Most people would choose to never ever do any strenuous activities after a big spinal surgery. They would get traumatized but Jordan Levin’s next guest was the opposite. Yoga instructor Lynn Medow decided to continue to teach yoga and went as far as to create the Yoga by Design Foundation. She found that yoga was missing in a lot of people’s lives. There are war vets with PTSD, people with disabilities, or homeless refugees that never experienced yoga. Lynn decided to bring it to them for free. Feel free to listen as she talks about her personal experiences with yoga, the benefits of teaching yoga online, and how yoga can save lives.
Listen to the podcast here:
Lynn Medow – President Of Emeritus And Founder Of Yoga By Design Foundation
I’m here with the wonderful Lynn Medow. Lynn, thank you for being here.
Thank you so much. I’m honored to be with you, Jordan.
I’m glad to hear that. You and I have known each other for several years. I have to say that through the years, I have the utmost respect for everything that you do and I’ve seen you do.
Jordan, I first came to do CrossFit with you and Hillary after I had major back surgery. I had a spinal fusion L4-L5. I did some rehab and then started to rehab myself and I said, “I need to work on strength before I go back to yoga.” That’s when I came. I was impressed with the professionalism of the coaching and how careful you and Hillary were with me. I always tell everybody that story about your CrossFit gym.
Thank you very much. As you know, we proud ourselves on trying to work with anybody with any type of disability or any specific issues. That’s always been at the forefront. For me, I welcome those challenges. It keeps me on my toes when I have to think about somebody with any type of issue, especially when you’re dealing with major back surgery. That was a wonderful challenge. I thank you for that.
Let’s talk about what you’ve been commonly doing. Give us a little bit of a rundown on what your projects are.
I’m not quite as active as I had been. I spent many years in the field of social work and then retired. I had started taking yoga until I was almost 40 and having a background as a classical ballerina and then doing many other physical things from rock climbing to weightlifting. When I stepped on the yoga mat, I felt like I had come home. It’s like everything fell into place. I practiced between 8 and 10 years before I took my first teacher training. I took my first and second teacher training. Initially, I wasn’t even going to teach. I was doing it to learn. I said, “I want to do this.” I retired. It took a couple of years. I found a home to teach and that’s when I began my study as a yoga therapist.
That’s an interesting perspective. For me, I started yoga in my late 30s and early 40s as well with Stephanie Williams. I started learning and understanding the appreciation of how yoga was complementary to CrossFit. At CrossFit, we’re going a little bit heavier. We’re working our bodies. I was able to combine yoga with the military aspect of learning how to be still, which is hard for me. I have to always remind myself that yoga helped me to bring that down. I’m not flexible. I used to be. I haven’t seen you in a while, but I’m more flexible now than I was years ago.
Safe stretching comes from strength. It’s the strength that’s first and then the stretch.
Safe stretching comes from strength. It’s the strength that’s first and then the stretch. A lot of times, people come to yoga for the stretching, but you have to draw them back to get the strength. That’s the whole balance between strength, ease, effort and surrender, but also meeting the students where they are. When you start with somebody strong, you’re going to start in a little bit of a different place than if you’re going to work with somebody flexible.
People need to understand that perspective. You had back surgery and needed to gain some straight, which is the opposite of what you would think. People need to understand that this is not just physical but a balance of getting the body to do what the body needs. It takes a lot of time and practice doing yoga as well as yoga therapy. Let’s talk about yoga therapy. What’s the difference between basic yoga versus yoga therapy?
Yoga therapy is often done one on one as opposed to in a group class. Depending on how you teach in a group class, you’re going to teach a regular sequence, hopefully, with a teacher who is able to provide modifications if the pose isn’t appropriate for that person’s body. With yoga therapy, it’s the application of yoga principles in more therapeutic ways although, all of yoga is therapeutic. It’s specifically geared to either a person with a disability, an illness, or a person who has had an injury, it can also be used for injury prevention. Individually, the person is assessed and a treatment plan is developed. It’s an agreement between the student and the therapist. Step by step, you work through it at the student’s pace.
