Bali 2017

Our home in Bali, Naya.

Our home in Bali, Naya.

Our first retreat on the other side of the world is complete. Over a year and a half of planning, worrying and nervous anticipation is over. In the first few days I have been back, people are asking "how was it?"  Well,

....it was amazing, glorious, life-changing....

and also so much more that is simply beyond my vocabulary to be able to describe with any semblance of accuracy.  

One thing I have learned on each yoga retreat that I have attended is that no matter how picturesque the environment, no matter how many luxuries are afforded to us and how much we pamper ourselves on these trips, what really makes a retreat, are the people.

Our yoga shala view.

Our yoga shala view.

It always comes back to the community of people that have decided to come together and make new memories.

I will always have a special place in my heart for these yogis that made this retreat exactly what it was meant to be. 

I believe that what makes a good yoga teacher is not just  the ability to design a well-sequenced yoga class, or how many sanskrit words they know or their mastery of the the of the most complicated yoga poses. What makes a good yoga teacher is so much more.

Natalie and Rhiannon are amazing yoga instructors because yoga simply lives within their hearts.

We were all so privileged that they were able to share this beautiful gift, in this beautiful place, with all of us. 

I am forever grateful to both of you.

We have to do this again. Look for details soon for a trip in 2018.

Steps to our rooms. 

Steps to our rooms. 

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Our group. 

Our group. 

Flower mandala made by the staff of Naya.

Flower mandala made by the staff of Naya.

Daily offerings to the Gods.

Daily offerings to the Gods.

Love BALI!!!

Love BALI!!!

Swinging bed. 

Swinging bed. 

Dragonfly joined us for dinner. 

Dragonfly joined us for dinner. 

Hanging orchids.

Hanging orchids.

Our 4th Annual Yoga in Yosemite Trip

Our 4th year running this trip faced quite a few challenges. From record-breaking snowfall causing our typical trailhead to still be closed, to a bear living in our regular camp-site, we were all reminded that nature rules and we are all just privilaged visitors to this beautiful place.

Overall, despite all the last minute changes, we all experienced the best of what this place has to offer -- breath-taking views, physical challenges that tested us beyond what we previously thought we were capable of, the refreshment of dipping in a creek flowing with melted snowfall, bonding over campfire chats and, above all, being immersed in all of nature's quiet wonder. 

Interested in joining next year's trip? Our registration is now open! Click here for all the details. 

Lastly, here are few pictures from our trip!

Teacher Profile: Merril Doty

It's been awhile, but here's a bit about one of our favorite teachers, Merril!!

Cassi first introduced to me Merril as a recommendation for subbing family class. When we met, I could tell right away that she belonged here. She's warm, grounded and light-hearted. Over the past few years, she is always eager to help out at the studio where she can, either with subbing classes or picking up shifts at the desk or helping with teacher training. She's been an invaluable asset to our community and I'm so happy that she's with us. 

Her kids classes and adult classes all are soothing and compassionate, but also have an element of fun and playfulness to them. She is a big advocate for self-expression and this is shown in the way that she offers students options in class and encourages all to find their own unique expression of yoga. 

Hometown: Chicago suburbs 

Favorite Color: Burgundy  

Favorite Yoga Pose: Supta Kurmasana, (reclined tortoise pose)

Least Favorite: (Why) Probable revolved chair pose. It feels like I'm navigating a public bathroom! 

Sign: Cancer sun, Libra rising, Sagittarius moon. 

Favorite Place: The woods.

Movie: I Am Love, and Sense and Sensibility... or the Miss Marple murder series from the 80s and 90s, which I guess was a tv show, but each episode was long enough to be a movie... 
 

Why do you teach Yoga? 

I truly believe that movement is medicine. It has been my medicine, and seems to be so for others as well. Coming from a dance background, I felt obliged to move my body in ways that I was told to move. While yoga has a certain degree of discipline and structure, I like to teach in a way that supports my students to use that structure to support their bodies in healthful and creative ways. My main goal is to provide space for even more space-making, and ultimately, freedom. 

How do you define Yoga?  

The definition of Yoga is "to union, or yolk". It's the bringing together of the mind, body, and spirit together toward one purpose and one experience. There are not many other activities where I have actually felt that unification occurring within myself as well as with others.

What would your last meal be? 

Some kind of curry, or pasta. And cabbage. And tea.

The band you can't live without? 

I'm pretty fickle when it comes to a favorite band, but Celtic-y folk music never fails to lift my mood.

Most empowering moment? 

I was teaching a meditation for kids class, and there was this one particularly anxious boy. He could not stop talking, giving observations, or telling other kids when they are being unsafe. Toward the end, I taught them the "lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu", chant, and then we did some coloring. During the ten or so minutes that we were coloring, the boy kept chanting. He finally found a tool to focus and calm his numerous thoughts. Pretty much any time a student tells me or demonstrates that some element of my class really resonated with them, I feel really honored and empowered as a teacher. 

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be and what would you do?  Either Wales to study folk dancing, or Japan to study Butoh, or Tibet to meditate and practice yoga. Indecision is one of my greatest obstacles...

When you aren't teaching yoga, what can you be found doing? 

Probably walking in the woods, or reading about trees. Or fiddling with essential oils. Or watching the Great British Bake Off. 

Three fun facts we don't know about you? :)

1. I write with my write hand, but I play harmonium with my left...

2. I've always been pretty good at giving relationship advice...

3. Rabbits are my favorite animal, but I've yet to own one... yet...

You can find Merril at TULA on Tuesday mornings at 6:30am & 8:30am and she teaches a Baby & Me class on Wednesdays at 10:30am. In addition to teaching at the studio, she is also often at the desk helping with managing as well. 

Teacher Profile: Natalie McGreal

Natalie has been with Tula for about 4 years. She started off as a sub. I knew that she was special because whenever she would sub, I would hear "who is that teacher?" "what classes does she teach?" "She's so great!!". As soon as we had an opening, I knew I had to get her in. 

Her classes are the embodiment of warmth, heart, and replenishment. She leads each yoga class as an special event, offering you a sometimes rare opportunity to fully embrace yoga and truly experience how good it can make your body and mind feel.  She leads with confidence, but is soft. She leads with sensitivity, but is strong. Taking her class is like giving yourself a gift and I always leave her classes feeling at ease, content and peaceful.  It really is a treat. 

Everyday that I see Natalie, she brings me joy, she brings the students at Tula joy and I'm so very grateful that this beautiful person chose Tula as her 'home' studio.  

Here's a bit more about Nat: 

Hometown: There are a few, but the first placed I lived was Lemont, Il

Favorite Color: anything earthy, or red

Favorite Yoga Pose: Half Moon B and Savasana. It's a toss up.

Least Favorite: (Why) Kurmasana (tortoise) It feels terrible on my elbows and makes me feel claustrophobic

Sign: Aries

Favorite Place: Anywhere wrapped in blankets with a good book or movie

Movie: I love movies a lot, so this is very difficult for me...I will say Harold and Maude since I have loved it since I was a teenager and I named one of my cats after it. Besides that I love anything made well and will heart.

Why do you teach Yoga? Lot's of reasons. First because yoga is life changing, healing and powerful. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to share it with others. Also, it is fun. I never get bored with it, and I feel like I am the best version of myself when I teach. Like magic, no matter how I feel when I go in to teach, I leave happy and nourished. 

How do you define Yoga? Short and sweet: union of body, mind and spirit. 

What would your last meal be? A slice of NY style cheese pizza, 1 sushi roll (probably something with eel and avocado), a really good bagel, chocolate, just lots of chocolate, a giant bottle of kombucha and someone I love to share it with.

