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Practicing with gratitude

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Find the art of being grateful for what you can do

Blog by Francesca [Loveinvoke blogger-in-chief]

I volunteered this weekend to teach a couple of free yoga sessions at the inaugural Festival of Faiths in Downtown Indianapolis. Both groups of students were small but mighty. Among them, one practitioner stood out: Susie, a middle-aged woman who attended both sessions (which were largely the same ) with enthusiasm.

Susie hadn’t practiced yoga much before, and —  with a car accident and a few falls in her past — practicing was difficult for her. She used a chair to help provide support for her wrists because poses like downward-facing dog and low lunge were painful. For hip-openers, she opted to do the gentler figure-four pose, rather than going full steam into the intense pigeon posture.

But those modications didn’t discourage her in the slightest. She emerged from the first 45-minute class with a huge smile on her face. “That felt great!” she said. When I told her she did a good job of modifying, she informed me that she likes to focus on what she can do, rather than what she can’t do. “That’s a whole different list,” she said with a smile.

After the second session, Susie thanked me for spending my afternoon teaching yoga. She reemphasized everything that was great about the afternoon, including practicing outside in the beautiful weather.  And she commented on her progress, noting that she could get her hands closer to the ground after session #2 than she could when she started out the afternoon.

As the day wound down, I couldn’t help but continue thinking of Susie and her amazing positivity. What if all of us could live our lives with such a deep and immense sense of gratitude? What if we could look at a situation and identify the good things about it, rather than focusing — as many of us are inclined to do — on the negative?

It reminded me of an episode of NPR’s “This American Life” a few weeks ago that featured a guy named Emir Kamenica, who had the traditional American Dream story. A Bosnian refugee living in an Atlanta housing project, he was given the opportunity to go to an exclusive private school and from there attended Harvard for undergraduate and doctorate degrees.

During the course of the story, Emir displayed a clear sense of thankfulness for the opportunities he’d been given and attributed his achievements — not to his own merit — but to the goodness that others had shown him.

The reporter on the story, Michael Lewis, summed up Emir’s philosophy well:  “Everyone owes at least some of their success — not just to chance — but to other people being nice for no reason at all.”

If we look at the world through this lens of gratitude, just imagine the warmth and kindness we would feel — not only about our own lives, but about others.

So the next time you go to your yoga mat, take the opportunity to view your practice as Susie would — with a sense of thankfulness for every part of the experience — and a focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.

If you can translate this outlook to life off the mat, you will experience joy every day.

I bet Susie does.

Jarosz is a former journalist who loves to write, practice and teach yoga, run and lead communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @francescajarosz.


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Learning to exercise sleep

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Morning workout, or morning rest? A really good question.

Blog by Francesca [Loveinvoke blogger-in-chief]

Here’s a conundrum that occurs at least once a month.

The alarm goes off at 6 a.m. I feel exhausted and hit snooze. Then I spend the next nine minutes until the alarm is sure to go off again debating the ever-important question: to work out, or get more rest?

Most mornings, I choose the former, driven by a type-A personality and the realization that I’ll feel better — at least until 2 p.m. — with some morning endorphins.

But some mornings, I give in to the exhaustion. Typically that happens when I’ve reached my breaking point and rest is virtually inevitable. Lately I’ve been grappling with the need to get a better monitor on my bodily energy gauge to avoid reaching that point. But how do you know when to back off and rest and when to soldier through?

It’s a common challenge among the morning workout contingent. After all, when an early-wired bodily clock bolts you out of bed, you want to make good use of it. And it’s hard to argue with the post-workout high that is equivalent to several cups of coffee and helps propel you through the morning.

But sometimes pushing through a workout when you’re overly tired can reap negative consequences for the rest of the day. For example:

  • You become tired by early afternoon and resort to nibbling on sugary snacks to get you through the work day.
  • Getting up early to work out becomes a chore, and you stop enjoying the experience of exercising.
  • You burn out of the morning workout routine altogether and find yourself on a workout hiatus.
  • Simply worn out, you hit a wall and are so exhausted that it’s hard to even be productive.

