever who’s enamored with Jessica, and each’s attempt to gain admission into the selective Ramsey College. Jessica’s struggles the expectations for her to follow family tradition and attend the big state university. And Marlon, whose sole reason for wanting to attend Ramsey is to follow Jessica, struggles with, well, everything that would be expected for acceptance: his grades are subpar, his SAT scores abysmal, and his only apparent extra-curricular activity is a less-than-impressive juggling hobby. The movie is also peppered with scenes involving two imaginary characters, “A” and “B.” who act out SAT mathematical word problems associated with the stress-inducing choices Marlon faces in the midst of his college-application process.

But Marlon’s got something to his advantage: that quirky, “think outside of the box,” endearing personality, which of course, is the magic bullet for all underdogs in 80’s romantic comedies. It is they, not the popular, rich jock with the pastel sweater tied around his neck, who in the end, get the girl and realize all their dreams, too. I mean, even Pretty in Pink’s original ending had Andie and Duckie ending up together, not Andie and Blaine (curse those test audiences!)

The admission’s process doesn’t go as smoothly for Jessica as she imagined. Everything perfect-on-paper Jessica’s done ends up mirroring so many others’ high GPA-holding, classical-instrument playing, class president profiles. Jessica’s self-image (not to mention future plans based on it) are shattered, and she decides not to apply to Ramsey after all. Marlon convinces her to change her mind — but it’s nearly the deadline, and they have to drive to the campus, Jessica typing her application on a word processor in the passenger seat en route, as Marlon speeds along so they can break into the admission’s office and slip her application through the slot. (Stacks of paper submitted in large manilla envelopes and physically delivered to individual colleges? No online form and instant “submit” button? I never said the film aged well).

On their way to “beat the clock,” they calculate how fast they will need to drive. Unfortunately, they get stuck behind a police cruiser whose slower speed skews their plan. Driving behind them is word-problem “A” character in a Lamborghini. Jessica’s stresses as she realizes they won’t make the deadline and insists they must find a way to drive faster. And then Marlon throws a curve-ball: he suggests slowing-down instead. Jessica, is of course, bewildered: how will going slower solve the problem? But Marlon reduces speed, “A” behind them loses patience and passes Marlon’s car recklessly at full-speed – which, of course, gets him nailed by the police officer who pulls him over, thus removing that obstacle in Marlon’s and Jessica’s journey and allowing them to regain lost time.


One topic of much interest and debate in online yoga world has been asana. It goes without saying by now that asana (or whatever physical forms that have been equated with that particular limb) has for man become synonymous with all that yoga means. On the subject of “yoga poses,” so much of what we find online are either images of yogi’s voguing for selfies (and I share selfies too, so I won’t tread into judgement territory here) or instruction on how to assume (or challenge oneself to contort one’s body into, as the case may be) the prescribed shapes commonly associated with modern postural yoga. Being “good” or advanced at yoga has come to mean being able to perfect poses, or at least to progress to deeper versions of dream poses.

This is, indeed a trend, but I must say that all of the practitioners I am blessed to know at Allay Yoga and beyond do not hold up the physical part of the practice as an end in and of itself — or even as a means to an end. In fact, in my role as a yoga teacher (and I explicitly use the little “y” to self-describe but also feel joyfully blessed), I would doubt any regular students who attend my classes are really coming for the asana in itself, though given the effects our modern lifestyles on our bodies, the physical practice no doubt provides great benefits.