The band you can't live without? This question kills me, it is more difficult than picking a movie! How about 5 bands/musicians I have loved for a very long time: 1. The Smiths 2. Kate Bush 3. The Kinks 4. David Bowie 5. Roxy Music 

Most empowering moment? Every time I remember that even though I cannot control most of what happens in this life and world, I can control my reaction to it. 

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be and what would you do?  Right now I am thinking about Morocco. When I travel to new places I like to spend time in their biggest cities, eating all their food and walking/exploring as much as possible.

When you aren't teaching yoga, what can you be found doing? I spend a lot of time getting coffee with friends, reading, cuddling cats, cooking food...the usual stuff.

Three fun facts we don't know about you?

1. The first time I did any solo traveling I went straight to Thailand.

2. My maternal grandparents met in the circus (she was a dancer and he was a wrestler), so I'm part circus folk.

3. I know a little bit about a lot of things.

Natalie is at Tula on Tuesdays at 5pm, Thursdays at 6:30am & 8:30am, and Sundays at 9am (Restorative Yoga). She is also leading a few sections of our first Teacher Training this year. Finally, she will be co-leading (with Rhiannon) Tula's first retreat  to BALI in September 2017!

You can see what else she's up to at nataliemcgreal.com

 

Teacher Profile: Kathryn Gongaware

Kathryn was trained by David and he recommended her to join our team. Boy, am I happy that he did. She has been an awesome addition to our community. 

To me, Kathryn exudes the energy and vibrancy of youth. Her classes are playful, fun, and fearless. She teaches authentically from the heart & soul and isn't shy about taking things 'out of the box' and unapologetically expressing her style of teaching yoga (and musical taste). In many ways, she is the 'stereotypical' yoga teacher, but if you are privileged enough to get to her know her a bit better, I think you will find that she brings a new and different approach to yoga that is uniquely hers. To her, teaching yoga is a life-calling and not just a job and it shows in every class. 

Here's little more about Kathryn. 

Hometown: Vienna, VA

Favorite Yoga Pose: Viparita Karani (legs up the wall)

Least Favorite: (Why) Urdhva Dhanurasana (wheel). It requires a lot of shoulder, chest and heart opening - none of which come easily to me. But I work on it anyway. :)

Sign: Virgo

Favorite Place: Probably bed

Movie: The Departed, Remember the Titans

Why do you teach Yoga? 

To pay it forward. Teaching wasn't something I actively sought to do - which isn't to say I don't love it - I just.. had to. It didn't feel right to keep it to myself. 

How do you define Yoga? 

If I'm getting deep, a path to self-awareness and actualization, a way for us to better connect with ourselves so we can better connect with the world around us. 

Alternatively: just something we do to feel and be good.

What would your last meal be? Pizza. Pasta. Wine. With my peeps.

The band you can't live without? This makes my brain hurt. 

Most empowering moment? Every single time I shift my approach to the world and watch it shift its approach back to me. 

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be and what would you do? 

Some day I'd like to ogle at the Pyramids. Maybe climb another mountain with my brother. Right now, I'm pretty good where I am. 

When you aren't teaching yoga, what can you be found doing? 

Working on Bendy (a yoga app to be released this fall), filming web-isodes for Bent (a yoga and beer experiment), writing wrongs on my blog, supporting Chicago's incredible food, bev and art scene, falling asleep in half pigeon.. 

Three fun facts we don't know about you?

1. I can play the piano upside down and backwards. 

2. I cannot, however, carry a tune.

3. I still dream of writing for SNL. 

You can find Kathryn at TULA on Mondays at 5:30pm (Balanced Vinyasa) and Thursdays at 10am (High-Energy Vinyasa). You can keep up with her other endeavors at her GongaFlow Facebook page

Teacher Profile: Mara Goldfine

Here's a profile of one of our newer teachers at Tula, Mara Goldfine. I knew she was special by the way that she entered our community, as a student. She was here all the time- taking classes, making friends. I didn't even know that she was a teacher until another teacher suggested that I give her an audition for our sub list. Her audition was what I now refer to as 'authentically Mara' (because why would you imitate when you are already so awesome? ;) and I knew right away that she would do well here. 

Her classes are challenging. She expertly weaves together strength with flexibility and always offers you a glimpse into just how far a pose can potentially go. Every class I attend with Mara I learn something new, I do something new. She always keeps it fresh and interesting and I love that about her. I'm so happy that she's a part of our community and that we get the privilege of learning from her and growing along with her. 

Here's a liitle bit more about Mara.....

 

Nick Name:  I've never really had one that stuck.

Hometown: Just outside of Boston Massachusetts, a little town called Wayland, that had a high school, a library, a Dairy Queen and not much else.

Favorite Color:  I like warm colors, crimsons, red-purples, carnelians.

Favorite Yoga Pose:  What a tough question.  I think my favorite pose shifts a lot in relation to mood and weather.  I love postures that demand a combination of both strength and flexibility, like Kala Bhairavasana, which is side plank, with a sundial bind, although I may only be saying that because it is the pose that I'm teaching the week that I'm writing this. 

Least Favorite: (Why):  Mayurasana, Peacock pose.  Whenever I practice that posture, I feel like I am fighting my own anatomy.  I feel that I am fighting the length of my arms against the girth of my chest, and the position of the shoulders denies me most of the strength of the back.  This is one of the few yoga poses that in the 7 years of my practice feels like nothing in it has shifted at all.  

Sign: Scorpio

Favorite Place:  I love to travel, and I think that that is because I haven't found a favorite place yet.

Movie:  Sita Sings the Blues.  Watch it.  It's amazing, it's an animated adaptation of the Ramayana, and it is hysterically funny.  

Book:  Like my favorite yoga pose, I think this one also shifts dependent on what I've been reading and thinking about.  Currently I'm obsessed with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin, because it is a fantasy story that is not derivative of JRR Tolkien, which is so refreshing that I can't get enough of it.  

Why do you teach Yoga? 

I love to watch bodies move in space, and I love to watch people leave class moving differently, their faces and demeanor completely changed.  I like to watch that face people make when suddenly alignment clicks into place, and the posture changes completely in both mind and body.  

How do you define Yoga?

I think yoga is a way to reconcile the self you see in your mind with what happens in the body.  The mind and the body can tell completely different stories, and the process of uniting the two can be difficult and painful, but ultimately can be quite gratifying for the sense of self.                 

What would your last meal be?

Without doubt, my last meal would be a raw fish feast.

The band you can't live without?

I definitely can not live without Puscifer.  No matter what I'm doing, no matter what the mood, it works for me.  

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be and what would you do?

I would love to go to Java Indonesia.  In terms of what I would do, it would be a toss up between yoga (Duh.), scuba diving, and studying the traditional bronze casting techniques that are unique to Java. 

When you aren't teaching yoga, what can you be found doing? 

In addition to teaching yoga, I am also a sculptor.  I cast large figurative art in bronze, aluminum, and iron, and have a studio space in Humbolt Park.  Between that and yoga, I spend any remaining time cooking.

Three fun facts we don't know about you?

1. There is more milage on my bicycle than my car.

2.  I'm almost always listening to audiobooks, not music, if you see me with my headphones in.

3. I've been on every continent except Antartica.

 

You can find Mara at Tula on Mondays at noon and Tuesdays at 8pm and often subs for other instructors as well. This year, she will be teaching our July 4th Firework Vinyasa at 10am. She will also be leading topics in our first Tula Teacher Training starting in October 2016!

