YIS Teachers, Faculty and Board of Directors
Marissa Bland is an occupational therapist, anti-racism consultant, and anatomy enthusiast disguised as a yoga instructor who believes at her core that yoga is for everyone. From social justice work with organizations like Yogis In Service and Yoga 4 A Good Hood, to physically adapting yoga to fit ever-changing bodies in her weekly chair yoga class, Marissa is dedicated to bringing yoga to anyone who feels called to try it. She believes that activism is at the core of yoga, and that no practice is complete without purposefully working towards the liberation of all beings everywhere, especially those who have been historically and systemically marginalized. Marissa’s personal and professional exploration of the intersection of race and socioeconomic status with our current health and wellness industry continues to fuel her career as a clinician, educator, and yoga instructor.
Founder & President of YIS, YISTT Faculty
Catherine Cook-Cottone, Ph.D., is founder and president of Yogis in Service. She is also a Licensed Psychologist, Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-500-E), and Associate Professor at SUNY at Buffalo. Her research specializes in embodied self-regulation (i.e., yoga, mindfulness, and self-care) and psychosocial disorders (e.g., eating disorders, trauma-related disorder). She has written four books and over 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Her most recent book is tilted, Mindfulness and yoga for self-regulation: A primer for mental health professionals. Presenting nationally and internationally, Catherine uses her model of embodied self-regulation to structure discussions on empirical work and practical applications. She teaches classes on mindful therapy, yoga for health and healing, self-care, history of psychology, and counseling with children and adolescents. She also maintains a private practice, specializing in the treatment of anxiety-based disorders (e.g., PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder), eating disorders (including other disorders of self-care), and development of emotional regulation skills.
Jerry is a licensed psychologist and has worked for the Buffalo School System for the past 18 years. Other work endeavors involve a small private practice, supervising behavioral therapists at Mary Cariola Agency, and conducting evaluations for young children who are experiencing developmental delays. His professional work, particularly work in the Buffalo School System, has allowed him to acquire a much better understanding of the significant daily challenges faced by those in our community who are less fortunate. He discovered yoga with his wife early on in their marriage but has more recently sharpened his focus and interest in this discipline. In addition to the physical aspects and benefits of his yoga practice he has very much enjoyed cultivating a meditation practice and has come to believe that it is the combination of these physical and psychological aspects which can truly unleash the power yoga can manifest in one’s life. In the Summer 2013 he had an opportunity to witness this firsthand as part of a research team that investigated the effects of the Africa Yoga Project in Nairobi, Kenya. He is very excited to be a part of the YIS mission to provide yoga to persons who might not otherwise have access.
I completed Baptiste level one and two, along with James Fox Prison yoga project which is what motivated me to bring yoga to Wende Correctional facility. Focusing on inhaling and exhaling continues to help me stay present. I have always loved moving, dancing in a studio for much of my life and moving from one part of my life to another. I have been in love with yoga ever since a dear friend gave me a yoga mat over 15 years ago. I am happy to go to my job in the human service field where I do my best to bring people hope, resources and a connection that is genuine. I am the mother of 3 young adult children and am grateful for the opportunities they give me to while watching them grow.
Yoga showed me that I was capable of handling much more then I could have ever imagined and truly made me tap into my true power. I have built a strong practice over the years which expanded into exploring Yin and Vinyasa Flow Classes. I fell in love with the breath work and movement of flow and the empowering feeling of creativity and freedom that came with it! In April 2018 I completed my YTT through Evolation Yoga. I then started teaching at the William-Emslie YMCA located in Buffalo’s East Side. This location was not offering yoga for awhile prior to me starting there so it has been an opportunity to introduce yoga into the lives of so many different individuals. I am so grateful to be teaching weekly adult and kids yoga classes filled with so many different diverse groups of students. I teach from my heart and create a safe space for people to move completely free of judgment, where they show up week after week and take time for themselves by doing something so healthy and beneficial both mentally and physically. It is essential to me that I do all I can to make yoga classes much more welcoming and accessible for EVERYBODY. Finding yoga changed my life for the better and has truly become my outlet which has led me to discover and radiate so much confidence and peace within myself. As a yoga teacher I am able to share that same opportunity for self discovery, healing, and strength to adults and youth through moving meditations while building a strong sense of community. Yoga is more then just a workout, it’s a chance to feel a personal shift in yourself by connecting mind, body, and soul. Kaily currently teaches the YIS community class at Pride Center of WNY.
