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

Yoga for Everyday Movements

Following Our breath: Staying safe throughout the day

A few nights ago, I learned a valuable lesson while picking up after our dog Lucy. I had been eager to return to my desk to record a few thoughts tied to this post you’re now reading: staying safe as we move through our everyday routines. And wouldn’t you know it, as I bent over, plastic bag in hand, I felt that familiar twinge in my lower back…I shook my head in disbelief and quickly corrected my posture, bending the knees and straightening the back…It was almost comical. Here I was, preaching the importance of proper posture and alignment, and then committing one of the cardinal sins myself…But that is really what it is all about, isn’t it? Building awareness and then informing our movement and mindset with that awareness. It actually sounds a lot like yoga when we’re tuned into a sequence…but what about off the mat, when we’re hammering away at our keyboard or picking up after Lucy? Where can we find that awareness before our lower back joins the discussion? Well, that is where our breath enters the picture…

Research shows that when we pay closer attention to our breath, we can not only relieve stress, but also sharpen our focus in the present moment. Our breath is always there for us and provides the ideal cue for us to pull our heads out of the past or the future, even if it is just to focus on picking up after Lucy. What’s important is that we stay safe during these everyday movements that we normally handle on autopilot…climbing in and out of a deep sofa or easy chair…checking our blind spot when changing lanes on the highway…lifting that bag of groceries out of the cart. As strange as it sounds, our breath can help us pay closer attention to what we are doing in these everyday moments and stay safe, so we can continue doing everything it is that we love doing, or even not love doing so much…

This series of short video tutorials slowly walks you through several basic everyday movements, highlighting how the breath provides us valuable cues on safe posture and alignment. We firmly believe that with practice, you will find yourself paying closer attention to not only these different movements, but also how you are feeling in the moment. It all comes back to following the breath, our gateway into the present. Please let us know what specific movements you would like to see featured in this series, and until next time, stay safe and keep breathing!

1. Everyday Yoga: Getting in and out of our chair

We get in and out of chairs dozens of times every day…in living rooms, offices, kitchens and bathrooms…it only makes sense we take a closer look at this movement to make sure we’re doing it safely. We can all too easily lose our balance, even with chairs we’re familiar with, leading to serious outcomes…in fact, 50% of folks over the age of 65 don’t survive beyond one year after suffering a hip fracture. This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support safely getting in and out of just about any chair you can think of. And as we do so, we’ll also gently tone the core muscles in our back, hips and midsection.

2. Everyday Yoga: Picking Something Up Off the Ground

So, imagine you’ve dropped your keys trying to get into the house, or maybe the dog has left you something to scoop up on your nightly walk…your mind is somewhere else as you bend over and suddenly feel that pull or pinch in your lower back. We have all been there…in fact, 80% of Americans experience significant back pain in their lives. One third report that it impacts their everyday activities, including sleeping! This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support a healthy forward bend, which can also help us build strength and flexibility in our core muscles of the back, hips and midsection. 

3. Everyday Yoga: Looking Over the Shoulder

Imagine you’re checking your blind spot on the highway…or you hear Interstate 95 in the Philadelphia area is one of my most learned mindfulness teachers. I owe so much of my progress in deep focused breathing to the drivers and potholes of this notorious stretch of highway. As I pay closer attention to my breath, I get plenty of practice in managing my stress levels, anticipating the next unexpected move of another motorist, and also turning more safely to check my blind spots. Looking over our shoulder seems like such a simple everyday movement, we rarely pay much attention to it…that is until we pinch a nerve in our neck as I did myself several years ago. I was sitting in my office and quickly turned my head as a colleague walked in the door. I immediately felt a sharp shooting pain down the right side of my neck and shoulder. It was months before I could move my head freely in any direction…This video breaks down the proper alignment and breathing that support a healthy twist, which can also help to relieve back pain and tension

So let’s stay safe doing what we love doing (or maybe not love so much…) by paying closer attention to how we move through our daily routines. Think of it as yoga for everyday living!

Written by Brian

Not all monkeys bite

Santosha, or contentment, is one of the five niyamas or personal observances that we vow to explore in yoga. I think the idea is to practice being content with whatever you’re experiencing in any given moment.

Practicing contentment doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with being unhappy; instead we are invited to train in being content with our unhappiness. That might go something like this:

  1. Acknowledge sadness (or whatever emotion we’re experiencing.)
  2. Recognize that it’s a turbulence that will eventually pass.
  3. Perhaps even develop some gratitude towards our ability to feel so much.
  4. Look at that emotion like it’s an old friend who’s stopped by for lunch.

You already have everything you need.

It’s said that our basic nature as human beings is joyful; that we are happy without even trying to be. I recently learned that as babies, we are born breathing naturally into our bellies; taking deep breaths that utilize our full lung capacity. As adults, we get so disconnected from our bodies, so stuck in our minds, that we develop a tendency towards chest breathing, and must relearn full belly breathing, which can help reset the nervous system and manage stress. (But that’s a blog post for another time.) How do we get so far away from our natural state of being, from being able to take a deep breath?

