OWY Blog

  • OWY's Limitless Project: Keelie Suzann

    Introducing OWY's Limitless Project

    If you go to our website and land on the first page, the "About Page" the very first sentence reads:  Open Way Yoga is a gathering place for people interested in yoga, mindful movement, holistic health and the arts.  

    Yoga... mindful movement... holistic health... these things make total sense, but if you haven't been in our studios (which are filled with art and creative expression) you may be wondering: What's the art doing in that statement?

    At OWY we understand that creative expression is one of the pillars of well-being and health.  Life itself is a form of creative expression, so we don't put creativity into a special category that is only accessible if society agrees you are an artist.

    Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this idea in her book Big Magic.  The premise of the book is that humans were born to create.  

    We agree.  Creative expression is as human as walking upright.  (Though you don't need to create -or walk upright- to be human.)  Somewhere in history, something gave us the idea that creativity is reserved only for children, people who are paid for their work or those who everyone agrees is an artist.  

    We disagree.  We reject the idea that creativity is exclusive. A good half of our teaching staff are active artists and crafters.   In fact, for some of us, creativity ranks with movement as necessary for our mental and physical health.  For those OWY teachers who don't self-identify as artists most consider creating yoga classees to be an active expression of their personal creativity.  Creativity is LIMITLESS and it is for everyone.  We're going to prove it to you this summer.  

    The Limitless Project is a series of blog posts we'll be unrolling throughout the summer months featuring the art and creative expression of different teachers at the studio.  For this first we're featuring the art work of Keelie Suzann.  Scroll to see a few of her pieces and read her thoughts on her art and creative process.    -Shannon

    About this piece:

    Atlas was forced to carry the celestial sphere for eternity and has thus become a symbol of strength and endurance. In this piece, I wanted to depict the burden as a strange & floating balance on the apex of a triangle. Whenever I have placed myself at the edge of my comfort zone, there is this moment of soul crushing vulnerability that makes me want to run back to safety. I have learned that when I sink into the sensitivity, life naturally leads me to the community I need to be surrounded by and the projects that I’m meant to be a part of. The more I accept my inevitable truth and the story that I was meant to carry, the easier it is to share it.\

    More of my work:

    Keelie's thoughts on the Limitless Theme:

    when I am in a creative flow I am infinite
    there are no bounds to the potentialities
    that lay beneath my fingertips
    the power of my hands, my gaze, my voice
    I am limitless
    when my mind aligns with my soul
    when my body move in rhythm
    through a journey of familiar shapes
    the boundaries of coulda shoulda woulda
    I surrender myself to the creator
    to myself
    to limitless potential

    Artist Bio

    I am Keelie Suzann, Ohio-born artist who loves to travel. I spend most of my time teaching & taking care of the people that I love--my husband, my daughters, my friends. Any free moment I have, I go to the water & connect with the natural world. I paint, draw, write, and collaborate with other artists. I would say that I am a spontaneous artist. I don’t have structured time to create, or much free time to explore my expression like I did in my early twenties but when I have the space for inspiration, I dive in and get lost in the process. Most of the time I am creating a series of work at a time, rather than just one piece.  My greatest inspiration comes from raw “in the moment” emotion. When I can process how I feel through my art I feel vulnerable and alive. I use meditation to help me slow down and inform me on what creative adventure to spend my time on, but it doesn’t always work. I am prolific, scattered and passionate about the inner workings of the spirit, women’s rights and public art. I have had artwork at Carrington Art Gallery, Negative Space Art Gallery, and other local shows & festivals. I have a B.S., M.A., Montessori Certification and 500+ hours of yoga and meditation training.

    Keelie Teaches at our Norwalk Studio and is the online facilitator of The Creative and Compassionate Women's Group. 

    All Levels Yoga 6:00-7:15 PM

    Yin Yoga 6:00 - 7:15 PM

    Other Limitless Project Posts:
    Keelie Suzann - Painting/drawing
    Brian Henderson - Painting/drawing
    Larry Smith - Poetry
    Kara Myers - Painting/drawing
    Patricia Hecker - Stained Glass
    Mallory Saunders - Painging / Collage / Beads
    Shannon Leigh - Poetry
    Erin Percy - Photography
    Andrea Petersen - Fiber Arts


  • Sherrena's Yoga Journey

    Video Link to Sherrena's Yoga Journey

    Sherrena's daughter Yavay made this mini-documetary about Sherrena's experience of evolving into a yoga teacher.  It took confidence for Sherrena to break out of her old patterns.  It takes confidence every time she put herself in front of people to teach yoga.  It takes confidence to step up to live the life she's creating for herself.  Finding confidence has been the major theme of Sherrena's journey.  It's been rewarding to watch her grow into herself.  She's an amazing yoga teacher in part because of how much self-doubt she had to overcome on this journey.      -Shannon

  • Guest Post: Tonia Copsey on My Near Death Experience (NDE) and What Yoga Means to Me

    There are a million things that can happen in our lives that have the potential to either increase or decrease the sense of confidence we have our bodies.  Some of these things are lifestyle related: What we eat, how much and how often we move, what we do for work, etc.  But some things that cause us to lose confidence are outside of our control.  Things like sudden illness or injury can undermine our sense of agency and we can quickly lose confidence in a body that is not acting as we feel it should.

    Tonia has had this experience.  In this post she shares her story of a near death experience and the aftermath, which includes rebuilding body confidence, in part, through yoga.  

