Windows to the Soul

It’s 8 p.m. and daylight has withdrawn, leaving a golden twilight to bathe Rocky Peak at the east end of Simi Valley. One or two people wander around Yoga Nook @ Fifth, walking to and from the laundromat or sushi restaurant.

I’m alone in the new studio, the rhythmic sound of sandpaper on wood echoing throughout the empty space. I’m repairing the window frames that will soon be positioned in the partition wall between the vestibule and the yoga studio.

These window frames are old, Victorian probably. They bear the scars of hot California summers, indifferent painters and unskilled glaziers. The distressed wood is pitted from sloppy attempts at repair, yet they are just the right size and shape — and I’m conscious that I’m not the first person to think they are perfect for the setting.

I discovered these frames at an architectural salvage store in Pasadena, a dream playground for anyone with an eye for antiques and the willingness to put a little elbow grease into a project. They specialize in doors, windows and hardware. Need a Victorian hinge, a crystal pull, a 12-foot door? Then this is the place to go. You’ll find aisle after tidy aisle of stained glass, oak doors and objets d’art.

I scrape at the brittle paint with a putty knife — an unusual tool for the job, but one that fits the need. It’s just thin enough to reflect the paint, just flexible enough to avoid gouging the wood. As I peel back time, revealing alternating layers of color, I wonder what kind of house these windows dressed. Who looked out of them? What views are recorded in the photographic memory of the glass?

In sanding the frames, I discover abandoned locks and screw holes where blinds once hung, and I’m curious about the family that lived behind these windows. Perhaps the house faced west and the heat of the afternoon sun was shuttered out. I imagine a dim room filled with antiques, a grandfather clock ticking slow and steady, a grand piano displaying four generations in silver frames.

Stripping away encrusted paint, the well-defined edges of the original frame are revealed, sharp and crisp against the soft blue of the glass. Once, many years ago they looked like this, a statement in yellow.

Perhaps the whole house was yellow. I imagine a beach house with the windows flung wide open, the sound and smell of the ocean invited in. Perhaps children laughed and played here; life emerged, developed and matured here; and now these windows will grace the Yoga Nook studio with light.

Something old, something new, love, passion and dedication — these are the ingredients of Yoga Nook @ Fifth. Many hands have joined in the making of this new space. I send a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported this new and beautiful studio, and I look forward to welcoming you all on Saturday, September 12th.

yoga nook @ fifth sign

jeni rachel yoga nook @ fifth

Related articles:
Words That Matter
The Business of Yoga: The Exquisite Risk


Image credit: Maia C via Flickr (CC)

Words That Matter

I was first introduced to the idea that thoughts and words could change the physical structure of water in the 2004 film, What the Bleep Do We Know!? At the time, Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese scientist and New York Times best-selling author, was lauded as a pioneer for his research on how human consciousness can affect Earth’s most precious resource.

In a nutshell, Dr. Emoto suggested that music and words can change the molecular structure of water in a positive or negative way. He used photographs of frozen water samples viewed through a microscope to illustrate his research.

According to Dr. Emoto, the samples that were exposed to positive words (for example, a written note that read “Thank you” or a priest praying over the water) blossomed into beautiful frozen crystals — each droplet a unique and stunning snowflake. On the other hand, the frozen water samples that were subjected to negative words (“You fool,” for example) formed shriveled, stunted crystalline patterns.

Unfortunately, in the last few years Dr. Emoto’s work has been called into question and exposed as pseudoscience. However, the idea that our thoughts, words and intentions can have a real impact in the material world intrigued me nevertheless.

Fast forward several years to the renovation of the current Yoga Nook. With most of the material work complete, I began to install the wooden flooring. As I toiled, unbidden thoughts surfaced from the deep reaches of my unconscious.

What if positive or negative words really could affect the quality of water? The human body is comprised of 75% water, so wouldn’t words also affect us? What if I wrote positive words on the cement before I covered it with flooring? Would the intent and the meaning of the words permeate the bodies that laid on the floor?

