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My Love Letter to Invoke

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Blog by Annie Marshall (Author/Cook/Baker/Photographer behind Annie’s Eats, Indianapolis Physician, Mom, and Yogi)

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I first came to Invoke and to my practice of yoga over five years ago when I joined the prenatal class while pregnant with my daughter. My wonderful teacher Sage helped me fall in love with yoga. Her calm words, gentle adjustments and always encouraging manner helped me feel welcome in this new-to-me space and were the perfect introduction for an uncertain beginner.

Six months after my daughter was born, my father passed away suddenly of a heart attack on Thanksgiving day. He had been my only living parent since my mom passed away when I was 10 years old. He was my rock, my sense of stability in the world, the best dad I could have ever asked for. In the months and years that have followed since that loss, my time spent on my yoga mat has been some of the best therapy in the world. It has helped and continues to help me navigate the ongoing grieving process. Bar classes with Glenna, Tess, Lindsey and Amy have also been a perfect place to enjoy a fun and challenging workout with friends and focus on something else for a little while.

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In many, many yoga classes over the years I have heard numerous teachers repeatedly remind us that our practice is just that – a practice. It is part of a larger yoga journey, and each class is just one step along the way. Over the past year, these words of wisdom have rung especially true for me as I have deepened and intensified my own personal practice. This was primarily the result of me finding the equivalent of my yoga teacher soulmate in Kara. From the very first class I took with her, I was hooked! Her style is athletic and very challenging, but in the best way. She knows exactly how to push you and encourage you and help you grow stronger. “Find your edge but don’t go over it,” she says often. The first class I remember laughing out loud a few times at things I thought I would never be able to do (her intense ab series, some arm balances and handstands to be specific) but now with lots more practice and hard work, those formerly laughable things have become a routine part of my practice.

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There are a couple of mantras from Kara’s classes that really resonate with me. Her reminders that no feeling is final or permanent, and that we must learn to embrace discomfort because it is in that space of discomfort where growth and change can take place, have helped me immensely in my yoga practice as well as my day to day life. Additionally, they have helped me make great progress in my non-yoga workouts, running in particular. In the past, the ability to run more than a mile generally eluded me but this year, thanks to continually remembering Kara’s words, I have been able to push past the discomfort and grow stronger, running farther and faster than I ever thought possible. (And, when all else fails, this little boost from Jim Carrey works wonders.) My physical and mental strength both on and off of my yoga mat have improved by leaps and bounds this year, primarily as a result of Kara’s teachings. It may sound dramatic but it is true – her class has literally changed my life! If you have never taken a class with her, I urge you to try one as soon as possible! You will not be disappointed.

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Invoke as a whole has helped me navigate through big life changes, deal with devastating loss, and discover physical and mental strength I didn’t know I possessed, all while providing me a community of wonderful people to practice beside. I can hardly find words to articulate the gratitude I feel at being a part of this community but maybe it is best expressed in yoga terms. At the conclusion of each practice when we are often prompted to call to mind three things we are grateful for, Invoke and its incredible teachers are nearly always part of my list. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Kara, Glenna, Cheryl, Erin, Stevie, Annie, Lindsey, Tess, Ahna, Chuck, Laura, Amy, Jillian and anyone else I have had the privilege of learning from. You have enriched my life more than you could ever know!

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Heart to the Queen

Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you. You must travel it for yourself. – Whitman

Blog by Olivia Grace Wolfe [Dancer, Do-er, Traveler, Memphian] Olivia Grace Wolfe

“Push your pennies.” “Heart to the queen.” “Headlights facing front.” “Elbow fairies.” “Don’t hit the gnome.”