Teacher Profile: David Duerkop

David Duerkop has been with Tula since before day one. He was one of my first yoga teachers and he helped me decide whether opening a studio was right for me. The consummate professional yoga teacher, he manages to always stay well above the fray (in a sometimes dramatic industry) and always shows how deeply he cares about the practice & his students. His Sunday class has been Tula's "Rock". Always happening, always a good time and never wavering in it's ability to make your weekend completely complete. 

His teaching style is that rare combination of challenging and easy-going. Fueled by his eclectic and energetic taste in music and dropping yoga knowledge like refreshing drops of rain through out, one always leaves his class feeling strong and little more light-hearted than when coming in. 

What more can I say?  We are so grateful for David. Tula just wouldn't be Tula without him. 

Here's a little bit more about the "Double D"

(sounds like it could be the name of a yoga pose, what do you think ?:)

Nick Name: Double D

Hometown: Bensenville, IL

Favorite Color: Blue

Favorite Yoga Pose: Triangle. Love the length in all directions!

Least Favorite: (Why) Titibasana. My body doesn’t go there..... yet.

Sign: Virgo

Favorite Place: My family’s house in northern Michigan

Why do you teach Yoga?

Sure, I teach yoga to learn more about yoga and challenge myself. Mostly though,  I teach yoga to serve those who seek the immeasurable effects that a yoga practice offers. I simply try to create a  comfortable space where people can relax, have fun, let their guards down a bit and learn what they choose to learn.

How do you define Yoga?

Do something and  keep doing it with sincerity and devotion. Yoga is path of action. Simply follow a path with purpose and dedication and there will be yoga..

What would your last meal be? Don’t know but I hope it’d be really, really long and there’d be lots and lots of people there!

The band you can't live without?

None. Thankfully, we have recordings so I’ll never have to live without any of my favs.

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be and what would you do?

I’d drive to our house in Michigan and hang-out with my family. No question.

When you aren't teaching yoga, what can you be found doing?

I’d be working on our house or walking our dog Daisy with my yogi-partner and wife, Rachel.

Three fun facts we don't know about you?

I can ride a unicycle all day long.

I can recite the names of the US states alphabetically in about 15 seconds.

I have 5 fabulous big sisters.

 

You can find David at Tula on Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 10:30am. He also co-leads a monthly Yin and Nidra Session with his wife, Rachel, at Tula during the Fall/Winter/Spring.  You can also find him at various gyms and studios all around the city and holds annual yoga retreats. You can keep up with his complete schedule at Resonate Yoga Chicago.

A Chance To Start a New Life: Teacher Profile of Olinka Mytsiura

Guest post Written By Natalie Tomlin

A Chance To Start a New Life: Teacher Profile of Olinka Mytsiura

I met Olinka Mytsiura this spring, as we both taught yoga at Tula Yoga Studio and Alternative Health Group.  Her pure and gentle energy immediately made an impression on me, and later I found out that she was undergoing cancer treatment.  In late July 2015, as I prepared to leave Tula after teaching a class, Olinka walked in to teach the next class. I said, what's new? She replied brightly with a smile, pulling off her head scarf: "well, I lost all my hair yesterday." I then knew that I needed to profile her, in order to share her story and energy with others.

What is your background and why did you come to the United States?

I was born in 1985 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine and came to the States as an au pair in 2009. I had just got my Master's degree in architecture and worked for half a year when the financial crisis started. I was sitting without a job for almost a year. So I applied for the au pair program and a family from Chicago contacted me. I could not have asked for a better host family. One of the children, Daniel, used to do aikido and the family wanted me to try it out so that I could go to class with him. Eventually Daniel quit, but I stuck around the aikido community for over three years. This is how I found myself in the dojo family at MAC (Midwest Aikido Center) and met my husband, JB.

How did you become interested in yoga?

Three months before I left my home country, I met Shalinder Negi - my yoga teacher. He lives yoga and has a very sunny presence. From children to the elderly, everybody loves him, because it's impossible not to smile when Shalinder is around. He has an ashram in Rishikesh and people from all over the world come to study with him. Luckily, Shalinder likes to travel and Ukraine has become his favorite destination for over 8 years. He opened a whole new mysterious world of yama and niyama, mantras, meditation, pranayama, asana and so on to me. Since that time, I knew I wanted to be a yoga teacher. 

Upon moving to the United States, I maintained daily personal practice for three years until I found Alternative Health Group. Tim Suh and Rhiannon Kirby inspired me to take the yoga teacher training and focus on the Sivananda and Ashtanga (modified primary series) lineages. Later I did prenatal yoga training with Cassie Rodgers and apprenticed with Jenny Fishman. I was happily continuing my yoga education through apprenticeship with an amazing teacher, Gabriel Halpern, when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Would you take us back through the process of diagnosis and treatment?

It all began about three years ago, with symptoms that I thought I could explain in other ways than a brain tumor: spasms in my right arm – which I thought was an old injury from martial arts re-awoken by doing Aikido, spasms in my right leg – which I thought as simply a pinching of the sciatic nerve, and finally the last few month before I quit Aikido altogether – anxiety, depression and "mental fuzziness.” I forgot things, behaved in weird ways and felt as if my personality was getting thinner and thinner. My husband and I finally went to a neurologist in December 2014, but for various reasons, from insurance complications to a vagueness about my condition, I didn't get an MRI right away.  My condition remained a mystery. In the beginning of 2015, because yoga had become too hard on my body and the symptoms of anxiety and depression had worsened, I quit teaching. I felt inauthentic because I was teaching something that I wasn't practicing in my own life.

In February of 2015, I decided to visit my family in Ukraine. I had a layover in Frankfurt where I probably had a seizure (my memory isn't that good of this time or of the following events). I do remember being questioned by a couple of cops, who asked if I was on any drugs. Then, they took me to the hospital where they did the MRI and found the mass. My parents found me and called my husband, who flew to Germany and brought me back to Chicago. I was almost immediately was admitted to the hospital. The next thing I remember is waking up from the surgery all drugged up. My memory of the next few days is really fuzzy.

The surgery went really well; they removed a fist-sized tumor on the left side that was pushing up against the specific part of the brain responsible for speech. So for a few days I could barely talk, even though I could understand everything that was going on around me. Basically, from that point on, I had to re-learn to walk, to talk, and to just function.

I spent about 4 days in the ICU, followed by a few days in a normal hospital room before I was transferred to the rehab facility where I stayed for a couple of weeks before coming home. A nurse and various therapists came to our house for several months and I made really good progress, which I believe was due to my martial arts and yoga experience. I have a pretty good body awareness, which was an irreplaceable skill to have at that time. I understood exactly what I was asked to do with my body, even though sometimes I could barely perform the task. I was not at all ready to start teaching yoga again, but I missed it. In the meantime, my therapists let me practice yoga and practice teaching them. 

The most difficult part of this process has been preparing for the possible effects that my treatment may have on my fertility.  My husband and I found that one option of protection, freezing my eggs, was simply too expensive.  However, the drug Lupron offered a more affordable option with high rates of success, so we decided that was our route. However, Blue Cross repeatedly denied us coverage for the drug. They claimed it was an ‘experimental’ drug and medically unnecessary, but the drug has been around for 20 years, so that was just their excuse. It was shocking to hear that they believed the drug to be unnecessary, as I am only 29 years old and want to have children, but I guess I am just a number to them. 

Luckily, Charles Askenaizer, whom I met through Yoga Circle, set up a fundraiser to help us pay for the drug, which costs $1,200 a month and is something I may need to take for up to a year. Through those who so generously donated to the fundraiser, we raised over $13,000 and are now fully funded to pay for the Lupron, which really saved us, as we already have debt from past treatments. 

What has it been like to return to teaching yoga since then? How has this experience shaped your teaching and practice?