So, “that thing” that calls us to our practice — beyond perfecting alignment, moving toward more “advanced” postures, or even reaping therapeutic benefit to our bodies — is what may most deeply drive our intentions to continue our practices — if we arrive each time with open eyes and humble hearts. And it is our continued practice in this manner — which includes continual learning, while seeing our selves more clearly and surrendering to changes that will best serve us — that takes us further along paths. Hey, we may get into that dream pose anyway — but like Jessica and Marlon, our perspective switches: stripping away those layers of who we “thought” we had to be and what we “should” be working toward, we slow down and open ourselves to new ways of addressing challenges. Marlon is wise indeed, no?😉

In addition to being surrounded by a beautiful and inspiring yoga community, I also feel fortunate that teaching connects me to a vast, amazing, and humbling (in the best sense of the word) array of wisdom and perspectives offered by those within the larger, global yoga community. And their are some truly great minds with extensive knowledge who are delving into the roots of asana through research into physical practices within ancient devotional disciplines, contemporary and social-political influences on the practice, and so much more. Scratching the surface of information on just this one limb is both fascinating and overwhelming — and this is not even to mention all that’s offered up beyond asana-centered discussion (a drop in the deep ocean of Dharma).

Back to asana, one of the most frequently cited references is, of course, its description from the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.

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The point here is that asana’s significance (and it certainly is significant) did not have a particular form — much less a prescriptive process for assuming the “seat.” The qualities were of import: one needed to assume a comfortable and firm seat in order to practice Dharana (intense focus of the mind) without distraction of the body. Dharana precedes what happens in Dhyana (the state of meditation) and finally Samadhi (bliss or oneness).

So what’s a modern practitioner – whose practice has been primarily asana-based -to take from this? Well, if my opinion means anything (and I make no assumption that it does), I would first offer this recommendation: don’t despair that the approach you’ve taken is an either/or or has been “wrong” as opposed to doing things the “right” way. Even among the most informed scholars and devoted practitioners, there is inevitably much disagreement as to prescriptives. And our lifestyles as householders in 2015 must be taken into account.

To be clear, I am not open to an “anything goes” approach to the practice, nor do I advocate that one grasp onto just any such advice that guarantees gratification or promises some type of ambiguously-defined transformation — and that happens to use the word “yoga” within its specific selling point. If anything, my own tendency would be to recommend doing whatever seems most dissimilar to either. Though I am usually loathe to given unsolicited advice (my husband would certainly contradict me to this effect), I will offer up the following (which may be considered fairly obvious advice by many, in any case):

First, instead of thinking you need to ‘switch gears,” approach your practice within its already existing structure. You can find so much beauty and joy by exploring the depth and variation available within the same sequence or structure which you are most familiar. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you need to “move deeper” into a posture physically. Instead, start on your mat with an intention to be open to whatever arises. If your focus has been on “mastering” a particular posture, let go of the effort toward that end and set an intention to stay with your breath — come back to the breath again and again, and allow your breath to begin each movement you make. That may mean you find yourself slowing to Child’s Pose when you would normally launch into a Vinyasa. What challenge and liberation are found in switching gears.

If you are used to practicing regularly with a beloved teacher, you can set an intention to assume a beginner’s mindset and simply open your practice to following their basic cues as they are given. We can become so used to hearing a specific teacher’s voice that we become less mindful of the present moment and our connection to moving in synchronicity with the whole experience — instead of “tuning in,” we may “tune out” and move mechanically rather than intentionally. It is amazing what give-and-take occurs in a class when students and the teacher begin by accepting the special transfer of energy between, among and throughout the class.

Finally, connect your practice toward the a goal of self-realization by integrating a home practice into your routine. A shift toward the introspective in a solitary practice space can be powerful many respects. And before you stop reading this and become overwhelmed with the idea of adding a home practice — yet “one more thing to do” — into your daily schedule: no worries…literally. If your home-practice starts by taking a few deep breaths anywhere you happen to be alone — perhaps even focusing on the exhalation and breathing out any guilt or insecurities you feel about not maintaining a “home practice” — you’ve done it.


Finally, along these lines, I’ll transition to an announcement about a 30-Day Meditation Non-Challenge. The idea behind this is that we approach the new by doing an action without expecting a particular result from it (even the result of stressing about whether we’ve completed our practice for all 30 days). This Non-Challenge will be open to the Allay community and beyond and will run from June 15th through July 15th. There is no cost to participate, only a willingness to be open to the new. No prior yoga or meditation experience is required or expected.  For more information, visit Kathleen online at: or email her at:

Yogi Spotlight: Michael Thoryn

Hi Yogis! Welcome to our May Yogi Spotlight, organized and written by the fabulous Kathleen Reynolds! Today’s feature yogi is Michael, one of our very loyal daytime students🙂. Read about Michael and his wonderful practice in his own words below!


