Yogi योगी Insight (part 11 in a series)

If you are coming here for the first time, you have entered part 11 in a series about aspiring and experienced yogis’ journeys. I hope that you enjoy it and follow along. If you would like to submit a question(s) for the yogis, send it to galotgo@gmail.com.

[I posted this latest edition of Yogi योगी Insight today, the 11th day of the 11th month in the 11th year at 11:00 a.m. because it’s considered the most powerful day in a century and I hope to spread enlightenment through this series! Each yogi has something of value to offer. The #Sanskirt word associated with today is Shambhala, meaning a space of peace, tranquility, and happiness. It’s seen as a time for bringing a wind of fresh change into your life and putting bad and tired feelings in the past. Namaste!]

I first met Alyson, co-founder of WheelHouse Yoga, at a yoga festival when my omie Beverly and I were walking around and stopped at their booth. She introduced me to Alyson Pollard and Kelly Layfield. I instantly felt uplifted by their positive energy! Alyson part of the WheelHouse dynamic duo ownership juggles many roles and is hard to catch. I am thankful that she made time to sit down with me for a candid interview.

Alyson Pollard

Yogi: Alyson Pollard
Studio: WheelHouse Yoga

Q: How long have you been practicing yoga?
A: Knowingly and consistently for about 10 years.

Q: Who or what influenced you to take up yoga?
A: A knee injury. An overuse injury from running. I knew I needed to stretch more. I started my practice at Lifetime Fitness, and it was helpful. I was also going through some challenging life stuff at the time — a death, divorce. I thought, wait, yoga is more beneficial than just helping my knee!

Q: What aspect of practicing yoga do you like the most and why?
A: It depends on the day, but mindful meditation is hands-on my favorite! It’s something that even if I skip a day of Asana work (the physical practice of yoga), which is frequent as a studio owner, I don’t ever miss a day of meditation!

Q: What is your favorite style of yoga class to take and why?
A: Vinyasa. A challenging Vinyasa class because that’s when I’m able to be the most present — when I’m physically challenged.

Q: What is your favorite posture and why?
A: Wheel pose for sure! When Kelly and I opened the studio that’s one of the reasons why we called it WheelHouse, both of us are drawn to that posture. Starting a business wasn’t something we really planned to do, it just sort of kept evolving and happened. The word wheelhouse came up a lot. We were like what are we going to offer? What do we really want to do? We kept saying it’s in the wheelhouse of fitness, the wheelhouse of mindfulness. Then we thought why don’t we call it WheelHouse Mind Body Studio?! (That was the original name of the studio, now it’s WheelHouse Yoga.) We looked up the definition of the word wheelhouse — a yoga pose, your core, being in the sphere, which for us is being in the industry of fitness and mindfulness; and in baseball, it’s part of a batter’s strike zone most likely to produce a home run. There are so many meanings! We thought, this just works!

Q: How long have you been teaching yoga?
A: About four and a half years.

Q: Who or what influenced you to become a yoga teacher?
A: My personal yoga practice influenced me to become a yoga teacher. It helped me physically and emotionally with balance in my life. It motivated me to want to offer yoga to others because I found it to be such a great tool.

Q: What aspect of teaching yoga do you like the most and why?
A: 100% helping others! It’s cool to get someone into an arm balance that they’ve wanted to do, BUT way far beyond that, the stories of how people’s lives off the mat have been profoundly affected is what I like the most. Integrating into the mindfulness, the thoughts of benefiting others outside of ourselves. When you invite people to attend a class dedicated to someone else, it tends to be a very energetic class because you’re all working for the sake of another. I think that is my favorite shift to see within students.

Q: What is your favorite style of yoga class to teach and why?
A: A powerful Vinyasa class! I always allow at least 20 minutes for floor work and Savasana at the end. It’s good when you leave a class and feel like you’ve had a solid workout. Some people leave on that high, but if you can really take it down and contemplate at the end all of the insight you reflected on whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally — that’s important.

