Volunteer Feature: Gina Larsen

Have you met Gina Larsen?

How can one “yoga studio” offer 23,824 yoga experiences in one year? Trust us, it certainly isn’t done alone. It takes a lot of loving, hardworking, compassionate souls to make the benefits of yoga accessible across RVA. The core of our community, the people behind it who make it all possible, are our dedicated volunteers. They keep our community thriving.

So, we need to brag about them a little bit… One of the many volunteers we are over the moon about is Gina Larsen. Gina has gone above and beyond the call of Volunteer Duty to support Project Yoga Richmond. Every time Gina walks into the room, she brightens it, carrying a sense of laughter and ease that we all need.

Learn more about Gina through this special interview:

What first brought you to the practice?

Curiosity. There was a free yoga class offered through a former employer, and I thought: “Hey, I’m in!” My Golden Rule is, I’ll try (just about) anything once; twice if I like it. (This one may have exceeded those general guidelines, as I am approximately 7 years into my practice)

Why do you continue to practice?

Why on Earth wouldn’t anyone??! Yoga has provided me with so many fantastic life tools and coping mechanisms. I am constantly learning new things about myself and my abilities as my practice reaches new levels.

What are some of the benefits that the practice has had in your life?

One major element is breathing correctly. As many others, I was surprised to learn that I had not truly been doing that. Seemed so rudimentary of a concept. I also really cherish the physical flexibility I have gained. My body is now able to contort into shapes and angles it has not previously been.   

How do you think yoga benefits the world today?

Yoga promotes inclusion, tolerance, and compassion. I see this behavior blooming first-hand as all walks of life come together practicing side-by-side. I made a conscious observation and mental note of this in Byrd Park during Michelle Lee Landon’s class last summer. I always arrive early, so I can sit and appreciate my surroundings for a bit. As I  looked around, I saw all genders, ages, body shapes, races, and abilities. Participants from all socioeconomic backgrounds on various levels of practice. It…was….breathtaking!

When and Why did you first start practicing at PYR?

I was introduced to PYR through Alec Abbott when he was teaching at the Robinson Theater in Church Hill about three years ago. Of all the studios I have visited, it quickly became quite clear that PYR was in a league of its own.

Why do you practice with PYR?

Because PYR is in a league of its own!

I absolutely love the personal interactions PYR facilitates! I have met the most amazing beings and likely established life-long friendships here. As mentioned, I have also gained a ton of valuable insight into my own motivation and priorities.

What is your favorite PYR program?

I could not possibly pick just one! PYR offers so many fantastic, all-inclusive programs reaching the hearts of so many diverse members of our community. I am partial to Saturday Salutations at the VMFA, which offer interaction with new, curious yogis in a beautiful, serene setting, but I proudly speak of and advocate all our other community partnership programs.

What impacts do you see PYR making in the community?

I do not want to make assumptions, but I’m going to guess, my experiences are likely similar to those of many other PYR yogis. The comradery and bonds formed through PYR are unrivaled, sincere, and precious. PYR has provided so many healing gifts to so many people through community partnership programs and just plain being awesome! Namaste indeed, PYR <3  

What PYR Class or Event can you typically be found at?: VinYin and Feel Good Friday Flow

Aside from Asana, what other things do you like to practice or do?

Martial Arts! Absolutely my Yin to my Yang. My life-philosophy of doing anything once has introduced me to a slew of other pursuits such as SCUBA diving, roller derby, traveling, alpaca hugging, Salsa dancing, learning new languages, preparing delicious meals, camping, throwing darts at unsuspecting bullseyes, and many, many other invigorating, mind-bending activities.

When you aren’t at PYR, where can we find you?

Outside! Or traveling. Or on the town turning up with amazing people. Or sitting around my fireplace with amazing people enjoying great conversation in true Danish “hygge” style. Most likely at a festival somewhere….outside.

What is your favorite place in RVA?

Anywhere is a favorite, when you are in great company. Definitely outside on a sunny, warm day.

 

Come see Gina and thank her for all of hardwork every Friday before Feel Good Friday Flow with Elisa Hayden at 6pm!
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Program Feature: Crisis Stabilization Unit at Richmond Behavioral Health Authority

Project Yoga Richmond partners with a variety of communities and organizations to share the benefits of yoga. Every time you practice with us, you support our yoga and mindfulness programs. We want to share a bit more about them with you!

For our first ever Program Feature, we are highlighting our program partnership with Crisis Stabilization Unit at Richmond Behavioral Health Authority for adults receiving mental health services. Every Thursday at 10:45 am, PYR Ambassador Liz Creasman offers the opportunity for these students to practice yoga.