1. Tell us about your yoga experience.  When and why did you start your practice?  How has it changed since you started?  

For reasons lost to memory, I did some yoga in my 20s at a Jewish Community Center near Detroit. I remember falling asleep in the “corpse” position at the end of a class and the instructor giving me a gentle kick to wake me up.

Regular fitness center workouts during the past twenty plus years had many un-credited yoga positions so trying a real yoga class in retirement seemed natural. A four-week short course of beginning yoga at my church gave me confidence. So shortly after I retired in December 2012, I researched local studios and found Allay. My first class was gentle yoga. Pam advised me that I was capable enough for Open Flow classes . . . yes, I can, mostly.

2. What are some of your favorite poses (or other parts of your yoga practice) and why?  

I’ve talked to people who stay away from yoga because they know they won’t do it well or won’t like how they look while doing it. I tell them they should give it a try. I’m not afraid to fail while doing the best I can. I am definitely better at balance poses (very important as we age) and my flexibility has gone from horrible to pretty good.

3. Tell us a little about yourself outside the yoga studio.  What do you do in between yoga classes?🙂  All other wonderful stuff you want to share — family, work, life!

I retired after a career as a communicator/writer/editor at newspapers, a trade group, a magazine, and two federal agencies. The best ten years were spent as the speechwriter for the Administrator at the Federal Highway Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. I’m married to Pat Phillips, a retired physical therapist. We have two healthy, happy grown children, one son-in-law, and two grandchildren. All live near Boston – we visit often. I’m a board member at my church, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist in Bethesda, and make time to travel. Since retirement, our most adventuresome trips were to South American and China.

4. What influence does your yoga practice have on your life “beyond the mat”?  How is your practice a meaningful part of your life?

I love how each class keeps me in the here and now. I listen to my instructor and try to move with the mostly-mellow music. I’ve incorporated yoga moves into my home workouts.

What do you love about practicing at Allay?  What are some of your favorite classes and why?

A long-retired friend advised me to never go grocery shopping on weekends, if you can avoid it. It’s too crowded, she said. I took that advice to heart. My regular time at Allay is noon, usually on Tuesday. I enjoy the small cheery studio, the excellent teachers, and the short drive to reach your door.

April Yogi Spotlight: Jody + Cindy

Hi Yogis! Welcome to our April Yogi Spotlight, organized and written by the fabulous Kathleen Reynolds! Today’s feature yogis are Jody + Cindy, two yogis who have been with us since our very early days! Learn more about Jody + Cindy and their wonderful practices in their own words below!

Meet Jody Krieger:

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I was a true beginner when I walked through the doors of Allay Yoga in October of 2011; I did not know one single yoga position. Not even down dog. I spent that first month or two looking around the room mimicking others. I was such a novice in that first class, that when Pam told us to lower ourselves down to our belly from the plank position, I chuckled to myself thinking “You want me to do what?!?” Little did I know that this was the basis for so much of what we do in yoga.

The other position I remember so clearly from that first class was savasana. Not because I was thankful that I had survived a class where my body had been asked to do things I don’t think it had ever done before and now I could go home and have a glass of wine, but because I was thinking to myself (I thought to myself a lot in those first classes) “Okay, I’ve rested long enough, time to get up. Why are we still lying here? Let’s go. Time to leave.”

I read somewhere that for some savasana is one of the hardest positions. It certainly was for me. I’m impatient. I’m ready to move on to the next thing. Quieting my mind is not something that comes easy to me. It took me many months to love savasana. But I did learn to clear my mind, to lie there and be still, to truly just breathe. Pam’s strong, gentle hands massaging my upper back, neck and head during savasana is one of life’s great pleasures.

