Zen in the City: Rachel’s journey with Yoga

Recently, my friend Brooke encouraged me to go back to the life of yoga. After a long break  away from the matt, I had zero confidence in going back to practicing.  She recently received a certificate to teach yoga after years working in the trading space. Knowing very little, Brooke explained to me the difference between certain kinds of yoga while making me realize that I’ve been practicing Hatha for all those years (without even knowing what it was). For those who are not aware what kind of Yoga they practice, here’s a diagram that can give you an idea 🙂
yogaxlI have always loved yoga growing up while realizing that my culture practices similar(ish) movements when performing prayers . There are many kinds of Yoga and in today’s world yogis have been experimenting with modern techniques. I’ve just started going back to Yoga and met the ever so gentle and peaceful Ms. Rachel Janssen. She wasn’t always a yoga teacher- Rachel enjoyed working in the Art space and only embraced the practice recently.  I thought it would be nice to talk to Rachel about Chicago and Yoga, seeing that the scene is very much booming out here.
Rachel grew up in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago. She is proud to have had a wonderful, happy childhood, ‘In my neighborhood, all the families’ backyards backed up to one another. No one had fences around their yards. All of the kids were relatively the same age, so I spent most of my childhood outside, running in packs with other little kids from swingset to swingset. I would get up in the morning, head outside, and wouldn’t come back in until the sun went down. Besides running around outside, I delved into any creative craft projects I could find, and I danced for ten years.’  I asked Rachel who her role models were, ‘My parents are my role models.’
Me: When were you introduced to yoga and how did you learn about it?
RJ: I was introduced to the practice of yoga in college through my high school friend, Carolyn. She took me to my first yoga class when I was a junior in college. I am ever so grateful for her and that experience.
Me: It’s always that person that introduces you to yoga! Was yoga popular at all, growing up?
RJ: Growing up, I never remember hearing much about yoga. I remember my mom doing step aerobics in the family room instead 🙂
Me: Haha, I remember my mum doing that too. Aerobics! When did you notice yoga taking over the west?
RJ: I remember noticing yoga in college. The fitness center offered yoga and mind/body classes. I also recall reading about a course students could enroll in that was centered around the study of yoga. Currently, I believe yoga has a tremendous impact upon the western world. The West is becoming more interested in the mind-body-spirit connection and accepting of the desire to cultivate a connection between all three. 
Me: I also notice a surge and need for spirituality than religion these days. Do you feel like people in the west appreciate spirituality in their life?
RJ: I absolutely believe people in the West appreciate spirituality. People are turning out in droves for yoga classes, looking to foster that feeling of connection. We are all connected; the West is acknowledging and valuing that truth now more than ever.
Me: For those who don’t understand YOGA much, what is it and what are the benefits?
RJ: Yoga means to “yolk” or “unite.” It is a lifelong journey of uniting the spirit, body, breath, and mind to unleash one’s most vibrant, joyous self. While many teachers and students of yoga have their own definition, yoga means many things to me. It is a practice of deep acceptance, grace, patience, and love; it is about inclusion versus exclusion, tolerance, as opposed to intolerance, and recognizing the value and strength that lie in kindness and connection. The benefits are sincerely endless-to one’s spirit, body, and mind. 
Me: There are many kinds of Yoga, how does one differentiate between them and where can one begin at ease?
RJ: There are many different styles of yoga to explore and practice. I think the best way to start is to look at the title of the class and read about that style of practice. If you are new to the practice of yoga, I would start by taking a beginner level class. 
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Me: What do you recommend for someone to do when traveling to still maintain the benefits of yoga?
RJ: When traveling, if possible, try to fit in some yoga practice by heading to a local studio. If that isn’t an option, practice some breathwork/meditation/postures on your own, to your own rhythm, at your convenience, when time and space is available. It can be two hours of your own practice or 20 minutes. There is no right or wrong answer to your own practice, just find what resonates with you and take that route. 
Me: Yoga and Chicago- how has Chicago contributed to your current achievements and success?
RJ:  It is in the city of Chicago that I learned and continue to learn about the ancient study of yoga. I became a certified yoga teacher in this city, and I was able to make the leap of becoming a full-time yoga teacher in Chicago as well. That all happened within two years. I’d say Chicago has been very good to me indeed. 
Me: Me too! What do you love about this city?
RJ: I love Chicago because it is home to many things dear to my heart: people I love, the yoga community, my students. I also enjoy the city’s architecture, its art and culture scene, the lakefront path, the lake itself, the parks. So many things! 
Me: Where can we bump into you?
RJ: There are many great opportunities to enjoy yoga in the city outside of a studio. In the summer, there are Beach Yoga classes at North Avenue beach, Full Moon Jams at other beaches, and the Wanderlust Festival usually makes a stop in Chicago. This past summer, there was an “I Love Yoga” Festival in Chicago as well. Additionally, Millennium Park and other small parks offer free yoga classes in the summer. Outside of the summertime, there are free yoga classes at Lululemon locations on weekend mornings. Likewise, there are always free yoga classes offered at the Nike Training Club in Lincoln Park, where I am proud to say I teach. 
Me: And out of yoga, where do you normally go?
RJ: I can’t speak for every yogi, but I find myself shopping at Trader Joe’s as well as any fair trade store I come across. I love funky jewelry and colorful, wild yoga pants, so I often find myself wandering into shops and boutiques off the beaten path. I was introduced to Karyn’s Cooked and Chicago Diner through some yogi friends. The food at both places is divine! When I’m not on my yoga mat, I enjoy wandering through the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center whenever I get the chance. 
Me: You worked in the art world before, how is yoga related to art?
RJ: I did work in the art world previously. The art world is much different from the yoga world, but I have always been an aesthetically-oriented person. I am fascinated by color, artwork, jewelry, movement-beauty in all its forms. And yoga, in all its rich tradition, is a practice I find to be teeming with beauty and a realm to which I was instantly drawn. 
Me: Success roll: what keeps you motivated?
RJ: My students, teachers, my own yoga practice, and the yoga studios I call home keep me motivated. Yoga is a varied and complex journey. It is timeless. It is never stagnant or finished. There will always be something new to learn or an exciting, new path to venture down.
Me: Share with us your favorite quote 🙂
RJ: My favorite piece of writing, which I try to follow as best I can: 
 “I expect to pass through this life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” 
—William Penn 

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