    We are so excited that Tonia joined our teaching staff this summer.  She teaches Tuesday 6:00 PM All-Level Yoga at our Sandusky Studio location.  Her years of nursing inform her yoga teaching, she is an incredibly compassionate soul with a warm heart and a lot of enthusiasm for helping people.  -Shannon 

    My Near Death Experience (NDE) and What Yoga Means to Me

     Where do I begin? I’ll start by saying that the events from 9/3/16 changed me forever. I haven’t felt like the same person since that day. In May of 2018 when I had my second surgery (to move my pacemaker to a more secure location in my chest) I finally felt comfortable enough to begin to explore my thoughts and feelings about what had occurred in 2016. Oh, and yes, I did say pacemaker, so let’s begin there.

    The top and bottom chambers of my heart stopped communicating with each other (according to my cardiologist) on that Saturday morning. In my case it was called complete heart block and my heart was pausing for 6 seconds at a time. I was physically experiencing a darkness that came over my eyes and then the feeling of fainting and suddenly coming back to the present. To say it was the most terrifying experience in my life would be pretty accurate but at the same time there was an odd sense of extreme peace as well. As scared as I was, the great sense of peace each time the darkness came over me comforted me. I remember telling myself to just breathe and everything would be alright. 

    That Saturday will very likely be the most memorable day of my life in many ways, both good and bad. I’ve always said that I have a blessed life, starting with my soul mate Chad, my other soul mate, Nicole (my twin sister), loving and supportive parents, a circle of friends like no other and a career that I love (I am a Nurse Practitioner). Often times I would think to myself:  You are so lucky, your life is so great, everything has just fallen in place for you. 

    That Saturday made me question everything in my life. I questioned my existence: Why was I still here? I questioned my way of life: why did this happen to me, what did I do to deserve this, had I been a bad person who was being punished, what was the universe or some higher being trying to tell me?  (Slow down?- because that is exactly what my heart was doing.) I questioned my strength, both mental and physical: Can I make it through this? Above all: Why Me? 

    I was told that there was no medical reason. I was tested for so many illnesses that could have been the cause and was ultimately told that I have a completely healthy heart. It was summed up for me by my cardiologist when he said that things like this sometimes happen to younger people like myself (I was 39 yrs. old) for no reason. Accepting that there was no medical reason/diagnosis was extremely difficult for me. I have been a nurse since 2001 and I felt that certainly if we kept searching we would find the medical answer. 

    I struggled so much with not feeling like the same person. I remember telling a very dear friend of mine that “I am not the same person.” I could not then and still cannot put into words precisely what I mean when I say that, but I just feel like I am different. I felt so disconnected from my family and friends (at times I still do, like no one really understands). I felt like I was constantly living outside of my body; going through the motions of day to day activities but not really feeling anything or enjoying anything. Was I depressed? Was I suffering from PTSD? I began to do some soul searching and decided that I was going to tackle these feelings on my own and this is when I came across Happy Yoga with Sarah Starr. I started recording her daily and practicing with her. I then found apps on my phone to practice yoga. I realized that the breathing techniques were exactly what I needed to calm my mind and nerves. I finally gained the confidence to step into a yoga studio in June 2018. I never expected how life changing that experience would be for me. There was something very special about being taught in person by someone passionate about yoga and life in general. I realized then that yoga would play a huge role in my health journey and my future.

    I now look at my experience as the change that I needed. It took me years to make peace with that but I wholeheartedly believe that it has “changed” me in positive ways. I connect better with my patients because I have learned what it is like to be a patient. I connect better with myself and I feel like I am more honest with myself. I realize that life is too short and I need to slow down and enjoy life (this is still a struggle for me but I work on it each day). I look at my loved ones differently and appreciate them in ways that I hadn’t before; appreciating the pure honesty in the bold, outspoken person because they are comfortable in their own skin and wondering if the meek and mild individuals are holding back so much and torturing themselves on the inside. I say this because I was and still partly am the latter person but continually move in the direction of the former person every day which I find very freeing. Rather than saying that yoga saved me, I will say that my NDE saved me because it led me to yoga. Yoga, which means Union, united the old and new me and now I am that perfectly flawed being that you know today.

    Two of my favorite yoga quotes, because they sum up in a few words what I feel when I practice on the mat and off:

    Yoga is the practice of tolerating the consequences of being yourself- Bhagavad Gita

    Yoga is the practice of quieting the mind- Patanjali

  • White Guilt and What I Did With Mine by Shannon

    As we finish our look at community this month at OWY, I want to share something I’ve been thinking about and working on in myself over the past two years.  It relates to our broader world community.  Yoga, with all its talk of inclusivity, is not a very integrated activity.  There is plenty of diversity in this geographical area (okay, maybe not in Huron), yet we don’t see very many minorities making it in to the studio. I’d like to see that change, so I’m putting my personal experience out there to shine a light forward for those of us seeking to de-polarize our own thinking around issues of race.  When we depolarize, it is possible to make inclusivity an internal experience that then can radiate out into our communities.   

    I'd also like to say that I’m not writing this to convince you that institutional racism exists.  It does.  I’m not here to argue about it.  And I’m not writing this to convince you not to be overtly racist. If you are, all I can say is: Dig into your heart and get rid of it.  Hating (or mentally marginalizing) anyone -especially entire groups of people - doesn’t just fragment the world, it fragments your soul.  If you are knowingly racist, it is possible to stop and heal yourself.  Do it - for yourself and for all of us.

    I’m writing this for the middle, white people who see what’s going on racially in our culture, are struggling to make sense of it, and don’t know what to do about it.

