Yogi of the Month

Robert Epstein - February 2020

2019 – my first full year of yoga! Also the year I turned 70, switched from full to part-time employment, and embarked on what I call my “period of maturity”, a time to continue learning and developing new interests.

I started yoga in 2018 at the urging of my daughter, Rosette, and her friend, Jessica Ray. Though I enjoyed the first few classes and it seemed like a friendly, positive environment, I wasn’t sure if it was “me”. However, I went with my trust in Rosette and Jessica and kept at it. In one of the first “basics” classes, the teacher walked by me and said, “Are you breathing?” That itself was a revelation, and an introduction to a healing practice that I now work on every day. My neck and shoulder aches and bad posture were apparent right away, but gradually I saw that my whole body was “stuck” and needed to have “space” opened. Sometimes I wondered if I should go ahead with a pose, with risk of injury and an unsure payback, but that is where trusting the guidance of the teachers came in. They always gave me confidence in what I was doing and, through the narratives that they kindly interweave with the poses, I realized that what I want to focus on is inner movement, letting the outer movement follow. While all the teachers have been great, I credit Sandy, Emily, Ranjitha and Jules with being especially helpful for me. It’s fun to see the results unfold, since the “me” in class now feels and, I think, looks different than before.

Since I started at Onyx, I have wondered where yoga is located in the framework of people’s beliefs. Is the philosophy soft-pedaled and mixed into the self-help stew, not seriously considering that oneness entails a view of life that extends beyond the limitations of our dualistic view, superseding it? For me, yoga is a Buddhist practice. I have been engaged in a daily practice of Buddhism for almost 50 years, and I have been amazed that yoga not only fits into my practice, but strengthens the syncing of actions with thoughts, in and out of class.

“Set an intention for the class” – concentrate the mind on the Buddha in your heart.

With sincere appreciation to Onyx Yoga Studio, an oasis in the suburban landscape, practicing true self 75 minutes at a time, I am reaching in 2020 for trust in my own ability to challenge myself every day, to communicate at a different level, to do as much good as I can for the sake of others.

Robyn Seif - January 2020

I was recently asked to write something about my yoga journey for Yogi of the Month. When I got the call from Michelle, I was excited and shocked at the same time! I just recently started practicing yoga. I joined Onyx Yoga Studio in September of this year, using a trial membership. I remember thinking there was no way I can do yoga because of a recent lower back injury and the fact that I couldn’t even touch my toes! I also have a hard time being “still”. I am a very active individual and only sit or relax at the end of the day. I was extremely frustrated with my back, which was causing sciatic pain down both legs and pain in my hips. I had to modify a lot of what I did physically, especially at the gym, in order to accommodate my herniated disc issue. After two rounds of physical therapy I decided I needed to try something else. 

I had heard that yoga could help not only with my back but also with getting myself to relax. I had always wanted to try yoga so I thought I would give it a shot. Since I started taking classes, I have become more calm, and I am learning to let go of unnecessary things. I really enjoy practicing yoga and have learned so much from all of the teachers. I love the fact that there is a place that I can go to leave the outside world behind, and just be. 

I am finally at a point in my life where I can spend some time focusing on myself and finding out what makes me happy. I’ve been married to my husband for over 20 years and have two boys who are in their twenties. I love being a wife and mother and having a full-time job. However, I think it is important to have hobbies and other interests that you enjoy outside of your everyday life. Some of the things that make me smile, are reading, spending time at the beach and having fun with my girlfriends. I like to go hiking with my husband, attend rock concerts and have great conversations with my kids. 

Many of my friends and family have noticed a change in me in the past few months. They say I am more calm and at peace. I can thank my experience at Onyx for helping with that. I came in not knowing what to expect and how it would help me.  Little did I know, it was exactly what I needed and I wish I tried it years ago!

Lucy Parker - December 2019

Yoga has taught me to be gentle. Gentle with the earth, gentle with others, and most importantly, gentle with myself.

Similar to the way that I, as a human, am impacted by the earth, I too impact the earth.  The word “impact” here is significant because I think it accurately depicts the relationship —the way that I interact with the earth changes it in some way, either positive or negative.  Am I kind to the earth? Do I take only what I need?  Yoga has a word for this – asteya; it means non-stealing, non-excess.  For example, if I turn the shower on minutes before I plan to get in, or don’t reuse bottles and silverware, I am stealing from the earth—I am taking something that doesn’t belong to me, that I don’t even need. It is both a practice on the mat and off of the mat that is teaching me to tread lightly, and take only what I really need from the earth, to be gentle with her as she is with me.

Gentleness with others. In my personal vocabulary, I often equate this idea with compassion.  Though, yoga has taught me another word for this and has provided me with a new understanding for the gravity of such practice. Ahimsa, or nonviolence, which means exactly what it sounds like, an absence of violence.  I find it really challenging to go through my life saying “Lucy, don’t be violent.” It’s much easier to tell myself what to do as opposed to what not to do. So, I think of ahimsa this way: what am I doing that is protecting life?  Thinking in terms of gentleness and others, what am I doing to protect the lives of others?  Well, it doesn’t really pain me too much to smile at the cashier in the grocery store. And, maybe I can protect life for others by choosing to bite my tongue rather than saying something that is unproductive, or potentially hurtful.

