Yogis Get Cancer, Too: Our Facebook Live with Lisa Merkle


We get to talk to yoga teacher and cancer survivor Lisa Merkle (pictured right) on Facebook Live tomorrow, 2/14 at 10:30 am EST on our page. (If you miss it, go check it out--the video will be there). This is super exciting for us. She has spoken and written extensively about her battle with cancer. Because she was a yogi living the wellness dream, she tried natural remedies for a really long time when she first had symptoms. She just wishes she had seen a traditional doctor sooner because then she would've caught her Stage 3 Rectal Cancer earlier. 

After chemo, surgeries and treatment, Lisa is cancer-free. Thank God. But she does want yogis to know that we can come down with conditions despite how much we meditate and drink kombucha. Colon and rectal cancers are actually on the rise for younger people in their 20s and 30s. Regular physicals and doctor visits are as important as ever. And our healthy, holistic lifestyles certainly help, too.

Of course, even as she spreads her message of awareness, Lisa is very grateful for her longtime yoga practice. It helped her through her battle and beyond. 

"From years of practicing yoga, I had developed a stable of tools that allowed me to look at my experience with cancer as transformative as opposed to being a victim. This was incredibly healing for me," she explains. She already had a gratitude practice. She was comfortable with the ideas of surrender and grace. Her meditation practice evolved. As wiped as she was during treatment, she was able to do asana which felt really good to her body. 

Today she teaches restorative yoga, and she's taking Kula's Advanced Teacher Training for Trauma and Addiction on March 24 and 25 in Miami. "I’m interested in the science behind meditative practices and the physiochemical state that yoga and meditation induce. It’s incredibly healing--not just for cancer patients. We all need space for healing as human beings living in turbulent times." We are inspired by her story, and we hope you are, too!

February Teacher of the Month: Sheryl Heller


We appreciate the hard work our Kula for Karma teachers put in to help other people through yoga. We especially appreciate Sheryl Heller, so we made her our February Teacher of the Month. For the last 2.5 years, she has worked at St. Joseph's Hospital Out-Patient Center for Children with Cancer in Paterson, New Jersey. She teaches kids ages 2 through 18 who are living with this disease. She says they are given a condition that's not very fair. "So how can I make their days a little better?" Sheryl asks. "I go in there, try to get them to smile and give them a break from thinking about what they're going through."

When she's not volunteering, Sheryl is a vinyasa yoga teacher at Nirvana studios in Montville and Wayne. She's a 500 RYT who has been teaching for 11 years. She does privates, and she even does massage. "Yoga has changed every aspect of my life: physically, mentally, spiritually. It makes me curious," Sheryl says. 

She's been happy teaching for Kula and helping her young students find a little peace and happiness on their mats. "Yoga allows the kids to handle changes. I am thankful to Kula for this opportunity, and I think Kula for Karma is absolutely incredible!"

We are pleased to honor you, Sheryl. We are so inspired by your dedication and work. Thank you!

How Yoga Helps Addiction and Recovery: Facebook Live with Maria Salvatore

Let's talk about how yoga helps conquer addiction and speed recovery on our next Facebook Live on Tuesday, 2/13 at 2:30 pm on our page. Kula teacher Maria Salvatore will share her own personal experience with substances and abuse, and how she overcame her issues to become a happier person. That's the name of the game. We all want to feel better. So whether you're dealing with addiction or working to understand this issue, we will provide insight.

You'll want to meet Maria. She is an awesome person, yoga teacher, mother, volunteer and survivor. She's been practicing yoga for 16 years. "My primary intention is to help people learn to heal themselves," she says. She's dealt with anxiety, addiction, body image issues and broken relationships. Yoga helped her turn her life around.

She teaches yoga for Kula for Karma to women in recovery at Integrity House in Secaucus. She also teaches near her hometown of Rivervale, New Jersey. She believes that everyone has the potential to feel contentment, and she uses asana as a tool to guide her students toward inner peace. To her, yoga opens the pathways to more openness, compassion, mindfulness and healing. Join us, and meet her on Tuesday on Facebook! We can't wait!


January Teacher of the Month: Judy Choix

Our Teacher of the Month for January 2018 is Judy Choix.


Judy is a NYS licensed Mental Health Counselor, Gestalt therapist and a body worker trained in yoga, craniosacral therapy, Integral Somatic Psychotherapy (ISP), and mindfulness practices. She has a private practice on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
As volunteer for Kula for Karma, she has worked with at-risk teens at Covenant House and currently volunteers at Bellevue Hospital working with in-patients in the children’s ward.  
“This work can be challenging since there is often so much trauma present with these populations,” says Judy. “But it is also rich in blessings since you literally see the children transform in front of your eyes. Upon entering the ward you can sense the dysregulation in their bodies, which may show up as anger, reluctance, ambivalence, as well as hyper- or hypoactivity. By the end of class there is usually a softening and settling. I always end class with savasana and the ringing of the mediation bell. As they lie there, I invite them to let in anything that is nourishing and helpful and let go of anything that is not needed and not loving. You can sense the dropping down into themselves and the peace that enters the room.