The latter happened to me this past week after a week of a few early workouts, a crazy work schedule, and some overall stress. By pushing myself past the breaking point, I found myself needing to catch up with two consecutive nights of 10 hours of sleep (I’m fortunate that I was able to do this).

This has happened to all of us. And it’s by no means a warning against exercising — including early in the morning.

It a reminder, though, of the importance of one of the basic tenets of yoga that should be a guiding principle in all exercise: listen to your body. Sometimes “powering through” can be the perfect thing to do. But by ignoring messages your body is sending and running yourself ragged, you can do more harm than good.

So the next time your alarm goes off at 6 a.m., don’t engage your brain in thinking about what would be best for you. Instead, take a moment in your sleepy state to scan how you feel. And respond accordingly.

Jarosz is a former journalist who loves to write, practice/ teach yoga, run, and lead communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @francescajarosz.


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Slow down to build up

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How going back to basics altered my practice

Blog by Laura  [Yogini, Spanish-language guru, precision practitioner]

I started practicing  yoga many years ago by doing the same video over and over.  Then I started taking vinyasa yoga classes and enjoyed the workout I got from those faster-paced classes.  It wasn’t until I went through yoga teacher training that I came to appreciate what a taking a slower approach to my practice had to offer.

I was in a class in which we spent a long time exploring downward-facing dog when I finally got it: seemingly simple poses that we do over and over again in a class (like downward-facing dog) involve a precise set of alignment principles, as well as a lot of preparation.

In open-level and intermediate/advanced classes, you spend less time in the pose, so you typically only hear the most basic instructions.  That’s why I’d recommend that all students at some point in their yoga journey take some basics classes. It will help to create a better foundation that strengthens your overall practice, and you’ll gain a better appreciation for how challenging some of the most basic poses are when you practice them correctly.

In basics classes, the instructor slows things down a bit and is able to give more directives.  As you learn to refine the pose, you strengthen both large and small muscle groups that are engaged.  Spending more time in the pose also allows you to explore it and find out what happens when you make small changes to it.  You can take what you learn to your open level and intermediate/advanced classes and further develop the poses and improve your strength and flexibility in them.

Exploring poses at a deeper level can also help you prevent injury.  Like many people I spent years doing Chaturanga Dandasana (yoga push-up) incorrectly. I suffered the consequences, ending up with pain in my left shoulder. To refine the pose, I studied and worked on the alignment for a long time, coming to my knees each time to keep the pain away.  True to the nerd that I am, I even videotaped myself to see what I was doing incorrectly.  I am now finally at a point that I can do the full pose without pain.

This week, I’ll kick of a three-week series of Thursday night classes, “Essential Elements of Flow,” which will break down some of the most common but challenging poses.  You will be able to use your package for these classes.  I’ve listed the schedule below, along with a few other basics options offered at Invoke. I hope you’ll take advantage of these opportunities to slow down in order to build a better yoga practice.

Essential Elements of Flow:

  • August 15th: Chaturanga Dandasana & Sun Salutations

    • During this workshop, we will work with Sun Salutations A, B, and C and learn steps you can take back to your own practice to build toward a safe, strong Chaturanga Dandasana (yoga push-up).

  • August 22nd: Headstand & Wheel Pose

    • Following a vinyasa-style warm-up, we will work with these Headstand and Wheel Pose to learn the most proper alignment for your current yoga practice.

  • August 29th: Shoulder Stand & Plow Pose

    • Following a vinyasa-style warm-up, we will work with these Shoulder Stand and Plow Pose to learn the most proper alignment for your current yoga practice.

At Invoke, we are lucky enough to have Chuck Crosby and Ahna Hoke as basics instructors!  If you haven’t gone to one of their basics classes yet, I encourage you to try them.

Basics-level classes at Invoke:

  • Ahna: 7pm Mondays & 11am Saturdays

  • Chuck: 7pm Wednesdays & 4:30 Thursdays

  • Laura: 11:30am Sundays

Haehl is a yoga instructor who teaches at Invoke Studio. While she’s great at breaking down the basics, she’s also known to teach some challenging flows. 