    For a bigger conversation on the general topic of how to end internal polarization (do it - you’ll feel better!), join me on May 11th from 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM at the Huron studio for our first Mind Stretch:  Mindful Conversations discussion.  We will be focusing this first session on polarization and how to work on it internally.  This blog post is an example of taking steps in the direction of ending internal polarization as it applies to the single issue of racism.  - Shannon

    White Guilt and What I Did WIth Mine

    Like many suburban / rural / northern / middle white-Americans, I was shocked when I first heard about Black Lives Matter.

    I now consider myself to have been the typical self-identified pre-#blacklivesmatter non-racist.  I thought the Civil Rights movement in the 60s had taken care of things, and I was glad.  I thought things like “I don’t see color” and “color-blindness” were good, kind, and thoughtful ways for white people to interact with a historically oppressed, but (I thought) now no-longer-oppressed population.*  

    When Black Lives Matter started to hit the news and I began hearing about institutional racism and white privilege, I didn’t know for quite awhile if they were even a thing, what they meant, or if they applied to me. I was frozen in place.  I felt like a deer stopped in headlights, caught out in the open: Seen but not seeing. 

    I’m not afraid of the dramatic shifts that understanding can bring, so I am willing to look at the culture and look inside myself to grapple with issues until I understand them better.  I have no interest in polarizing, I’m interested in integrating diverse opinions.  So I set off to explore the idea of racism.  

    In this case though, with that frozen animal-in-headlights feeling, I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know it then, but I know now that frozen feeling came both from feelings of guilt and the ungrounding feeling of my cultural understanding starting to shift.  I felt guilty I hadn’t known what was going on, guilty I’d internalized some racist attitudes, guilty I’d unknowingly spoken hurtful words and perpetuated hurtful attitudes.  I wanted to be able to place myself (in my own mind, at least) as separate from the system.  Turns out I couldn’t.  I had to accept myself as part of the system before my vision could clear enough to see.  As soon as I realized it was guilt that was freezing me in place, I unfroze and started to look.  I didn’t want just to be seen.  I wanted to see for myself.  

     I’m sharing my story because I know I’m not alone in this confusion.  I live in a very white community; I participate in white activities; I understand whiteness.  I know that the majority of people do not want people of color to be marginalized and targeted, but I also know that white people from very white lives like mine might not know how to go about developing an understanding about what is going on in our culture. I’m writing this to make a few suggestions.  I’m not writing to convince you of anything.  I’m writing to show you a way to convince yourself.

    I found art and alternative media to be the medicine for my confusion.   My suggestion here is to dive into the art that is coming out of these times.  There is a rich conversation unfolding in the world of art and media around race - it includes all the “facts” you find in the news, but art also includes emotional content which was what got its hooks in me and opened up the places where I was confused.  Part of the work of understanding comes from witnessing the world, and an essential part is the work of self-reflection, considering one’s place as a part of the system, good and bad - a product of and participating in the system.  By finding where we reflect certain attitudes, we empower ourselves to interact with the system differently.

    Choose whatever medium you like and relate with best.  I’m including a list of a variety of media, art and artists that have contributed to reshaping my internal landscape on the subject of racism.  If you don’t know where to start, consider starting here.  Almost every one of these pieces/resources I’m suggesting was created by black people experiencing black culture.  Hamilton, Orange is the New Black and Serial: Season 3 are exceptions.  As a general rule, if you are looking for art that reflects an aspect of culture, look to people living the experience.

    All this is a beginning, and it’s not my story; it is the story of a culture divided from its inception by oppression, slavery, and their legacies.  As whites, we don’t get to define the experience of people of color, but we do get to define our responses.  If you feel frozen, mobilize.  My list here is a compilation of the art and media that brought me to empathetic understandings. Find your own!  Get curious, seek with no intention other than to understand and understanding will come.

    *(For those of you who still might think and say things like “I don’t see color,” understand that statements like this announce that you DO see color, obviously, or you wouldn’t be making such a statement in the first place. At the same time, when you say this, you deny the unique experience of people of color - that is why these statements hurt.)

    Shannon’s Short List of Art to Inspire Thinking on Racism:


    I love hip hop in general, but I want to suggest one artist in particular here.

    "DAMN."  by Kendrick Lamar  (Amazon Link)  (Spotify LInk)

     You know how sometimes you love an album so much you have to listen to it over and over and over until it becomes a part of you?  Well, this album was like that for me.  I listened to it until I could sing every word -I listened until I could anticipate every break, every hook - I took the music into me in a very deep way.

    Particularly the final four tracks on DAMN. (XXX, Fear, God, and Duckworth) bring the listener into a narrative about modern black America that is feel-able.  Feel-ability is what I looked for in all the pieces I’m recommending in this post.  Even though I live in a very different world from the one K. Lamar describes, I can feel it in his music, the tenuousness of the grip each of us has on our own lives.  This album was the first non-classical, non-jazz album to win the Pulitzer.  This is not random; it is an incredible album, and it stands on the shoulders of many amazing hip hop artists who have been narrating their experiences in music for the last few decades.

    Kendrick Lamar’s albums "To Pimp a Butterfly" (Spotify Link) and "Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City" (Spotify Link) are also evocative and revelatory.

    2018 Grammy Performance by Kendrick Lamar  (Vimeo Link)

    The performance from 2018 is the single most emotionally intense musical performance I’ve ever seen.  You do not have to understand the words to feel it.  Words fail anyway.  Just watch it.  (His 2106 performance is worth seeing as well.) 

    (Hip hop is a quick and easy place to connect with some of what is going on, and there are some amazing artists writing about the modern black experience.)  

