The DJN chats with the inspiring yoga instructor about her yoga journey and how she maintains a healthy lifestyle.
By Allison Jacobs
Featured photo by Tom Roche
1. How did you get into teaching yoga?
I found yoga in September of 2003, when my youngest son Drew had just turned three. I had gone to the chiropractor who pretty much said I needed to start practicing yoga or I would soon be at risk of having back issues. About a week later, I was at Whole Foods and picked up a flyer for a yoga studio that said “90 days for 90 dollars.” To be honest, I didn’t even know what yoga really was, but I decided to try it out.
Looking back at my first class, I have to laugh. I arrived in black sweats with no mat, no water bottle and no towel. It was a hot vinyasa class and there were about 80 people in the room. After about 20 minutes, the teacher came by and asked how I was doing. I said, “I NEED WATER!” He went out and brought back a bottle of Fiji water that was half full. He said it was from the girl working at the front desk. Being a bit of a germaphobe, I hesitated for about a second, then guzzled the rest of the bottle.
I don’t know what it was that made me go back again, but I did. In fact, I committed to going three times a week. Although the yoga practice was physically demanding, it became a ritual that helped me mentally recharge. I started to notice how I reacted (and sometimes overreacted) to things and people in my life. I consciously began to make a shift in my parenting and my personal relationships. Yoga became my haven, my therapy and a place where I felt empowered to become my best self.
In 2008, I decided to take teacher training. It was a life changing experience. When I started, I had no intention of ever teaching — I just wanted to learn more about yoga. However, by the end of the twelve weeks, I realized that I was being called upon to help others discover the many gifts that yoga has given me. I formed great friendships with like-minded people and learned so much from being part of this incredible community. I began teaching at the Center for Yoga in 2009. I also taught at the Sports Club, Lifetime Fitness and Athletic, as well as privates. In 2012, I became a yoga teacher training facilitator and began leading teacher trainings at Lifetime in Commerce and Bloomfield Hills.
In the spring of 2017, I made a shift and decided to teach a few classes at the new Citizen Yoga in Bloomfield Hills. I had been friends with Citizen’s owner, Kacee Must for a while, (she had previously been a student of mine and then I became a student of her’s). I loved the alignment and philosophy she incorporated into her classes at Citizen and found myself wanting to learn more. This style of yoga is therapeutic for the body as It helps to give people a guide for breath, bandhas (energy locks) as well foot, knee, hip and shoulder placement.
2. What do you love most about teaching?
When I first began teaching yoga, I felt as if I had landed in just the right place. I had been a special education teacher and a social worker as well as a mom of four boys. I was able to blend all of these skills into my teaching.
I love infusing all of my classes with a theme for the students to think about long after the class is over. I also structure my classes so there are moments of relaxation and reflection, but also challenging sequences or postures. Many students say that I am sweet, but firm like a maternal figure. They will often come up to me after class and tell me that it felt as if I knew just what they needed to hear.
I believe that yoga mirrors our lives off of the mat, so when students are practicing, they learn to breathe in a calm way even when they are at their edge. If we learn to do that on the mat, we can then take the practice into the rest of our lives and be less reactive and more mindful when faced with everyday stress. I believe I am making a positive impact on the lives of my students and often hear (sometimes years later) how I helped them get through a difficult time. Ultimately, knowing that I am teaching mindfulness, creating change and being of service as a teacher is the greatest reward!
3. Are your husband and sons yogis as well?
Yes! About seven years after I began practicing yoga, my husband came to a hot vinyasa class. He loved how it made him feel and now has a daily practice. It has been so great for our marriage and our family to have him alongside me on this yoga journey. We have been to yoga conferences together and several Wanderlust Yoga festivals (which are like Disneyworld for yogis)! Our four sons enjoy yoga as well and our son Alec is also a yoga teacher! We love to take a trip each year with all of the boys to a yoga resort. Our favorites so far are in Nosara, Costa Rica and Tulum, Mexico
4. What is your overall philosophy on wellness?
Obviously, yoga is a big part of that, but for me it’s not just about exercise — it’s about taking care of your body mentally and physically. I believe that our focus should be on wellness as a lifestyle incorporating physical exercise, mindfulness practices (i.e. yoga and meditation) and nutrition.
I have always been passionate about clean, healthy eating. I was a vegetarian in college, and now I’m mostly vegan, except I sometimes eat eggs (Vital Farms is my new favorite brand). I am a firm believer in buying and eating organic food for our own health and the health of our planet.
Everyone can start by having the list of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and veggies that have the most pesticides as well as the “Clean Fifteen.” I think information and education are key to making good choices for our bodies. I mean, you are what you eat!
I am also passionate about using essential oils to promote wellness. I believe they are nature’s medicine cabinet and can often be used to help relieve our everyday issues such as stress, digestive problems, respiratory issues, muscle pain, headaches and can help support immune function. I love Young Living Essential Oils because they are so clean — you can even use them in cooking and baking as well as topically and aromatically. I recently became a wellness advocate for Young Living.
4. Aside from teaching yoga, talk about some of the workshops you run.
I love to partner with others when doing workshops. Last summer I taught a Yoga and Clay Workshop (think “namas-clay”) at Citizen Yoga Royal Oak. The yoga flow was all about tapping into our creative selves. Then we walked over to the Creative Art Studio to make handcrafted mugs!
I have also partnered with Samantha Mee to bring Restorative Yoga and the Gong Workshops to Citizen. So far we have done three seasonally and will be doing another in the summer. I co-taught a yoga workshop on essential oils, chakras with Brittany Bolton and a Yoga and Vision Board Workshop with therapist Michelle Mintz. I also taught a kombucha-making class at Citizen and plan on doing it again! I have lots of ideas for upcoming workshops, so stay tuned.
5. You’ve recently started sharing instructional videos on creating at home DIY cosmetic products on your Facebook page. How did you get started with this side hobby?
I was having weird reactions to the scented products my family was using. So, I made it my mission to get all the products and cosmetics that had questionable ingredients out of my house. I mentioned this to my friend Shannon who works at Citizen and we came up with the idea that I should do “15 Days of DIY Cosmetic Products” on Facebook. The response was incredible! I think many people don’t realize how toxic our cosmetics are. Fragrances are not regulated by the FDA and no one knows the long-term effects they will have on our health. My favorite DIY’s so far are the body butter, lip balm, and facial serum. If you are interested in learning more about them, go to my Facebook page and check them out!
6. Your kombucha has an excellent reputation! Tell us about a funny moment you’ve had while experimenting with a batch?
For the last two years, I have been brewing my own kombucha (fermented tea) and teaching others to do the same. Every Friday evening, I bring a few bottles to my yoga class at Citizen to share and spark interest. When kombucha is bottled with some fruit, it ferments and gets very fizzy. I once opened a bottle in my brand new car and it pretty much exploded fizzy goodness all over me until half of the bottle was gone! Needless to say, my car and I smelled really nice!
7. As an avid podcast listener, what do you have cued up right now?
I love “The Doctor’s Farmacy” with Mark Hyman, M.D. which talks about food and health. The most recent one was “Why Food Is Better Than Medication To Treat Disease.” I also love the “Broken Brain Podcast” with Dhru Purohit and the new podcast, “Becoming” featuring my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Ann Fancy.
Cindy Levine is a 200 E-RYT and currently teaches yoga at Citizen Yoga in Bloomfield and Royal Oak. She is always infusing inspiring messages into her classes and encourages her students to take their yoga knowledge off of the mat. She is also avid kombucha brewer, creator of clean cosmetic products and enjoys spending time (and doing yoga) with her husband and four sons.