Student Spotlight: David

DAVID, 52, finds the heart of his yoga practice while walking along the bluffs of the Mississippi River and tuning into the rhythm of his breath. On the mat, he brings a quiet focus to each posture, using only those muscles to hold his body in alignment, while letting go of any expectations and judgments. He exemplifies how we can all find in yoga a gateway for attending to our daily activities with greater appreciation and awareness.

“Be gentle with your pace.” – David P.

Name: David Age: 52

  • Length of Practice: Twenty years ago, I spent six months in intense self-practice in order to address a debilitating back injury. This inspired me to integrate the principles of mindful breath and movement into my daily walks. Eight months ago, I resumed a more regular yoga practice with Brian.
  • Most Gratifying Pose: Mountain pose, because it allows for centering and balance. I also appreciate Child’s pose, because it allows my body to reach a more restful state.
  • Most Challenging Pose: Tree pose, because it demands maintaining balance through a calmed strength.
  • Pets: 1 Dog, Bobo, Standard Poodle, 3 years old
  • Favorite Excursion on Bike: The trails under the bluffs along the Mississippi River.
  • Favorite Musician & Recording: Gil Scott-Heron, Spirits.
  • Favorite Novel: Julio Cortázar, Blow-Up and Other Stories.

Equilibrium

David’s yoga practice exemplifies the balance of ease and exertion. He focuses on where to direct his energy while relaxing those areas not directly involved with a pose. Rarely do I notice David’s shoulders hunched up around his ears or his jaw clenched like a weightlifter at the gym. David’s advice to new students is simple, but also profound, “Be gentle with your pace; you can spend a lifetime developing any single pose.” David aspires to carry this quality of attention into all of his everyday routines and interactions.

Groundedness

For many students, the more inward-directed, restorative poses, like Child’s pose are the most challenging. David embraces the stillness, observing his breath and the messages his body is sharing with him. He has remarked that these moments serve as a great opportunity to check in with himself and recharge the batteries.

Playfulness

“We went around without looking for each other, but knowing we went around to find each other.”

― Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch

David balances this steady focus with a quiet, playful sense of levity. In our sessions, we try not to take ourselves too seriously, as it is just practice after all. More importantly, if we’re having fun, we are more likely to keep returning to the mat. Yoga offers us a safe space in which to challenge ourselves and explore our natural thresholds. I am reminded of the guidance shared by one of my own first yoga teachers, who encouraged us to smile when we fell out of a pose. She emphasized that what matters is not achieving that “perfect” pose, but rather staying within ourselves and always following the breath.

Present Moment Awareness

David has always loved walking and feels it is a natural expression of his yoga practice. He reminds me that yoga is not an end into itself, but rather a gateway through which we can bring greater appreciation to whatever it is we are doing throughout the day. It can help us recognize the beauty of our surroundings, and importantly for David in Minnesota, stay upright on those walks through the winter wonderland!

Photos courtesy of Mark Wojahn, 2021

Meet more of OUR STUDENTS

To reach yoga instructor Brian Jeans directly: brian@teamsunwellness.com

Finding Your Why is the Key to Change

To be honest, getting motivated to do anything is a little hard right now, let alone make great transformations. Sometimes I just want the end result – to be able to hold a perfect handstand, to lose a little weight around the middle, to have sustainable energy and less ups and downs in life. But when I try to create change in my body and mind, those goals may not be enough to keep me motivated towards progressing. That’s why I invite you to ask yourself: Why?

What is your WHY? Why do you (want to) practice yoga?

Some of us are seeking to transform, improve or maintain our overall health and wellbeing. We’re looking for better balance, better posture, less pain in our joints, stronger bones, less stress, more energy, more focus, better sleep, to stay independent – to be able to take a walk without fear of falling. But behind those worthy goals lies another reason, the reason that will motivate you and keep you progressing, keep you in touch with who you are in this moment. Continue to ask WHY until you have that core reason, until you find your deeper WHY.

Finding your Core Why Exercise (example):

  • Why do you (want to) practice yoga? Because I want to improve my balance.
  • WHY do you want better balance?  So I can take a walk by myself without fear of falling. 
  • WHY do you want to take a walk by yourself?  Because I want to enjoy the life I have. 