A year or so after starting yoga, my daughter was home on her winter break from college, and we were driving on the highway. She asked me why I was driving so slowly (I think I may have been doing the speed limit.) She said her mother always drove fast. It made me think, had my yoga practice affected my driving? Was I learning to slow down; to not be so impatient?


I think we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves. And we come to believe them. For me, in my yoga practice, it was always “I don’t go upside down.” Whenever there was an inversion position, I always modified so I didn’t have to go upside down. But then we started doing downward dog on the wall. I watched the first week. Everyone was laughing trying to do it. It certainly looked like fun, but there was no way I was going upside down. And then the next week came and I decided to try. Everyone was having fun and I wanted to too. Couldn’t do it, but I was partially upside down for a few seconds and I survived. I’m not sure how many weeks it took before I could do the position, certainly over a month of trying, but I kept trying and I kept going upside down.

And now I love ending my practice in supported shoulder stand right before savasana. I just seem to be able to let my body go and relax into my shoulders. Kind of funny that being upside down is now one of my favorite positions.

This morning I was driving behind some really slow cars. I must confess that I yelled out loud to my empty car “Why are we driving so slow people?” I guess it’s time to get back to my yoga practice; I’ve missed the past couple of weeks.

Meet Cindy Frank:


Yoga is power. Power is strength and control, and yoga gives me both. I am not a physically imposing person, but my weekly yoga practice has given me the strength to carry more groceries than I used to, and my abs don’t scream out from boat pose or plank anymore. When one of my daughters was younger and especially frustrated with another person, I would ask her, “Is that person the boss of you? No. That’s right, you are the boss of you.” (I often wondered why none of my daughters ever said to me, when I asked them to do something, “You are not the boss of me!” So far, that hasn’t happened.) My yoga practice, and weekly class with Pam or Marisa reminds me now that I am the boss of me, and that is enough control for my life. This was especially true when I sat through certain meetings at work last summer and fall, when my job was in flux. Yoga reminds me to take that breath, straighten my spine, lower my shoulders away from my ears and move forward.

I came to Allay thanks to my friend Jody; about three years ago, she invited me to a beginner class with Pam and that was that. The focus on mindfulness and learning all the basics while listening to what your body wants is so calming. I love the challenge to balance just a little longer, or sink a little deeper. There is also the laughing. Outloud. I mean, really, you want us to raise one foot and eagle arm ourselves while focusing on that spot on the wall opposite and breathe and smile???

Besides the sheer fun and work benefits I get some health payback as well. The nurse who checks my bone density and measures my height announces that I am not shrinking – she tells me women who practice yoga tend not to get shorter as they age. Other benefits include kitchen yoga, which means a forward fold, a halfway lift to step back plank while waiting for the tea water to boil; also dancing around the house yoga to whatever is on the radio (Tay Swift included), and focused breathing during those moments when everyone around me is trying to get a word in, or pout and be cranky. There is no shame in tuning others out while you focus on your breath.

So Jody, thanks for inviting me, and Pam, Marisa, Kathleen, Nicole and all my class mates, thanks for sharing your practice!

Dharma Discussion: Seva

Hi Yogis! Today’s post is from Kathleen. Below, Kathleen introduces Lauren Rubinstein, from Go Give Yoga, the organization to which Kathleen donates all proceeds from her monthly Early Morning Meditation Classes.

A Note From Kathleen:

Without concern for results,
perform the necessary action;
surrendering all attachments,
accomplish life’s highest good.
– Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, Verse 19), translation from Stephen Mitchell

Seva is a Sanskrit word often translated as “selfless service.” For me, the spirit of such a concept is best understood in its demonstration rather than its dissection. For this reason, I am happy to offer this space to Lauren Rubenstein who just recently returned from her seventh seva trip to Haiti with Go Give Yoga. I first learned of the work of Go Give Yoga when Lauren presented on a panel during my yoga teacher training.