For nine straight years, somewhere between 10 and 28 hours of my week was spent hearing (almost) nonsensical phrases such as those. My ballet teacher, Katie Smythe, CEO and Artistic Director of New Ballet Ensemble in Memphis, Tennessee, was a mastermind at thinking up creative metaphors to help us connect our minds to our bodies and place our bodies in the perfect positions. An outsider would probably think that we were money-obsessed fantasy characters driving cars, instead of dancers perfecting our ballet technique. But those metaphors became an invaluable teaching tool when I became a Pilates Mat and Bar Effect™ instructor. Nothing gets to students, old or new, like great visuals. My ballet teacher also used to come around, physically moving our bodies into the right positions. Sometimes she would joke about her old teacher who had these horribly long fingernails and used to come around pinching her students glutes to make them squeeze harder. I use this touching technique (not the long fingernail technique haha) when my students become comfortable with my teaching style, and I call it the “Midas Touch” – the results are gold when the student finally accesses the right muscles in the right way! When I stopped dancing full-time and became a full-time undergrad, I decided to get Pilates certified through Invoke Studio’s Peak Pilates certification. It was a perfect fit! Funny thing – I am now even more toned, physically fit, and knowledgeable about my body than I was as a dancer. Oh, and I love my body WAY more. Now, when I take ballet classes back in Memphis, Ms. Katie always comments on my physique and my endurance, noting that I look like I never quit dancing full-time. While I now prefer Pilates and Bar Effect™ to ballet and dance classes, I would not be as strong of a student or a teacher without this background. With my understanding of proper ballet technique and alignment, as well as a large inventory of exercise options, I feel confident leading my class safely through a fun, but challenging class. This past February, I presented a conference session at Mid West Fit Fest, entitled “Pilates Barre Fusion: What is Safe and What is Harmful?” I used my knowledge of ballet technique and alignment to show other instructors how the best barre classes are taught, and how teachers should cue correctly to ensure safe alignment and the proper engagement of specific muscles. I had wonderful feedback from this session, and I love knowing that my ballet past has given me the tools to successfully and safely teach in my present and in my future. I love that Bar Effect™ gets into muscles I never even knew I had, and I love that the format allows you to hit every single part of the body so that you’re balanced. I love taking Bar Effect ™ classes just as much as I love teaching them. Most importantly, I love putting in all the determination to hold a position longer or lengthen a little further. I feel both physically and mentally stronger after class. And that’s what it’s all about. That’s why people love it. It’s a challenge and it moves you forward in life, just as ballet has moved me forward to where I am now.


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What’s all this yoga jazz?

What if I fall? Oh my darling, what if you fly? – Unknown

Blog by Stevie [yogi, 4th grade teacher, downtowner, wife, yorkie lover]

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“Free Yoga Class every Wednesday” was the sign on the door in the muscle making machine of a large gym corporation I frequented. I grabbed a mat and decided, what the heck. Could Madonna’s arms truly get that sculpted by just yoga? Totally worth a shot. There were floor length mirrors surrounding me, that reflecting back on my inability to make it into any pose, I couldn’t reach further than my knees in forward fold, I couldn’t quite get the difference between my right and left, I would laugh when the teacher would say something about my knee touching my nose, and my wrists hurt something awful. However, there was something about this whole yoga gig, and I found myself continuing to go back to these classes for an entire year.

With a friendly invite, I found my mat in the center of one of Invoke’s classes. What was yoga going to be like in a studio? The beats weren’t some meditation music. They were down right body moving jams. The teacher’s words were soothing, the poses just flowed, and I found myself in shavasana with tears streaming down my face. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I felt relief. I was able to get out of my head for 75 minutes. I knew my moves weren’t perfect, and looking back now, I knew my alignment was something atrocious, but….I found a part of myself there.

Yoga turned into something as natural as breathing to me. I started getting cranky when I skipped a week, my muscles begged to feel THE stretch, and the tension from my workdays crept its way into my shoulders if I didn’t show up to my mat. I hung up my gym membership tag for my mat and it couldn’t have been a better choice for my personal journey.

After around 5 years of classes, I finally got to a place in my own personal practice where I felt that I needed to answer the question again of what yoga was. My physical practice had grown into something beautiful and I could find myself into the most challenging of poses, but I craved the mental part. The Invoke Teacher Training had an inviting sign on the wall.

Did I have the time? Was I ready? Could I even give yoga teacher training justice? I felt like much wiser people than I should be a yoga teacher – I wasn’t unattached from watching bad TV, vegan eating, non-label wearing, all knowing soul that I thought a yoga teacher should be. So after I talked myself totally out of the training, I put a deposit down and started the training a few weeks later.

Self trickery at it’s best.

6 months later, 200 hours wiser, I felt like I had more questions about what yoga still was. How could there still be so much more that I needed to know after 200 hours?! Perhaps I would read more books, Pin some more, take more classes….I still felt like I didn’t have all the answers I thought I needed. Until I taught my first class. 