I paused, found a Sharpie and started writing all over the floor. Peace, love, community, laughter, joy, contentment, success, friendship. I wrote in English and I wrote in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language. Ahimsa (no harm), Om (the universal sound), Yoga (to join or unite), Vidya (knowledge), Tapas (the heat of change), Ananda (bliss).

More, I needed more words. Surrender, harmony, tranquility, calm, quiet, ease. On and on I scribbled, until the floor looked like a crazy art project. Vocabulary and Sharpie exhausted, I returned to my labors; and over the next few days, completed the mission — forever obscuring the manic script.

Two years later, Yoga Nook students lie on a sea of hand-scraped, engineered hazelnut hardwood every day. Each class enjoys Savasana oblivious to the ocean of positive words that swirl around them. Sometimes I imagine the words reaching up from the floor and wrapping the students in gossamer, soothing their minds and maybe even improving their lives.

Dr. Emoto’s work may have been less-than-scientific, but I truly believe that words written with the mighty pen and the power of intention may indeed change the quality of the water within us.

Will I be doing the same at Yoga Nook @ Fifth? Absolutely!


Image credit: Alexey Kljatov on Flickr (CC)

The Business of Yoga: The Exquisite Risk

When I opened Yoga Nook 12 years ago, people assumed it had been a lifelong wish of mine to be a studio owner. Actually, it wasn’t. It just felt like the right thing to do at the time. One of the local gyms where I taught had closed its doors, making five yoga classes homeless. I wanted to grow my business and teach more classes in a facility that provided the right atmosphere. I was so tired of dirty floors, no props and frigid air conditioning.

But opening a yoga studio in Simi Valley was quite a risk. It had never been done successfully before. I opened the first Yoga Nook on Stearns Street in November 2003. I remember being late on the very first morning, as I had been up until 1 a.m. staining the yoga studio doors. I had forgotten to get rubber gloves for the project, and I couldn’t get the stain off my hands.

I arrived half an hour late, convinced there would be no one waiting to sign up. A small crowd of students cheered as I arrived, and I shed tears of gratitude as I opened the doors for the first time. Some of those students are still members today.

About a year later, I began thinking about having two studios. I entered negotiations in 2007, but then pulled out as the recession reared its ugly head and kept us battened down until late 2009. I revisited the idea in 2009 and began a search for the location of the new Nook. But family illness and the need to visit England frequently stopped me from taking the last step.

In 2012, I felt the itch to move Yoga Nook. Knowing that I was nearing the end of my lease on Stearns, I looked for a facility that could afford space for private AIM therapeutic sessions as well as yoga classes. I began renovations for the current location in May 2012, and we moved Yoga Nook lock, stock and barrel in September 2013.

Yoga Nook 4449 Cochran
Yoga Nook’s current location at 4449 Cochran St.

Phew! I needed a rest. I wanted to continue to establish the new location, building the garden and putting the finishing touches in place. It took over a year to recover from the many hours of work invested in such a huge project. I was convinced that this was it—I had laid my last yoga floor!

As January 2015 rolled around, I once again began to consider my original plan for two studios. I asked my staff, and their eyes lit up with excitement. I asked my business advisers; they said go for it. I asked my husband, and he rolled his eyes (which is as good as a yes). The search was on.

I was looking for a certain type of space; and of course, location was very important. I wanted to make our yoga classes more accessible for residents of the west side of Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks. I searched for all of March and most of April, trolling up and down Los Angeles Avenue, First Street and Madera.

Finally I came across a unit on Fifth Street—east-facing, on a quiet road, 1600 square feet of space, with enough parking to serve a football stadium. Giant sycamore trees provide shade, and a wide greenbelt separates it from the road. A quiet spot with easy access from Los Angeles Avenue and the convenience of a supermarket close by, it proved to be the ideal home for the new Yoga Nook @ Fifth.

Yoga Nook @ Fifth students
Students eagerly awaiting the opening of Yoga Nook @ Fifth!

We are all eager to embark on this new chapter. The studio will have a purple-and-grey color scheme; the vibe will be just a touch industrial. We’ll maximize natural light with the studio entry design and careful use of overhead lighting. We will be using the same studio doors that we had at the original Yoga Nook, and yes, I will be putting down another floor!