Turn Your Why into an Intention

  • From there, turn your “Why” into a positive, present tense phrase that you can easily repeat to yourself internally. 
  • For example, “I can enjoy the life I have.” 
  • This is your intention. When we repeat intentions internally, we can actually repattern ourselves from within, cognitively. And it works as a motivator, when we’re practicing yoga, to remember why we’re there. More on Finding Your Intention.

Once you find your real why, it can literally help you get up in the morning and onto the mat! What’s your WHY?

Not sure? That’s okay! Practice Ujjayi Breath to hear the sound of a thousand fans cheering for you! Here’s another exercise that can help you channel your focus, and keep you motivated as you move.

Student Spotlight: Deb

  • Some facts about Deb
    • Age:   67 3/4
    • Astrological Sign:  Gemini
    • Hobbies/Obsessions:  Gardening, photography
    • Favorite Sweet Treat:  Almost any kind of chocolate!
    • Years Practicing: 2
    • Most Challenging Pose: Boat Pose
I feel that it works all parts of my body, incorporating strength, balance, and mobility as I move through the pose.

Evolution

Deb started her yoga practice two years ago somewhat reluctantly, by following up on a friend’s invitation to a group yoga session. While Deb wasn’t convinced that yoga was for her after that first class, I remember meeting her then and seeing her strength and stamina right out of the gate. Plus she gave me a bear hug, back when hugs were a thing. She returned to more group yoga classes, with the hope that yoga could help her get stronger, as well as improving her flexibility and balance. Her consistency over a period of time started to have noticeable results, starting with improved flexibility which has helped her while working in the garden.

“I have noticed greater stability through my core and hip muscles which has improved my balance, particularly on uneven surfaces.  

Overall I have felt more energized and I have learned ways to bring ‘calm’ to my day through some breathing techniques and guided meditation.”

Yoga is Essential

“Up until just a few months ago, I was content to take the weekly group classes (in person and then through Zoom) and perhaps practice on my own during the week but most times not. Then a medical incident occurred that impacted my balance.  It caused me to reflect on the fragility of independence and how life could potentially change drastically for me as well as my partner if allowed to persist or worsen.”

As part of her journey back to a state of health and independence, Deb expanded her “wellness team” to include me, and committed to private one-on-one sessions together. We created a practice plan to address Deb’s challenges and goals. I introduced some new tools for her yoga toolbox: restorative and yin postures, breathing exercises, and yoga nidra. I tailored her asana practice to take into account her medical challenges, with her doctor’s approval.

“Overall I feel more balanced during my day…or able to get to that centered feeling just by practicing some of the techniques I have learned from Ann along the way. It doesn’t take a formal session for me to practice yoga during my everyday routine and that, to me, brings value into my life.”

-Deb S.
Heart Opening Restorative Pose, resting lengthwise on a bolster with additional neck support

“Two years ago when I attended my first ‘try it on for size’ session, I certainly did not think that it would be on my list of essential elements for living a healthy, balanced life; but it is. And while I admit I still am not a person who rolls out her mat every day to practice, I believe aspects of my practice are present as I go about my daily routines. And that is a satisfying feeling.”

Deb’s advice to someone beginning yoga: Think about why you are practicing yoga. Look for those aspects of the practice that address your ‘why’.

Air hugs, Deb. It’s an honor to be a member of your Wellness Team!

Meet more of our students

Your Breath, Your BFF: Learn Ujjayi Breathing

Your breath, your best friend forever, is with you in every moment of every day. Why not pay a little more attention to your buddy, and try “victorious breath”?