I played the music loud, the heat was cranked, I changed my sequence to go with the beat of the music instead of what I wrote down, and I finally could tell my rights from lefts. I finished the shoulder presses and started to walk towards the front of the room, I took my seat, and looked up at the class that I had just slipped into meditation. I teared up during shavasana. I think this was God’s way of saying to me that I finally understood what yoga is.

Yoga is what you make of it.

Some people get on their mat to work out or to be fit. For some, it’s a meditation throughout the entire practice. Some want to get the poses just right, while others want to just flow. Some love the sweat pouring down them, while others like to practice in a cooler setting.

For me, it was the ability to shut my mind off for a small amount of time. Seeing every person beat to their own drum has been the most rewarding experiencing from taking the seat of teacher. One thing is for sure though – everyone looks much, much happier after shavasana. So to answer the question of “what is yoga?”…there is no right answer.

Yoga is everything, as along as you link the breathe and movement…it’s just perfect.


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The path to discovering me.

“You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” – Glenda, The Wizard of Oz

Blog By Laney [student, teen, future yogi, Amy’s niece]

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My name is Laney, and I am the niece of a yoga teacher ,who just so happens to own Invoke Studio.

I have grown up with yoga in my life and I have always enjoyed practicing, which is why I wanted to be able to share this with my friends. As a 7th grader, it’s hard to balance school work, playing sports while still maintaining straight A’s, and spending time with my family and friends. Yoga has always helped me to relax, and it has taught me how to connect to myself and to the world. So, when I heard that Invoke was having a workshop for teens, I decided to enroll in Discovering Me – Teen Yoga with Robbin Schneider.

During the workshop, we were asked to journal about our experience and emotions. I really enjoyed this process because it allowed me to begin my journey to discovering who I am. Your teenage years can be confusing – and there are a lot of changes going on emotionally and physically. Not to mention the pressure you have from your peers. The journal process helped me to discover who I am right now, in this phase of my life. I have continued to journal even after the workshop ended and I am excited to continue on the path to discovering me. Even though I know I will continue to evolve and grow over the years, journaling is helping me keep balance and awareness in my life. While I did enjoy the journaling process, my favorite part of the workshop was how it created the ability to connect with others and to share my life experiences with my peers. I didn’t realize how yoga was able to create connections not only with myself, but with others as well. This really helped me discover that everyone is truly unique, but that we still can connect in the same way.

After finishing the workshop, I have taken all of the things I learned and have continued to apply them to my daily life. I have changed the way I react to people and situations by simply changing my reaction from positive to negative. While I know this is difficult and that everyone struggles with it, the awareness the workshop brought to this behavior has allowed me to pay closer attention to my reactions to certain situations or challenges I face at school.

For anyone who hasn’t experience Discovering Me – Teen yoga and is facing challenges in their life, just remember to stay strong and try to find the positive in your situation. It gets better, but being positive will make it that much easier along the way.

Before this workshop, I didn’t realize the impact I could have on my peers and myself. After finishing the workshop with Robbin, I am working towards being an inspiring person to others. I know now that I can achieve my dreams, no matter what others say and I know now that I have the tools within myself to continue on my journey – whatever that may be!


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No such thing as failure.

“Fear of failure must never be a reason not to try something.” – Frederick Smith

Blog by Candy [Writer, yoga teacher, downtowner, recovering rat racer]

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Failure.  

My shaman said it at the end of our session the other day.  It’s a word that’s been floating around in my head for weeks. Since I started to teach SUP, actually.  I can feel the fear of falling in the water from some of my students.  In others, that same fear of falling off the board feels more like empowerment.  I think the latter is a better perspective to have.