After successful surgery, rehab, and going through the first part of my treatment (chemo in combination with radiation), I'm back to teaching. The whole experience has been like a second birth, a chance to start new life. I feel like I was given this chance for a reason. Even though I still need to go through 6-12 monthly cycles of chemo to treat existing cells in the brain, teaching really inspires me and gives me energy. I believe it is my calling. I'm so grateful for many regular students who come to my classes now.  This experience helped me to become more compassionate and patient. I now favor a more gentle approach. I love giving hands on adjustments, and for me it is very nice and pleasant to see that people like receiving them.  When I see how people’s bodies are in the poses, I can see who has tight hamstrings, or other issues, and I adjust accordingly. I have also become more careful as a teacher—I look at people’s bodies and how they work before deciding on an approach.  

Being in the hospital was very humbling.  There was a loss of privacy, being poked and prodded by strangers, and being uncomfortable in my own body. I came to realize how sometimes myself and my students push themselves too far in the practice, and I see that impulse to push is driven by ego. My experience has motivated me to help people to see that they can stop and not push so hard.

Since returning to teaching, I have been filled with gratitude for all of the people who have helped me in this process. My mother was able to be with me in the States for 3 months and this was made possible with the generous financial help of relatives and friends. When I was in the hospital, a day didn’t pass without one or more visitors. Also, along the way, a lot of people I have met have shared beautiful stories and experiences about their own family members who have survived cancer. 

After the experience, my goal as a teacher has remained the same, in some ways: to share the knowledge of yoga with others to strengthen their health and awareness, bring more happiness and balance into their lives, and help to deepen their practice. Yoga is one of the paths leading people not only to better health but also deeper into themselves. I see my students as fellow travelers and encourage their striving for growth. The most important things yoga taught me is that true happiness comes from within and that through selfless service one can share it with the whole world.

Can you give us an update on your health status, as of May 2016?

I finished chemo treatment back in February. Since that time I'm in remission and officially a cancer survivor. The scans are stable. I feel better and better as the time goes on and we are gradually lowering the dosage of my anti-seizure medication - the last one I'm still taking. Using Lupron during the chemo treatment saved my fertility, my doctor said that according to the blood work and ultrasound I am just as fertile as any other average woman in my age group.

At this point I am back to the amount of classes I had before the brain tumor surgery. I still experience some neuropathy on the right side of my body, but I started working with MAT (muscular activation techniques) specialist which helps tremendously. I plan on taking jumpstart course into MAT this summer as I would like to be able to tell if I'm activating or shutting down my students' muscle tissues. 

I am looking forward to my adventure of rock climbing in the end of June provided by First Descents (an organization supporting young adults who currently have cancer or are in remission). There, I will meet other cancer survivors as well as experience the activity I wanted to try for a long time.

Olinka Mytsiura teaches group and private classes in Chicago. Learn more about Olinka and her schedule at www.facebook.com/Olinkayoga or www.OlinkaYoga.com

Guest Blog Post: Janice's 30 Days of Yoga

Below is a blog post by one of our dear students, Janice Cho. She's been a TULA regular for a few years now and here she describes her experience with our studio and with our annual 30 day challenge. It's so inspiring to hear about Janice's journey and it makes me so profoundly grateful for our amazing community. 

This blog post was copied and pasted from her website. The original post can be found here: thehcdlife.com 

Janice Cho

Janice Cho

30 Days of Yoga

by Janice Cho

I've been practicing Yoga for about 10 years (on and off), and from the moment I stepped into my first yoga class, I knew I had found a component of my life that was going stay with me forever. I've moved around to several cities during these past 10 years and I have found yoga studios that I loved but have had to move on from. Since coming to Chicago, I tried out several Yoga studios to see where I felt at home - there were a lot of trial and errors, Groupons that allowed me to speed date studios with no commitment, referrals from others, but it wasn't until I found Tula Yoga Studio that I knew I wanted to commit to learning from the teachers who communed in its space.

Before I write about the 30 day challenge, I'd like to tell you a bit about why this studio is so special, and also why it captured my yoga spirit from the very first class I attended. 

Yoga is an spiritual activity to me, and my yoga mat is my personal sacred ground. It is during this time where my body becomes aware that it is breathing, alive, and able to reconnect with the fact that, at the end of the day, I am me. The reason I tell you this is because it has become increasingly more important to me to be around people who are spiritually aware of the universe, and my yoga practice is my highest priority to achieve this kind of surrounding. 

I have found the instructors at Tula studio to be extremely spiritually aware of their surroundings while thoroughly emotionally intelligent at the same time. It is a rare skill to be able to meet spiritual states with an appropriate emotional response, and Tula, I believe, has achieved that. I haven't encountered every single instructor just yet, but the ones I have communed with all possess this rare skill - and I make an extra effort to attend their classes. And let me tell you, it is a wonderful encounter with every single class. 

Maile, the owner of Tula, is also someone who I look up to. Her heart and vision for opening up a studio tailored to students who want to learn and grow in their yoga practice is unparalleled and she has single-handedly pushed forth a growing organism that Logan Square cannot ignore. Not only did she collect Tula's great instructors, but this lady has thought of everything when it comes to servicing yoga students, and I finally discovered why. She shares this on Tula's website:
 

"I purposely chose not to pursue a yoga teacher’s certification or training program before opening the studio because I wanted to make sure that I built the studio through my naïve eyes of a student, still open to many ideas and interpretations."
- Maile Wicklander


Many yoga studios have changing areas, cubes for personal storage, yoga storage, etc. but Maile also thought about the little things that make all the difference. The bathrooms have bobby pins and hair ties, the common area is always stocked with complimentary tea, there are spray bottles to clean your mats after class, complimentary towels and mats, and so much more - all of which I have used when needing them the most, and it is because of these things that make Tula so great. Could she be a service designer?! I'd say, "Yes."

Over the course of a few years of attending this studio, I saw students in past years take on the "30 day Challenge." Yoga every day for 30 days. "Are you crazy?" you ask? That's what I said. My mind couldn't grasp this idea and I had the utmost respect for those who I saw take on the challenge. "I could never do that," I thought. But in the 3rd year of watching students conquer their 30 days, something gave me the courage to want to try. So, I took the plunge. If not now, then when? Right?

"Alright, I'll do it," said I.

The first 5 days were really tough. My body was exhausted and I couldn't even think. On the 5th day, Rhiannon (the resident Yoga teacher), asked me how I was doing and I told her that it was pretty difficult - that my body was exhausted. She kindly told me that with every yoga class, I didn't have to push myself like I normally do, and that it was ok to rest - and then it hit me. I had been approaching every class like I usually do - by giving it my all. Except going everyday as opposed to 3 times a week should be entirely something else, right? This tidbit of wisdom set the stage for the next 25 days and I am so happy that I had that talk with her. It gave me a larger perspective of what I was trying to accomplish and that my body needed to be heard with more sensitivity than usual. So, I did as she said and it set me up for better game plan.

I could talk about the yoga itself but to tell you the truth, that part is the least interesting component of this experience. Yes, I had to make it to class every day. Yes, my entire schedule ran around making it to class. Yes, I had muscle cramps every now and then - but, these are all things we experience when we put our physical body through something like this. 
 

What was more magical to me than my body becoming freakishly strong was the community that was brought forth to me by just showing up.


Here are 10 beautiful moments that occurred during the challenge:

1) Reencountering a friend who I had lost touch with for about 2 years.

2) Finding out that one of my Letterpress students is the roommate of one of the yoga instructors.

3) Reconnecting with an artist who I had worked on a project with a year ago and hadn't seen since.