Anchor yourself to the present moment with this fundamental breath practice:

  • Ujjayi breath is ‘breath with sound,’ or ‘victorious breath,’ and is created by lightly constricting the back of the throat, like you are drawing out the word “haaaa” or fogging up a window pane.
  • To get started, inhale through the nose, and then exhale with the mouth open, fogging up your imaginary window pane.
  • Gradually work towards closing the mouth while still creating the same throat shape and gentle sound, swirling the air around the back of the throat.
  • Ujjayi Breath might sound like waves gently breaking and receding, and shouldn’t be forced or cause a sore throat.
  • When practiced during your yoga postures, ujjayi breath connects the movement with breath, which is one way that the mind-body connection leaves us feeling whole after a practice.
  • In addition, it allows us to keep the breath at the foreground as a means of stilling the mind.
  • Ujjayi breath can be combined with other breath practices as a means of staying present.
Try Ujjayi Breath with Ann- Can you hear the sound of your fans cheering for you?

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Going with the Flow

One of my very best traits as a human is the ability to harmonize with others (vocally and otherwise!) However, recently I’ve begun to realize that inner harmony is an even greater skill, and definitely one needing honing in me. Balancing my own inner energies requires the skill of awareness on a deep, deep level. Learning to heed the need for rest, and recognize when something is not good for me are two biggies. 

Letting go of the need to do everything, be everywhere at once, and get it all done requires constant effort (or ease, actually.) And then there is cultivating the ability to ask for what I need from others, clearly and compassionately. Setting boundaries has never been easy for me, but now that I realize their importance I’m getting better at it.

When I’m harmonizing on the inside, not pushing myself through pain or low energy to try and “get it all done,” my emotions are calmer and my mind is also more tranquil. It’s then that the harmony of being with others and really listening (without interrupting) – and connecting with that divine flow of life energy that surrounds us every single minute becomes an absolute joy. 

Achieving this state of inner and outer harmony is only possible for me through a very regimented self-care routine. If I stick with my routine, I can really GO WITH THE FLOW so much better. And the type of yoga that is best for me is actually NOT the vigorous vinyasa that I used to do, but a more gentle type that helps me cultivate this constant awareness both on and off the mat. And that’s what I like to teach, too.

I think that’s the great journey of our lives: getting to know and heal ourselves, learning to listen, and striving for balance every single day – both within ourselves and with others around us.

Written by Ann

A New Decade, More Healing

This coming decade is a big one for me: I’m turning fifty. That number seems incomprehensibly large when describing my own years on the planet, and yet many of my yoga and balance students are well over that age and as active and vital as ever; I consider them tremendously young. Nevertheless, fifty does seem an age where one should have it all figured out – and I’m still working on that.

Why I Love Yoga

I practice and teach yoga because it’s one of the tools of wellness that’s become necessary to my own daily functioning. I have personally experienced the healing power of this mind-body practice on many levels: regulation of my own turbulent emotions, freedom from anxiety disorder, mobility in my spine despite disc herniation and stenosis, and an overall sense of well-being. My wellness is something I actively pursue, and yoga makes me feel good all over!

Teaching yoga is a job where I get to be my 100% authentic self. I set my own schedule. I form deep connections with interesting and genuine people. Best of all, I’ve witnessed yoga’s myriad benefits in students: improved posture and balance, stronger bones, pain management, better flexibility and strength, and an ability to interpret the body’s signals without too much mental chatter.

Bridging Yoga and Healthcare

As I reach my fifth decade, it’s time to go “all in” with this healing art! Or at least, keep walking the yogic path in the way that honors my own experience; and that means more formally approaching yoga as a therapeutic means of healing mind and body. Thanks to the kind folks who gifted me with the Yoga for Osteoporosis training, I’m starting my journey towards certification as a yoga therapist, and could not be more excited to have been accepted by Prema Yoga Institute to begin my training in February of 2020. I’m pushing my roots down farther into the world of yoga, and into the somewhat new field of yoga therapy.

At PYI, we believe that yoga teaching and Yoga Therapy can empower the body/mind to heal itself. The role of a Yoga Therapist or teacher is not to diagnose or to treat, but to empower the client to participate in their healing process.

-Prema Yoga Institute Handbook

Yoga therapy integrates traditional yogic concepts and techniques with Western medical and psychological knowledge. Whereas traditional Yoga is primarily concerned with personal transcendence on the part of a “normal” or healthy individual, Yoga therapy aims at the holistic treatment of various kinds of psychological or somatic dysfunctions ranging from back problems to emotional distress. Both approaches, however, share an understanding of the human being as an integrated body-mind system, which can function optimally only when there is a state of dynamic balance.