Teaching SUP yoga has allowed me a vantage point that I’ve never been exposed to before. So many of my students come with limited paddle board experience. They’re not only trying yoga on the water (which isn’t easy), but they are trying their luck at paddle boarding too.  The likelihood of not being good at it is high…but I’ve watched every one of them succeed, in one way or another.
For the students that see the board as an added challenge, and the possibility of getting wet an added bonus, they spend their time on the water searching for their edge; That sweet spot where they are pushing themselves to the point of falling out of the pose. I’ve watched so many step right up to the edge and stay just dry of it.
But the ones that step up…and over…they come up out of the water with the biggest smiles on their faces. Some may see that as a failure. That the goal of SUP yoga should be to stay on your board…to stay dry, but if that was the goal, we’d do the practice on land. It’s those folks that confuse the goal (see the possibility of failure) and say they want to try it, but never do. Their egos can’t handle the idea of it because their perception of it is all wrong.
The goal of SUP yoga is to empower yourself.  To take your practice and belief in yourself to the next level.
Yoga on land is hard. Putting all the pieces together…breath…movement…alignment…takes focus and practice. When you add in the instability of a paddle board…the unpredictability of nature…the flow of the water…and then decide to do yoga…well, now that takes your focus and practice to an entirely different level.
Any bad habits a student has developed in the classroom are completely exposed on the water, and their penance is most likely to lose their balance and fall in.  But the forgiveness of the water, the warmth of her hug as you take a plunge, summons a deeper inner strength. A resolve to climb back on the board and try the pose again, this time nailing it, or maybe not.  It doesn’t matter, though because the sense of accomplishment, of being completely focused on your alignment, breath and movement is the reward.
 
Those students that bring that mindset to the water, never consider falling off as a failure.  They know that yoga, like life, is a practice.  That each day our bodies are different. The weather is different. The water is different. Life is different.  And each day they bring an attitude to do their best.  To focus on the task at hand.  To be present in the moment.  To find a new level of peace…calm…accomplishment.  Those students may leave my class wet…soaked to the bone…but they also leave with a smile…with laughter in their hearts…with a sense of evolving their practice.
 
Each time someone falls in the water, I cheer and holler for them.  I tell their fellow students that we need to celebrate the fact that they  fell in the water.  That now that they are wet, their practice will be completely different than it would have been…then it will be for the rest of us that are still dry.  Gone from that student’s mind is the fear of getting wet….the fear of failing…because it happened.  Just like that.  For the rest of their practice, they will be searching for their perfect alignment…and their edge.  When they find their edge, they may willingly step over it…pushing themselves just a little harder to come deeper into a pose…and they may get wet.  But it won’t matter, because they already are. 
 
SUP has taught me that there’s no such thing as failure.  There’s only the mindset that you bring to your practice…to your life.  From there, everything that follows is as simple as taking a little plunge…crawling back onto your board…and trying again.
 
See you on the water.


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Pregnancy.

How it (surprisingly) improved my yoga practice. 

Blog by Kye [DePauw University fanatic; Northsider; Travel addict; Soon-to-be Mama]

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On December 20, 2013, two days after I learned that I was pregnant, I sent a frantic email to Cheryl Milton, my yoga teacher and friend from Invoke with whom I was planning to embark on a 200-hour yoga teacher training journey in January. It said something along the lines of, “Yikes! I’m pregnant. Very excited! I don’t think I’ll have the time, money, emotional stability…and, oh yes, TIME! to focus on yoga teacher training over the next five months. I’m super disappointed, but hope you’ll understand.” I then asked her to give me a run-down of the basic “rules” of practicing yoga while pregnant (i.e. how long can I do a headstand with a baby in my belly?). I honestly thought that it was impossible (or crazy) to attempt a 5-month teacher-training program while being pregnant for the first time.

I’m thankful Cheryl didn’t let me off the hook so easily. After expressing her initial excitement, she made a very compelling case for why the next few months would actually be the perfect time to dive deeper into my yoga practice. In the end, I listened to Cheryl, and she was one million percent right. While I feared that pregnancy would ruin – or at the very least impede – my yoga practice, I can honestly say that it did neither. As surprising as it may sound, I truly feel that pregnancy improved my practice. Here’s how:

It slowed my body – and therefore my mind – way, way down.

Before I was pregnant, I liked heated, hard, and fast classes. I was an upside-down junkie. I liked to find new ways to challenge myself and see how much I could sweat in a yoga class. For me, yoga was about pushing myself to my physical edge as much as possible. I haven’t eliminated this side of my yoga practice entirely, but pregnancy has without a doubt helped me appreciate the more subtle aspects of my practice. I’ve realized that small adjustments can lead to big improvements in a pose. I learned to be more patient with my body. I learned to think about what yoga means to me outside of the sweaty, crazy-hard stuff. I learned to appreciate the simplicity (and difficulty!) of slow-flow. I realized that your mind follows your body, and if you allow your body to slow down every once in a while, your mind will too. And that’s a beautiful thing.