“It is very special work and I am privileged to be of service. It is an honor to work as part of the Kula for Karma team making a difference to so many young people by bringing yoga into their lives. Thank you Kula!!”

Thank you, Judy, for your generosity and the tremendously healing work you do!!!

November Teacher of the Month: Dr. Shari Becker

We are delighted to share that Dr. Shari Becker is not only our “Rising Star” Honoree at our 10th Annual Gala on Nov 6th, but she has also been named Teacher of the Month for November!

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Shari Becker is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified yoga teacher who has spent the last fifteen years integrating her two professional passions. In her work as a psychologist, she brings the wisdom of yoga philosophy, as well as mindfulness techniques, meditation and breath work to her patients.

Shari became a certified yoga teacher and began teaching for Kula for Karma in 2014. She has been teaching a weekly class in the partial psychiatric hospitalization program at Christian Health Care Center since 2015. The “consumers” in CHCC’s partial program struggle with various mental illnesses, including psychotic, mood, anxiety and personality disorders. They come from a wide range of age groups, and vary in physical health and fitness level. Many are on medications that have side effects impacting their energy and balance. Every Tuesday, these individuals come together to practice yoga in a class designed to address their emotional vulnerability while accommodating their physical challenges. Most consumers at CHCC have no prior experience with yoga and some are reluctant to participate.

“Once assured that the class is taught to be accessible to everyone, we begin with a dharma talk incorporating strategies based in yoga philosophy for coping with life’s challenges,” says Shari. “The rest of the class varies from week to week and includes breath techniques, meditation practices, linking simple movements with breath, gentle stretching and playing with balance. Our class favorite is the practice of ‘Breath of Joy,’ in which we inhale to lift our arms overhead and exhale to bend forward and swing our arms down and back with a vibrant ‘HA,’ releasing tension and anything else that no longer serves us.”

Shari has a special interest in the therapeutic application of yoga to issues related to food, eating and body image. She co-wrote Kula for Karma’s manual for our advanced yoga teacher training for disordered eating and body image issues, and co-taught that training in New Jersey and New York City. Shari was Kula for Karma’s “Ask the Yogi” webinar expert on yoga and mental health and spoke at a Kula fundraiser for medical and mental health professionals about self-care for women.

Shari says she is very grateful to be part of the Kula for Karma community, to teach yoga to the special population at Christian Health Care Center, and to share the wisdom she has acquired from her yoga practice with her patients and students. But we are even more grateful to Shari, in return, for the support and kindness she shares with her students, the wisdom and leadership she shares with Kula’s teachers, and the generous Benefactor-level donation she and her husband Dan Becker made in support of this year’s 10th Anniversary Gala. Thank you, Shari, for everything you do for Kula.

Get your Gala tickets now, and come toast our Rising Star and Teacher of the Month, Dr. Shari Becker. http://bit.ly/2yY1og6

Sponsor an Ad in Our Gala E-Journal

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Advertising in our E-Journal at our 10th Anniversary Gala is not only a great way to support Kula, it’s also a great way to get your message in front of hundreds of people affiliated with Kula. The E-Journal displays on-screen throughout the evening, with inspirational messages about Kula and this year's honorees, sponsored ads, and more.

Imagine the possibilities:

  • Congratulate Kula on 10 years of accomplishments in bringing therapeutic yoga to populations in need.
  • Share a message toasting one of this year’s honorees or special guests.
  • Let people know about your support for Kula for Karma and put your company’s logo, ad, or your personal brand in front of an influential audience.

E-Journal ads are available in various formats/sizes, ranging from a full screen ad to a simple line of text. Ads can be placed by individuals, companies, or nonprofit organizations.

Even if you’re unable to attend this year’s Gala in person, sponsoring an E-Journal ad is a fantastic way to support Kula for Karma and have a virtual presence at the Gala.

For more information about ad specs and formats, contact Simone Barfoed at simonebarfoed@gmail.com. To purchase an ad, visit: http://bit.ly/2geUrA5

October Teacher of the Month: Phyllis Rowley

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Our Teacher of the Month for October 2017 is Phyllis Rowley.

Phyllis’ first yoga class was in 1974, when a physics professor put up a note: “Yoga, 4pm, Lecture Hall.” They met a few times, learned a few poses, then the class fizzled away. But it started a life-long practice, which deepened when she found Anusara yoga, and learned to breathe properly. Teacher training with Chaya Spencer, at Shree Yoga, was a dive still deeper into the world of yoga. 