The students are diverse in age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, and many have survived adversity. Many have not had the opportunity to practice yoga in the past due to lack of resources, awareness, anxiety, and/or depression. Liz helps overcome these barriers by meeting students where they are (both physically and mentally). When barriers are removed and this group is able to practice yoga, benefits include: decrease anxiety, increased self-confidence and motivation, physical and emotional balance, increased body awareness and mood stability and emotional regulation. Yoga aids in alleviating physical symptoms and side effects such as muscle stiffness and tension, digestion, and headaches.

Here is a preview of what this class with Liz looks like:

“I begin the session with grounding and breathwork to decrease anxiety and increase self-confidence. We practice a three-part breath. I love the unity experienced in this moment of collective breathing. I also love when the students are supportive of each other and creating a sense of community among one another.  

Then, I instruct movements that repeat to continue to empower participants and acknowledge differences in repetitions. I focus on empowering postures and balance.  I encourage participants to honor their bodies. I often reinforce that everyone has a different yoga practice and the importance of eliminating judgment and comparison. I end the session with a guided meditation based on colors, compassion, or safe places.

Many of the students say that they are feeling muscles they haven’t felt in years. They often comment on how calm and grounded they feel after class. I encourage the students to utilize tools they have learned in our session when they feel emotionally in need. Many of them are receptive to this idea and identify that they could use the relaxation techniques.

This program allows the group members to relate to one another and acknowledge that we are all on a different path. The weekly sessions are a compliment to the other therapies offered by RBHA. We are providing tools that they are able to apply in their daily lives to maintain emotional safety.”

Every time you practice with PYR, you help support our programs, such as this one. Liz will be teaching and highlighting Trauma-Informed Yoga at 9am on August 18 during Saturday Salutations at the VMFA! Save your spot and pay-what-you-can in advance to support these programs!
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Class of the Month: True North

Have you unrolled you mat with us on Thursday nights? Our Class of the Month is True North: Thursdays at 5:30-6:45 pm with rotating instructors, Sara Lovelace and Michele Nierle!

Here is a special interview with Michele on what the practice means to her:

What first brought you to the practice?

A deep desire to connect with my body in relationship with my heart.

Yoga returns me to truth and possibilities. It doesn’t sugar-coat my experience, yet it offers choice, lets me know that it is all workable and relational. I am shown again and again that I can receive life when I open myself up to it.

How do you think yoga benefits the world today?

Mindfulness on our mats connects us with our own hearts, becoming friends with both our own barriers to love and seeing our great capacity for love, and that love is here for us always. As we become friends with all of our Being, we are compassionately more available in life.  Yoga offers the world compassion.

When and Why did you first start practicing at PYR?

What drew me to PYR is its community programs, to help empower individuals by making yoga accessible to so many.

Why do you practice and/or teach at PYR?

Because it doesn’t exclude anyone, plus it just plain feels good to be among so many supportive and whole-hearted people. Through PYR’s continued altruism, I am nudged and inspired to show up for life and go where I am needed. That’s pretty big.

What impacts do you see PYR making in the community?

I see PYR continuing to offer accessible yoga to so many who may not have access to it.  I see how they partner with other organizations to widen the scope of opportunity for so many to experience the transformational power of yoga. I see how they continue to learn and grow as an organization, which includes offering workshops to enhance our aspiration for true inclusivity.

What has been one of your favorite moments teaching True North at PYR?

There is not a specific moment, but I love noise in class once in a while:  the occasional yawn, a deep sigh of letting go, laughter! That people can have a place to release through the body, including through the mouth, is something I cherish.

What is special about the community that comes to this class?   

The participants’ courage is so inspiring!  They come through that door not knowing what they’re going to get, and they are willing to open their hearts to be with whatever arises physically and emotionally and move with it and through it.   

We can’t wait for it to be Thursday again to unroll our mat during this special class with Michele and Sara! More about True North:

True North with Michele and Sara is an all-levels hatha class with opportunities to slow down, center, and explore creatively! 

Thursdays 5:30-6:45 pm at PYR
Rotating Instructors: Sara Lovelace and Michele Nierle
Sara teaches the 1st and 3rd Thursday every month
Michele teaches the 2nd & 4th Thursday of every month
Michele and Sara co-teach the 5th Thursday of every month

Class Schedule
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New Class/April Class of the Month: Vin/Yin with Shannon!

We are thrilled to be adding long-time PYR Ambassador, Shannon Somogyi, to our weekly studio schedule for Vin/Yin every Tuesday evening at 7-8pm!

Here is a bit about Shannon and her relationship with yoga and Project Yoga Richmond:

The opportunity to find stillness and calm first brought me to yoga. Meditation was my first initial draw and from there I got into asana as well.

Every time I come back to the mat is an opportunity to reconnect with my highest self. My practice forces me to slow down and work on ME. As a wife, mother, daughter, friend, yoga therapist, and small business owner, I cannot give the best of me unless I have it to give. So that’s why I practice. “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Our practice teaches us to slow down and listen. Not only to ourselves but others too. This pause allows more connection to our authentic selves and our communities.