Get off the rollercoaster of liking and disliking everything.

As we grow up and have our vast and quotidian experiences, we learn to ascribe value to everything. We categorize everything, and naturally move towards the things we like and away from the things we don’t. We make split second judgments based on our layers of experience, our culture, our upbringing. Everything we come into contact with throughout our entire day might get put into some kind of category!

  • Like / Dislike
  • Friend / Enemy
  • Feels Good / Hurts
  • Pretty / Ugly

How can we possibly be content in this digital age? While it is worthwhile on many levels, I believe social media breeds so much discontent and snap judgment. Is it a thumbs up, or a thumbs down? From our brave digital distance it’s also easier to express the flames of hatred…and even our own president does it!

We get caught in a loop of holding on to what we think is good, and we only tell the stories that sing our perfections. We avoid what we think is bad, choose to omit narratives that might bring shame. In all that grasping for the good and rejecting of the bad, we lose our clarity. We lose equanimity. We lose contentment. We forget how to breathe.

Not all monkeys bite.

Weird story: I got bitten by a monkey when I was little, and not only was it physically painful but I got into some trouble for wandering into the yard of the stranger who owned the monkey. (I was raised with a parenting style known as benign neglect, popular in the 1970s.) Now I’m kind of afraid of monkeys, and in particular, sharp little monkey teeth. When I go to the zoo or see monkeys on tv, I have a bit of a reaction. Not a big fan. I’m looking through the lens of my painful memory and putting monkeys into the category of “dislike” or “avoid at all costs.” Which makes sense, like it’s rational to avoid putting your hand into a fire because you will get burned. The process of distilling everything into categories gets dangerous, though, because it leads to the rollercoaster of needing to satisfy our likes and dislikes all the time. We might miss out on the possibility that not all monkeys are going to bite, and maybe some are actually cute. There are other more painful stories I can’t really share here, so the monkey story will have to do.

It is what it is.

When I worked in television, I must have heard that sentence a million times, “It is what it is.” It used to drive me crazy! It seemed to me a copout for not trying harder to make things right. But maybe, in fact, it was the ultimate santosha.

Acceptance of our present moment is one way to get off of the rollercoaster of liking and disliking. In our search for happiness, we ignore the possibility that happiness is already happening right here and right now. We also presuppose it will come from outside of ourselves. If we aim to practice santosha, we must stop seeking it and rest in the moment, whatever it brings. Even if it’s monkeys.

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

― Lao Tzu

Student Spotlight: Evan

Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah: Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1:2.

  • Name: Evan Silverstein
  • Age: 38
  • Length of Practice: 16 years, most active over past two years.
  • Most Gratifying Pose: Triangle
  • Most Challenging Pose: Crescent Moon
  • Pets: 3 Dogs, Sweet Potato (Beagle Mix) 14, Rosie (Poodle Mix) 12 & Tina (Poodle Mix) 7.
  • Favorite Philly Bike Excursion: Schuylkill River Trail

Curiosity

Improvising a triangle variation to build strength, flexibility and self-awareness

Evan was one of the first curious souls to join our Men’s Yoga class here in South Philly. He brings a sense of fearlessness to his practice, constantly setting new goals for himself and exploring ways to integrate yoga and mindfulness into his everyday activities at work, home and everywhere in between.

Determination

Evan building core strength while flying high in a variation of Locust Pose

Evan brings a quiet intensity to his practice, exemplifying the yogic metaphor of heating the iron in order to shape it. I admire his determination to develop the strength, flexibility and focus needed to find stillness in even the most advanced postures.

Balance

Grounded and focused in Extended Hand to Toe Pose

Evan demonstrates a quiet confidence moving into challenging poses and holding them while focused on his breathing. Evan enters AND exits these postures with the same degree of grace and focus, remaining centered and grounded.

Present Moment Awareness

Evan reflecting on how to pay closer attention to his breath, both on and off the mat.

Our Men’s Yoga class focuses on building the core strength needed to keep doing all the things in life we love doing. We break down traditional yoga postures into basic physical movements that can be applied to our everyday work-life routines. Evan exemplifies this integration of mindful movement into our everyday activities at work, home and everywhere in between. It is perhaps his present moment awareness that makes Evan such an inspiring student. He follows his breath through each posture and then applies what he learns on the mat to reach his full potential off the mat. I cannot wait to take his class when he completes his teacher training!

Yoga for Stronger Bones Workshop

Saturday March 14th 1-3pm / Wake Up Yoga Rittenhouse / 2030 Sansom Street / 215.235.1228

Prevent or Reverse Osteopenia + Osteoporosis with Yoga!

54 million Americans, half of all adults age 50 and older, are at risk of breaking a bone and should be concerned about bone health. The usual prescription for osteoporosis is “weight-bearing and impact exercises.” However most people over 55 also have osteoarthritis, and impact exercise is exactly what the doctor did not order. So, how to prevent and treat the ever-threatening loss of bone without damaging joints? In order to stimulate bones to grow stronger, force must be applied – in the form of compression or tensile stress. Yoga is a safe and impact-free way of applying that force! In fact yoga also exerts a positive influence on arthritic joints.

