There Is A Space And A Mat Waiting For YOU Specifically - 10 Questions with Melissa Kerce

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Next month, Melissa Kerce will celebrate her one year anniversary of teaching with Yoga 4 Change.  To celebrate, we thought we'd provide you, the reader, with an opportunity to learn more about Melissa and her role as a change agent in our community. If you see Melissa at one of our community classes or you personally know her, please congratulate her on her anniversary.  Melissa, we commend you on a job well done and, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for all that you do. 

Melissa began practicing Yoga in 2015.  She was immediately captivated by her practice.  She was attracted to the dynamic of dripping in sweat while also feeling completely relaxed and at ease with herself.  Her personal experience being a student compelled her to delve deeper and explore the healing power of Yoga.  Eight months after her first class, Melissa enrolled in teacher training.  She graduated in April 2016 as a 200 RYT.  

Melissa also holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of North Florida (UNF).  She is a life long learner, continuously in pursuit of information related to anatomy and physiology.   Her first opportunity to teach Yoga came through UNF, where she began teaching yoga to students and faculty in 2016 at the university's Student Wellness Center.

In addition to practicing and teaching yoga, Mellisa enjoys ACRO yoga, rock climbing, spending time on the beach, and showering English bulldogs with affection.  She is powered by her relationship with God and eating lots of veggies. 

10 Questions with Melissa

What served as your introduction to yoga and why did you choose to pursue a career as a teacher?

I began doing yoga as a New Year's resolution during my senior year of high school after suffering a neck injury as a result of a cheerleading stunt, which ended my cheerleading career. I knew I needed to do SOMETHING and I wanted to maintain my flexibility.  So, yoga was the next best thing. Little did I know, it IS the best thing! 

Pursuing yoga teaching as a career is not what I had planned, at all. I wanted to go to P.A. school and change lives through medicine. The more exposure and experience I had with yoga, and watching lightbulbs go off in my students' heads when they make mind-body connections during a yoga class, the more aware I was that this could be my career. I realized over time that I COULD contribute to others' healing by teaching movement and meditation in conjunction with medicine. 

What attracted you to working with Y4C and how long have you been involved with the organization?

I was teaching yoga at UNF for a year and I desired to take this yoga teaching thing to other populations to whom yoga wasn't as accessible and available as it was to the students and faculty at UNF. I saw a video of inmates doing yoga and inner-city schools implementing yoga in their detention programs and I knew I had to pursue that.

I didn't have the tools or connections to simply jump into a facility. So, I prayed and prayed for an opportunity. While scrolling through Facebook one day, an event popped up on the sidebar; "Yoga Teacher Tryouts Yoga4Change". I clicked on it, immediately registered, and showed up to tryouts the next week. Everything about the tryout felt exactly like what I desired and I was STOKED. Those tryouts were in June 2017 and I have been teaching with Yoga4Change for almost a year.

What were some expectations or assumptions that you had prior to joining the Y4C team and how do those expectations and assumptions compare to your actual experience?

I didn't assume much, simply because I had no idea what I was truly getting myself into. All I knew for certain was that I wanted to be a sponge and soak up as much new knowledge and experience as possible.

One thing that I had assumed was that our students would be very receptive and have a positive attitude about taking their first yoga class. I forgot to put myself in their shoes and realize that yoga can, at first, be a very uncomfortable environment for some because it is a completely new and often unmarked territory. With that said, I have seen more students who were hesitant to participate at the beginning of class, announce at the end that they will "definitely be back next week" and "this was exactly what I needed!"

What do you see as the greatest impact yoga has had on your life?

Yoga is an outlet for me to connect with God in a completely unique way through meditative movement. It also allows me to engage with hundreds of other people.  Yoga unlocks the potential within my students.

I often reminisce on the little seed that was planted in my first yoga class.  And now, I plant that seed for my students by showing them that they ARE enough, that they CAN do yoga, and that they don't need to touch their toes to be a yogi.  That is a constant reminder of my purpose!

What have you learned about yourself as a result of practicing yoga and working as a teacher?

I have humbly learned that I am a people-pleaser and that has been the best thing to unpack. When I go in to teach a class, I am constantly reminded to not rely on myself or put so much pressure on myself to teach an INCREDIBLE class. Yoga teaches me that it is okay if someone does not think yoga is the best thing since sliced gluten free bread. Their opinion and experience does not devalue me as a person.  I'm now empowered to learn other ways to engage such students!