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Using yoga to avoid the big fall

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A near collision on my bike enlightened me about yoga’s role in tackling life’s challenges

Blog by Francesca [Loveinvoke blogger-in-chief]

I was riding my bike on the Cultural Trail in Downtown Indianapolis a few weeks ago en route to the Monon for a ride up to the Broad Ripple Farmer’s Market. It was my first ride of more than a couple miles on my newly purchased bike, and I was excited for the adventure.

But as I was rounding the corner on the trail off Mass Ave near the Flying Cupcake, I ran into my first obstacle. Another rider was navigating a sharp corner at the same time as I was, and we nearly collided. Somehow I was able to remain calm, but the poor other guy nearly fell off his bike after wobbling around and weaving with a look of terror on his face. Finally, he regained his balance — slightly embarrassed — and we both apologized and went along our rides.

As I rode off, I began to think about why I was able to maintain my composure with relative ease while my partner in collision nearly wiped out. My mind went immediately to the first chapter of yoga instructor Cyndi Lee’s book, Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, which we’re reading in my yoga teacher training program.

In the first few pages, Cyndi describes her experience falling out of a boat into the icy cold water of a river in Costa Rica. She recalls being trapped under the boat but maintaining a sense of calm that she had honed through her yoga and meditation practices, even while thoughts of death were running through her mind. With steadiness, she was able to emerge from underneath the boat to be pulled out of the water by a yoga student with whom she was boating.

These physical obstacles are apt metaphors for the challenges that confront us in life. Just like the man with whom I almost collided on the Cultural Trail, it’s easy to find ourselves cruising along calmly when the path is clear and things seem to be going our way. But when life throws twists and turns into the course, we start to get off kilter.

For me, yoga has provided a powerful way to find balance in the midst of chaos and bring myself back to a sense of peace. Through the physical practice of yoga, I’ve learned the mental focus and discipline required to do some of the more challenging poses. There are certain poses that present me with particular challenges, but if my mind starts to panic coming into them, I know it’s a lost cause. Instead, I push myself to find a way to remain calm and steady, and in so doing I can find a greater sense of steadiness in the pose.

Just imagine if we could all take what we learn off the mat into the world and use it as we confront the twists and turns of daily life. Think how much more effective we’d be if we could find a way to be calm, despite the chaos.

Not falling off my bike in the midst of a near crash was a small step on the journey toward a better disposition in the face of life’s obstacles. I guess we all have to start somewhere.

Jarosz is a former journalist who loves to write, practice yoga, run and lead communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @francescajarosz.


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Running for the long haul

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How yoga helped me tap into the deeper joy of running

Blog by Francesca [Loveinvoke blogger-in-chief]

I’m getting ready to start training for a few half-marathons this fall, so I’ve begun psyching myself up for going on runs that last more than 45 minutes.

I used to run decent distances — seven to 10 miles on weekends — pretty frequently almost year-round, but since I’ve gotten deeper into my yoga journey, I’ve traded long trips on the Monon for shorter jaunts in my neighborhood to allow myself time to get to my mat.

While I’ve cut the duration of my runs, I’ve grown dramatically in how much I enjoy them. And I have yoga to thank for that.

I’ve always cherished running time. When I’m running with other people, I enjoy great conversations and a sense of bonding over the shared experience and challenge.

On days I run by myself, I relish the opportunity to tune out the stresses of everyday life, the need to be “on” and to converse. I simply let my mind focus on whatever it grasps at the moment – whether that is imagining how the next five years of my life might unfold, contemplating the lyrics of a song on my playlist or just enjoying the feel of the pavement against the soles of my shoes.

It’s not exactly a meditation, but a basking in the state of the moment.

Through yoga I’ve strengthened my ability to tune out unpleasant or stressful thoughts and tune into what my body is feeling. I’ve built the mental discipline to endure physical strain – remembering that it, like most things in life, is only temporary. And I’ve stopped focusing on the end game so much – the muscle toning, calorie burning and other superficial motivations that in the past have driven me to exercise. Instead, I’ve started really enjoying the act of exercising itself.