4) Spending quality time with Tula's fellow yogis while putting together care packages for Syrian refugees during my first yoga happy hour.

5) Demoing a pose for the first time which made me panic inside but I accomplished without fainting (whew!).

6) Discovering the most wonderful camomile tea blend that Maile brings in from the Logan Square farmer's market. It is that good.

7) Understanding what "Restorative Yoga" is and realizing how much training my mind needs while practicing yoga. (I found another favorite yoga teacher because of this class!)

8) Learning about Maile's vision was for the studio when creating it which made me appreciate it even more (you can read about it here).

9) Miraculously accomplishing yoga poses I have struggled with for years.

10) Communing with the people of Logan Square.


I've mentioned this before but I am an extreme introvert who has learned to survive in an extrovert world, and part of what I've been learning to do is to just go and be. During this challenge, I had to go and be, and the universe graciously met me there. Overall, this challenge opened my eyes to see more than what my body can physically handle - and to focus in on what it's trying to tell me everyday. It let me see the beauty of a community space that encourages communing with each other on the premise of just existing. Will I do it again? Absolutely. 

I'm now back to my schedule of 3-4 times a week but it's different now when I go to Tula. Each class is more intentional. I have a better understanding of what I'm doing and what my body requires of me. I also feel more confident in my yoga practice than I have ever been while knowing that there is still so much more to learn - and I think I'm ready for it. For this I am extremely grateful.

I chatted about this challenge to some folks I work with and conversations began to arise about micro-challenges - which is the idea of creating little 30 day challenges for yourself that are small, but are still based on commitment. I'm wondering what I should do for that... tweet everyday for 30 days? (I'm so bad with social media) Maybe I'll just stick to just writing more. :)

TULA Teacher Highlight: Veronica Stevens

In a new blog series, we are going to highlight a new TULA teacher each month so that you can get to know the people behind the amazing teaching here at TULA.

First up, Veronica Stevens.

Veronica teaches at TULA on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12pm, Wednesdays at 6:45pm and leads a prenatal class on Wednesdays at 5:30pm. She is expecting her first baby in July! 

She is a full-time yoga teacher and doula. You can keep up with all her activities at Happybabyyogi.com

Name: Veronica Stevens

Nick Name:  V, Ronnie, Vern, V-ron

Hometown: Chicago

Favorite Color: Green

Favorite Yoga Pose: This tends to change over time but in my current state cat/cow feels amazing!

Least Favorite: (Why) Again this is always shifting so as of now forward folds just aren't the same, definitely can't get as deep as I used to;)

Sign: Libra

Favorite Place: Anywhere near a big body of water

Movie: The Wizard of Oz

Book: Right now Dance, Dance, Dance by Murakami and all time favorite its Everybody Poops

Why do you teach Yoga?  It has provided profound healing for me and teaching it is my way of serving others.

How do you define Yoga? To me yoga is recognizing the connection between everything, stripping away the layers that prevent us from feeling the deep, integral sense of presence that we need to show up and inhabit the moment fully.

What would your last meal be? Tom yum, french fries, mac and cheese (Obviously I'm pregnant haha).

The band you can't live without? Hard to pick just one! Nick Drake, Joanna Newsom, Fleetwood Mac, Iron and Wine (older stuff), Jurrasic 5, Beach House, Beirut, Julianna Barwick, Van Morrison, lots of oldies and even some terrible pop music that is just fun to dance to. 

Most empowering moment? Attending my first birth as a doula, organizing volunteer trips to Haiti to teach yoga

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be and what would you do? Of all the places I've traveled I really feel a deep connection to Latin America and have always wanted to go to Iguazu Falls.

When you aren't teaching yoga, what can you be found doing? Eating! Yoga, enjoying nature, Doula-ing, traveling, cooking.

Three fun facts we don't know about you?

1.) You can still find a post I wrote about Hanson when I was 10 out there on the World Wide Web

2.) I went through a "Sonny and Cher" phase in 6th grade and did a lot of presentations on them

3.) My parents played a lot of Bob Marley when I was growing up. I always thought the song "Stir it Up" was just about cooking.

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What's Up with Going Upside Down? Why we do Inversions in Yoga

Written By: Rhiannon Kirby, Tula Yoga Studio's Manager & Resident Yoga Instructor

As a kid, most of us have a fearless sense of play. We will climb trees, throw ourselves around like a bouncing ball, swing from playgrounds like spry animals and imagine worlds filled with lava, castles, wild creatures and super powers. It is these exact qualities that first drew me to yoga.

It made me feel like a kid again, strong, playful, resilient, fearless, ultimately exploring the many facets of the self with out judgement.

I say these things because when Maile asked me to write a blog on inversions and why we do them in yoga, these concepts were the first things that came to my mind. Getting upside down in class has the ability to make us all meet the kid inside of us, that part of us that often times gets hidden by the hardships of becoming an adult, the seriousness of growing up.

So the next time you are on your mat, push fear aside, let your adult self visit the kid inside and put yourself upside down. 

Now into the physical benefits of inversions. The act of inverting has many benefits on the physiology of our body.  Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar believed that inversions allow the body to purge impurities, which facilitates strength, firmness, calmness and clarity of mind. In yoga, the benefits of inversions are based on the principles of opposite processing and the concept that inversions provide a way of looking at the world from a different physical viewpoint in order to facilitate a different perspective. Inversions alter the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, and allow blood to drain from the lower body to allow bring fresh blood to cycle throughout the tissues and organs of the body. Below is a more detailed list of the physical benefits of an inversion practice:

Circulatory System: As our body is upside down, the blood flow momentarily reverses directions, giving our heart a moment to slow down, a breather, reducing blood pressure and heart rate. When we become upright again, fresh blood and oxygen pump through the body, carrying nutrients, ready to help heal and support our bodies systems and functions.

Acts as an Anti-depressant: Inversions literally turn your frown upside down. Flushing the adrenal glands stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins that allow you to immediately feel uplifted and can counteract depression, mood swings and seasonal affective disorder. Plus it’s fun, so naturally it can elevate your mood.

Brain function: The brain uses about 25% of the body’s oxygen, so when the brain lacks a sufficient supply of blood, the body becomes slow and sluggish. Increasing blood flow nourishes brain cells with more oxygen resulting in improved concentration, memory and awareness. The brain is flushed with nourishing blood. Once settled into an inversion, there is the space to create a moment of meditation, things seem to become more still yet awake. 

Digestion: When you invert your body, you allow the stool that is moving from the ileocecal valve through the colon to move with the force of gravity. This encourages action and pressure on the walls of the digestive tract, stimulating it and supporting its function.

Immune system: Inversions help to stimulate lymphatic cleansing and drainage which clears toxins from the tissues and plays a vital role in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the immune system.

Skin: Reversing gravity flushes fresh nutrients and oxygen to the face, activating the facial capillaries, hair follicles of the scalp, and helps remove visual signs of toxicity (including acne), giving your skin a natural and healthy glow.

Sleep: Muscle tension can contribute to feelings of anxiety as well as insomnia so it’s important to flush it from your body. Finding the calm state, inversions can provide sparks the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces feelings of relaxation and calmness in the mind and physical body because the nerves begin to quiet down, thus giving us a space for better rest.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of inversions, besides accessing my inner child, is that

...it puts our hearts above our heads, even for just a moment in time.

I think all of us as individuals and the world can use just a little bit more of that every day. Everything in our body is connected, is one, in union (also the translation of the word Yoga).

A mindful inversion practice helps to support us as a whole; mind, body and spirit.

So whether your doing a self practice, or in a class, explore getting upside down and start to soak in and observe all its benefits. 