It taught me to say no.

At the beginning of class, yoga teachers often explain that child’s pose is “always available” as a resting pose. Pre-pregnancy, did I ever willingly take child’s pose on my own, without being prompted? Absolutely not. I probably didn’t want to waste precious time in class allowing myself to take a break when I could have been pushing myself. Now, I’ll happily take child’s pose whenever I need it. Now, I can confidently say “no” to a pose, which is a big lesson to learn in meeting yourself where you are each and every time you come to your mat.

It helped me appreciate my body.

Though it should have been the case prior to pregnancy, I never really took the time to be grateful to my body for all of the things it allows me to do. After completing a five-month teacher training program and teaching my very first yoga classes — all while growing a tiny human — I’ve finally learned to pat myself on the back every once in a while and thank my body for being amazing. In my opinion, everyone should do this more often.


And finally, a quick note of advice:

There’s a great deal of “noise” out there about what you can and cannot (or should and should not) include in your yoga practice while you’re pregnant. I read everything from “Completely eliminate downward facing dog after 20 weeks,” to “Handstands are fine well into your third trimester.” Now that I’m just a few weeks away from delivery and have practiced regularly throughout my pregnancy, I can say with certainty that there are no hard-and-fast rules and that every yogini must determine what’s best for her own body. I chose to stop doing inversions after ~20 weeks; though it wasn’t always easy to resist headstands and handstands (I’m having a nerdy-yoga craving for Pincha Mayurasana as I’m typing this), it sure taught me a lot about yoga and myself to slow down for a few months of non-upside-down time on my mat.


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When I See You Smile.

Fulfilling a dream.

Blog by Candy [Writer, yoga teacher, downtowner, recovering rat racer]

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Yesterday SUP classes kicked off.  It’s something I’ve wanted to teach for a couple years but until now, didn’t have the time…nor a place to teach.  Thanks to Invoke Studio, I’m able to turn a dream…a hope…a wish…into a reality.  I’m a stand up paddle board (SUP) and SUP yoga teacher.

I had so much fun teaching my first SUP intro class and my first SUP yoga class!  I’m sure it was a little exceptional because Princess Grace, Kilo, and Man of the Year were three of my first students.  What could be better than to see their smiling faces looking back at me…nothing.  The best part, they actually said I was a good teacher.

I’ve written about my struggle with teaching and whether it’s something I want to do or not.  I’ve been told I’m good at it, but it’s not about being good at something.  I was good at my old job, too.  I want to do something that I love…that makes me light up…that I want to be good at.  So to hear their feedback warmed my heart.  I’m slowly realizing that the key for me is being able to have fun…to be light-hearted…to be silly.

Sure, there’s a time and place for serious instruction and intention setting.  I absolutely agree and take those aspects of teaching to heart.  But there’s also a time and place for relaxing…letting down your guard…tapping into that inner child…and simply having some fun.  That’s what I’m good at.  I’m good at finding that balance.  I’m good at coaxing that balance out in others.

Maybe that’s why Corporate America never felt like the right fit.  People didn’t laugh enough…often enough.  We took ourselves too seriously.  The work we did may have been serious at times but that doesn’t prohibit us from bringing a light-hearted spirit…or a smile to the table.  I’m sure some would argue that point — and probably will — but that’s why I didn’t belong.

It took me a while to learn that people respond better to leaders…to teachers…that can laugh at themselves.  That smile…and genuinely care about the type of day their students (or employees) are having.  People spend so much time at work that it really should be more fun than it is.  I think if it was, the world might be a little gentler place…at least my world would have been.

But until it is, I get the privilege of helping those that do work blow off some steam…to enjoy themselves…to take a breathe…smile…relax.  I get to help them hit the reset button.  And maybe eventually, I’ll get to influence how they show up in life….maybe they — like me — will see that the world doesn’t have to be so serious all the time.  That we can still work hard with a smile.  Since I’m currently fulfilling a dream teaching SUP/SUP yoga, I’m going to make this my new dream….that we learn to smile more…in everything we do.

Read more from Candy on her person blog: 365go.me.

Also, be sure to check out her Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) classes this summer. Register at invokestudio.com/schedule!