Q: Why did you open a yoga studio?
A: Before opening the studio I was a special education teacher. I thought I was going to be able to balance both because I was an assistant teacher. I thought I can do this, then OK, I can’t do this. I quit my job in August with school starting only a month later. I had to do something with purpose! Before opening the studio, Kelly and I had taught a few classes together, I was already teaching private sessions and had personal training clients. She was doing the same with pilates. We always came together on yoga. We had been friends for about 10 years before opening the studio. We were planning one of our classes one day, and she said you know, there’s a place in Clifton that is available. I said, oh yeah? I kind of thought it may be fun, and I said YES! Kelly was like oh sh**, she said yes! Then I kind of pushed her down the hill — yep, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this!

But that doesn’t tackle the why we opened the studio because I don’t think that part was as clear back then as it is now. In the beginning, it was more of there’s an opportunity let’s seize it. Despite all that was going on in my life at the time, I thought I could make this work. I had teacher training and retreats in mind from the start, but didn’t know it would all be what it is now. I was career driven in the beginning, but then quickly shifted to what a humbling opportunity it is to provide a place where people’s lives are so affected. That started happening pretty fast, which was incredible. It was all worth it! My gut told me you’re gonna be fine. It was one of those moments that I’m thankful for my family because in the beginning if I had gone to the bank to ask for the loan for the money I needed they would have said you’re funny, no, good luck! Fortunately, I was able to go to my parents for a loan. It was the same situation as a bank; I had to pay them back interest and all of that. My dad was like I believe you. It’s going to work, but you have to report the numbers to me every single month. I did that for the first 10 months, and he said OK, I see the trend, you’re fine. It was one of those things in life where I was like I believe this is going to work! It has to work! It was a feeling that I trusted.

Q: What are you most excited about as a studio owner and what are some challenges?
A: One thing that excites me is creativity. I don’t like to be complacent, but rather always evolving. I’ve had some other opportunities in the past where I was my own boss, got away from that and thought OK, I don’t really want to work for anybody else the rest of my life. Being an owner comes with its own set of challenges. You have to be accountable for yourself. Coming from a place of wanting to benefit the students in the most accessible way, that is what keeps me motivated more so than personal accountability. For example, I told students I would do this or I know this will benefit them, and this is what I’m going to do to make it happen. That is very important. Another challenge is financial. It’s always scary, but I must keep the strong faith that I had in the beginning — this is going to work and be OK. My only other challenge is because I have three kids and I’m a single mom, I have to juggle a lot. I would love to teach at the studio several times a week because I like the nighttime crowd, but that balance can be hard. Also, with nine instructors if they have a problem, that means I have a problem because as an owner I have to be the one who picks up the slack.

Q: Your studio offers a range of classes. How did you determine the types of classes you would have?
A: It was a challenge at the beginning for sure. When we first opened, we offered yoga, barre, pilates, HITT classes, everything, which is what we had to do to figure out what was going to stick. The Vinyasa yoga has definitely stuck. But I would say our most faithful crowd, besides the Saturday morning crowd, is Gentle Yoga. It’s so interesting because it’s not what I expected. The only day of the week we didn’t offer Gentle Yoga was on Thursday, but as of November 1st, it’s now offered every day of the week. It’s well attended because for instance — right now I’m personally nursing a hamstring injury and that class is really challenging. I think a lot of people come to it even if they are an advanced practitioner. Sometimes they’ll stay and take it as a second class to cool down, sometimes they’ll take it before another class, and it becomes their warm up to whatever class is next. I think we’ve definitely settled in now to what classes people like and what works for our community.

Q: What services do you offer beyond yoga classes?
A: Teacher training and retreats. The teacher training is when the teaching becomes exponential because you are producing other people that can go on and continue to share what beautiful shifts people can have in their bodies, minds, and hearts. That is an important part of why I got into yoga.

The retreats have been nothing short of magical — each one we have done. We go into them with the mindset of hey, we’re going to hit some bumps along the way, but we’ll figure things out. And we have every time! Many more retreats are on the horizon, which is something that I didn’t think would be such a big part of my yoga journey. I traveled and did the spring break thing in college. Now I travel healthy and balanced with a purpose! It’s been beautiful to see ho many people want to travel in that way — not just with their families, but with complete strangers. It’s a really neat experience! The first retreat I held for WheelHouse was local at the summer camp I went to growing up. It was very sentimental to me. Then Kelly and I did one about a month and a half after that in Mexico during Halloween time. That retreat was amazing, and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Teacher training and retreats are 100% at the top for me. Even if I never taught another yoga class, I would absolutely still continue to do both of those things!