It feels so right to be pursuing this through Prema Yoga Institute (PYI,) an International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) accredited school. The kind teachers there opened their doors to me in November and gave me a small peek at this field of work, and at how much there is for me to know! Here is the course work I will do, once I figure out how to afford it all:

  • Yoga Therapeutics Essentials – starts in February, all signed up!
  • Embodied Philosophy
  • Yoga Sound Therapy
  • Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy
  • Functional Anatomy 1+2
  • Yoga in Health Care
  • Yoga for Back Care
  • Yoga for Cardiac Care
  • Advanced Yoga Therapy
  • Yin Yoga Therapeutics
  • Immersion Courses (already did the Osteoporosis course)
  • Practicums 1-3, one is in a clinical setting – hopefully with Dr. Fishman!

I am simultaneously terrified and thrilled for this next decade. May it be filled with presence, kindness and honesty lighting the way forward!

Thank you to family, friends, students and teachers who have shown their support along the way. I look forward to empowering self-healing in myself and those around me, and continuing the dance of yoga.

If you’d like to contribute to my cause, please visit my GoFundMe page.

Balance Workshop

Join us for a fun workshop all about balance!

  • Thursday December 12th, 10-11:15am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church / $25

There’s a real “use it or lose it” component to maintaining your balance. Whether you’re looking to prevent balance issues or to reverse them, you need to challenge your balance on a regular basis. In our class we’ll be learning safe, effective exercises that can improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. With practice, almost anyone can achieve better balance.

While it’s true that our muscles, joints, and bones change as we age, and are no longer as elastic or strong as they once were, and we may also experience more issues in the vestibular system, or may be taking medications which affect balance, it doesn’t mean our balance is only going to get worse.

I believe that if we have regular doctor’s checkups, stay active and mindful, have good posture, and continue to challenge our balance, we can maintain and even improve balance. I have seen improvements in balance firsthand with regular practice in my balance and yoga classes. Being more active seems to go hand in hand with maintaining or improving balance.

In this workshop, we’ll:

  • Evaluate our balance using a timed exercise.
  • Get mindful: create a mind-body connection by focusing on the breath to improve awareness.
  • Get in touch with our feet, the foundations of balance.
  • Learn new postural habits: good alignment means stability.
  • Stretch and strengthen muscles used for balance.
  • Learn new visual habits: lift the gaze to encourage use of peripheral vision.
  • Practice increasingly difficult balance challenges in a supportive, non-judgmental environment – such as: standing yoga balance poses, walking a balance beam, ball-handling, and other exercises that challenge our balance.
  • Explore the “edge” of our balance ability.
  • Celebrate our victories no matter how small by supporting and encouraging each other!

Participants of all ages and mobility levels welcome. Chairs will be provided, and if you have a yoga mat, please bring one. (Or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness, supplies limited) We will be placing chairs on the mats to create a non-slip surface. Class size limit 20. Pre-purchase your spot by clicking below – credit card and PayPal accepted. Or bring a check or cash to class, but email to hold your spot: info@teamsunwellness.com

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans is a certified yoga instructor (E-RYT 200) and teaches yoga, meditation, and balance classes in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness.

Student Spotlight: Judy

  • Name: Judy
  • Age: 71 (she adds, “old enough to know better and young enough to do it anyway!”)
  • Sun Sign: Aries
  • Pets: Two long-haired black cats, Amos and Pinkerton
  • Favorite Sweet Treat: anything chocolate

Interoception

One thing I’ve noticed about Judy since I met her in 2016 (besides her lovely posture!) is her ability to open herself up to whatever she’s experiencing, and I can tell she’s really listening inward during class. She has been a fixture in my group classes since then, adding her special brand of graceful goodwill and lightheartedness.

Grace

Warrior Two Pose

Judy’s been practicing on and off since 1998, but in 2000, she needed spine surgery in her neck to repair a serious bone spur that was interfering with her range of motion and causing numbness down her arm. They took the discs out of C6+C7 and replaced them with bone from her left hip. While she suffers from arthritis throughout most of her joints, Judy has learned that she feels much better if she keeps moving.