I understand that because when you talk about preventative measures, I think about all the use of sports, hockey, skiing, working out, and all of that. Growing up, I never stretched and never took the time to do that. A lot of time, I need to do the CrossFit. I realized I needed to stretch, get more mobile, and start to be more constrained before I start going on the heavier side. Understanding the balance between the two, for me, has been astronomical. I’m thankful to be involved in yoga.
That’s why I chose to do CrossFit for my strengthening after the surgery. I had done some of it a few years before. The beauty of CrossFit is that CrossFit works all the muscles in the body as opposed to doing one course of weightlifting. What injury prevention is, it’s to make sure that there’s muscle balance. Usually, when people work out, they’re only working out the muscles in the front of the body. How important it is and how many more layers of muscles are there in the back body that you have to work with? That’s part of injury prevention. We’re on the same page. You’re approaching it a little bit differently.
Let’s talk about yoga. My question is, with the pandemic, what have you noticed in terms of the trends of yoga compared to what was going on before the pandemic even though we’re technically still in the pandemic? What do you think some of the trends might be going forward?
In terms of regular yoga classes, especially in the state of Michigan, we were all shut down. What do you do? For somebody who is not technologically advanced, it was like, “I can’t do this.” Everybody has learned and with some level of proficiency to now teach online. It has been through different platforms. It’s not as satisfying. In a way, what it does is enables the student to become more independent. Oftentimes, what happens in a classroom is the student becomes dependent on the teacher.
Zoom teaching is different. You have to look at both sides, the pluses and the minuses. The end result is we’ve increased the numbers of people participating in yoga, although they increased many-fold over the years. Because of Zoom, we’ve increased the numbers because more people were bored or wanted to work out and to try something. Going forward, we will always have a much more robust online platform than we had in the past.
It isn’t related to this, but one of the things that I’ve noticed and I’ve talked about this before in some of my other podcasts, is that they’re in this hamster wheel. Before the pandemic, it’s going from one thing to another. All of a sudden, the pandemic hits and we can’t go anywhere. What I’ve noticed is it seems that people are, number one, taking their health a little bit more seriously.
Number two, it seems like everybody settled down a little bit. Maybe spending more time with family, especially on Zoom, Facebook. It seems like people have seen more of an appreciation of that. They’re able to spend time with their friends and family, more so online than they would have in person. The yoga part of it. I’m going to use Hillary as an example. She’s been good at reaching out to other people to get them to come to an online class. Before, because they lived too far away, they couldn’t make it. All of a sudden, these studios are reaching a different audience.
Now, we can teach somebody from other countries and I’ve had that in my classes. Usually, it’s people I know, but it can be people from all over the world.
You found yoga later in life. You said it felt like home. What were the defining point before the back surgery and all that stuff? What were you doing before you found yoga? What was it that brought you there?
It’s interesting when you said the whole thing about staying still and focusing. I am a high-energy go-go-go person, Type A. I always say that, in some ways, I am the Unholy Yogi because I’m down to earth and practical. I’m a failed meditator. I’ve studied every different kind of meditation. I can’t sit still. I finally said to myself, “Why am I beating myself up?” It’s like, “You’re a yoga teacher. You have to meditate.” I do moving meditation. What happened was I found that on the yoga mat. When I started moving, I could keep my mind completely focused on my breath. While I was moving, I reached that place that everybody said you’re supposed to get to when you’re sitting in meditation. That’s what caused me to move from being involved in a more office-type setting to say, “I can do something where I can move, teach, help people, or I facilitate other people to learn how to help themselves.”
I went to California. That’s where I got my yoga therapy certificate. I’d go to the International Association of Yoga Therapy meetings all over the United States. There would be presentations about people doing good works and offerings. As I’m sitting in all these meetings, I said to myself, “I can do that. We need this in Michigan.” I had no idea what I was doing. I said, “I’m going to establish a nonprofit.” I went to an attorney and did all the paperwork. I was like, “Now, what am I going to do?” I have to start raising money.