Board Member, Teacher, and YISTT Trainer
Wendy Guyker, Ph.D., is a Clinical Assistant Professor at SUNY at Buffalo. Wendy teaches classes on research methods, assessment, and multicultural counseling and has joined the faculty teaching courses in the new Advanced Graduate Certificate program in Mindful Counseling for Wellness and Engagement. Wendy’s research interests are in veteran mental health as well as the areas of mindfulness and self-care, with an emphasis on applications in both clinical and community populations.
Service is critical in the fields of education and psychology; yet to Wendy, it does not feel like a responsibility, it practically feels more like being whole. To Wendy, yoga is a perspective, a way of life, a philosophy; a layer of one’s life that does not compete with any other layer; rather, it complements, expands, informs and integrates all else. As a teacher and a psychologist, Wendy strives to embody qualities of compassion, non-defensiveness, and self-awareness with her students and patients. It excites Wendy to help bring yoga’s many qualities and tools of yoga to others in the WNY community through Yogis in Service. Wendy is a graduate of the YIS-Teacher Training in 2017 and currently teaches at the Buffalo VA Medical Center through Yogis in Service.
Eric Heard is a student at Kenmore West Senior High School. In his free time Eric likes todance, spend time with his family and travel. He found yoga when he was 7 years old and automatically fell in love with the practice. One quote that Eric will always remember is to “Never Give Up”. When he first started yoga it was a challenge but he never gave up. Eric loves teaching yoga to not only adults but children to. He wants to show kids that they can do it just like he did. In 2018, earning a full-scholarship, Eric spent a wonderful life-time experience in Nairobi, Kenya for 3 weeks to complete a 200-hour Baptiste Yoga teaching training. Eric currently teaches our Saturday community class, at Pride Center of WNY, and the Restoration Center's Clubhouse. Eric is he youngest certified teacher in WNY.
Spencer Jones first came to yoga in 2008 as a stressed out student at Erie Community College who needed one more credit hour to qualify as studying full-time. He immediately knew he made a life changing decision and fell in love with the practice. Since then his practice has taken many forms and many intentions, from practicing hot yoga to successfully losing and keeping off over thirty pounds, to practicing vinyasa and hatha yoga to recover from a long-standing running injury. He completed his 200 Hour Classical Hatha Yoga Teacher Training in the lineage of Sri Ramana Maharshi at Kaivalya Yoga Ashram in San Marcos, Guatemala in April 2015. In 2016, he completed workshops in Iyengar-style wall yoga, as well as structural alignment and yoga therapy. In 2017 he traveled to India to became a fully licensed practitioner of Yoga for the Special Child, as well as completing 300 Hour Vinyasa Flow & Restorative Yoga Teacher Training at Sampoorna Yoga in Goa. An intrepid world traveler, he has taught yoga to other backpackers throughout Latin America and India as well as to children with critical medical needs and their families as part of his work with the SeriousFun Children’s Network of summer camps.
Spencer’s teaching style reflects his own practice of finding stillness and steadiness in every asana and his belief in making yoga accessible to all people and helping them reconnect to a higher sense of Oneness. Spencer currently teachers for YIS at Turning Point House and at Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Program Coordinator, Teacher, YISCTT Faculty
Lindsay Kennedy, M.Ed, RYT, RCYT, is a literacy coach in Buffalo Public Schools and works as the program coordinator for YIS. Through her experience as an elementary school teacher and children’s yoga teacher, Lindsay believes yoga and mindfulness are powerful tools for self-care and empowerment for students, staff and families. Since 2015, Lindsay has been teaching YIS children’s classes at schools and community centers throughout Buffalo. Additionally, she is part of the team that is working to bring trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness practices to various settings, particularly schools and school personnel.