Finally, I have begun to explore the idea of gentleness when it comes to myself.  For some reason, it always feels like these practices are much harder when it comes to me.  I think it’s because we are constantly told how we need to look, how we should act, what we should think, what we can and can’t eat, and even how we should feel. However, we don’t ever fully live up to these “expectations.”  We don’t always look how society tells us to look or feel how it tells us to feel.  So, we get frustrated with ourselves.  “How come they can do it, but I can’t?” Or, “gee, if they can do it then I’m a failure.” But here’s the truth: no one’s really doing all of that.  Seriously, no one is.  If we can grasp onto even a tiny piece of this we can realize that our frustration is not productive in any way.  Our constant telling ourselves we don’t measure up isn’t based on any truth. So, what truth can we tell ourselves?  “Today was really hard, but I tried my best.”  “I didn’t finish this today, but I worked hard and made a lot of progress.”  As the stories we tell ourselves change in these moments, this act, though seemingly small, has the potential to change our whole selves.  Purnatva is the idea that imperfection is perfection, that we are perfect because we are imperfect.  All of our “mistakes” and so called “failures,” the things that we see as “imperfect” are really the things that make us perfect.  I can’t yet comprehend the vastness of this idea.  But if everyday, I can change the story I tell myself a little bit, be just a tad more gentle with myself, then maybe one day, I’ll catch a glimpse.

Sharon Bloom-Sigmund - November 2019

It has taken me months at yoga to realize that “the only thing that is constant is change”.  I have a demanding career as a Project Manager.  I am a mom \ chauffeur to very active 13-year-old boy girl twins.  I volunteer for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop in addition to her Cheer Team.  I had constantly thrived under pressure and lived a fast-paced lifestyle.  I previously enjoyed travel and trying new things.  I was always able to manage this plus a whole lot more.

Unfortunately, I had to travel to a client in Europe last year.  In route, I developed ETD Eustachian Tube Dysfunction.  Doctors in France and the US tried unsuccessfully to cure it with medicine.  I delayed having surgery due to the low success rate.  Also, I had stapedectomies several years earlier since I suffer from Otosclerosis.  The ETD led me to have further health complications around appetite and digestion.  I became incapable of eating solid foods.  I couldn’t maintain my weight. I had difficulty concentrating on simple tasks like reading a book.  After enduring appointments with countless doctors with very callous bedside mannerisms, one friend recommended a different doctor.  Another friend recommended Onyx.

I tried a few yoga classes at Onyx.  Now I need it in my life.  Yoga helps me in numerous ways.  My yoga practice permits me to slow down and just breathe.  When I am at Onyx, I am focusing on my practice.  I can even block out the ear discomfort most days.  I am not only relaxed when I leave but, I sometimes even have an appetite.  I have learned to meditate, and I try to do so daily.  I will even grab a few minutes at my desk on a particularly awful day.

I really enjoy being at Onyx for countless reasons.  Everyone in the Onyx family has made me feel welcome from the very beginning.  The environment is calming.  The instructors offer their wisdom and guidance.  I have realized many things while at Onyx.  When I come to yoga after a stressful teen moment at home, I have grasped the concept of leaving it all on the mat.

I am always looking forward to comprehending new concepts or mastering new skills at Onyx.  I did not know how I would manage my health situation.  Now, I take one day at a time (or one yoga class a day).  Sometimes, I feel that I need a Gentle class or Yin.  Other days I need Ashtanga or even Warm Open Flow.  I know that some days my body can do really cool things.  Other days I can do less.  That is okay too.  Namaste

Jamie Rusignuolo — October 2019

In 2011, I decided to train for a marathon to escape an abusive relationship and an unhealthy lifestyle. My life changed drastically with that commitment, and I began to compete in endurance events all over the world, some really amazing places like Antarctica, South Africa, and Greece. I then learned to swim from YouTube videos, and began competing in triathlons. I was always pushing myself to do more, train harder, win; it was never enough. The further the distance, the further I wanted to push myself to go.

In 2016, 3 weeks before an Ironman race, I was hit by a car on my bike. I was very lucky to walk away from it, but left with a shattered elbow and a torn shoulder; also in shock over how fragile life is and realizing the world can change in an instant, beyond our control. In rehab many of the exercises were based on yoga asanas, so I decided to try a yoga class and rehab myself without feeling like I was “injured” or “broken”. I took my first yoga class at Onyx in October 2016.

When I started my yoga practice, it was the first time I felt like I was “enough”. I showed up, I didn’t judge my practice or analyze what I could have done better. I was grateful for my health mentally and physically and I stopped thinking of any limitations that I may have. I accepted that what my best is today can vary from tomorrow but I am grateful for having the willingness to always try my best. Any type of arm balance is a psychological challenge for me, but when I can balance on one arm in any asana, I feel this rush of emotion and huge sense of gratitude for being alive and for showing up for that first yoga class.