The other thing is that yoga is expensive. At least it was to go into studios the way that we have been teaching it in America. I always felt bad about how much it cost and that it wasn’t accessible to people. Yoga was integral and became important in my life, mental health and physical health. I felt it was unfair that everybody who wanted to couldn’t take advantage of it. I decided that I was going to create the foundation. Oftentimes, people want to volunteer, but I felt it was important to pay yoga teachers. Yoga teachers also deserve to make a living. Generally, in the scheme of things, they are poorly paid. If you know how to walk in and work with veterans with PTSD, if you can teach in a homeless shelter, political refugees and victims of human trafficking, you’ve gone through hours and hours of additional training for which you have paid.
I started the foundation. There was a little controversy in the beginning because some people were thinking that I was raising the money to pay myself. I’ve never taken a dime. I’ve never taught any of our classes. All that money has been raised to support programs across the Tri-County area to provide yoga in homeless shelters, many veterans, children, children with autism, people with disabilities, young men in incarceration, etc.
Yoga therapy is the application of yoga principles in more therapeutic ways.
I didn’t realize it was in that depth. You’ve been doing that for so long. That’s got to be fulfilling.
It is. Some of the stories are amazing. We brought in trainers from the East Coast to train about 40 people to work with veterans with PTSD. We brought in trainers from California and that was the prison yoga project to prepare people to go into prisons. People don’t quite understand the depth of yoga. Yoga truly begins when you step off your mat and into your life. Yoga is a practice. There’s no perfection. It’s a journey with no destination. It’s the skills that you learn on the yoga mat. You learn on the yoga mat and then you go into your CrossFit workout and push but not to push too hard to injury. Those are the types of things you learn.
One of my favorite stories is we’re running a program at the VA hospital in Detroit. It is for veterans with PTSD. A veteran who’s in that program comes to the teacher after class one day and says, “I have to tell you a story about something that happened to me. I was driving home and I was rear-ended.” For people with PTSD, that’s a jolt. He had a permit to carry. He had a gun in the car. He said, “I took the gun, I was getting out of my car, and I was going to shoot the person who hit me.”
He said to the teacher, “I heard your voice in my head. I got back into the car. I called 911. I did my yoga breathing until the police came.” That’s why I wanted to do this. We’re partners with the Detroit Lions for a while. They had taken on a school and we were running yoga there. The children who were there would go home to dysfunctional families. They would come back and say, “Can’t you come and teach these people who live in my house how to do this breathing?” They founded a salvation. They could breathe to calm themselves down amongst the chaos.
That is a phenomenal story. The whole time, I’m thinking about myself. Let’s look at this from an outside perspective. When I think about yoga and yoga breathing, before I understood what yoga was, it didn’t make any sense. People talk about it. I don’t know. When you get into it, you start to realize that it can have a profound change in your life in terms of your thoughts. I’m going to give you a quick example. During the pandemic, you and I know that businesses were being closed down. I had a hard time at the beginning of the pandemic because I have this business and I don’t know what’s going on. With the shutdown, I don’t know what’s my next step is. I’ve got to figure this out. Being able to hop on a yoga mat, forget about that and focus on what I’m doing, I felt better. After that, I was able to keep my mojo going during the pandemic. That’s what I’m going to call salvation, as you shared. That’s important.
I’m going to tell you one more story. A few years ago, I received the Points of Light Award. Every day in the country, one American receives this award. It was established several years ago. It’s called the Points of Light. It was through President Bush. It’s been carried on through the family. I was at a huge gathering. It was at what used to be Cobo Hall. That happened to be in Detroit the year that I won the award. I was invited to come and you wined, dined and everything. There were thousands of people there from all over the country and all these incredible organizations presenting, etc.
I had this epiphany when I was there. You can provide somebody with housing. You can give somebody food. You can give somebody health care. How do you help people learn and live day to day using these things? You became homeless. You’re being provided housing but all the things that stimulated the homelessness from before repeat. We all repeat our patterns. How do you help people to first recognize their patterns and then you have a choice to release them? That’s what we talked about being on the yoga mat. In the yoga mat, you’re the experiment and the scientist, the observer and the observed.