LCSW, RYT-200, is a licensed social worker, outpatient therapist and yoga teacher for Yogis In Service. Melissa is a long time yogi and has been teaching for Yogis in Service since 2015. Since starting her journey with YIS, Melissa has been teaching YIS children’s classes at schools and community centers throughout Buffalo. In addition, she is part of the team that is working to bring trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness practices to various settings. She spreads this message through presentations, school professional development and her teaching practices. Melissa believes that yoga is valuable for everyone and is honored to be a part of Yogis in Service.
Kelli Love, M.Ed is an educator, presenter, and consultant in the field of children’s mindfulness and yoga. She has 15+ years experience teaching in educational contexts, first as a classroom teacher and for the past five years a mindfulness and yoga content specialist at Girls Prep Bronx Elementary. Over 20 years of personal practice guides her teaching, as well as a foundation in Early Childhood Education from Naropa University, where contemplative practices are integrated into higher education experiences. Kelli believes all children have a right to experience the empowering life skills that mindfulness and yoga offer and she hopes to inspire educators to utilize the skills for themselves and in their classrooms. In 2015, Kelli created the short film Aliza and the Mind Jar to demonstrate the impact yoga and mindfulness can have on communities. Kelli is registered with the Yoga Alliance as 500-ERYT and RCYT. Want to learn more http://about.me/kellilove. Also please watch the Video Kelli created Aliza and the Mind Jar https://vimeo.com/119439978. Zarida, parent of her 6 year old daughter, Aliza, takes us through her experience with the pioneering yoga and mindfulness program at Girls Prep Bronx Elementary in NYC.
Daijanae Price is a student at Hutchinson Central Technical High School.She entered the world as a surprise at only 26 weeks weighing only 1 lb 7 oz. Daijanae beat all odds and is 100% healthy. Daijanae likes to help others, dance, and hang with her family and loves to go on road trips. She first found yoga at the age of 10 when Yogis in Service was just a one-class community program and found herself enjoying the practices. As time went on Daijanae found interest in learning different types of yoga. Daijanae has seen yoga helps her with her mind and body so she would like to help expand the knowledge of yoga to other people. In 2018, earning a full-scholarship, she spent a wonderful life-time experience in Nairobi, Kenya for 3 weeks to complete a 200-hour Baptiste Yoga teaching training. Daija currently teaches our Saturday community class, at Pride Center of WNY, and the Restoration Center's Clubhouse. Daija is one of the youngest certified teachers in WNY.
Board Member, Teacher, YISTT Faculty
Steve Procknal. In his own words. I believe fully in both the mental and physical benefits of power yoga and wish that I had been offered this earlier in both my sports career and my life. Power Yoga has taken me around the country and the world. My sports background includes Division 1 All Conference soccer player, 70.3 Ironman World Championships qualifier, Boston Marathon qualifier and competed in the Spartan world championships. I’ve lived and travelled to over 50 countries. I have coached sports and Volunteered in Brazil, South Africa and Kenya. I'm a Baptiste Certified teacher, completed Baptiste upper leadership training program F.I.T., November Project co-leader, and a recipient of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership Young Professional Award 2018. I have completed Yoga for athletes trainings and trained under Tiffany Cruikshank and Bryan Kest. Steve currently teaches at the Buffalo VA Medical Center and several WNY correctional facilities through Yogis in Service.
Breath connected to movement in yoga helps to create mindfulness and balance. If you can take your yoga practice into your daily life and use it to be more self-aware, this can create balance in body and in mind. I am continuously working on creating this balance for myself, and in my pursuit, I hope to instill this in others. I started my yoga journey with difficulty, and was not able to have the patience with myself to sit through one class. But now, the practice of yoga and the practice of teaching yoga has become an integral part of my life. Some days it is easier for me than others, but I try to remind myself, as I would others, that it is about the practice, not perfection. I completed my 250 hour yoga training with Evolation in 2016, and my 500 hour yoga training in 2019. I am trained in both Hot style and Vinyasa Flow yoga, and I also completed a Yin training in 2017. I received a BS degree in Biology at SUNY Potsdam College in 2009, helping to give me a deeper understanding of yoga anatomy. Beverly teaches for YIS at several WNY correctional facilities.