If you are interested in learning more about Go Give Yoga, please visit I am honored in my own very small way to support their work by teaching the monthly early morning meditation classes at Allay on the second Tuesday of each month — all donations from these sessions go to Go Give Yoga.


Pictured: Lauren with some of the young Haitian teachers they trained; Lauren, her son Jake and Michelda – ready for church; Lauren and Showty having fun with partner poses – he is the first Haitian yoga teacher they trained, and he has become a fabulous kids’ yoga teacher; some of the little ones tag along with their older siblings, so Lauren notes “We improvise!”

image copyPictured: Lauren with Michelda and her mom, Marie Claude; more shots showing the joyful connections in the yoga classes, including when Alexandra spontaneously led a class – Lauren notes that “As the cook’s daughter, she has probably taken as many yoga classes as any of the kids, and show real promise as a teacher despite her young age.”

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Duvennes, Michelda’s younger brother, in savasana. The kids often fall asleep; many don’t have real beds to sleep on, or space of their own, and the mat provides their own space, even if only for an hour.

by Lauren Rubenstein

I know lots of people with Life Plans: Visions! Short-term goals! Long-term goals! Action lists!…. Contrary to what appearances might suggest, I am not one of them. Had an intuitive told me I would ever:

(1) teach yoga
(2) to kids
(3) in Haiti
(4) 7 times,

I would have laughed.

Seven seva trips to Haiti later, I am so grateful for two of the more impulsive decisions in my life: to take a children’s yoga teacher training in 2009, unclear why I was doing it; and to sign on for a Haiti trip with Go Give Yoga in July 2011. The first trip was monumental. I truly had no clue about Haiti or any other “Third World” country. Conditions in the post-earthquake tent camp were shocking. Even as I was trying to process what I was experiencing, I kept thinking with frustration, there will be no words to describe this situation once I return home.

Four years ago, Go Give Yoga went to Haiti with the idea that teaching yoga to children who lived in extreme poverty and had experienced a tragic earthquake just might be a way to serve. Staying on the grounds of Partners In Development (, a nonprofit that provides free medical care, a child sponsorship program, small business development and other wrap-around services, we worked alongside medical volunteers. During shared meals, some of them loved to recall in graphic detail what they had seen in the clinic. We heard from Mr. Genois, PID’s social worker who is tasked with determining which family’s needs — all dire — should take priority. For example, if someone told him their tent was leaking and they had to sleep standing up when it rained, he would wait until the next rain and check it out. In other words, a job that would break most people’s hearts.

For the most part, the children we teach don’t get much adult attention. Many of their parents are out sun-up to sundown trying to sell something on the open market so they can give their kids a hot meal that day — something the children cannot take for granted. Most school in Haiti is private, and many families simply cannot afford tuition, uniforms and books. Clean drinking water is a luxury. We quickly learned that the children were coming to yoga hungry and thirsty, so we incorporated a hot meal program. We did arts and crafts with the kids after yoga. The first time I cried was when we gave the children drawing materials, and so many of them drew houses….

But it wasn’t all trauma and tears. The overwhelming majority of the children we taught positively lit up with joy during yoga. Despite the language barrier which required translators, our experience confirmed what know: that yoga is about connection — to one’s own wholeness, and to each other. Some of the most poignant moments were looking into a child’s eyes during partner poses, as we were hand-to-hand or foot-to-foot. Holding the little girl who never cracked a smile and would not lie down during savasana (Michelda stole my heart and I have been sponsoring her through PID ever since). Spontaneously doing yoga with kids who show up between classes, when there is no interpreter, just gesture and touch. Indeed, neuroscientists appreciate how important this non-verbal, “right brain to right brain” connection is to human development.

Despite the inner knowing that we were being of service, reservations haunted me after the first trip. The medical volunteers were doing such “important” work, I thought, while we were “just playing.” I overcame these doubts by reminding myself that play is the work of children; that most NGOs in Haiti provide basic needs, while fewer offer children playful human interaction. And there were the wise words of Mr. Genois before we left: “I have been watching you out my window all week. What you do is so much more than play. You are reaching the children’s bodies, minds and hearts.”

