After completing her graduate studies, Renee Berlucchi – then Spangler – found herself in a deep depression. She had just learned that her boyfriend from high school had died in a car accident.
âIn my world, I thought we were going to get married,â she said. “My life as I knew it was over.”
Berlucchi said that in the months following her death, she neither ate nor slept. As someone who doesn’t like to show her emotions, she has pushed back all the anger and sadness she was feeling. But aside from her internalized grief, she said she felt a deep attraction to yoga.
âMy body, it just led me to yoga,â she said. âAs I started to train more and more, I started to realize, ‘Wow, I have a lot of stuff on my mind because of this traumatic event’, and that made me face it. “
A longtime athlete, Berlucchi first discovered yoga while running on track and cross-country in high school. Her teammate’s mother taught Bikram yoga and allowed Berlucchi to attend classes in her studio for free. The intense mileage left Berlucchi’s legs in an almost constant need for stretching, and she said she first researched yoga for its physical benefits. It wasn’t until years later, after her boyfriend died, that she understood the emotional and spiritual effects as well.
Berlucchi – a graduate of Saint Joseph University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education and a master’s degree in education with an honors degree in reading – moved to Syracuse in the fall of 2017. She now works as a class coordinator at E. John Gavras Center at Auburn, yoga teacher at Syracuse Yoga and substitute at Mindful Yoga. While living in Pennsylvania, she often took yoga classes with friends, who encouraged her to use her passion for teaching and her love of yoga to become a certified instructor.
Although she serves different populations, Berlucchi said her experiences as a teacher and as an instructor often mirror each other. By working with students with special needs, Berlucchi has learned how to best tailor his class plans for each individual so that their learning experience is easily accessible. She said it’s the same mindset she uses when she teaches her three yoga classes at Syracuse Yoga.
âSometimes there is this energy that you can feel throughout a class and I can say that sometimes I can push the students more,â she said. âAnd then the other days, I feel like people want to relax more. You kind of have to do it with the kids at school as well.
Before moving to Syracuse, Berlucchi was a yoga teacher for Easterseals, a nonprofit healthcare organization that offers yoga classes to children with physical disabilities and reduced mobility. Throughout the six-week sessions of the program, Berlucchi said the experience not only challenged her to modify her practice to best suit students’ abilities, but also broadened her definition of who can become a yogi.
âIt was a challenge for me to learn and research all of this and to know that I am instructing it safely and accurately so that children can access it in a way that they can,â a- she declared. âBut we would still see improvement in the children at the end of the six week session. Always.”
As yoga has grown in popularity in recent years, the practice has diversified, encompassing people of varying backgrounds, body shapes and physical abilities. It is a development, said Berlucchi, which has been beautiful to see.
âI think people have realized that there are so many different body types and there are so many different reasons people come to yoga,â she said. âStudios and people who become yoga instructors realize that our ability to meet everyone’s needs is there. “
Yoga originated in ancient India between 1000 and 5000 BC., advocated in the sacred texts of the Upanishads of Hinduism as a path to personal and spiritual growth. Today, more than 36 million Americans practice yoga, for 2016 study conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. According to published data According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 58% of practitioners cite the practice of yoga “to maintain health and well-being.”
Rebecca Alexander, physiotherapist and instructor at Syracuse Yoga, said that while any form of exercise increases blood flow and releases endorphins in the body, the structural makeup of yoga practices can further elicit these feel-good hormones.
âYoga really adds this other layer which is really this mind-body connection,â she said. Alexander added that there are eight elements of yoga which, when combined, can instill calmness and mental clarity in practitioners.
The way many people view yoga, she said, is through asanas, postures, and poses. But two elements in particular – pranayama, or breathing techniques, and dhyana, meditation – are what elevates the physical character of the practice, transcending it into a spiritual medium.
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Katherine Sargent, a mental health counselor and yoga teacher, added that she sees yoga as “a catalyst for change and healing.” Teaching trauma-aware yoga through Connected Warriors at Syracuse VA Medical Center, she said that for those struggling with depression, anxiety, and life’s stresses, yoga brings body and mind together. .
âThere are many different ways and ways in which yoga heals many different populations,â Sargent said. “But really, it’s about using the breath and mindfulness to connect the mind, body, and spirit.”
As Berlucchi deepened her own practice and teaching skills, she saw the knowledge she gained as a yoga instructor trickle down to her role as a teacher. It is the beauty of the connection she develops with her students – children and yoga practitioners – and the growth of their progress that continually fuels her practice.
She and a fellow teacher led a yoga session for their preschool students last week, sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands folded in prayer in the center of their hearts. One of her students with special needs and underdeveloped verbal skills turned to her, a broad smile spreading across her face.
Posted on January 30, 2019 at 9:43 p.m.
Contact Kelsey: [emailÂ protected] | @writebykelsey