    Hamilton the Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Spotify Link)

    Listening to the music of Hamilton brought to my attention for the first time that the issue of equality in America was hotly contested from the beginning, that we are living the cultural legacy of our forefathers.  The Civil War was a major shift in this initial failing, the Civil Rights movement was another major shift, and Black Lives Matter is creating another hopefully equalizing shift.  Seen in context that these challenges are not new, they are old and have been with our nation since its beginning, makes it less personal - failing of a culture, not of me, the person - and it feels more fixable.  Looking at history, it appears to me that we are on a course correction that will resurge as many times as it needs to until the scales are balanced.


    Citizen:  An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Amazon Link)

    In her book Citizen Professor of Poetry at Yale University, Claudia Rankine illuminates the subtler and deeply painful way this modern racism creeps into casual and friendly interactions. It showed me the places I was still speaking and thinking in potentially damaging ways.  This book won so many awards that I’m not even going to list them except to say it is the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.

    March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Graphic novel series. (Wikipedia Link)

    I only had a vague sense of how violent the Civil Rights Movement was until I read this series.  More than 800 bombings one summer against Civil Rights groups and workers during the peak.  It brings tears to my eyes to think of the bravery of these people working to right unbearable injustice.  Historical context helped me to wrap my head around some continued injustices, and personally it helped inspire my way forward.


    Orange is the New Black (Netflix Link)

    I appreciated the varied backstories, windows into other lives and ways of being. The series showcases similarities and differences in the modern female experiences, and you better believe color plays a part. 


    Serial:  Season 3 (hosted by Sarah Koenig)

    The tagline for the season reads (in part):  A year inside a typical American courthouse. One courthouse, told week by week.  

    I got a much better understanding of how and where and why our modern legal system is failing to be just.  The fact that the season took place in a Cleveland courthouse didn’t just add local interest, it added an urgent understanding of how the modern legal system is failing our current! present tense! right now! Northern Ohio communities, particularly communities of color. 


    The 13th, Documentary by Ava DuVernay (Netflix LInk)

    I watched the documentary The 13th, which gave a historical context to what I’d learned by listening to the Serial Podcast, and felt while watching Orange is the New Black.  It explores the intersection between race and mass incarceration.  It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2016. 

    Grass is Greener (Netflix Link)

    As I think about these issues, I don’t just want to dwell in the problems, I also like to look forward and imagine healthier futures.  This film makes a compelling case for forward thinking reparations within the business structuring of legal cannabis.  This film explains the intersectionality between racism and the enforcement of marijuana laws.  It suggests reparations directly related to how African-American and Latin-American communities have been decimated by strict sentencing and drug laws relating to marijuana. 

    (The 13th, Serial, Orange is the New Black, and Grass is Greener explore the intersectionality between race and issues with our criminal justice system.)

    BlacKkKlansman:  by Spike Lee

    I loved this movie so much.  It really embodies the feel-ability I’m talking about here.  Extra interesting because it creates an experiential understanding of how racism feels from black and white perspectives.

    Behind the Myth of Benevolence.  Titus Kaphar, artist, sculptor

    This is a painting of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Thomas Jefferson has been called a “benevolent slave owner,” it wasn’t until I saw this painting that I really understood.  Consider this:  It is commonly believed that their relationship began when she was 14 and he was 44.  In modern times, he’d be in jail as a sex offender and statutory rapist.  Also, he OWNED her.  I am embarrassed to say that in the past I  have actually spoken the words “benevolent slave owner.” I will not again, in part because of this image.   This doesn't mean Thomas Jefferson was all bad.  He was living within the context of his times, but it is not fair to the people who are descended from slaves (or any of us) to leave this part of his story out of our cultural narrative.

    There are so many more, this is a personal list - what has touched me and changed me.  I left off many well know and game changing works of our times because I haven’t interacted with them yet or they didn’t have the personal impact of the pieces I included on this list. 

    A final thought on de-polarizing in general…

    In this example, I suggest art and alternative media as a means of depolarizing.  Art and media work well with racism, but are not always the answer.  If you want to depolarize an issue within yourself, seek out information and also the feelings behind information.  Sometimes that is done through art, sometines through open conversation, sometimes through a deep soul search - exploring both sides within, and there are many ways beyond these few I've mentioned.

  • Celebrating Our Community

    You give us a reason to be here!  Our students make our world go round.  I wish we had a picture of every single person who has been in this month - these lovely faces are just a few of the souls who have blessed our coummunity this April.   - Shannon

  • Yoga is for Every Body by Emily Perry

    As we contemplate community this month at OWY, the idea of inclusivity has been foremost in my mind.   Looking around the studios, I'm asking myself:  Who is not here?  

    One group of people who are under-represented are people living in larger bodies.  Larger-bodied people (truly, people in general) are often intimidated by yoga, yoga teachers and the students in a yoga room.  These fears and feelings of intimidation get in the way because the reality is that every body-type can benefit from the mindful movement of yoga.  Yoga is not just for the stereotypical yoga-body (whatever that is), it is for anybody with a body or mind.  This doesn't mean that everybody can execute the fancy stuff we see on Instagram, but that is not the point.  Yoga is a highly individualized practice all about getting deep with the body you're in - getting to know it, maximizing your health (right where you are), learning to love yourself (right where you are)...  And everyone can benefit from that.  

