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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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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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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!


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Practice.

Leaving the things you love; someday coming back.

Blog by Cole [Writer; Teacher; Downtowner; Ice cream enthusiast]

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My name is Cole, and I am an expert in not practicing yoga.

I am not awful at practicing, but I am an outright expert in not doing it altogether. In fact, I’ve been not-doing yoga for about 6 months now, and for about 4 years before that. All told, I’ve probably not-done yoga for about 85% of my life.

Early last winter, I had established a fairly consistent yoga practice. I could feel myself getting stronger every day. Time on my mat helped me feel like I could beat back the winter blues, and I quickly became a regular. One night, late last December, I even got into crow pose and—at the risk of sounding braggy—I was able to hold it for almost one full round of breath.

Then I just stopped attending class. Fully stopped. I guess I got too busy, or it was too cold outside, or there was some other excuse I don’t quite remember. Whatever the reasoning, my fancy mat stayed rolled up and tucked in a corner of my closet for the remainder of winter. And all of spring. And the early part of summer.

Away from my mat, life kept happening, and fast. I traveled through Europe for a week with my boyfriend, and on our last night there, he proposed. Not long after our return, I changed careers. There have been other transitions, too: evolving out of certain friendships and into others, letting go of old projects, taking on new ones.

All the while, I would walk or bike past the yoga studio and think man, I should get back in there.

I’m a person who is always halfway trying to change something about my life. Lately, I’ve been trying to simplify and stop handing all the best hours of my day over to some kind of digital screen.

I think this is called mindfulness, though I never really seem to get it right. For the last week, I’ve been doing everything veeeeeeeery slooooooooowly, as if slowness and mindfulness are the same thing. Maybe right now they are. Maybe, I tell myself, slowness is what I need right now, and the pace will help me become more present.

For now I am slow, then one day I will suddenly be mindful. That’s the plan.

Last week, I finally got back in the yoga studio. I flopped my way through a Wednesday night class. Then I came back on Thursday, and flopped a little less, maybe by a fraction of a percent. My downward facing dog is still lousy, my hips are still remarkably unopenable, but I was there, trying. Practicing instead of not-practicing.

After Thursday’s class, I got a phone call from my friend in Seattle. She rarely ever spends a full day away from her yoga mat. I told her about my floppy practice and its two-day streak.

“Why do we ever quit doing the things that make us feel so much better?” I asked her. She’s great at answering big-life questions like this.

“Sometimes we just need a break,” she responded. “Don’t sweat it, it took me a full year of practice to feel good in down dog.”

A year! A full year. That seems like an impossibly long time to work for something you want, something that should be so simple.

A year is a long time to practice. It’s also a long time to not-practice. So there I was on Saturday morning, back in class for a third day, between sun salute and shavasana, present, slowly.


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Learning balance on the mat

Molly Chavers

Your practice isn’t one more obligation; it’s essential for sanity.

Blog by Molly  [Nonprofit ED; Pilates guru; Meridian Kessler-ite; Mama]

I like to wear lots of hats: mom, nonprofit executive director, wife, pet owner, volunteer, friend, daughter. And sometimes I get asked how I make time for one that is particularly meaningful to me — Pilates teacher.

I’ve been teaching Pilates at Invoke since 2007. In my time in the role, life has gotten more complicated (in a good way).

I’ve become a mom, and three years into this incredible job, I’m still trying to figure out where the hours go in the day. My child is exploring daily with her classmates, taking dance, and singing up a storm on her karaoke machine at home. For her, the days are long and full of fun to be had.

I work full time outside of the home, too. I haven’t mastered the leave-it-at-the-office style of work. We are a small staff. Work must be completed.

So why try to squeeze one more thing in the day?

For me, heading to my mat isn’t a luxury. It has become a necessity. On my best days, I can make it there. I count my lucky stars, too, because the end result is magical:

Clearer head. Sharper mind.