I incorporated these principals into my training for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last fall. When I was doing super-long runs to prepare for the 26.2 miles, I would tell myself that I was really just going on a long road trip and that I should prepare myself to enjoy a great playlist and the scenery along the way (those 20-plus-mile runs, after all, took me about the same amount of time it would take to drive to visit my parents in Springfield, Illinois – more than three hours).

I would not allow myself to anticipate reaching the last mile but kept my mind engaged and focused on the journey as it unfolded. And I when I felt pain, which was frequently, I would remind myself that it would be over soon enough. A few hours, after all, is really a short time span in the scheme of things.

What did bringing these elements into my running do? It enabled me to run 26.2 miles and have a great time doing it.

I’m looking forward to incorporating those principles into training again this fall. And I expect they will be easier to hone now that I have an even stronger passion and appreciation for running – and my yoga practice that enhances it so beautifully.

Jarosz is a former journalist who loves to write, practice yoga, run and lead communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @francescajarosz.


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‘Yoga doesn’t care if you fall’

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Kye Hawkins explains how yoga provides her with a rare opportunity to play like a 7-year-old.

Blog by Kye [Yoga junkie, former gymnast, education nonprofit rockstar]

During a recent Vinyasa Flow class, our instructor suggested that we attempt hand stands in the middle of the room. “I love practicing hand stands,” she said. “You know that every time you’re going to fall. Every. Single. Time. But you just keep kicking up and trying again.”

This represents an important aspect of yoga that keeps me coming back to my mat several times a week: the opportunity to playfully challenge myself without judgment or consequence.

I was a gymnast for most of my adolescence, and while the sport taught me many things, one of the most important skills gymnastics taught me is the ability to challenge myself while considering it “play.” To try something I’ve never tried before. To attempt a new skill that might be a little scary. To fall. To disregard that fall. And to get up and give it another go.

Yoga has reunited me with the opportunity to play — and fall — often.

In yoga, you don’t give up on something just because you can’t get it exactly right. As my instructor often says: “Yoga doesn’t care if you fall.” For the record, yoga also doesn’t care if you’re flexible. It doesn’t care if you want to sit in child’s pose the entire class, and it certainly doesn’t care if you can do a headstand.

This practice provides the very rare opportunity for adults to play – something we probably don’t get to do often enough in our grown-up lives. When else are you given space – both mentally and physically – to take your body, turn it upside-down, test your balance on your hands, head, or forearms, and to fall down, without anyone judging you or even thinking twice?

For this reason, when I walk into a yoga studio, I’m giddy with anticipation for the new balances I might attempt, the chances I’ll have to go upside-down, the inversions I might hold for a few more seconds than last time, and the opportunities to twist my body in ways I previously thought impossible.  There’s something extremely special about a tiny room that gives you the courage to play like a seven-year-old amongst a group of adult strangers.

So to anyone who is hesitant to try the “scary” things in yoga (or to try yoga in the first place), stop worrying and play! And completely lose your balance, come right back to your mat and try again. Because that, to me, is what yoga is all about.

Hawkins manages programs, communications and member engagement for the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, a network of city-based organizations promoting innovation and reform in K-12 education.


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A reminder to tame the rajas

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As much as I like to avoid cliches, it’s hard resisting this one: tragedy takes us back to our yogic principles.

Blog by Francesca [Loveinvoke blogger-in-chief]

It’s such a trite thing to say after a tragedy.

“This (insert tragic event) really reminds us to treasure every day and enjoy every moment.”

It’s trite, but true. And it leads us back to one of the key teachings of yoga – the importance of being present.

This is something I’ve been grappling with over the past two months since I embarked on a journey to complete Invoke’s 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program. The course has challenged me mentally and physically as I’ve learned more about the poses of yoga and worked on executing them with precision. But it’s also stretched me to contemplate the way I live my life and my day-to-day behavior that I’ve come to accept as normal.

The lesson of being in the moment came into play one night as I was preparing to do our written yoga training homework assignment. I had allocated  a window of time for completing it –a precise half-hour in between when I wrapped up my work day and the time I left the office to catch an evening yoga class. As soon as I read the assignment, though, I changed my plans for the night.