The cultural divide also gave pause, especially once I started educating myself about Haiti. There’s a term in social work, “well-meaning white woman.” What could outsiders like us who could never hope to fully understand this culture possibly have to offer? How could we reassure parents and teachers who deeply suspected that yoga was about teaching kids to levitate, or getting the spirit to leave the body? On the other hand, wasn’t yoga an equally foreign practice when it first came to the U.S. from India?

Like any subject, the more I learn about Haiti, its culture and history, the more I feel humbled by what I don’t know. And yet. Trip #7 felt like a watershed, a breakthrough of cultural barriers.

~PID’s cook, a conservative Christian woman whose church forbids women to wear pants, makeup, jewelry or nail polish (as I learned when I started painting the girls’ nails and an older girl came over and signed that their parents would punish them for it), began to attend class. I had shown her downward dog on a previous trip, as a possible way to ameliorate her leg pain.
~A local pastor told us yoga was helping him with his sermons.
~The older teens and school teachers we had trained to teach yoga were moving ahead full speed, teaching classes in their communities.
~Most poignantly, the kids were teaching each other — and us! Nine-year-old Alexandra assembled a group of 18 and taught an impromptu class. Six-year-old Miranda conducted a private session for the 15-year-old American “brother” of her American sponsor family. When I looked and saw Miranda sitting face-to-face and leading Miles in meditation, following by asana and ending with savasana, yoga again proved to be a profound form of non-verbal connection.

In what is sometimes referred to as the “Republic of NGOs,” aide workers are criticized for driving around Haiti in shiny black SUVs, their feet never touching the ground. Go Give Yoga is on the ground in Haiti, literally as well as figuratively. Are we helping or fixing Haiti? Definitely not – nor is that our intention. Are we serving Haiti by offering our presence? By sharing a practice that might grow inner resources in some of the least-resourced children? From the bottom of our hearts, we hope so.

Yogi Spotlight: Laura Nelson

Hi Yogis! Welcome to our March Yogi Spotlight, organized and written by the fabulous Kathleen Reynolds! Today’s feature yogi is Laura. Learn more about Laura and her wonderful practice in her own words below!


I began to take yoga classes after the birth of my second child thirteen years ago. I’ve always been active and was looking for a way to spice up my fitness routine. I’ve been a runner, a swimmer, a gym rat and gone to boot camp at 5:45 a.m. When I began yoga, I wasn’t really interested in the spiritual teachings or what it could do for me outside the studio — just the exercise.

I have two teenagers, and life can get hectic and stressful. Now I find the teachings of acceptance, love and mindfulness have helped me become a calmer, more centered person and a better wife and mother. I also really love the exercise element, too. The more yoga I do, the better I feel and the less stress seems to get to me.

In exercise, I love a challenge, so my favorite poses are those that don’t come easily to me — like crow pose and half moon pose. Plus, my tree pose always seems to be in a wind storm… blowing back and forth and falling down! Like most people, I also love child’s pose and Savasana.

I like Allay so much because the teachers are so warm and welcoming. Yoga is what I do for myself (except for the hours of reading or binge watching House of Cards), and it’s important for me to do it at a place where I feel happy and accepted. I’ve taken yoga classes at a number of studios in the area, but I feel the most comfortable at Allay. My favorite classes are Marisa’s Monday and Friday flow classes because they are challenging and fun. Marisa is a wonderful yoga teacher who has helped me so much with my technique. I love that she pushes me beyond my comfort level and makes me a better yogi.

Feel to Heal: Yoga for Warriors

Hi Yogis! Today’s post is from Stephani Kolevar. Stephani recently attended a Yoga Warrior Training and wanted to share some of her important takeaways from the powerful weekend regarding working with Veterans and other trauma survivors. This post is geared especially toward other Yoga Teachers, but can be helpful for anyone working with this population.