    It can be so helpful to have a teacher who has experienced both intimidation and the validation of pushing through.  To that end, I'm so very excited to announce that Emily Perry will be joining our staff starting May 1.  Emily knows first hand what it is like to live in a larger body AND show up for herself, because she knows this experentially she can skillfully guide others in taking those first, hardest steps.  Read on to hear about Emily's journey and thoughts on yoga!  Welcome Emily!😘      

    Yoga is for Every Body

    Sometimes showing up unapologetically as yourself is the most rebellious thing you can do. I have found this to be true as someone in a larger body who leads a moderately active lifestyle and now is starting to teach yoga.

    Size inclusivity in active spaces is becoming more common, but we still have a long way to go. Most fitness facilities claim to be open and welcoming to people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, but they can’t control the biases of staff or gym-goers. When you walk into the gym and become immediately aware of being the largest person in the room, it’s hard not to feel like what that really means is: “We’re one-size-fits-all, except for you!” I go to the gym to mind my own business and do my HIITs, not get unsolicited weight-loss advice or judgmental looks, or to inspire people with my “courage.” 

    There should be nothing remarkable or brave about this. People in a wide range of sizes accomplish all kinds of physical feats every day. Fat people (curvy people, large people, people of size - pick your euphemism):

    And yes, we can - and do - practice yoga

    It has been transformative to see the proliferation on social media of yogis in all different shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and economic backgrounds, because I might not have known this practice was for me otherwise. Even after immersing myself in #fatyoga on Instagram, practicing on my own, and taking a series of Big Body Yoga workshops with the fantastic Julie Brown in 2013, I hesitated for years to set foot in a “regular” yoga class because I was still embarrassed to use the props and modifications I needed among other people who (I assumed) didn’t. But knowing that my eventual goal was to teach yoga, I also knew I was eventually going to have to go to actual classes with actual humans that didn’t look like me.

    Before I ever set foot in Open Way Yoga, I did what I (an introverted weirdo) always do before going somewhere new: Looked at their website, perused their social media, read some of their teacher bios, and thought maybe this might be a place I could feel at home. Obviously, I ended up being right. The whole place – and everyone in it – exudes authenticity, warmth, and unconditional acceptance. While the atmosphere there is wholesome, it never comes off as stuffy or dogmatic; there’s room for everyone to be or believe however they want. It also has a colorful, distinctively DIY vibe that underscores the sense that it belongs to everyone. 

    Although I was initially self-conscious about being the biggest person in every class, I was always treated with the same respect as everyone else. My teachers encouraged me to go beyond what I thought was possible for me (hello, Flip Dog!), but equally praised me when I modified poses effectively. I realized these people really didn’t care what I looked like – they just recognized me as a fellow practitioner.

    It was in this nurturing environment that I was able to start inhabiting my body in a way that hadn’t felt safe before. I had come back to yoga not just to pursue teaching, but also to complement my exercise regimen and stretch sore muscles. What I didn’t anticipate was how the less “active” practices – restorative poses, pranayama, meditation, and savasana – would give me some relief from my overactive, hypercritical mind. I began to notice the ways I judged myself and pushed myself to prove that I could do the most challenging, active practice!  That compensatory attitude felt increasingly out of place, as did the ways I punished and restricted myself off the mat. The more I sat with myself and watched my mind, the less hospitable it became to self-hatred and inadequacy.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t still harbor ambivalence towards myself. It can be uncomfortable to sit with the dichotomy of self-acceptance vs. self-improvement, but my time on the mat has increased my capacity for both. Being okay with how I am in the moment isn’t defeatism; it’s acknowledging - and not rejecting - current reality. It’s trusting myself to do the best I can with today and let the rest go.

    I’ve also learned that “advanced yoga” isn’t about executing the “full expression” of every pose; having the thinnest, strongest, or most flexible body; or being able to keep up with the rest of the room. It’s about tuning in to breath and sensation, using whatever modifications you need to maintain alignment and comfort, and resting when you need to. 

    I want to see more and more yoga classes attended by people of all different sizes, shapes, ages, and abilities doing their own versions of each pose, maybe sweating bullets, joints occasionally cracking, props everywhere, sometimes falling out of a pose, laughing it off, and getting back up again. That’s the real shit. That’s the kind of practice I want to facilitate.

    If you’re reading this and thinking, “They say all bodies are welcome and affirmed there, but I know that doesn’t include me,” I get it. It’s intimidating to come to a new place and make yourself physically vulnerable with people you don’t know. But I’m glad I finally showed up (and kept showing up), because the relationships I’ve gained and the benefits to my mental and physical health have been priceless. These will always be mine, no matter what happens to my body.

    So if you’re at a size where you think yoga isn’t for you, I hope you’ll give us a chance to prove you wrong. And if you’re not in a larger body, but still struggle with self-image, then for real – welcome to the club. There is no minimum or maximum size to benefit from this practice. We could all stand to make more space for ourselves in a world that constantly tells us the best thing we can be is small.

    Emily will start teaching on May 4th.
    Yoga for Every Body:  Saturday Mornings 9:00 in Sandusky. 

    This class offers students of all sizes, shapes, and abilities the tools and confidence to make yoga work for them. Expect accessible flows, standing and seated poses, breath work and affirming meditations, all while using props and modifications to make space for the body in each pose. Everyone's practice may look different, but no one gets left behind, and all gain the same benefits. 


  • OWY Statement of Inclusivity

    As a part of our community-focused theme this month we are also updating the About Page of our webite to reflect our beliefs about inclusivity.  The inclusivity statement that follows is a direct statement of welcome to all people interested in yoga.  As we continue to grow we want the ideals and values of inclusivity to be foremost in our minds and reflected in the way we do business.  Please reach out to me directly (shannonlthomas@mac.com) if you have questions, comments or ideas. When Brian and I founded Open Way Yoga, our intention was to create a gathering place for people interested in yoga, mindful movement, holistic health, and the arts.  Community was at the heart of our vision.  