Our yoga homework was to learn about the three different states of nature present in humans: one of ambition and constant action (rajas); one of relaxation and inertia (tamas); and one of a harmonious balance of the two (sattva). Then we were to write about the one we most frequently experience.

All I had to do was think about my busy little evening agenda to realize how much I was inclined to let rajas take control. And with a sense of sheepishness, I decided to head home and enjoy the evening, instead of rushing from one thing to another.

When I got home that night, I tried to apply my newfound conceptualization of my rajas to my evening routine. As I made dinner, instead of throwing things in a pan on autopilot while talking on the phone, I took the time to enjoy the process of cooking: the cutting of vegetables, the preparation required to boil water, the smell of ingredients mixing together. I ate more slowly, too, and enjoyed the meal, rather than inhaling dinner and letting my mind rush off to the next thing on my agenda.

This practice – and my subsequent reflection on rajas through my yoga homework that night – illuminated how much I allow myself to zip from one thing to the next in life. I always think five steps ahead. I always try to do too many things. I often push myself beyond my capacity, failing to sleep enough or to take time to slow down and smell the roses.

I’m not alone. Many of us do these things.

And yet, there is so much joy in appreciating each moment for its unique value. As much as life can feel redundant at times, no moment is exactly like another. So why don’t we savor them more?

And why does it take a tragedy like the events in Boston this past week to remind us how precious – and how fragile – those moments truly are?

Life is best when we live in the present. I’m glad for the way that yoga reminds me of that.

Jarosz is a former journalist who loves to write, practice yoga, run and lead communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @francescajarosz.


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A new perspective on New Year’s resolutions

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This year’s resolutions got you down? Erin Gladstone offers some tips on how to conquer negative thinking and reach your goals.

Blog by Erin [Invoke yogini, Pilates student, all-around fitness lover]

While in downward-facing dog pose toward the front of a packed yoga class, it struck me how amazing the arms of every single person in the room looked from that upside-down perspective. This got me thinking about how it is so easy to be critical of ourselves, particularly around this time of the year, while others see our beauty.

We’re now almost a full month into the New Year, and many of us have made resolutions to make improvements in our lives. Some of us may have vowed to reduce the velocity of our butt jiggle by 15 percent in 2013, or eat only celery, ginger root, and drink apple cider vinegar until we shed that final ten pounds (ideally by the end of January, right?). Perhaps we will do 500 crunches every night, run seven miles a day, or complete two-a-days at the gym, just to get back into the swing of things.

Many resolutions cause us to be harsh, and often downright cruel, to our bodies. They lend themselves to behavior that contradicts the yogic principles we practice on the mat: patience, acceptance, and persistence. We set ourselves up for failure by focusing on the outcome, rather than the process. We become unrealistic, and by mid-February, many resolutions return to being pipe dreams as the daily grind regains control.

Don’t let this happen. As you work toward your resolutions of 2013,  commit to developing or rekindling healthy habits that are sustainable, and treat your body kindly. So you consumed more than 37 dozen cookies over the holiday season (I know I did, and they were totally delicious) and got a little too festive in lieu of your regular workout routine. Accept it, but don’t overcompensate via a workout so intense you are 30 minutes late to work the following day because your legs are so sore it took you that long to walk from the parking lot to your office. Instead, treat yourself to a workout that will make you feel amazing and cause you to keep coming back for more (yoga and Pilates are both excellent options if you aren’t sure where to start).

And look at yourself through a different perspective. Don’t hone in on what you want to change, but focus on your strengths that you want to build upon. If you need to, bust out downward-facing dog in front of a mirror and check out those guns. I can assure you they look fabulous.

Gladstone practices yoga & Pilates at Invoke, where you’ll find her working the desk on Sunday nights. She’s also a program manager at IU School of Medicine.


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Finding a new yoga home

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Kye Hawkins, a newcomer to Indianapolis, writes about her journey to find a new yoga studio and her first time at Invoke.