Watch this space and subscribe below for updates on Yoga Nook @ Fifth as the remodel gets underway. We plan to have our grand opening in early September. Thank you for coming along with us on this exciting journey!


Teacher Profile: Sarah Brandle

Summer is in full swing, and we’re featuring a new Yoga Nook teacher for the month of July: Sarah Brandle. Read our interview with Sarah below, and come by the Nook on Sundays from 4-5 p.m. Sarah’s Core & Stretch class will be a $10 community class for the whole month of July, so bring a friend!

What originally drew you to the practice of Yoga? How has your practice changed over time?

In 2010, I sustained an injury that was both physically traumatic and emotionally damaging. I saw a Yoga Nook ad in a local paper. I thought Yoga might help me get back on track physically since I wasn’t able to do my usual strenuous workouts. From the minute I walked in the door, I felt like I had come home—home to the space and home to myself.

Why did you decide to become a Registered Yoga Teacher? What inspires your teaching today? 

After practicing for only a few months, I craved more. Jeni mentioned the teacher training at the Nook. It sparked an idea. I had already gained so much from what I learned. If I could learn more and share this amazing feeling with others, then maybe they could heal too. I just had to share once I started learning. It was bubbling out of me.

This still inspires my teaching. I see people feel relief after class. When you see a student’s peaceful face after Savasana, it warms your heart. You know it is important work, and that’s motivation to teach.

How would you describe your teaching style? What makes your classes unique? 

I would say my teaching style is simple. Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated to feel good. I like to offer a refuge in my class. We often push so hard in life; I offer breaks. Not just in Savasana but throughout class, take a break if you need it. Although, I think all Yoga Nook teachers do this!

Are there any particularly memorable or transformative moments from your practice or teaching that you would like to share? 

During teacher training, Jeni said something like, “Remember, it isn’t about you. It is about your students. It’s about the Yoga.”

As someone with a pretty big ego, this was a turning point for me. I think about this when I teach and in my daily life. Often I get caught up in my own mind. This is my reminder to step out of my own thoughts and instead see others, listen to them and help as I can.

What is your favorite pose, and why? 

Parivrtta Anjaneyasana, twisted lunge with the hand on the ground. I love the way I feel strong and open at the same time. It stretches us and yet feels so sturdy. Plus, you can move into so many other poses from here as a transition. It is simple and beautiful.

What advice would you share with a student looking to deepen his or her practice? 

Keep learning. Practice, practice, practice. Do poses in the studio and at home. Do breathwork, meditate.

Take Yoga with you everywhere. Let it permeate your heart and body. Then let it seep out of you for others to see and feel the goodness of it.

If you could choose one quote that best encompasses your approach, what would it be? 

“Be silly, be honest, be kind.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Check out past teacher profiles: 
Jess Nilson
Yasa Rasakhoo


Yoga Nook Event: Essential Oils Wellness Workshop

Who doesn’t like the smell of fresh-cut lemons? So energizing, vibrant and refreshing. Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalisis a perennial herb in the mint family that has a delightfully fresh, lemony scent. The plant can grow up to three feet tall, and blooms with tiny white flowers from summer through fall. Bees are very attracted to the pollen produced by the flowers; in fact, the genus name Melissa comes from the Greek word for honeybee.

Essential oil extracted from the lemon balm plant is commonly sold in stores as “Melissa essential oil.” It is one of the rarest, most expensive oils in the world because it requires such a large amount of the fragrant herb to yield a small amount of oil–it takes 95,000 pounds of dried plant material to yield just one gallon of Melissa essential oil. As a result, there are many cheap imitations on the market labeled “lemon balm oil,” which may be adulterated with lemon oil or lemongrass oil. Consumers beware!

Pure Melissa essential oil is generally used to alleviate digestive and respiratory problems originating in the nervous system.* The oils in the lemon balm plant have a calming effect, which also make it useful for depression, menstrual cramps and stress-related conditions.

