Catch Up With Gemma - Deep Stretch Workshop

I’m Gemma DiRenna, born in Pgh and brought up in Houston, Texas. I’ve been back in the ‘Burgh for about ten years, and I’ll share with you this pearl of wisdom: put chili on your pierogis, friends.

I stepped onto the mat for a college hatha yoga course in 2006 and have never stepped off, since seeking out every yoga format offered in rural southeast Texas and then in Pittsburgh, and practicing at home with videos and books when none were available to me. In the past 10 years I’ve taught Zumba and hip hop dance and Spin at studios around the city, and in 2013 I graduated with a Natural Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh, with concentrations in anthropology, biology, and psychology. I traveled to Rishikesh, India for my yoga teacher training in 2017, and my practice and classes are a mix of hatha and vinyasa yoga; strengthening and lengthening holds mixed in with strong breath-connected flow, influenced by amazing teachers in India, Texas, and Pittsburgh.

My own practice, however imperfect, heavily influences my teaching. Chronic illness causes me daily pain and fatigue and when I practice in this body, which every day gives me a different level of energy and ability, I have to remind myself to move always toward self-care and love. The yogic principle of ahimsa or “non-harming” is of the most importance to me in my practice as a student and teacher. Every breath is a chance to move toward something, and I believe that when we move with care and love, we are our truest and lightest selves. So whatever your body is capable of is just enough, and your yoga practice is your love note to yourself and others. I teach to proper alignment and engagement, always stressing that the practice will look and feel different in different bodies. I’m a strong proponent of the truth that the practice of yoga is for every body of every age, physical form, and ability, and try to remind my students that they are the true teachers of themselves; I am merely a guide.

Coming to ASCEND was intimidating and exciting. I have no experience climbing, and felt very out of my element at first but being surrounded by such a passionate community is really inspiring and energizing, and I feel that I’m a better instructor for being blessed with a diverse group of yogis and yoginis. At a studio dedicated to only teaching yoga formats, there may be more of a sense of oneness and community from the moment you walk in the door. At an enormous climbing gym with so much to offer to so many different people, it can be a little challenging to foster that sense of oneness, but ASCEND does a great job incorporating yoga into everything it does; the Big Free Yoga event is something I’m so happy and honored to be a part of, and I love that the basic membership now includes yoga!

Teaching climbers, cross-trainers, and other fitness-forward enthusiasts is fun and challenging. It’s wonderful to teach athletes and amateurs who are passionate about movement and bring to class a sense of surrender. It’s clear to see that many of my participants may be newer to yoga, and their enthusiasm and openness is absolutely delightful; I’m humbled to teach eager yogis and yoginis.

I’m going to be leading the Deep Stretch Workshop on Saturday, August 25 from 1:30p-3:30p. We’ve got two luxurious hours to lengthen, relax, and restore our bodies with supported, still asanas, long slow gentle flows, self massage and hands-on assists, and mindful body scan methods. We’ll be practicing deep twists and folds, gentle backbends, hip and heart opening poses, and restorative inversions, taking time in each pose to release tension from the physical and energetic bodies. A long final relaxation will begin with a mindful body scan and end with yawns and smiles.

The vast majority of our members at ASCEND climb, and many lift, run, or hike; I designed the workshop to help the participant practice slowing down for self love and care. Deep stretches and opening asanas are important healing accompaniments to a vigorous physical practice like climbing, and providing that to my community is something I feel is important and worthwhile. Giving bodies and minds what they want and need for growth is one of the best parts of my job, and I can’t wait to do that at the workshop!

It’s such a blessing for me to be doing this work. This is the first year of my teaching, and I’m so grateful for the ASCEND community for holding space for a yogini like me to grow. Likewise being able to offer my fellow yogis and yoginis anything that will help them follow their path is the greatest honor of my life.

I’ll see you on the mat, friends; the light in me sees and bows to the light in you.