Did you know that the right yoga, done the right way, has been proven to strengthen bones? More than 80% of steady practitioners of the Fishman method of yoga increase their bone mineral density scores – they actually gain bone!

During this workshop, we’ll:

  • Learn more about the science behind bone synthesis
  • Discuss bone quality and measuring bone mineral density (how to read your DEXA scan results)
  • Learn about lifestyle changes you can actively make to support better bone health
  • Practice the Fishman Method of yoga, designed to specifically strengthen the parts of the body most vulnerable to fracture: the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae, the hip, and the thigh.

Dr. Fishman’s carefully selected and trialed poses offer variations for differing levels of ability. When performed consistently, for at least 30 seconds, and with the proper alignment of joints, they’ll put compressive and/or tensile strength on the bones, so that new bone is stimulated to grow. And they are also safe for those with arthritis.

Triangle Pose – levels 1, 2, and 3

Beginners welcome. We will guide students through versions of each pose according to their abilities and what is safe. All props including mats provided, but bring your own if you prefer.

No one is too old to do yoga, and the earlier you start, the better it is for your bones.

Dr. FISHMAN

No one can entirely halt the aging process, but we can control lifestyle, which can affect bone density and increase or decrease your risk of fracture in as little as two years. Yoga also improves your balance, posture, strength, range of motion and coordination, and lowers your anxiety—all factors that further reduce your risk of fracture.

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans, E-RYT 200, is a certified yoga teacher and registered to teach Yoga for Osteoporosis through Dr. Loren Fishman, MD. She is qualified to guide students through the poses for the dose response study as per Dr. Fishman. She will be Certified once she has taught yoga for 5 years, in August 2020.

Read more: Yoga for Stronger Bones

To sign up, visit Wake Up Yoga’s page here: Yoga for Stronger Bones Workshop or call Wake Up Yoga at: 215.235.1228. NOTE: When you click through to the link, if at first you don’t see the information, make sure the tabs at the top are on the right settings. The location has to be set either to All Locations, or Rittenhouse; and it must be set to the Enrollments tab (not Classes.) Scroll to the one with my pic, or select the exact date. Let me know if you have any questions!

Tuition: $35; save 10% if enrolled by 2/20. Space is limited to 12 participants. 

Yoga for Stronger Bones Series

4 Tuesdays Feb 18th – March 10th 9-10am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church / $55

Prevent or Reverse Osteopenia + Osteoporosis with Yoga!

Did you know that the right yoga, done the right way, has been proven to strengthen bones? More than 80% of steady practitioners of the Fishman method of yoga increase their bone mineral density scores – they actually gain bone!

54 million Americans, half of all adults age 50 and older, are at risk of breaking a bone and should be concerned about bone health. The usual prescription for osteoporosis is “weight-bearing and impact exercises.” However most people over 55 also have osteoarthritis, and impact exercise is exactly what the doctor did not order. So, how to prevent and treat the ever-threatening loss of bone without damaging joints? In order to stimulate bones to grow stronger, force must be applied – in the form of compression or tensile stress. Yoga is a safe and impact-free way of applying that force! In fact yoga also exerts a positive influence on arthritic joints.

During this 4-week series, we’ll:

  • Learn more about the science behind bone synthesis
  • Discuss measuring bone mineral density
  • Learn about lifestyle changes you can make to support bone health
  • Practice the Fishman Method of yoga, designed to specifically strengthen the parts of the body most vulnerable to fracture: the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae, the hip, and the thigh.
Yoga for Stronger Bones

Dr. Fishman’s carefully selected and trialed poses offer variations for differing levels of ability. When performed consistently, for at least 30 seconds, and with the proper alignment of joints, they’ll put compressive and/or tensile strength on the bones, so that new bone is stimulated to grow. And they are also safe for those with arthritis.

Triangle Pose – levels 1, 2, and 3

Beginners welcome. We will guide students through versions of each pose according to their abilities and what is safe. Bring a yoga mat if you have one; props such as blocks, straps, and chairs if needed will be provided. Extra mats also available. Pre-purchase your spot – credit card and PayPal accepted. Or bring a check or cash to class, but email to hold your spot: info@teamsunwellness.com

No one is too old to do yoga, and the earlier you start, the better it is for your bones.

Dr. FISHMAN

No one can entirely halt the aging process, but we can control lifestyle, which can affect bone density and increase or decrease your risk of fracture in as little as two years. Yoga also improves your balance, posture, strength, range of motion and coordination, and lowers your anxiety—all factors that further reduce your risk of fracture.

About the Instructor: Ann Grace MacMullan, E-RYT 200, is a certified yoga teacher and registered to teach Yoga for Osteoporosis through Dr. Loren Fishman, MD. She is qualified to guide students through the poses for the dose response study as per Dr. Fishman.

Read more: Yoga for Stronger Bones