You can use Melissa essential oil in an aromatherapy diffuser, or chop fresh lemon balm leaves and add them to salads or fruit dishes. You can also make a refreshing herbal tea by adding 2 tablespoons of torn or chopped lemon balm leaves to one cup of boiling water. Steep for up to 10 minutes, strain and drink. Hot or cold lemon balm tea will put a zing in your step!

To learn more about preparing, mixing and using essential oils for health and wellness, come to Yoga Nook instructor Cindi Hunt’s Essential Oils Wellness Workshop at the Nook on Saturday, June 27 from 12:30-2:00 p.m.

In this fun, hands-on workshop, you’ll be able to smell, apply and even taste dozens of essential oils. Cindi will show you how to use oils in your home, in your cooking and for proactive healthcare–for only $15 a person. You’ll get to make and take home your own room spritzer and de-stress with special essential oil combinations.

Hope to see you there!

Essential Oils Wellness Workshop with Cindi Hunt
Saturday, June 27
12:30-2:00 p.m.

*Please note, Melissa essential oil should always be diluted and should not be applied to sensitive skin. To avoid contact with sensitive areas such as eyes and nose, always wash your hands after handling the fresh herb or essential oil.


Image credit: hitomi on Flickr (CC)

Yoga Nook Member Profile: Patti Grammatis

In the last couple of months, we’ve taken a closer look at some of our beloved Yoga Nook teachers here on the blog. So far we’ve profiled Yasa Rasakhoo and Jess Nilson. To spice things up a bit for June, we’re turning our attention to YOU, our Yoga Nook members—and one fabulous member in particular: Patti Grammatis. Read on to find out more about Patti’s journey with Yoga, AIM and of course, Yoga Nook.

What originally led you to begin practicing Yoga in general, and at Yoga Nook in particular? 

I began practicing Yoga over three decades ago to develop a peaceful and calming hiatus from a very busy life. Through Yoga I found that serenity, and also found it to be a healthy exercise to keep me in shape.

When Jeni opened up the Nook minutes from my home in Simi, I was beyond thrilled. At both of her studios, she has developed a nurturing, friendly environment that welcomes newcomers and makes everyone feel at home. It’s a place that encourages friendships, and all the classes are taught by well-trained professionals who keep us safe. I feel so lucky to have the Nook so close by, and recommend that everyone tries it out!

How has practicing Yoga and AIM (either group classes or one-on-one) benefited you? 

Yoga has helped me cultivate a body/mind connection of awareness and flexibility that is a guiding light in my daily life. Yoga keeps me grounded, centered and calm. Three years ago, when I experienced a very painful frozen shoulder, it was Jeni’s gentle, one-on-one AIM sessions that helped me develop the full range of motion that no other therapy seemed to be able to, including acupuncture and traditional physical therapy. AIM teaches patience and a slowing-down that is the antidote to today’s fast-paced life.

Are there any stories you would like to share about your journey with Yoga? 

Several years ago, I decided to go through the Nook’s RYT 200 Teacher Training program. Our cohort was only the second to pass through Jeni’s skilled teachings, and we formed a special bond as we delved into the philosophy, anatomy and techniques of Yoga.

I was petrified (literally petrified) to teach my first five-minute portion of a class, although I had been a classroom teacher for over two decades by then. Slowly, all those fears subsided and I enjoyed teaching a 20-20-20 class on Sundays. Then as a physical education teacher, I was able to lead over 60 middle schoolers in yoga classes that soon became my students’ favorite unit. Without the skill and support of Jeni, and the members of my Yoga Nook family, I know this would not have been possible.

What do you value most about being a member at Yoga Nook? 

One of the things I value the most about being a member of the Nook is the friendly, happy, welcoming environment. We always look out for each other and try to help newcomers feel at home so they too can reap the benefits of Yoga. In addition, Jeni and her teachers are constantly innovating and modifying techniques as we age to keep us safe and injury-free–that is very important to me, and the teachers at the Nook take great care to ensure our well-being.

What is your favorite class at Yoga Nook, and why? 