Her classes are light hearted and energetic. “I started teaching for Kula as a brand new yoga teacher, wanting to give to the community at large,” says Phyllis. “Cancer patients were a natural fit, as my husband is an oncologist and sees first-hand the positive effects that yoga has on his patients. My students have been a perpetual joy. The Tuesday morning crew at the John Theurer Cancer Center enjoys being with each other, and it is lovely to see them offer advice and support to each other as well as keep track of visits to grandchildren and other adventures.”

Along with your students, we appreciate your dedication and generosity, Phyllis! Thank you!

September Teacher of the Month: Abby Denny

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Our teacher of the month for September 2017 is Abby Denny, who teaches for Kula at Valley Hospital. We are so grateful for Abby's warmth, generosity, kindness, and dedication to helping others. Here's Abby's story in her own words:

"The combination of my own cancer journey and yoga practice has lead me down a wonderful path in more ways than I ever imagined. When one of my friends told me about Kula for Karma and the volunteer opportunities to help give back, I wasted no time. I did not have the opportunity to experience Kula’s services as a patient, but feel so grateful that I can help give back as a teacher and survivor.

Everyone comes to their yoga mat with their own stories, their own highs and lows, and being able to help guide people through their practice and their journey is a gift I am happy to share. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 myself, I began practicing yoga on a regular basis as a way to navigate life from an honest and open place. I needed to find a way to dig deep, fight and continue to be true to myself as a wife, mother, and most importantly as a woman. Through the guidance of wonderful gurus along the way, yoga became an integral part of my daily life.

At Valley Hospital, I try to give my students a space that is safe, nurturing and peaceful. I remind them that they must learn to trust themselves, to love themselves, to continue to show their brave spirit and be courageous each and every day as they move on and off the mat. I am very honored to share my practice and guide these incredible survivors. I continue to gain so much strength and motivation from them, as I hope they do from me.

I am constantly learning and should complete my 500 hour yoga certification next year, continuing to build on my own core practice. My goal is to create a community where relationships with yourself, your yoga practice and your peers can help you to handle life’s twists and turns from a place of warmth and gratitude.

I enjoy cooking, gardening, golf and my wonderful family. I am proud to support Breast Cancer by participating in AVON39, hoping to walk all 7 cities with the wonderful support of family and friends."

Thank you for everything you do, Abby! 

July Program of the Month: Integrity House

Our program of the month for July is Integrity House.

Integrity House continues to be dedicated to offering yoga to individuals and their families suffering from substance abuse across their New Jersey facilities. Kula for Karma is proud to provide equally dedicated yoga instructors who are willing to share the gift of yoga with both men and women in the Adult Residential program at the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny, NJ.
This program assists individuals in recovering towards a drug free, positive lifestyle through a wide range of therapeutic and reentry services.
Jim Stroker, our former instructor for the men's class, describes his experience as "challenging, but very rewarding." He states that, "Hudson County Correctional Center might contain a parameter that it is a scary or dangerous environment; however under the guidance of Integrity House, the men you are working with are all nonviolent, extremely grateful human beings that are looking for someone to help inspire them through their challenges."
The women of this program have reported how much they love yoga and that it helps them move forward in their journey. It is crucial for a teacher to be able to connect with students because they are going through tremendous challenges in their life, and we are so grateful that we have been able to offer this support for seven years!

July Teacher of the Month: Sujana Bhattacharyya

Our teacher of the month for July is Sujana Bhattacharyya!

Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sujana has had a longstanding inquiry of how to optimize healing and social justice. As such, her professional interests led her to the East Coast to become a doctor, while her spiritual aspirations led her to yoga and Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine and well-being. She discovered that practicing yoga brought her a sense of wholeness, and that yogic philosophy provided a remarkable blueprint with which to live life with integrity.

Wanting to extend this healing modality to her patients and community, she completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training at Three Sisters Yoga, a school that encourages teaching yoga to diverse populations. Under the instruction of wonderful teachers and mentors, including Jen Whinnen and Krissy Shields, she learned to teach an alignment-focused and non-judgmental style of vinyasa yoga.

As a physician in training, Sujana believes yoga should be accessible to everyone. Thus she has focused on bringing yoga to communities that cannot access yoga due to limited resources. This passion eventually led her to discover Kula for Karma, which was recommended by a friend and fellow yoga instructor. At Kula, she has primarily taught at Integrity House, which she says has been an utmost privilege. Every week, women in different stages of their recovery are encouraged to show up just as they are. Sujana strives to bring calmness, strength, healing, joy, and an aromatic mini-massage to each of her classes, with the intention that every student leaves feeling relaxed and loved. 

Thank you, Sujana, for the love and care you bring to your work for Kula!