What you do is you observe what you’re doing and you say, “I’m doing that again. Now I know that’s going to hurt me. I’m going to step this way with my foot in the wrong place. Isn’t that interesting? I’m doing it again.” You criticize yourself, “Maybe I can change it.” You learn that through the physical body. It becomes emotional and mental. You’re driving home somewhere if you’re blessed to have a car. Somebody cuts you off in traffic and your first reaction is you’re about to snap. You say, “It’s happening again. I’m getting angry. There’s nothing I can do. Maybe I’ll breathe and keep driving.” That was the epiphany I had when I was at that huge meeting. It’s hard to explain that to people. The skills that you learn on the mat are life skills.
Did you share that when you were up there and when you received the award?
I didn’t have the opportunity because I had an epiphany later.
I love that analogy. That’s a wonderful way to describe that to other people who don’t understand this whole mental aspect of wealth. Everybody thinks wealth is about money. Wealth encompasses everything that you do in life. All the things you have and how you make the best of where you are at that present moment. That brings that together a little bit. Before this whole yoga thing, you initially did education in theatre. I’m curious, what did you learn during those times? What do you think you took from those experiences into what you do right now?
My actual degree is a Minor in Education and a Major in Theater. I was in directing and design. When you’re directing a show, you have many different details when you’re in charge. You are planning every aspect of that show. There may be people working under you, but you are in charge of all those different aspects and then putting them all together. I always felt I learned great organizational skills, and then I was able to take it into my life. I was telling you that I feel like I’ve had many lives because I’ve done a multitude of different things, from performing and professionally dancing. I’ve also been a puppeteer. I was a football coach for the Birmingham Groves football team.
How did that come up?
My son, who was a junior Olympian gymnast at one time, became a football player. He wound up being in college, a two-time All-American. He played in the European NFL. When he was at Birmingham Groves High School, I started hanging around at the practices. The coach was excited and brought me on. I coached a bit, but I was mostly doing yoga, strength and speed training. I didn’t know what football was at all. I said, “If you can’t beat them, you’re going to join them.” I’ve learned a tremendous amount. I had all these different experiences in my life. The background of directing and design opened your mind to many different aspects of life and realizing you need to bring them all together.
You’re talking about all these different lives and things. I’m thinking to myself, “All good things start with you.” You had all these opportunities, especially the football thing. You didn’t know anything about football and you said, “The heck with it. I’m going to go for it.” To have the guts to do that is a special person. A good way to sum that up is being an entrepreneur and welcoming many opportunities and trying it out. How do you know if this is going to work or not? You either try it. That’s what I think and do when I’m trying all these different things. That’s phenomenal. It’s great. We’ve talked about this before, but I want to get more specific. Knowing how much you take time to take care of yourself, especially others. Other than the yoga mat, maybe there are some other opportunities here. How do you recalibrate? How do you unwind? Is it during the day or at the end of the day? How do you do that?
It’s being outside. Nature is a lifesaver. At the beginning of the pandemic, walking for hours and hours. I can be inside and the mind starts to wander, etc. You step outside. It doesn’t even matter how cold it is. It’s that connection with the trees, the grass, or the snow.
It’s what the Yogi’s call grounding.
It brings you back to reality and moment because it’s often easier when you’re in nature to look at something and have that be your entire focus.
That’s a great example. I don’t like walking that much. If we go on a trip and we go somewhere, we’ll walk. During the pandemic, Hillary and I were like, “Let’s get outside.” I started noticing more and more things on our street because I wasn’t thinking about other things. I would look around, “Look at this. Look at that.” Within a couple of weeks, Michigan was 60 degrees one day and 25 the other day. I started noticing the different smells between the winter, fall, spring smell. I’ve never paid attention to that.
Yoga truly begins when you step off your mat and into your life.