    Our studio’s mission is to create an affirming community passionate about using the traditions, evolution, and philosophy of yoga as tools for growth and self-healing.  

    Our goal is to bring all kinds of people together to practice as a group, to deepen individual yoga practices, and to create shared authentic experiences that inspire each student to discover personal paths to well-being.

    These intentions are still true today, and we’ve grown into an incredible community.  We are so thankful for our teachers and the many yoga students who make OWY such an welcoming place.  As we celebrate our 5-year anniversary, we’d like to expand that original vision to make a specific statement about community inclusivity.  Our Mission and Goals are listed on the first page of our website, and from now on, this statement of inclusivity will be included on this page as well. 

    We’re open to all at Open Way…

    Diverse communities are the key to healing individuals and the world. We are working to create an environment where all people can come together for shared, authentic experiences.  Currently, our studios (along with the greater national yoga community) lack diversity.  We acknowledge this and are passionate about evolving into a community that represents and affirms all.  We welcome people of any age, race, ethnicity, body type, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, religious or political affiliation.  At Open Way, we’re committed to holding the space for ALL people to discover their own personal paths of self-healing.

    This inclusivity statement is just the beginning. We are working to promote values and implement programs that reflect this commitment.  Stay tuned…


  • From Vulnerability to Community: 5 Years as OWY in Huron

    In curating the Vulnerability Project last month, I learned that our secret insecurities get in the way of us moving towards what we want in all kinds of ways.  One major way our perceived inadequacies block some of us is in our connections with other people.  In deep, often unnoticed places, we believe if others truly knew us, they would agree with our secret self-judgements and not like us as we are.  On this subconscious level, many of us feel like our personal challenges make us unworthy of love, friendship and companionship. Our process last month involved encouraging each other (and you) to get a little more comfortable with this “shadow” side by writing on paper or speaking insecurities out loud, allowing them to be seen instead of keeping them hidden.  This process can be key to unlocking a sense of belonging.  You have to reach out and connect as you are, not wait until you become some idealized version of yourself. 

    OWY's Purpose:

    “We need red blood cells to live (the same way a business needs profits to live), but the purpose of life is more than to make red blood cells (the same way the purpose of business is more than simply to generate profits).”  Ed Freeman 

    At OWY, our purpose for being here is and always has been community.  When Brian and I started Open Way Yoga 5 years ago this month, the idea of yoga community was foremost in our minds.  Over the years, many students and staff have spoken to us about their experience of a deep loneliness, a sense of isolation, and a feeling of disconnect as life rushes by. Some of these same people have described finding a sense of community at OWY.  That’s what we’re here for.

    Our dream to create a community inspired by the evolving traditions of yoga, mindful movement, holistic health and the arts has flourished.  We hope you already have a sense of this by just coming to the studios and meeting our fabulously community-oriented team, or reading about us online, but we’d like to emphasize this even more as we continue to grow and evolve.  

    A few of our team members:  
    Valerie Parker, Julie Huntley, Jamie Fitzgerald, Shannon Thomas, Jamie Bishop,
    Sam Vettel, Erin Percy, Mallory Saunders, Sherrena Bilgen

    Over this month, we are celebrating community! 

    OWY Studios:

    Community Celebration:  5-Year Anniversary of OWY in Huron  
    108 guided Sun Salutations, followed by dancing and socializing.  
    This event is free for all pass-holders.  (Non-pass holders $13.) 
    Date:  April 13th 
    Time:  2:00 - 5:00 PM
    Full details are on the website.
    *NOTE:  You do not need to be able to do 108 (or any) Sun Salutations.  You are welcome to stop, take rest breaks or meditate throughout.  You will not be the only one! 

    Focus Pradctice:  OM!  Come to class and OM.  As a focus practice for the month, many of our teachers will be offering the opportunity to OM during their classes.  This is a chance to lift your voice in an affirming community setting, something that many of us haven’t done since childhood.  Come give it a try, or feel free to opt out - just sit and feel the vibration.

    OWY Online: 
    We’re going to be sharing some lovely photo blogs of the people and places at the center of our community, as well as inspiration and information to challenge you to examine some of your patterns of thought as they relate to the broader idea of community. 

    OWY Up and Coming: 
    Watch for more opportunities for engagement throughout the rest of the year!

    Mind Stretch:  Mindful Conversations  (Second Saturdays starting in May)
    Huron Studio:  May 11th 10:30AM - 12:00PM
    I will be hosting a monthly discussion group for people interested in deeper conversations around living the experience of yoga philosophy and spiritual  concepts, including the ideas touched on in classes and OWY’s Teacher Training Program.  Depending on group interest we will also discuss books and draw inspiration from the podcast On Being, but it will not be necessary to read or listen to participate in the topics of discussion. 

    Needles and Hooks:  Fiber Arts Society  
    Norwalk Studio TBD September
    Starting in September Andrea Petersen will be hosting a fiber arts get together once a month in the Norwalk studio.  This will be an opportunity to connect with other artist and crafters in the lovely light of our Norwalk space.

    We thank you more than words can express and we appreciate you as a part of our community.
    -Shannon Leigh

  • Vulnerable Share: 10 Things About Me by Valerie

    Last but not least, on this final day of March, Valerie Parker closes our month long look at vulnerability with a brilliant list.  Valerie's list is interesting because it arcs across time and illuminates how our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy follow us and color our experience and relationships in every phase of life.