FEEL TO HEAL! That is my summary from the Yoga Training that I attended last weekend, targeting those brave men and women who are returning from overseas service with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traditional Western medicine focuses primarily on learning how to manage symptoms of PTSD, usually through prescription drugs. While helpful, many PTSD sufferers are seeking remedies for the cause of PTSD, and not just the effects. Recent neuroscience breakthroughs combined with yoga’s acknowledgement of the energy systems in the body creates a place where healing can begin for these trauma sufferers.
The fundamental belief is that through slower, focused movement, and heightened sensory awareness (sounds like yoga to me!), the individual can go back to the source of the trauma and actually release it where it can no longer do harm. Current research shows that trauma gets stored in the body through the neural pathways, and yoga can help us access those pathways and release the stored trauma over time. Think about following a river from the mouth of its opening, all the way to its source somewhere high up in the mountains. We are trying to find that source of trauma stored somewhere deep in our brain.
Traditional therapies focus mainly on cognitive approaches to healing trauma by examining behaviors from a standpoint of logic. However, during the traumatic event, new research has shown that the person gets “stuck” into a primitive brain processing system of either freezing (parasympathetic), or fight/flight (sympathetic), and often cannot comprehend the higher-level brain processing needed for cognitive therapy. We need to literally, and somatically re-experience the trauma from a feeling standpoint to get the trauma “unstuck” from our neural pathways. For each person, this will be a very personal and intimate re-engagement with their bodies that they need to take at their own pace. As yoga instructors, we can use a 9-step guideline presented by Dr. Peter Levine in his book “In An Unspoken Voice – How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness” to help with these efforts.
The first point that needs to be addressed when working with Warriors, or anyone who has undergone a severe trauma in their lives, is to create a sacred space. We can do that though our voice, the music, the physical environment of the studio, and by our personal connection with the student. We then move into a somatic awakening through simple movements of the body, making that mind/body connection. Also focusing on expansion and contraction of our breath (pranayama) and through the use of physical postures (asanas). Practice the use of titration, bringing in tiny doses of movement. One or two poses might be enough for some people the entire class. Offer alternatives, allowing them a choice in what they feel comfortable doing or not doing. Slow movements and simple cuing will help uncouple the fear from immobility, help discharge and regulate a high arousal state, and allow the person to self-regulate, finding relaxed alertness and dynamic equilibrium. Lastly, re-orient the person into the here and now through a constant stream of words. Prolonged silence often leads to the mind wandering into dangerous territory. Be present on the mat!
The effects of PTSD are like a roadside bomb, random, uncontrollable, and ultimately devastating to those who lie in its path of destruction. If not addressed, these recent long years at war have the power to impact multiple generations. It is only when we shine the light of truth on our own wounds that we can help shine the light on the pathway toward healing our community. FEEL TO HEAL!

About Stephani: Stephani took her first yoga class from Baron Baptiste in the late 1990’s at a local fitness convention, and immediately became hooked on yoga. She quickly incorporated several yoga classes a week into the group exercise schedule where she was working for an employee fitness center in Bethesda. After several years of watching videos and taking multiple classes on her own, she decided to pursue a yoga certification through YogaFit. Two kids, and six years later, she finally completed her 200 hour RYT in 2011, and is currently working toward her 500 hour certification. She enjoys teaching to students of all ages. While living in Michigan for the last three years, she taught yoga camps for young kids, yoga clubs for teens, yoga workshps for couples, and restorative classes for the aging population. Her favorite style is a slow vinyasa, but she has also led power yoga classes, hot yoga classes, and yoga classes with weights. Stephani currently works as a Physical Education Teacher for a local PK-8 school. When she is not playing “taxi driver” to her two kids, she enjoys gardening, reading, and walking her dogs. In addition to a monthly Teens Class, Stephani currently teaches the following classes at Allay:

Yoga for Tweens (Ages 8-11), Wednesdays, 4:30-5:30 PM

Level 1, Thursdays, 8:00-9:00 PM

Open Flow, Fridays, 9:30-10:30 AM