Every class I attend becomes my favorite class the minute we take our first deep breath. It took me quite awhile to develop this attitude, but it really works. I especially enjoy the meditation class on Mondays at 7:45 a.m. with Pat, because she grounds my day with wisdom and courage. I also enjoy classes with Kelly, Robin, Allison, Rachel, Yasa, and of course Jeni–to name just a few.


Teacher Profile: Jessica Nilson

Every month, we’re featuring a different teacher on the Yoga Nook blog. We highlighted Yasa Rasakhoo for the month of April, and now we’re turning our attention to Jessica Nilson. Read on to learn more about Jess’ unique style, then come on in to Yoga Nook — all of her scheduled classes will be $10 community classes throughout the month of May!

Tuesday 8:30-9:45 a.m. — Classic Yoga 1 & 2
Tuesday 4:30-5:30 p.m. — Yoga in Mind
Friday 9-10:15 a.m. — Classic Yoga 1
3rd Friday of the month, 7-8:15 p.m. — Yin Stretch

What originally drew you to the practice of Yoga? How has your practice changed over time?

What drew me to Yoga was an opportunity to teach it in a gym setting. I was already a personal trainer and had taught group classes for years. I had a short training to get started, and I quickly realized that I needed more — more practice and more education.

I continued my education with Jeni Winterburn. I had been practicing with her for awhile and started taking workshops with her. This led to the first change in my practice: realizing that Yoga was so much more than the asana. Over the years, it has continued to evolve into a love of the movement, as well as the inward journey the practice continues to take me on. It is constantly changing me and giving me opportunities to grow, love and inspire … to be open and compassionate, and I am so grateful for that.

Why did you decide to become a Registered Yoga Teacher? What inspires your teaching today? 

I became a registered teacher because I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! Giving and receiving the energy of the students, guiding them through a practice that is positive and healing, energetic and peaceful. I feel in my heart it’s what I was meant to do. It feels right, feels real.

How would you describe your teaching style? What makes your classes unique? 

My style is a combination of inspiration, honesty, compassion and finding progress without pain. I’m all for challenging students as well, encouraging work. However, Yoga should be fun and positive, not rigid. I like to invoke lightheartedness and humor in my classes from time to time. Intense and focused, or slow and soft, I try to bring a balance to each class.

Are there any particularly memorable or transformative moments from your practice or teaching that you would like to share? 

I would say my teacher trainings. In both the RYT 200 and 500, there were so many “aha!” moments that I wouldn’t have enough words to describe them all. I experience transformation and memorable moments each time I teach or practice. Each time is an opportunity for something new to arise — just like each day is a brand new beginning for us all.

What is your favorite pose, and why? 

Oh boy, there are so many, but probably Ardha Chandrasana, Half Moon Pose. I love the strong stability built in this pose and the gentle grace of the balance. There is also a charming mythical story behind the pose: the Hindu god Ganesha puts a curse on the moon to shine but once a month, which explains why the moon cycle exists. This story is one of my all-time favorites.

What advice would you share with a student looking to deepen his or her practice? 

I was reading some literature on Yoga when I came across a quote from a teacher named Sharon Gannon: “You cannot DO Yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”

I wasn’t quite sure what it meant at first. I read more, practiced more asana and meditation, and attended more trainings and lectures — which got me closer, but I’m still getting there. So my advice would be to keep learning about the practice through asana, self-study, and education, including lectures and teacher trainings. Even if you don’t want to be a teacher, it will deepen your practice in so many ways.

If you could choose one quote that best encompasses your approach, what would it be? 

“Remember, it does not matter how deep into a posture you go — what does matter is who you are when you get there.” –Max Strom


Teacher Profile: Yasa Rasakhoo

Each month, we’ll be featuring a different Yoga Nook teacher on the blog so you can learn more about their unique styles, personalities and inspirations. Plus, all scheduled classes taught by the teacher of the month will be $10 community classes all month long!

Today we’re getting a jump-start on April with Yasa Rasakhoo. Read on to find out why we love her, then stop by Yoga Nook to experience her classes firsthand:

Monday 6:45-8 p.m. — Classic Yoga Level 1 & 2
Wednesday 7-8 p.m. — Qi Gong/Chi Kung
Saturday 8:30-9:30 a.m. — Qi Gong/Tai Chi

What originally drew you to the practice of Yoga? How has your practice changed over time? 