    Here is what I have noticed and learned as I've helped to organize this project.  When I own my truths (especially the hard ones), I open the door to the possibility that I might live in wholeness.  When I face my failings, flaws and weaknesses they lose their power over me, the self-imposed barriers fall away and I am better able to show up to live my life and do my work anyway.  Living this way I can assume others will see me with grace (whether they do or not), because I see myself with grace and forgiveness.  When I see myself with grace I reference my worth from inside instead of worrying about what other people think about me.  I recognize and know from experience that if others don’t see me with grace, it’s because they haven’t made peace with their own demons, it's about them not me.  An internally-referenced life, the foundation of personal power, starts with the seed of allowing myself to feel vulnerable by honestly taking a look, seeing and admitting.  Then I pick myself up off the ground where I've fallen under the weight of my own self-judgement, shake it off and move forward into this life, which has been there with me, waiting for me to notice it and live it all along.  

    Thank you Valerie for this intimate view on how the quest for perfection does not serve us as it plays out across time.  You open up the door and invite wholeness inside by owning these truths and you show us all how by sharing!  

    To those of you who have been following us on this journey:  Thank you for witnessing.  This process turned out to be deeply healing for many of us who wrote lists, which wasn't exactly what we expected when we started.  If you haven't written your own list, give it a try, you won't be sorry.   -Shannon Leigh

    Skiing Warrior in Colorado

    For days I pondered, ruminated, twisted and turned as I contemplated my vulnerability.  As I wrote my list, a common pattern, or a thread of deep fear emerged.   My emotions are covered with deep internal pressure and tons of self-criticism.  In writing this I realize I have run away from my life. -Valerie

    1. Reflecting back I uncovered a fearful child that still exists today.   Being perfect is the mask that covers the fear of being me, perfection is an attempt to manage family emotions and to keep the peace.  I manipulated myself into a family role where I rescued my parents’ feelings, especially my mom’s.   Perfection gave me a vehicle to prevent situations that would cause emotional discomfort, creating the strong belief that I could keep things smooth.  The “perfect child” followed the rules, completed daily tasks and chores even without being asked and of course to the best of my ability.   My drive for perfection actually revealed to me that I was failing miserably.    I did not have the magic wand to keep my home calm or the ability to stay out of trouble.   In fact, the reality is that all I feared was delivered back in full force with going from an A student to failing my junior year of high school and then bringing shame to my mother by becoming pregnant shortly after graduation.

    2.  I ran away from my childhood home into the role of the “perfect mom” being super attentive, cooking, cleaning, going to church etc. striving for all the images of a perfect mom.   Again, the fear of not being good enough caused the drive for perfection to bring out the mean mom.   Losing my temper if you didn’t take a nap.   The mom that had the perfect schedule and put her children to bed on time, even on a beautiful summer night when they could hear the other children playing.  The mom that placed every toy back in order.   Perfection was the drive to run away from feeling insecure about being a mom and the fear of failure.   With perfection, my children were manipulated to keep the peace, again covering my fear of anger and rage.  But,  I missed the joy and simple moments of life’s pleasures raising my children all for perfection.  I passed on the belief of perfectionism with all the anxiousness and worry, and now witness it play a role in their lives.  I feel deep guilt and regret that my children had a “perfect mom”,  but not the freedom of self.  God gave me the greatest blessing of a home filled with light and love, but I ran away.   I covered my fear of not being good enough with endless to-do lists and self-defeating chatter and many days of a dark side of me that even wished to die.

    3. I strived for the role of “perfect wife”.  Making all decisions based on external references.  I was all about appearances by looking great with a clean and orderly home and well-behaved children.   But inside,  I was destroying myself with self-judgement and constant criticism.   I soothed the anxiousness with becoming a good cook and baker.  Which was a great excuse to eat too much, gaining weight, but I had the appearance of a good wife.   Truth is no one could see how terrified I was of being hated and unlovable, my deepest fear.  Again, my wifely role ended in a horrible, hateful divorce.   The scars of the divorce have followed for 30 years.   The mask of perfectionism led to incredible failure and total social embarrassment.

    4. I failed again when I took on all of the shame and guilt of my marital failure and ran away from being a daughter in-law a second time when I remarried.   I hid behind an almost invisible silent role.   Believing with all of my heart that if I just stay away, the ex-spouses would remain calm, no one would be angered and stir the pot.  This time perfection took on the role of growing very silent and going inward using social avoidance.   I soothed myself with the justification that I had empathy for the family members caught in the fall out of a divorce.  Again, my ridged self-judgement, and criticism caused me to run away.  It was much easier to avoid than face my failure.   Hiding and covering I didn’t allow my mother in-law to really know me.   I cared for her behind the scenes, always staying at arm’s length.  Telling myself that I was sparing her the pain of knowing me and keeping peace for her and her grandchildren.  Actually, I failed her and myself.  I never told her I loved her until the last day before she passed.   I was perfect at hiding, but I ran away from my feelings.  All to hide the truth that I am imperfect.

    5. Those that know me closely know that I will joke that my drug of choice is education.   I love learning.  The more I know, the more I hunt for information.  I think, read, seek and think, read, seek like a hamster on a wheel.  I soothe my imperfection by chasing perfection.   Believing I will find the answer and know enough to feel safe and secure and not make a mistake.  I became a teacher - a perfect profession to learn constantly, to over work, to direct all of my attention to striving for “my best” and  a way to feel the needs of others rather than myself.   Another thread in the pattern of chasing perfection to hide fear of failure the universe delivered a district strike.  The universe revealed we are all replaceable.

