The Utica Yoga Project was formed in 2015 by Jeff Percacciante, Sara Miller and Ali Wilmes as a way to provide community, education and local pride through the practice of yoga.
What made the Utica Yoga Project (UYP) choose our cause, Ophelia’s Place, as it’s benefiting charity for the event on February 2, 2018?
We chose Ophelia's Place because embracing body positivity and diversity is very near and dear to hearts here at UYP.
I (Jeff Percacciante) have struggled with body image my entire life, and always try to find ways that yoga can help my students and myself overcome stigma in a practice that's meant to heal, not intimidate.
What inspired you to start the Utica Yoga Project?
The Utica Yoga Project was built out of a love for our community and it's unique personality.
As the yoga scene began to grow in our area, so did an appreciation for the unique places, people and organizations right in our own backyard.
Our goal is to use the practice of yoga and it's knack for building community to highlight different charitable organizations, venues, restaurants, etc. around town.
We donate every cent to charities in need.
What inspired the UYP to change the conversation and culture around health/ beauty/ bodies in your community?
Each one of us at the UYP have been profoundly affected by practicing yoga and how it creates an awareness within our bodies.
When we move through a practice, we get to know our little nuances, our stories, and we experience over and over again the miraculous coming together of all our systems.
Through UYP, we share how yoga taught us to love our bodies and work with them, instead of scorn them and try to change them.
One of our major goals is to bring the practice of “Loving Yourself” to as big an audience as possible.
We wholeheartedly welcome people of all faiths, ethnicity, traditions, body shapes, sizes, ability levels, genders, sexual orientation and upbringing.
These principles of acceptance, openness and kindness translate to creating a network.
This is what real community is about!
How has the practice of body acceptance changed your perceptions of health and beauty, and impact the work of UYP?
When you practice yoga in a deep, intelligent way, you have to realize how incredibly unique you are.
In yoga, there is a concept of "aesthetic alignment" versus "functional alignment."
Aesthetic alignment is what you see on TV, Instagram and popular media. It's the false idea of how you're "supposed" to look.
Teachers and practitioners are starting to realize that aesthetic alignment can actually hurt people because not all of us are built the same.
The way I look won't be the way you look in any given pose.
Because of popular media, and the inundation of "aesthetic alignment" seen from Instagram stars doing wild poses, we end up feeling bad!
We suddenly wish that we weren't unique, and that we looked the same as everyone else.
Isn't this a fascinating mirror to how we view body image?
Instead of being in love with what makes us different and unique, we become upset with ourselves and try to change in ourselves to look like images in the media.
This is exactly what UYP is trying to change.
The practice that we do together at our event is about finding change and sensation in your body.
We don’t teach to the ideal.
We teach what we love; which is understanding yoga at your own, deep, perceptive level, regardless of what you've walked in thinking about yourself.
Where do you source your strength and motivation from to keep creating this change?
We really look to our community for our inspiration.
Without them, we would be three teachers talking to an empty room.
Each time we host an event, we get a wide range of people who show us that diversity means happiness.
Each time we're low on inspiration, or questioning ourselves, we're reminded of the tapestry of people that come to our events, and we're suddenly reinvigorated.
Even if these people feel the sting of self-doubt, or are questioning their own fundamental goodness, all that negative chatter seems to disappear when you're around people who love and support you.
Community is truly the way out of those dark places and into a place of strength, motivation and self-kindness.
If the UYP could leave us with one nugget of truth, inspiration, encouragement or empowerment, what would that be?
In order to fall in love with yourself, you have to date yourself.
Think of it like someone you really want to date.
You're nice to them. You take them out. You send them little uplifting messages.
You don't tell them they're ugly, play with their emotions, or starve them.
Your journey toward self-love can come with all of the butterflies and excitement that come from dating someone new.
Take yourself on a date to your favorite movie.
Buy yourself something you've always wanted.
Take a warm bath with some essential oils you love.
Exercise in a way you love, then bundle up with a blanket and watch your favorite show or reread your favorite book.
Stop looking in the mirror and saying mean things. You wouldn't do that to someone you were trying to impress.
Fall in love with yourself.
Get involved & help someone struggling today through yoga.
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