I have always been interested in Eastern practices, especially Yoga, meditation, and Qi Gong. I have been meditating for 35 years and practicing Yoga to some degree for the same period of time. My newest love, Qi Gong, came into my life in the last five years. I studied Qi Gong at the School of Chinese Medicine and am amazed at the power it has to heal the body and mind.

Why did you decide to become a Registered Yoga Teacher? What inspires your teaching today? 

I decided to become a yoga teacher six years ago. I had no definite idea why, except that I wanted to further deepen my knowledge and understanding of anatomy and the philosophy behind Yoga. I am inspired by how Yoga evolved and is still growing and changing constantly. The sky is the limit.

How would you describe your teaching style? What makes your classes unique? 

I like to teach slow and steady classes because of my Qi Gong background. I use the ideology behind Chinese medicine, that using and warming up the joints gives us much more access to the poses and makes the practice pain-free, soft and easy, and enjoyable.

Are there any particularly memorable or transformative moments from your practice or teaching that you would like to share? 

Every class is unique and memorable. My teaching improved when I decided to be myself and not imitate other teachers or books, and I realized that this is the only way I can teach – by being myself.

What is your favorite pose, and why? 

My favorite pose is Side Angle (Parsvakonasana), because it is so beautiful and expansive. The technique of shortening one side to be able to lengthen the other side is very appealing to me. It is an awesome pose.

What advice would you share with a student looking to deepen his or her practice?

Be yourself. We are all unique in our own ways. Let your practice BE and not DO. Love what you do and enjoy the students. Know that we are all just one energy expressing uniquely.

If you could choose one quote that best encompasses your approach, what would it be?

“Connect to the breath.” Follow your breath, let it guide you through your teaching and practice. It will do magic for you.


It’s Meditation March at Yoga Nook!

To celebrate over one year of FREE community meditation classes, Yoga Nook teachers will be integrating a five-minute meditation in every class at Yoga Nook throughout the month of March.

The meditation may be a mindful movement portion of the class or a more classic seated experience, and will be included in every 75-minute yoga class regardless of the level.

Be Present Meditation Workshop

Join Pat VanBuskirk, Jessica Nilson and Jeni Winterburn for a FREE meditation workshop on Saturday, March 21 from 12-1:30 p.m.

Together we will practice simple seated concentration, mindfulness meditation, as well as meditation in movement. Learn how to bring greater mindfulness to your yoga poses and enhance your experience in meditation.

Beginners are welcome. Please call (805) 390-8175 to reserve your spot today.


Image credit: Brian Ambrozy on Flickr (CC)

Get OFF Your Yoga Mat

I love Yoga. So why am I asking you to get off your mat?

Because in the West, we have a very narrow view of Yoga — we think it’s all about stretching. We celebrate flexibility as if it’s the only result Yoga can help us achieve.

I’m here to show you how Yoga can benefit you OFF the mat. Rooted in a history that’s over 5,000 years old, yoga techniques are as relevant in today’s world as they were to the ancient yogis and yoginis.

My intention for this blog is to show you how to apply these ancient techniques to your lifeI’ll be giving you practical tips, sharing my own yoga experience, and inviting you to comment on the posts.

I’ve been a Yoga teacher in Simi Valley for over 20 years, and Yoga Nook has been in business for 12 of those years. Our studio is built on a valley-wide reputation for excellence in teaching yoga classes, teacher training and somatic education.

Until now, the only way you could benefit from Yoga was to come in and take a class. That’s about to change. Now you can subscribe to our blog to receive two monthly posts that will shed light on how Yoga can help you understand yourself and the world we live in.

Simply enter your email address below to sign up. I invite you to share your insights, stories and comments. Join us and become part of the Yoga Nook community, living Yoga OFF the mat.

With gratitude,

Jeni Winterburn


Image credit: bradleypjohnson on Flickr (CC)