Board Member, Teacher
Diane Rose is a caregiver. Diane has been dedicated to helping others since 1980. Ms. Diane has taken college courses related to early childhood development. She received Foster Parent of the Year Award in 2007 and also received the Phillip Melancthon Award in 2010 for outstanding volunteer service in the Lutheran Church. In her copious free time she enjoys attending bible study and yoga. She enjoys participating in various family, community, and religious activities. Diane is currently seeking to further fulfill her enjoyment in being helpful, resourceful, and supportive. Diane graduated from the YIS 200-hour Teacher Training in 2017. Diane currently teaches at our Saturday community classes. Diane earned a full scholarship and graduated from Africa Yoga Project 200-hour Bapatiste Yoga Teacher training in 2018.
Board Member, Teacher, YISTT Trainer
Leslie Rothschild is both a YIS teacher and a YISTT Trainer. In her own words. “When people find out that I am a yoga teacher, I get some really interesting questions. Do I have to be a vegetarian to practice yoga? What if I can’t touch my toes? Isn’t yoga a religion? My answer to any of these types of questions comes from Mark Whitwell’s Heart of Yoga book. All you need to practice yoga is your body, breath and a few good friends. We all have exactly what we need to practice and live full yogic lives. We have these amazing bodies that are nourished and cared for through the beautiful movement of asanas (poses). We have our breath to remind us about one of the most basic lessons we are taught as children – sharing. With each inhale we take in just what we need while each exhale gives back to others. We have our few good friends to teach us about grace, compassion and love. These inspirations are what have guided me through life on and off the mat. See that’s the real beauty of Mark Whitwell’s message. What we learn in practice expands way beyond the mat- it’s weaves into our lives. I am so grateful for the lessons I have learned and continue to learn from yoga.” Leslie currently teaches for YIS at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Gabrielle Schroeder is originally from Buffalo, NY (the city of good neighbors!) I have always been about connecting the community. I began my yoga journey over 10 years ago with my first class with my now mother-in-law, who summoned me to her class as a way to cross-train for my running. I began taking classes at a hot power vinyasa studio a few years later and have loved the style ever since. Blending music with movement felt like being a kid in the dance studio again, being able to express in ways that words cannot match. The challenge that it gives the body from the combination of the heat and poses, alongside the mental and spiritual growth that happened every class, it became the perfect way to balance my body and mind. My goal has been to heal the body and mind in a more nontraditional way, closing the gap between western and eastern medicine. My journey now incorporates yoga asana, reiki, and nutrition into my teachings and lifestyle. My classes emphasize building power and strength by incorporating the whole body to focus on the big and little movements, that the transitions are just as important as the end pose. Looking forward to moving with you! Gabrielle currently teaches the YIS Wednesday community class at Delevan Grider Center.
Alexandra Smith, is an Adult Certified English as Second Language teacher in Buffalo Public Schools. Alex also has her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology. She is interested in health, exercise and nutrition. Alex was always involved in sports, lacrosse, tennis and dancing while growing up. In college, Alex was captain of the lacrosse team. She discovered yoga as a compliment to exercise. Through embodying the yoga practice she found balance of the mind-body connection. Alex is a graduate of the YIS 200 Hour Teacher Training and is also Kids Yoga Baptiste certified. She has traveled internationally to teach kids yoga and English as a Second Language. Yoga is her passion and it excites Alex to bring yoga to the community! Alex currently teaches children’s yoga for YIS.
Liz Vetrano is a lifelong yogi and mom to an amazing little girl. She completed her Children’s Yoga & Mindfulness training at the Omega Institute through Little Flower Yoga and completed her 200-hour training through YIS in 2019. Liz is passionate about bringing yoga to children, their families and communities and is eternally grateful to YIS for the opportunity to do so.
Many thanks to our honored and beloved Yogis in Service teachers.
Are you interested in teaching for YIS?
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