PYR allows me to give back to my community. I love how much our team, volunteers, and supporters give back as well. We really do have an amazing group of yogis!  I see PYR  helping to bring yoga to everyone in the community. By doing so, we are showing our community how to heal, grow, and thrive.

Shannon first got involved with PYR 6 years ago when she attended Y12SR training with Nikki Myers. In that training, Shannon met PYR Co-founder, Dana Walters, over a love of yoga and paddleboarding and loved the vibe of PYR. It wasn’t long after that Shannon started attending regular events, classes, and volunteering whenever she could. 

She has taught a number of our programs in the community, including Yoga for Autism at the Founders Center of Commonwealth Autism and Yoga for Youth at Albert Hill Middle School.

What can YOU expect on the mat during Vin/Yin with Shannon?

Class will start with a gentle warm up, and move to a Vinyasa sequence to link breath and movement. This Vinyasa portion will allow participants to focus on breath and awareness while building internal heat. From there we will move on to the Yin portion, slowing down the pace with poses to focus on the fascia. Holding poses anywhere from 2-5 minutes each.

Check it out for yourself! Don’t miss Vin/Yin with Shannon every Tuesday from 7-8pm!

Best Yoga Studio in RVA?

Here are 5 reasons why we think you should vote Project Yoga Richmond for Style Weekly’s Best Yoga Studio in RVA!

  1. We are more than a yoga studio, PYR is a non-profit dedicated to making the benefits of yoga accessible to all
  2. We offered over 23,500 yoga experiences across RVA in 2017
  3. We are the only pay-what-you-can studio in the region
  4. We host Saturday Salutations at the VMFA

    Photo: Chad Williams of Creative Visual Designs

  5. Our pay-what-you-can and community events support 23 reoccurring yoga and mindfulness community partnership programs across the Greater Richmond region
Vote Project Yoga Richmond

Student Meditations

Reflection from PYR Ambassador, Elisa Hayden: Mindfulness on the Mat at Boushall Middle School.
“Twice a week, my co-leader, Sara Lovelace, and I would walk into a middle school gym not sure what to expect. Each week, we introduced intentionally planned yoga practices, in hopes that these students, ages 11-13, would feel some relief from the everyday stress of life.

We worked a lot on self-reflection; on who we are as individuals, what makes us unique, how we react to situations, and how we can find calm in those moments. I was constantly amazed by how receptive the students were to this.

 

 

“Lay down and close your eyes. Think about something special in your life. Breathe in (1..2..3..) And breathe out. Then, (gong), then think about something you want to do in the future. – Mindfulness on the Mat Student

 

Sometimes, at the end of sessions, we don’t really know what impact the work will have on our students. We hope, as teachers, that they take the tools that they have learned and apply them to their lives every day. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s normal. However, this time around, we had the students write their own meditations based on their favorite parts of class and we were blown away. They ARE listening. They ARE getting it.

 

 

“Get in a comfortable area or position. Then relax your entire body. Dream that your back in your house or castle and then you see snow outside. You wish you can go outside but you have no winter clothes. So then you try to create your own winter clothes. You go outside and you breath the winter air.”- Mindfulness on the Mat Student

These small practices that seem simple to us as yogis have a much greater effect on our lives than I think any of us will ever know. I am so glad that I can share this with youth since their days bring more stress now than ever before. It is an honor and a privilege.

Mindfulness on the Mat Students, Boushall Middle School 2017

 

It is hard for me to find words that describe how my heart felt after this past session of Mindfulness on the Mat at NextUp Boushall. I have always felt something pulling me towards working with youth and this session just proved why PYR is doing the work that it does.

I think one of the most vital parts of PYR is it’s heart, and the hearts of the ambassadors who make up the studio and outreach programs. It is incredibly powerful working with someone who has the exact same passion for this work, along with the same desire to make people, especially pre-teens, feel seen, valued, and heard.” – Elisa Hayden

 

“OK everybody start taking deep breaths…Then start to think about the best time ever. It might be a birthday party, it could be your friend came over. Whatever it is think about what made it the best time ever. Take deep breaths. Inhale…Exhale… Think about where the best time ever took place. It might have been at home, at school, at the park. Think about who was there with you. Take a deep breath…inhale…exhale. It might have been your mom, your dad, friend, enemy. Then start to think of what you did. It might have been played video games, ate pizza, played tag. Take deep breath…Inhale…exhale. Wiggle your finger and toes. Now stretch. Whenever you ready you can get up.” -Mindfulness on the Mat Student

Continue to make moments like this happen for youth in your community.Support PYR’s community yoga and mindfulness programs today.
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