Taking time to make it to my mat – whether I’m at the front of the room instructing among my fellow students, or at home – helps me learn. Practicing reminds me of my strong, imperfect body. I am more aware of both the things that come easily and those poses that might need a little extra attention. A lot like real life, played out on a 24-by-72-inch space.

Like so many others, I’ve struggled with the way I’ve looked over the years. Yoga and Pilates has taught me that the way I feel about myself on the outside affects all other parts of me. When I feel strong and healthy, I exude strong and healthy. When I feel crummy…well, you get the picture.

We are constantly growing; each of us is striving to reach our full potential. For me, the journey begins on the mat but is often realized out in the real world. That is true in some way for everyone: making time to do things we love makes us better.

We feel more balanced. We tap into our true potential. We find clarity and presence.

Life is busy for everyone. There is never really a good time to make time for us.

But making time is essential if we are to be the best version of ourselves.  

Molly Chavers teaches Pilates at Invoke Studio and is Executive Director of IndyHub, a resource and place to learn and connect for Indy’s twenty- and thirty-somethings. She lives in Meridian Kessler with her husband, daughter and cat.


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Healing full circle

Hope Neely

Yoga  helped Hope Neely make sense of life through her battle with kidney disease. Now she teaches so that others can appreciate yoga’s restorative power.

Blog by Hope  [Yogini, Eastsider, winning the battle]

I moved to Indianapolis in 2008 as a 23-year-old kidney transplant patient in a city where I didn’t know a soul. The stress associated with my illness exacerbated personal and professional challenges that made my first few years in the city seem like an uphill battle.

I couldn’t drink, which made it tough to go bars, and that made it tough to meet people. On the rare occasions I did go out, someone would inevitably ask why I wasn’t drinking. The real answer was enough to kill any festive mood: My kidney function was not great, and the thought of needing another transplant scared me.

This wasn’t exactly what I wanted to talk about while trying to relax and meet people after work. I started to feel isolated even when I was surrounded by people.

At the same time, I was working a high-pressure job in financial services in the midst of the global economic downturn. Our clients were worried about their retirement money, their jobs, and their children finding jobs in the tough economic environment. This nervous energy stoked my own fears about my kidney function. How could I pay for a kidney transplant on my own? What if I needed dialysis treatments? What if I got too sick to work? My mind started to associate money with survival.

The constant anxiety soon started to wear on me; I needed to do something to cope. My primary doctor suggested I take a yoga class.

Though initially hesitant, I eventually took her advice and tried a class at my gym. I liked it and went back again. Soon yoga started to grow on me, and  I rarely missed the Sunday class, which left me renewed each week.

Then at 25 my big fear materialized: I needed a second kidney transplant. I undertook the procedure — not without complications — and though I handled each issue that arose, the experience left me jittery and fearful. It was as if my mind was now trained to worry about health problems that might arise in the future.

So I turned back to the thing that helped me in my pre-transplant struggle: yoga. I started taking yoga classes at Invoke Studio regularly. Week by week and class by class, my fears of health problems started to dissipate. The energy I used to spend worrying about future shifted back to action in the present moment.

Last year I participated in Invoke Studio’s 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. We read about yogic philosophy, worked on breathing techniques that train the mind to focus on the present moment, and did lots and lots of yoga. It was a wonderful experience and truly solidified the role that yoga has played in my journey through kidney disease.

Most importantly, it helped me realize that my organ donors didn’t donate so that I could live in fear. They did it so that I could live life fully, and that can only happen if I start from a steady foundation.

Today I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share the benefits of yoga with others. Last month I began working with the National Kidney Foundation of Indiana to offer a weekly yoga class open to the public, with a special focus on those who have been affected by chronic kidney disease.

The stress of living with chronic kidney disease threw me off my foundation. I’m just grateful that yoga brought me back.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hope’s classes are held on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. at the National Kidney Foundation of Indiana’s offices at 911 E. 86th St., Suite 100. Suggested donations are $5

Neely is a regular yogini and instructor who lives on Indianapolis’ Eastside with her boyfriend, Alex.