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Inversions to explore:

Viparita Karani: legs up the wall

Salamba Sarvangasana: Shoulder stand

Salamba Sirsasana I: Headstand

Salamba Sirsasana II: Tripod Headstand

Adho Mukha Vrksanasna: Handstand

Pincha Mayurasana: Forearm Stand

Here at Tula, our teachers will happily support you in your inversion explorations, from modified to advanced, just ask us, we are ready to play.

This month we are offering two workshops that can help introduce you to inversions or strengthen your inversion practice:

Sat Jan 16th: PLAYshop with Cassi and Veronica 4pm

Sat Jan 30th: Inversion Intensive with Rich Logan 2:30pm

Advice for Your First Yoga Class

As a continuation of my blog post about where to start yoga. Here are my tips and advice about taking your first yoga class. I've broken it down into  the categories of 'before you go to the studio', 'during your class' and 'after your class'. Here's to 2016 being your year of yoga!

Before going to the studio

Dress comfortably. Yes, it might be tempting to go to Lululemon and drop $200 for a fancy, tush-hugging outfit, but you don't need it. You need to be in comfortable, movable clothing. For women, I recommend a form-fitting tank with a built in bra (or a regular tank paired with a sports bra). I would also recommend cotton or cotton blend clothing that will allow your body to breathe. 

Have a small snack. You don't want to be totally hangry* in a yoga class. You also don't want to be too full. You will be twisting and bending your body in a number of ways and a completely full stomach is just not advisable.

Do a little research. Although every class, every teacher and every studio might be slightly different, you should have a basic understanding of what you are about to do. Use YouTube and Google to get a basic understanding of yoga (please ignore the scantly-clad young women with their legs behind their head, that's not what yoga is all about). I would also highly recommend checking out the website of the studio you are planning to go to and reading the bio of the teacher. Lastly, there are many types of yoga. You should have a basic understanding of the specific type of class that you are attending. 

Don't overthink it. Just go. This is the most important (and hardest) piece of advice. Even if you don't have exactly the right outfit, even if you are running a bit late, even if you are slightly more hungry than you think you should be, just make a pact with yourself to get up and go. Making it to the studio and on your mat, is 99% of the battle. 

At the studio

Arrive early. No one wants to arrive to a yoga class rushed and stressed. Arriving at least 5-10 minutes before the class starts, will allow enough time to get to sign a waiver, pay for the class and get set-up and comfortable. 

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Introduce yourself to the instructor.  You should have time to meet the teacher and let them know of any limitations that you may have. But don't just let them know about limitations, also let them know of what your goals are. Why are you at a yoga class? 

Set up in the middle of the room. Often, beginners try to hide in the back. I recommend setting up in the middle of the class. That way, whichever way you are faced during the course of the class, you can easily look at the people around you. There will be times in which you are lost. Just look around and see what every one else is doing. 

During class

Keep an open mind. There are undoubtable going to be things that take you a bit out of your comfort zone. It might be the instruction of 'putting your foot here' or simply the chanting of 'om'. When I first started yoga, I remember there being things that I literally thought "wow. these people are nuts". lol. The more you do it, the more you will connect with things and understand why things are done. Make sure to give yoga the time and space to settle into, keeping an open mind is the only way to achieve this.

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Rest. Rest. Rest. Yoga should be challenging, but it should not hurt. If you feel overwhelmed, the strongest and bravest thing that you can do is take child's pose. No one is judging you. Always do what you need to do , when you need to do it, no apologies. 

Don't do anything that doesn't feel good. Think of the 'instructor' as more of an 'advisor'. You always have the option of not doing something, you always have the option of resting instead and you always have the option of backing off instead of pushing forward. The more yoga you do, the more you will gain a deeper understanding of your body and what you ultimately need. Until then, if it hurts, back-off.

After class

Assess. Think about what you enjoyed. Think about what you didn't enjoy. How do you feel? Did the class make you feel more open? Was the class not challenging enough/too challenging? Call the studio that you took the class at, tell them what you liked, what you didn't like, have them make recommendations for other classes you might enjoy as well. 

Don't base your entire perception of yoga on one class/teacher. Even if you hated every minute of your first class (and hopefully you didn't). I beg you to try other classes. Try other yoga styles, try other teachers, even try other studios. Yoga can be life-changing, but only if you continually practice it. If you didn't connect with your first yoga class for whatever reason, try, try again. 

*Hangry - when you are so hungry that you become angry. 

 

Meditation Resolution

I hate new year's resolutions. For the past several years, I have refused to even make them. I think that we often set ourselves up for failure with unrealistic goals and we end up filled with stress and anxiety and feelings of failure more so than if we just never made these promises to ourselves in the first place!

But this year, I'm going to be making an exception and have decided to start a daily meditation practice. Of course, I have been hearing and reading about the numerous health benefits of meditation for years now, but I never really thought it would help me in any way. I am lucky enough to have a pretty naturally calm demeanor already. I don't get stressed easily and am not prone to anxiety. I just always figured that mediation was something that people only needed if they struggled with these issues.

I'm not sure what changed my mind about it. It might be the realization as I get older that it's inevitable that your body changes. Physically, you just are not going to be able to do all the things you did when you were young. After turning 40, I have definitely begin to feel these things shift. I also am pretty well informed about how to keep my body heathy. Balanced eating, moderate exercise, and yoga, of course. But what about your mind? As you age what keeps your mind healthy? and happy? As we yogis know, emotions get stored in the body. Stress, stuck emotions, unresolved anger, sadness, etc. can directly contribute to unhealthy bodies. It makes sense that we need to not only concentrate on the 'healthfulness' of our bodies, but also our minds. Meditation seems to be the simplest and one of the best ways to do this. 

Luckily, there are several apps that can be downloaded to your smart phones that can help you start your meditation journey. I downloaded one called Mindfulness and have been doing it for 2 days now. There are also several others that I hear are great as well - Headspace, Buddhify, Calm and Omvana, just to name a few. 

So, I have began my meditation journey. I'll keep you updated on how it goes!

Do you have a meditation practice? How has it impacted your life? 

Monica Brown

It's been awhile, but this is a continuation of my blog posts about our amazing teachers at Tula. 

Monica was hired before we opened our doors. I sent one of my assistants, at the time, to go and take her class at a gym downtown. She reported back that she loved the class. One of the things that she mentioned, that stuck with me, was that Monica was 'gentle'. Not knowing Monica that well yet, I didn't know the extent to which this word really does describe her and her style of yoga. 

Monica has a gentle and thoughtful nature that I greatly admire. She genuinely cares about people, loves her job and it shows. She never complains, never gripes (well, maybe sometimes about the weather :), and I've never heard her utter a harsh word about anyone. She is constantly a professional and I can always count on her to keep her commitments. I get the sense that she is wise beyond her years and this gives her a calming presence in the studio and in the world.

Monica's classes are airy, flowing, creative and peaceful. She emphasizes using your breath and doing poses that feel oh, so, good. She uses props, quiet music and low lighting to enhance the overall calm environment of her class. Whenever I get the chance to practice with Monica, I always leave feeling renewed, like I just took a breath of fresh air, just the way yoga is suppose to make you feel. 

It is an absolute pleasure to know that Monica is part of our team. 

In addition to being a lovely yoga teacher, Monica is also an interdisciplinary artist, a trained Thai Massage Therapist and a dancer. You can find Monica at Tula on Mondays at 10:30am, Tuesdays at 6:30pm, Thursdays at 5pm and Saturdays at 12:30. You can also follow her many other projects at http://www.monicajbrown.net/

Receiving Gratitude

Around this time of year, people always talk about giving thanks, and being grateful for things that we have. I think this is really important and I think that overall I do a good job at being grateful and giving thanks. But there's also another side to this

......receiving thanks and receiving gratitude from others is just as important.