Q: Do you have a yoga mentor?
A: Yes, the people who I went through teacher training with at Stil Studio pretty much instantly became mentors. Our studio was open for some time before Kelly and I went through teacher training. I am forever grateful to Kelly. I was supposed to take a teacher training the month that we opened, but I pulled out. I was like I’m drowning, there’s no way! She told me that Stil Studio was coming to the Fairfax area from Boston to hold Fluid Yoga School. She said I really think you’re going to love these people! I probably said no to her 15 times. Then, about two days before the teacher training started I told Kelly, fine, I’ll go. It transformed my life in more ways than I ever expected! That’s when I found my meditation practice and everything changed. Stil Studio now comes here to conduct teacher training for WheelHouse and Kevan Gale leads it. They have been open for 10 years and have a lot more experience under their belt. They’ll tell us oh, we did that and it didn’t work, don’t do that. It’s been very helpful. I learned the compassion piece of teaching in this business through their training. That for me became the huge difference — seeing teachings delivered in a way that focused on building up the students instead of the teachers.

Q: What advice would you give to a new yoga teacher?
A: If you deliver teachings, touch with compassion, and connect with your students, it’s going to be OK even if they don’t love your flow or your music.

We get nervous about teaching. Are students going to like my class? Are they going to hate it? Well, the answer is both. Half of them will love your class and the other half may think that it sucks. You just have to know that you’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s OK!

Yogi योगी Insight (part 6 in a series)

If you are coming here for the first time, you have entered part 6 in a series about aspiring and experienced yogis’ journeys. I hope that you enjoy it and follow along. Namaste!

I met Elena two years ago when I walked into her HPF class. I instantly felt at peace by her soothing voice and her nurturing spirit! I never experienced an immediate calming reaction to a person like that before. I returned and took Elena’s class whenever possible. She is both a life coach and a yoga teacher, two roles that could not fit a person more perfectly!   

Elena Sonnino, life coach and yoga teacher

Elena Sonnino, life coach and yoga teacher

Yogi: Elena Sonnino
Studios: Beloved Yoga, Wheelhouse Yoga, and in-home private practice

Q: Who or what influenced you to take up yoga?
A: I never really liked yoga, other than when I was pregnant with my daughter. I had a difficult time being still in Savasana. Then one day, I started to feel and appreciate the benefits of it for the first time during a hiking and weight-loss retreat in British Columbia. I returned home with a DVD from the instructor. For a year or so I only used that DVD and sought out classes when I was on travel – until I found a local studio to regularly practice. The big shift for me came when I stopped focusing on yoga as a workout and embraced it as a daily practice.

Q: How long have you been practicing yoga?
A: I am a baby yogini. I practiced the physical asanas when I was pregnant in 2004 and then started to cultivate a practice in 2014. It wasn’t until 2016 that it became part of my everyday life. My first introduction to yoga was hatha style, then power vinyasa, and eventually I found my way to yin yoga and even Kundalini yoga.

Q: What aspect of practicing yoga are you most passionate about and why?
A: Yoga offers me a mirror whether I am studying, focusing on pranayama, or moving my body with asana – to unearth and attune to what is within me. Pema Chodron wrote, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”

The idea that our body and our deepest self, come to us as benevolent messengers, inviting us to recognize and learn what we need to know is the essence of yoga for me, whether it is vinyasa, yin, or even kundalini. It is a practice that invites us to explore and reveal that which is hidden. It is an opportunity to notice that what is practiced is also reflected. It is a practice that focuses on and highlights self-compassion instead of self-improvement.

Q: What keeps you coming back to your mat?
A: My mat is one of my best teachers for acceptance. My mat reminds me that each day is a new day, and what happened the day before or what may happen the next day doesn’t really matter. Each practice allows me to notice the shifts in my balance — the subtle ways my body reacts, and the deeper qualities of my breath from one day to another.