“If it hurts, it means I’m still alive.”

-Judy s.

Currently, she practices yoga about 2-3 hours each week, which has also helped strengthen her bones as we reported earlier this year. (Her improved Dexa Scan scores contributed to the blogpost I wrote on Yoga for Stronger Bones.) In fact, I blame Judy and another student for getting me interested in yoga for osteoporosis, and I’m only at the beginning of that journey, so thank you…

Effort

Extended Side Angle Pose

Judy came to my house for a special one-on-one session – or an osteocyte party as I like to say! Osteocytes are important building blocks of bone synthesis, but we need to practice the right poses with proper alignment and work hard within the pose (hold for at least 30 seconds, for one!) in order to put enough stress on the bone to get that bone-building party started. She even got into an Extended Side Angle Pose, great for stimulating the femurs and spinal vertebrae – the areas where Judy has thinning bone.

Centering

With her weak ankles and neuropathy in her feet, Judy’s toughest challenge is balancing poses like Tree. “Balance is hard for me, and it makes me feel less successful, though it does get somewhat easier with practice!”

“Let go of your judgments and just do what you can, but make it a regular part of your routine.”

-Judy S.

Because of Judy’s regular yoga practice, she experiences less arthritis pain, stronger bones, and feels more centered in her daily life. Yoga class provides her with a social connection with like-minded people. I’m so grateful to have Judy’s beaming smile in my classes, along with her humor and present-moment insight into her own practice. I hope she will consider the yoga dose response study with Dr. Fishman and keep those BMD scores improving!

It’s truly an honor, Judy!

Meet more of our students

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: BEN

“I always feel better after a yoga session than when I started.”

  • Name: Ben
  • Age: 77
  • Length of Practice: 18 months
  • Most Gratifying Pose: Warrior 1
  • Most Challenging Pose: Transition out of Down Dog
  • Pets: 1 Cat, Pumpkin (who invariably appears to encourage us during triangle pose!)
  • Favorite Excursion on Bike: FDR Park & the Philadelphia Navy Yard

Dedication

I count Ben among those students I most enjoy teaching. He never takes a pose off. His combination of enthusiasm and discipline allows us to explore the healing and revitalizing power of each posture. He epitomizes the ancient yogic principle of tapas, the inner fire that inspires us to “leave it all on the mat”

Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” – BKS Iyengar

Self-Acceptance

Ben’s consistency in no small part can be attributed to an understanding of his own thresholds and range of movement on any given day. He stays within himself and is comfortable making adjustments to account for “the usual suspects” in his knee and hip. He works with what he brings to the mat and his calm focus provides a solid foundation for building strength and flexibility. He offers this advice to students just starting their journeys on the yoga path, “You would be surprised at how beneficial practice can be if you give it a chance and stick with it.”

Presence

Ben enjoys regular time on the bike and tennis court and believes yoga facilitates his active lifestyle. I believe his mindset here is critical. Yoga is not an end into itself, but rather a gateway through which we can continue doing everything it is we love doing AND with greater awareness. Beyond building strength and flexibility, simply paying closer attention to our breathing can help us perform almost any physical activity more safely and efficiently. After all, we don’t stop breathing when we roll out of Savasana!

It has been an honor to join you on the path, Ben!

The Self-Care Mindset

Seated Meditation and Mindful Movement for All Levels

Wednesday October 2nd 6:00-7:00pm / Swarthmore Town Center / Fresh Air Fitness in Central Park ampitheater – Donation based


We invite you to “put on your own oxygen mask first!”

With the breath as the key to our self-care toolkit, we’ll be exploring simple tools to manage stress, become more present, and foster self-acceptance.

These include seated breath awareness and breath control exercises, breath-connected movement exercises, and a guided mindfulness meditation to finish it off.

Practicing these tools helps develop a mindset that encourages self-care. No experience in meditation or yoga needed. Bring a cushion to sit on, a blanket for your lap if we’re outside, and an open mind. All ages and levels of experience welcome.

Donation-based – pay what you can.

In case of inclement weather: inside Borough Hall