This, I have realized I am not very good at. I think part of this stems from being a parent. You are programmed from the time that beautiful, helpless creature is born to be 'self-less', to put every need and want of them over your own needs and wants and never, ever do you expect a thank you. In my case, this also extends into my personal relationships and into my work. I don't often see or hear someone giving me thanks.

I often 'miss' little things that people say and do that are clearly showing me that they appreciate and care for me.

The thing is, most likely people are not showing gratitude by saying the words "I am grateful for you" - no, more often than not they show gratitude with small gestures, with slight smiles, with random acts of kindness.

Unless you are really paying attention, you might miss it. Unless you are really open, you may not be able to receive it. 

So during this Thanksgiving holiday, join me in not only giving thanks and giving gratitude for all of life's abundance, but also opening yourself up enough to receive these gifts as well. Listen to the people around you closely, let the love and appreciation seep in, let it stay awhile and really revel in the gratitude of the season. 

After all, the more you are able to receive, the more you are able to give. 

Tula's Expansion

Tula opened it's doors on Oct. 1, 2011. The response was amazing from the community & neighborhood and we have been growing slowly, but surely, ever since.  

Part of the reason that I rented this particular space 4 years ago was because of it's 'potential'. Not only was it located in a rapidly changing and growing neighborhood, it also had the potential for Tula to expand, once the business was established. Beneath our current space, is a basement area (approx. 2800 sq. ft.) that was also available for rent. A year ago, I signed an extended 15 year lease that included this basement area and now is the time!

Now that we have a solid student base and I have a better understanding of the needs and wants of that student base, we would love to be able to offer you MORE. Here are just a few of the ideas that we have for ways in which to to use this extra space. 

1. Simultaneous kids /adults classes - this way, parents can get in their yoga without calling for a sitter!

2. Weekend Baby & Me & prenatal classes - so that working parents can be part of the fun as well!

3. Kids Yoga Birthday parties - we have done a few, but with only one space we are severely restricted on the times that we can offer them. With a second space, we could offer them on a more regular basis.

4. More Meditation/Restorative/Nidra/Yin and 'gentle' classes - It's no secret that our schedule is filled with mostly Vinyasa classes. With a new space, we would be able to offer more gentle classes, more accessible classes and classes that compliment a regular vinyasa practice very well. 

5. More options for evening classes - Instead of just being able to offer 'stacked' classes (one after the other), we could experiment with offering say a 5:30pm, a 6pm AND 6:30pm. Potentially, giving more of you a chance to get to yoga, even when you have to work late. 

6. Yoga Teacher Training and/or a Yoga Immersion Program - Again, primarily because of having only one space, we currently are unable to have a meeting place for long periods of time to be able to offer such a program. 

7. More Donation classes for charities- Again, because we cannot run simultaneous classes, we are often stuck offering donation classes at less than optimal times. We hope to able to offer these classes more regularly and at better times so that they can be more successful. 

8. Community events - At least once a week, I am approached by a organization or individual looking to rent space to offer a workshop, community event or seminar. We would be able to offer this space to them. We could even do more yoga pairing events, such as start a yoga book club, knitting and yoga, wine and yoga, etc. without having to modify or cancel classes from our current schedule. 

9. Thai Bodywork and private yoga sessions - Because the space is just as big as our upstairs space and we wouldn't have retail, we have space for a second studio as well as a private room that can be used to offer Thai Bodywork and private yoga sessions! 

10. More workshops! Because we are restricted on time with only one space, often our workshops are not as successful as they should be. We would be able to offer more workshops, at 'prime' time slots!

If you share our vision for this space, we need your help to make it a reality! Anything is greatly appreciated. 

 

 

 

What makes Tula Different?

Chicago is lucky enough to have many wonderful, highly-respected yoga studios and even more absolutely amazing yoga teachers as part of our larger yoga community. Over the past 4 years, Tula has been fortunate enough to be able to thrive in this highly competitive yoga city. People often comment that Tula is their favorite place to practice. I routinely get in students and teachers that had moved away to other cities and they comment that they cannot find a yoga home quite like Tula.

I want to be clear that the following things do not necessarily make us better than other yoga studios, these things just make us different. In business, as in life, people have different goals and they use different tools to achieve those goals - one way is not necessarily better than any other. I have great respect for the many studios in Chicago that have been able to thrive for decades in this often difficult industry and I hope to be among them one day.......

So, what makes Tula different? Here are 10 of the reasons why I think we might stand out from the crowd, even just a little bit: 

1. We give new teachers a chance. Sure, I hire experienced teachers, but I also hire brand new teachers. Most of the teachers that are the most popular today started off 4 years ago with Tula with less than one year's experience. I look beyond a resume and number of jobs. My requirements for being a teacher here - you have to have potential, passion, a clear vision of what it is you want, the willingness and ability to work hard, a positive outlook, a desire to stay grounded and stay true to yourself. New teachers have many opportunities here above what many other studios may offer. I think that this not only helps the teachers grow and gain experience, but it exposes students to a different viewpoints, different styles, and not just teachers that are stuck in their ways. Our teachers are constantly learning and growing from our students, as well as teaching them. 

2. We are inclusive in action, not just in words. Many, if not most, yoga studios say that they are inclusive, but I have personally experienced classes where if I was not 'serious' enough, or thin enough, or cute enough, I was clearly given the cold shoulder. We try our best everyday to practice what we preach, allowing people to explore the wonderful practice of yoga in a nonjudgemental, highly individual and non-intimidating way. 

3. We pay our front desk staff. Front desk staff are employees of Tula. A lot of yoga studios use "work trade" people as front desk staff (working for yoga, not money). Often, this leads to front desk staff that is poorly trained and may lack a sense of duty and responsibility to the job. Our staff is well trained on our systems and policies and we know how to handle any customer service issues that arise. This often makes a huge difference in the way that you are treated when you come in. 

4. Our yoga philosophy is one of body acceptance and not one of change. By this, I mean that we never promote detoxes, diets, losing weight, changing who you are or becoming a 'better' version of yourself. This is a consistently challenging premise, and I'll be the first to admit that we sometimes don't do as well as we should. In a society where we are bombarded with 'perfect body' images, 'inspirational' quotes about bettering ourselves, the 'in your face' marketing of fancy, tight-fitting yoga clothes, we often fall into this a bit. But at the heart, at our center, we view yoga as a great conduit to make finally make peace with yourself, not finally change yourself, and there's a big difference.

5. As a studio, we accept and embrace what we are. We are a small, neighborhood yoga studio with strong ties to (and pride in) our our neighborhood. We are not a gym, we are not a luxury spa. We are not a corporation with stakeholders that live in the suburbs. As the owner and operator, I work here, I live in the neighborhood, I practice yoga here and know the students here by name. There are no plans to make a Tula Yoga Studio chain. There are not even plans to make Tula a 'leader' in the yoga community. Tula will always cater towards the everyday yogi. I want to bring yoga to people that don't necessarily want to be yoga teachers or even make yoga the main focal point of their lives. 

6. We made our own software for running the studio. This may seem like a small thing, but most studios use a big-box, publicly-owned software program for handling credits, online purchases and billing monthly memberships. We didn't like that one, so we created our own. We wanted something that was highly intuitive, simple, and above all something that would make for a pleasant, easy-buying experience for our students. My husband's software company was able to make a software that fit all my needs in running the studio and also reflect the philosophy and brand of the studio. We now have a iPhone App & an Apple Watch app and a really cool website that hopefully reflects our difference as well. 