What is the greatest sense of accomplishment you've received since you joined the organization?

Two month’s ago, I was at an elementary school where I had been teaching yoga for six weeks. Two 3rd graders started fighting and I held the arms of one child, let’s call him Adam, while another teacher pulled the other boy away. I got on eye level with Adam  and said “Adam what do you feel right now?” He yelled, “ANGRY, IM SO MAD MISS.” 

I then asked him, “Where do you feel anger?” Adam's response was, “IN MY CHEST MISS. IN MY CHEST.” When saying that, he hit his chest and tried to get away. To that I responded, “Awesome!! You know where your feelings are! On the count of 3, I want you to scream! 1, 2, 3.” 

Adam screamed until he didn’t have any energy left.  He then leaned on me. I locked eyes with him and said, “It’s okay to have angry feelings. But, when we have those feelings we have to do what?” I exaggerated breathing in and out and Adam said, “Breathe Miss. We gotta breathe.” 

We took five deep breaths together and then we walked back to class. 

Seeing our curriculum and yoga classes help just one student in a real world situation has been my greatest accomplishment. 

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How do you describe your style of teaching?

I mainly teach kids yoga, so anything goes in this department (trauma-informed that is!). For the elementary school age students, I teach high-energy classes full of jumping, dancing, breathing, games, and meditation. I would describe it as organized yogi chaos! For the middle/high school age students, I teach the polar opposite- restorative, meditative, and breathing focused classes. 

That being said, it all depends on how the students appear and interact with me that day. We could do a wild and crazy game-filled yoga class one week, and a slow, restorative flow the next week. 

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What advice would you give to an individual who is interested in trying yoga for the first time? Additionally, what advice would you give a well-practiced individual to take their practice to the next level?

Taking your first yoga class can be daunting and exotic. I'd say try at least five different class styles, one power yoga, a restorative class, yin yoga, class with or without music, etc. to get a feel for what you like best! Try all different studios, teachers, and go with friends! Don't take yourself too seriously, you are just moving and breathing! Lastly, you will hear this often, listen to your body TODAY. Just because you did downward dog yesterday and felt strong, doesn't mean you have to do it today if it does not feel good. 

For the seasoned yogi, devote yourself to a different style of yoga, different yoga studio, or different teachers for a solid month. Switching gears puts you in a vulnerable place, allowing you to learn other styles, modifications, new postures, and to connect with different people. This change in scenery enables you to practice diligence and dedication to your practice, as the change may not be your favorite thing right off the bat. You never know what you can do until you try.

What would you say to encourage someone to attend a Y4C community class or donate to Y4C?

There is a space and a mat waiting for YOU specifically. I truly mean that. Every BODY can do yoga and every one can be a change maker in this world. It is up to you to take action!

I recommend coming to a community class because you experience a trauma-informed yoga class in a beautiful space. You are supporting local business partners while getting a good renewing class in at the same time. If you answer yes to one of the following things, then donating to yoga4change is right for you. 

  • You want the youth in our community to be empowered and learn coping skills for their emotions
  • You want a middle schooler to learn how to breathe instead of fighting when they are upset
  • You want to reduce recidivism and relapse rates in our community
  • You want a veteran to learn more tools for dealing with PTSD
  • You want just one person to realize their full potential
  • YOU want to feel a part of something greater than yourself!

What’s your favorite pose and why?

Headstands are my favorite yoga posture hands down (literally). Not to be flashy and show-off, but because they are a posture I can do that is the closest thing to doing flips and stunts like I did in cheerleading. They also make for great photos in the various places where I have traveled.

One of my favorite quotes is "The only thing constant in life is change." Headstands embody that. Standing on your head will look different, feel different, and you will fall differently each time. Headstands remind me that changing your perspective and flipping a situation upside down can be a good thing. Not to mention, any type of inversion where your feet are above your head is FANTASTIC for the circulatory system.

Thank you for reading. If you found this information beneficial, please consider making a sustainable donation to Yoga 4 Change.  Your donation is used to support our core programs and helps us fulfill our mission. Please click below to donate online.  You can make a one time or reoccurring tax deductible contribution. 

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Patrick Fisher