Blog by Kye [Yoga junkie, Indy newcomer, education reform rockstar]

I’m fairly new to yoga, and I’m even newer to Indianapolis.  I began practicing yoga almost exactly a year ago while in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The studio, Amara Yoga & Arts, was a welcoming place that I grew to love during my time in Urbana-Champaign. With their welcoming attitude and challenging classes, the instructors and yoga community at Amara fueled my obsession with yoga.

So I was a bit nervous about how my yoga practice would fare in my transition to Indianapolis.  When I moved here in October, I quickly began researching yoga studios in hopes of finding a place similar to Amara.  It didn’t take long for me to learn that things are a bit different in Indianapolis — in particular, there is an abundance of hot yoga classes.  Despite my initial discomfort with heated classes, I decided to give them a chance.

When a friend invited me to join her in taking Cheryl Milton’s Saturday Vinyasa 1.5-hour Intensive class at Invoke, I was excited (read: giddy) to try out a new studio.  It was a rainy, dreary Saturday and as I sloshed in the door, rain boots squeaking, Cheryl greeted me with a smile and a cheerful hello.  She welcomed me to Invoke, asked if it was my first time there, and handed over some forms for me to fill out.  She gave me a quick tour of the spacious studio, equipped with two yoga rooms, cubbies for coats and shoes, and (very clean!) bathrooms. I felt immediately comfortable in Invoke’s light-filled space.

The class was aptly named – quite intense indeed.  But not too intense. Honestly, it was just perfect. There were people of all ages and various levels in the room, but I’m convinced that everyone was able to find the right level of challenge throughout the flow.  It had been a long time since I had taken a 1.5-hour class, and it felt good to have plenty of time to experiment with new positions and push myself.

We began with various sun salutations, and then moved through lots of positions with long holds.  We often started with the basics, but Cheryl always offered instruction on ways to further challenge ourselves. She gave hands-on adjustments at appropriate times  (For example, I needed to get deeper in a runner’s lunge at one point and was rightfully corrected).  And we even got to do some partner handstand work, which was a fun way to engage with a yogi-neighbor. I surprisingly enjoyed the heat; it was warm, but not overwhelmingly hot.

Overall, Invoke delivered everything I hoped for and more on my first-time visit.  I left feeling even more excited to settle into my new home in Indianapolis, having found such an inspiring place to be my yoga-loving self.

Hawkins manages programs, communications and member engagement for the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, a network of city-based organizations promoting innovation and reform in K-12 education.


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Loveinvoke: A forum for fitness conversations

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Blog by Francesca [New Loveinvoke blogger-in-chief]

When I first started taking classes at Invoke in September 2010, it was with an air of skepticism and without the intention to make yoga or Pilates a regular part of my workout routine. At the time, I was an unabashed cardio junkie. Running marathons. Cycling. Taking an intense spin on the elliptical. These were my definitions of exercise.

But then I got hooked — at first by the blissful rigor of Nicole Schoville’s Pilates classes, then by the joy of heated Vinyasa yoga. Not only did I enjoy these workouts immensely, I saw the transformative effect they were having on my other athletic pursuits, as well as my ability to handle stress and my overall life outlook.

Two and half years later, I’m fully a yoga and Pilates convert. And now I feel like there’s a huge void in my week if I don’t make it to Invoke at least a couple of times.

Perhaps some of you have similar journeys — or more interesting stories. Certainly many of you share a love for being well and staying fit and active and have incredible insights to share. This Loveinvoke blog is an outlet for all of that — a venue where those of us who love wellness can exchange ideas, inspire one another and perhaps light a spark in others to try a new fitness endeavor.

I’m excited to be taking over as Loveinvoke’s blogger in chief. You’ll find updates from me regularly, but, more importantly, I want to hear from you. If you’re interested in sharing your stories or have ideas you’d like this blog to explore, please email me at jarosz.f@gmail.com. To stay tuned into the latest on the blog, you can also follow Invoke on Twitter or Facebook. And I’ll be posting about the blog from my personal Twitter account.

Thanks for taking the time to check out Loveinvoke.com. I look forward to sharing our fitness journeys in 2013.

Jarosz is a former journalist who loves to write, run, practice yoga and lead communications efforts for The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter @francescajarosz.