Q: What aspect of practicing yoga do you find most challenging and why?
A: Challenge looks different on different days. In the early days of my vinyasa practice, approaching inversions and arm balances felt like my biggest challenge. I was insecure about my own strength and it was hard to detach from the outcomes when it felt like everyone around me made it look so easy. Aparigraha, non-attachment, in general, is an aspect of yoga that is both my favorite and perhaps most challenging. Even when I believe that I’ve approached a moment with curiosity and willingness, one of my daily practices is to notice and observe sensations, emotions, and thoughts so that I can catch myself when subtle attachments to expectations creep up.

Another aspect that has been challenging, is creating an at home practice for myself as a daily tool. Even though I know that yoga is more than the physical shapes we take on a mat, it took me a long time to allow myself to explore diverse styles and practices at home and tune in to what I needed rather than following the herd.

Q: What is most fulfilling for you in your yoga practice?
A: Connection to my inner source is what is most fulfilling for me in my practice. Sometimes that comes through breath work, sometimes it finds me in a shape on the mat, and sometimes it finds me in meditation. It is during those moments that I feel connected to something deeper and I can feel the energy in my body that makes my heart smile. I smiled a lot the first time I flew in crow pose or went upside down, supported by a wall.

Q: How long have you been teaching yoga? Who or what influenced you to become a teacher?
A: I completed my teacher training and started guiding practices in 2016. The thing that drew me to want to teach was my life coaching practice. In my own self-work, I’d integrated so much of what I knew as a life coach with my personal yoga practice and I wanted a way to bring the two together. I had been an elementary school teacher for 12 years, and there is something about being a guide and facilitator that energizes me, so the symbiotic relationship felt like a perfect way for me to blend my strengths and passions.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of teaching yoga and why?
A: Creating and holding space for practitioners to have their own experience with their body, their breath, and their mat. I consider myself a guide more than a teacher and like to invite individuals in my yin and vinyasa classes to attune to the inner strength and wisdom that is always within them.

Q: What is your least favorite aspect of teaching yoga and why?
A: When I first started teaching, my own practice changed. At first, it was hard for me to find time for my own practices, and then even when I did make it to my mat it felt like a part of me was always considering how the practice could inform my role as a teacher. It took a while, and to some degree, a change in the style of physical asana to help me ground into a practice that felt sustainable and nourishing just for me.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to a new yoga teacher?
A: Find the time and commit to your own practice. Be willing to explore and to study, to ask questions and look for answers within the sacred texts and in yourself.

Q: Who or what influenced you to become a life coach?
A: I’d always been a guide, asking questions and holding space for others. It was insights over time ranging from my experience surviving Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my work as a classroom teacher, divorce, marathon running, learning to surf, and eventually, a chance encounter and experience with a massage therapist in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and a paragliding experience that same weekend that brought everything together. Soaring through the air with the birds, attached to my co-pilot, I noticed how it only took subtle movements to change direction – and knew! It wasn’t about a destination as we flew. It was about noticing. It was about letting the wind move us and fully experiencing each shift with gratitude and wonder. By the time I reached the landing zone, I had decided to embrace the nudges and set off to find a training program to study with, and claim my role as a life coach!

Q: How long have you been a life coach? What is your favorite aspect of being a life coach?
A: I trained with the Martha Beck Institute in 2016 and I have worked with clients one-on-one and groups since that same year. I have spoken with a variety of groups and led workshops and retreats, which always energizes me. My favorite aspect is when a client tunes in to an inner realization based on a question that I asked or an invitation that I offered. Being a witness to my clients as they show up for themselves with vulnerability and willingness is like a gift.

Q: How does being a life coach tie into your yoga practice and being a yoga teacher?
A: The two are very symbiotic to me. I try to create experiences whether they are yoga or coaching related that invite individuals to connect with themselves. The ideas or themes that I find myself exploring with my clients are the same ones that I offer as intentions in my classes and for myself in my own practice.

BONUS ROUND 😃:  Do you have any exciting projects in the works?
A: I am launching a new podcast called Sunrise in Your Pocket on October 8. Everyone needs a nudge now and then to help them get back on track to feeling joyful, vibrant, and alive in the now. Sunrise in Your Pocket is your weekly podcast for playful, easy to implement guidance for reconnecting to the inner strength and wisdom within you. You can sign up here to the be the first to know when it goes live!