Onyx has been such a welcoming community for me to grow In my practice; my activities were always solo-events. To come to class and always be greeted by my name, and to have teachers and students who have become friends is really special to me. It’s happiness. My Yoga practice has encouraged me to slow down and savor everything I do. I continue to enjoy racing and training but with a healthier approach and more balance. I have some events in the upcoming few months that I am looking forward to, and keeping an open mind to where life takes me.

Never be afraid to be a beginner, you don’t need permission to change, and you ARE enough. Those are my most valuable yoga lessons on and off the mat.

Steve Katz — September 2019

I was honored to be asked to write my yoga experience 2 years ago and again so here is my updated version: 30 years ago my wife says to me “hey let’s try yoga”. I said no way it’s weird, its wimpy, its people in robes chanting like the crazy Hare Krishna at the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport. Plus it’s all chicks. Having no backbone I went. There wasn’t a studio on every corner like there is now so we had to drive 45 minutes to get to this place called Studio Yoga (which still exists) on top of a deli in Madison NJ. It was a struggle just to cross my legs they were so tight. Then we start to chant Om. And all I’m thinking is how did I get myself into this, how do I get out of here and WHO IS THIS OM GUY ANYWAY?

It was Iyengar yoga using all kinds of straps and props. Sometimes we were more tied up than Houdini. Back then all the poses were taught in Sanskrit. So not only was I tied up and chanting I had no Idea what the instructor was talking about. So after about an hour it was time for savasana. The gongs come out. The guided meditation starts: “Relax your face, relax your cheeks, relax your back, feel your legs becoming heavy…. very heavy, and very relaxed.” And I’m thinking this is nuts these gongs are giving me a headache…I NEED TO GET HOME I HAVE STUFF TO DO!

Don’t ask me why but I continued. Maybe it was be cause I enjoyed the exercise and I felt great when I got home. After a few months of practicing one day during savasana the dreaded guided meditation starts “Relax your face” and OMG… it did. “Relax your back” and to my amazement it flattens to the floor. It actually startled me. And during meditation I saw lots of fluid colors. At that moment, I realized there really is something to this…..I can control my body with my mind and this is more than just a good workout and chanting like a madman.

So my wife quit yoga. Over the years I continued- but inconsistently various yoga variations at different studios the Y and even at Bikram. I stopped completely for a few years. One day I’m driving past this place in Far Hills that had a sandwich board sign up that says “ One Month Unlimited Yoga $79”. So not one to pass up a good deal and in walk-able distance from my house I signed up.

I started doing Yoga consistently again. I met 2 teachers at this place (Jane and Mukunda) that took me to another level of yoga. This was spirituality component and the meaning and importance of lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. This was a part of yoga I never experienced. I try to live my life through this mantra and try to make a positive impact whenever I can.

So now 30 years later I have strength from my yoga practice at levels I could never have imagined. I humbly thank everyone who helped me achieve this and all the special people I have met at Onyx. And BTW I look forward to savasana and guided meditation.

Michelle Berger — August 2019

Hi! For those who do not know me, I am Michelle. I grew up in a judeo-christian house. I always considered myself spiritual but never affiliated to a specific religion. When it came to fitness, I tried every fad you could think of: you name it, I tried it. I was never over weight but like religion, I never found one method that stuck. Following each of my pregnancies I got back to pre-baby a different way. Each time I started to find myself, guilt from my family set in telling me I was being selfish and gradually my fitness would fade and my happiness along with it.

I first came to Onyx to attend a complimentary anniversary event. I arrived late, borrowed a mat and had little clue what I was doing, but by the time savasana was over I laid in stillness with tears wetting my eyes and not wanting to leave. A year later, a few friends gave me a gift certificate to purchase the $39 one month intro special. July 8, 2019 I took my first official class. I was unhappy in my marriage and on the fast track to 40. Driving home, I knew life would never be the same. I went to class 26 out of the 30 days. This time I had found it: the routine I knew I would stick with and the spirituality that resonated with me to the core.

Each class I learned a little more, grew a little stronger and left a little happier. Alex knew my name when I walked through the door, Nancy Fischer read from the sutras, Joshua Ansley played the guitar, John Cotone gave dharma talks, and Michael Kohan played the harmonium, chanted mantras, and tweaked EVERY position I held. It was INCREDIBLE! As with previous attempts family guilt set in, but this time I knew there was no turning back. Onyx became my sanctuary. The staff and members became my family.

Fast forward a year: Shannon gave this stay-at-home mom a chance to prove her worth at work. I am now a certified kids yoga instructor and on track to complete my 200 RYT training in October. My yoga mat has become a metaphor for life. The time I spend on the mat, is where I learn the lessons that carry me through life off of the mat. I have learned to face my fears and find forgiveness. I found the confidence to let go of the aspects and people that did not have a positive influence on my life and embrace vulnerability to deepen relationships with those who do. I learned that everything we go through both positive and negative has a lesson to offer. When we discover that lesson it turns the experience into a blessing.

When I am not on the mat or at the desk, you can find me engaging in shenanigans with my 4 children, on adventures with my yoga soul family, cooking food for friends or enjoying time in nature.


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