7. We have continued to say 'no thank you' deal sites (groupon, gilt city, etc), third party fitness finders (ie, classpass) and many other corporate marketing companies (yelp, google ads, etc). Again, we know who we are. We are a small neighborhood studio. Our marketing dollars do not extend beyond the confines of the Logan Square neighborhood. I knew from the day we opened that people go to yoga studios primarily based on location and convenience and I wasn't going to try and compete with the multitude of studios in all of Chicago. We wanted to make our studio an intimate, comfortable place, not just a place where nameless masses of people can flow through the doors without any connection to us as a community. We continue to grow organically, not artificially. 

8. Our studio policies are different. When opening the studio, I didn't just do what others did or just blindly follow their lead. I asked myself, what did I want to do? Why is this a policy? So you'll see immediate difference in some of our studio policies: We don't have expirations on packages (regular packages), there are no minimum commitments for memberships, there are no 'admin' fees tacked onto memberships, no cancellation fees. We always let you in late to class, we allow the sharing and transferring of class credits, we don't require registrations, we don't charge for mats or towels, we allow anyone to store their mat at the studio, we don't single out certain groups of people to qualify for discounts (instead we level the playing field by allowing anyone to do community service in exchange for a discount with our YogiCitizen program). Finally, we don't make judgements or policies about what people should or should not put into their bodies outside of (or even inside) the studio. 

9. Our focus is on serving our students, not serving teachers. Some studios are built to be yoga teacher's studios and that's great, but we are not.  Again, we cater to the everyday person that wants to bring yoga into their life - whether that be everyday, twice a week or once a month. 

10. Last but not least, our students are badass. Logan Square is diverse, artistic, open-minded neighborhood and it contains what I think are some of the best people in the world. It's no wonder that we are lucky enough to have these people as students. Demographic-wise we are made up of many young adults, stay-at-home parents, retirees and everything in between and they are all awesome and ultimately what really makes our studio so special. 

Happy 4th Anniversary, Tula

After 4 years of yoga studio ownership, I have grown. Boy, have I grown. I have done many, many things right. I have made many, many mistakes.  Opening and growing Tula has stretched me financially and emotionally beyond anything I ever imagined. The studio is quite literally my third child. 

At times, I am so in love with it, I can barely see straight. At other times, I am so frustrated and angry that I question whether or not I might actually be insane for ever wanting this.

This community has always reminded me how worthwhile this endeavor is. During some of the more emotionally stressing, moments during the last few years, there was always an occasion where someone would lift me up. There would be a good Yelp review that would come through, an encouraging word from a teacher, someone new to the neighborhood would stop in and tell me how great the studio is, a long-time student who would simply say 'thank you for opening this special space', someone would bring the studio flowers from the farmer's market, just because. Trama, injury, accident or disease-survivors would tell me about the life-changing practice of yoga and how they discovered it at Tula.

This would remind me why I do this and why it's ultimately all worth it.

Thank you to everyone who stood by me, the community and the studio during it's highs and lows over the last 4 years. Thank you also to everyone who taught me some very hard lessons along the way. Both have helped ensure the success of Tula, in equal measure.

So here's to many more years of Tula. I am really excited about what the future holds for this place and community.

Couch Potato Yoga

I have a confession to make. I am a couch potato. Give me some Netflix, a comfy couch, a glass of wine and a bag of chips and I'm in my happy place. 

I realize, of course, that I can't just live on the couch. It's just not healthy. Over the course of my adulthood, I have tried over and over again to become a more active person. I've tried various cardiovascular activities ranging from exercise DVD's, going to the gym, spin classes, lifting weights, swimming, and even a few sports (yikes!). I would look at those people that were constantly running around from one activity to another, with nothing but envy. Everything I tried, I genuinely hated it. Hated every minute of it. How could I ever be healthy and happy if I hated exercising? How can I change myself?

Then came the 'what's wrong with me'? I'm just fat and ugly. Ugh. I haven't gone to the gym in a week! What a loser I am!

I realized that this cycle was making me dislike myself. This was really not healthy. Not making me happy either. 

Then I found yoga. It was healthy. It was sustainable. It wouldn't kill me. It actually made me feel good about myself. There was no competition. No comparing yourself. Just moving, stretching, breathing. After a class, I would feel 'high'. Then I started to became more flexible & stronger! wow, this is awesome. 

Sure, yoga is tough. It is still a struggle to peel myself off my comfy couch and get on my mat, but once I am there, I actually smile. I enjoy myself. I can play. I can fall out of poses and laugh at myself. I can try new things. I can rest when I want. I can just sit in child's pose and breathe.

Now when I don't make it to my mat in a week, I say to myself, I'll try again tomorrow. There's no judgement. There's no guilt. I have learned through yoga to love myself just the way I am. 

The best part? It made me realize that I don't want to change who I am. I am a couch potato who occasionally does yoga and that's really okay.   


The Magic of Restorative Yoga

Written By Natalie McGreal

When Maile asked me to write a blog post about 'Restorative Yoga' my initial thought was that I wouldn't know where to begin. Restorative yoga and gentle practices take up a lot of space in my brain and my relationship with them runs deep.  

Restorative yoga has healed me in more ways that I can count.

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Physically, it was like finally locating the missing piece to a puzzle I had been working on for years.

I grew up dancing and studied a pretty strict style of ballet. I remember when I was 16 begging my mom to let me get a 'sports massage' to help with my chronic shin splints and foot and knee pain. When I was in my training to become a yoga teacher I was working as a full time massage therapist, and had been one for a while. I worked in a busy spa in an international hotel downtown where we were booked 90 minute massage after 90 minute massage.  By the time I made it to teacher training my body was overused, tired and it hurt. I would wake up in the morning with my arms and hands totally numb. There were days when I couldn't turn my head an inch in either direction. Committing to a regular yoga practice slowly started to heal and re-strengthen my body, but there were many days that I simply didn't have the energy or strength to do much more than child's pose.

It was during teacher training that I took my first Restorative class. I walked into the dimly lit classroom with candles lining the altar and I thought,

this is exactly what I need right now.

During the class we were shown how to structure our props to support healing, long held poses. When we did any sort of movements they were slow and gentle. My body was much more receptive to the practice than my mind was at first. The mental practice of 'letting go' was a challenge at times (it still can be!), and often my mind would get really chatty and loud the second I hit the bolster. Ironically, the longer we stayed in postures the easier it became for me to let go. Eventually, with a period of sustained and quiet physical stillness, the mind follows suit.

After that first class I started to incorporate Restorative Yoga postures into my regular practice, and so they naturally made their way into the classes I taught as well. It is incredible to see how people respond to Restorative Yoga the first time they practice it. 

Often they express feeling surprised at the unexpected power of such a subtle practice.

It can seem so counter-intuitive - doing less to inspire change. It is pretty magical though, what can happen when we slow down and get quiet. In the stillness of these powerful poses everything softens, and in this softness we become more receptive to physical, mental and spiritual evolution. The body slowly readjusts becoming more spacious. When the body is still the mind can relax, and when that happens a healing process begins.

Restorative yoga is not flashy.

In it's quiet simplicity it is nearly impossible to compete with oneself or others, and so it offers a retreat from the over stimulation we are bombarded with in daily life. If only for a short while there is an opportunity to feel free from expectations, pressure, competition and comparison. There is even freedom from effort since these poses are so self sufficient.

To gain the benefits of a Restorative practice, all that is asked of us is to show up, become still, and practice letting go.

 

Natalie teaches Restorative Yoga, at TULA, each Sunday at 9am.