We were talking about being outside. I’ve learned that you should be outside and enjoy it. For me, I started taking up mountain biking. I never did it before. I fell in love with it. It’s so much fun. That’s my meditation. One time, I tried to think about something I wanted to think about, but I couldn’t do it. I need focus to be in the moment of the biking. From that point on, I said, “I’m done. I’m going to think about nothing.” I come home every time and I’m like, “Ahh.”
People will often say, “I can’t meditate. I can’t do yoga.” There are all sorts of different ways to meditate. You don’t even have to get on the mat to do yoga. You can do three minutes of breathing and that’s it.
It sounds like that’s how you came up with Yoga by Design. You said before that there are so many different realms. Your company name is brilliant now that I think about it.
That last question I have is, what brings you joy?
It’s my son’s puppy, who I’m raising, at least for now. People, connections, smiles, looking at your smile, the little things in life bring me joy.
That’s what people need to understand. We talked about before that people get caught up with everything. I always say that everybody has a short fuse. Being in yoga, meditation, and all of those helps you recognize those things that you are not doing. One of the things you learn is respect for people or respect for things and issues, and it smooths it all out. Do you have any upcoming events, anything coming up that you want to bring to our attention?
I always encourage people to look at the website. I like selling the foundation and not myself. It’s YogaByDesignFoundation.org. We have one large fundraiser in the fall, but we have ongoing fundraisers. The more that you can keep in touch with that, it makes a difference. I teach online classes two a week through Karma-Yoga, Karma-Yoga.net. One is on my own. It’s a donation class for the foundation. If somebody is interested in joining, they can contact me through one of those websites.
This is an absolute pleasure. It was great to see you. I hope we can see each other in person soon.
Namaste. I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you, which is of love and light, hope and peace. When you are in that place in you and I’m in that place in me, we are one from my heart to yours.
I love that. Namaste. Thank you. We will see you soon.
About Lynn Medow
Lynn’s true calling didn’t become apparent until she hit 40. Although she spent her childhood and adolescence dancing and went on to study education and theater at Michigan State University and the University of Stockholm (where Lynn met and worked with Ingmar Bergman), it wasn’t until after Lynn completed her first career in the non-profit sector that she found her purpose.
At 32, Lynn joined a local non-professional dance company called Dance Alive, while running, weightlifting and doing aerobics in her personal life. At 40 she stepped onto a yoga mat and felt that she had come home. Her practice began at two days a week and quickly built to six.
Lynn’s first teacher training took place at 48 with Jonny Kest. But a lifetime of knee problems, which moved into her hips, led to a yoga injury – a gift which carved out an awareness of the importance of alignment. This quickly became a niche for Lynn, as she studied and probed into the expertise of balance, alignment and yoga for all. She discovered the practice of Anusara Yoga, which then led to an in-depth study of yoga therapy with the Ananda Seva Mission in Santa Rosa, California. She also credits Doug Keller, Matthew Sanford, Mitchell Bleier, Desiree Rambaugh and the many other teachers and students with whom she has connected for sharing their profound gifts. Lynn became a certified yoga teacher in 2001 and a certified yoga therapist in 2007.
In 2003, friend and fellow yogi, Katherine Lucas, opened Karma Yoga in Bloomfield Township, a suburb north of Detroit, Michigan. At the same time, Lynn was creating her own business, Yoga by Design, to support, guide, and teach people with illness, injury and aging gracefully. Since Karma Yoga’s inception, Lynn has taught classes for and operated her business out of this lovely studio.
When she looks back on all the seemingly unrelated events of her life, Lynn realizes that every step was taking her to her true calling: to help people achieve balance in their body, mind and heart. Her own dance and fitness injuries instilled in Lynn a heightened awareness of the need for true balance and alignment in every practice and she guides her students toward achieving this on, and off, the mat. Additionally, a nearly 25-year stint in the non-profit world – first as a camp director for the Fresh Air Society/Camp Tamarack, and later for 22 years with JARC, a non-profit which serves adults with developmental disabilities – cemented a strong desire to help, guide and inspire others to identify and maximize their true potential.