    6. I have run away from my voice chasing knowledge that will finally give me perfection to help others.  My self-loathing has driven me to become something striving to improve: a teacher, a personal trainer, nutritionist, yoga instructor and now “Shake Your Soul”.  Always striving to be the best and fix myself so I have confidence to help others.  The desire to be something, perfect, covers the fear of not being liked or accepted.   It is the vehicle to run away from me and all of my imperfections.   It is driven by a pattern that generates the realization that the more I know the more I know I don’t know.  The search for perfection never leaves me feeling competent to share my voice and knowledge.   The end result is just the opposite I feel I will never be good enough.   Striving for perfection silences my voice.

    7. I am so fearful of regretting life, yet I am chasing it away.  I am always running to nowhere with mental distractions.  My mind has a running tape of regrets and failures that plays over and over.   As time passes the pile of perceived failures grows and perfection becomes even more elusive.   All of the self-doubt and dislike increase the desire to hide and run away.  The deep hole of depression is ever present.

    8. I am fearful of the construct of age.  When I was young, I was too young to have four children.  Too young to be a wife and mother.  Not the perfect age.  Now I am too old to dream of a new career.  Too old to chase my dreams and use all of the knowledge I have gathered.  I am too old to right all of my wrongs or mend my path.  Not the perfect age.  A great excuse to perpetuate procrastination a distraction from the paralyzing fear of perfectionism.

    9. I am not unlike others in that I am fearful of my image in the mirror.  I prefer to hide inside with my mental image of how I appear running away from the imperfection.   My body has received all of the anger and rage that I fear most from others, from me.  I have dissected my body to find every imperfection and every way it could  possibly be judged by others.  Choosing to be mean to myself rather than acknowledge that not everyone will like me. Seeking perfection, I treat myself worse than anyone else.   At times I have dieted, severely restricting foods, obsessing about foods labeled good or bad all to punish my body for failing to meet the perfect mental image.  I have worked out  hard in the gym for two hours a day, seven days a week; lifting, running on a perfect schedule chasing perfection.  Running away from worthlessness.  Poor body, the punching bag.  The fear of not measuring up generated the search for perfection, a perpetual cycle.  This cycle that led to isolation,  I allowed the mind to run the show and hide the true buried emotions of fear.  Seeking to finally love my body has led to a dark place of self-hate and deep sadness.

    10. As I wrote this list, I am fearful of failing at everything.  I am fearful of the dislike and judgement of others.   I am fearful of emotions and numb myself by striving for the impossible “perfection”.  I am fearful of sharing me, the totally imperfect human.   Striving to not be vulnerable with imperfection I have run away from life.  Only to find that life has a way of truly delivering the opposite.  Perfection does not exist and the real me really knows how to screw up and fall flat on my face for the whole world to see.  I am fearful of death and what follows.  Will all of my failures great me on the other side?

    FInal Thoughts from Valerie:  It really isn’t important how the pattern formed, we all have a story.  The revelation doing this written exercise was that the pattern shadows my life, it seems to follow me into every situation   The belief colors my reaction and the outcome.  
    Now the WORK begins!

    Other Vulnerable Share pieces from the series:
    Shannon's List
    Erin's List
    Patricia's List
    Brian's List
    Kara's List
    Mallory's List
    Andrea's List
    Keelie's List

    Stillness to feel so small and grounded in a perfect place.     This is my zen space above the mammoth bones in Colorado.

    Traveling with strangers to Bali - beginning to release of my fears and being open to what is.

    Valerie's OWY Teaching Schedule

    8:30 - 9:45 AM  All Level Yoga  Sandusky   

    12:00 - 1:00 PM  Lunch Time Yoga  Norwalk

    12:00 - 1:00 PM   All Level Yoga  Sandusky

  • Practice: Write Your Own Vulnerability List

    You've been reading our lists... You've identified some of yourself in our lists... You've been thinking about what vulnerabilities you have that you would NEVER admit to.  It's time.  Just do it.  Sit down and write your own list.  This is a process of externalizing things that you maybe thought you'd never let ot of that dark little cave inside.  By letting our insecurities, vulnerabilities and feelings of inadequacy out into the light, we dissolve some of their power over us.  This in turn helps us to move forward in spite of these feelings that may have been holding us back.

    Here is how to do it:

    1. Find a quiet time and sit down with your computer or pen and paper.
    2. Write a list.  You don't have to stop at 10, but aim for 10.  This will force you to dig a little deeper than you might have.
    3. Once you've written your list, read it and reread it to yourself.  This helps to desensitize you a bit.  Everything on the list stops feeling so horrible when you familiarize yourself with this shadow side of self.  Expand upon it, clear it up, get in touch with the feelings underneath the words.  Spend a little time with it.
    4. If you're comfortable, share.  FInd a friend to exhange lists with and get together for a discussion, or choose an item or two and share with your partner, or share with us at the yoga studio.  We are happy to witenss you in this process, especially those of us that wrote our own lists and shared them publicly.

    That is it.  It's simple, but oh so powerful as an exercise.  It will start to change how you feel about how you act and who you are.  Give it a try!

    For inspiration here are the lists written by the OWY teachers who participated in this project:

    Shannon's List
    Erin's List
    Patricia's List
    Brian's List
    Kara's List
    Mallory's List
    Andrea's List
    Keelie's List
    Valerie's List