Fitness Spotlight: Local Yogi Noelle Gesualdo Shares How Yoga Heals After Tragedy
For Noelle Gesualdo, local Philly yoga instructor, registered nurse, and advocate for mental health awareness and preventative holistic health practices, yoga is more than a physical outlet. When she lost her father to suicide, "my yoga mat was the only place I could go where I felt I could escape all of the terrible thoughts in my mind."
Noelle shares with us how practicing yoga brought solace to her life and how anyone who's considering getting into the practice—or anyone who's been practicing for years—can benefit from the healing properties of yoga.
Has fitness always been a part of your life? If not, what got you into it?
I played every different sport as a child and also got into gymnastics, but grew out of that phase pretty quickly once I finished grade school. I danced my whole life from the time I was three years old all the way up to college, however dance never struck me as "fitness," it just kind of felt natural to me because it was something I loved doing and came easy to me.
When did you start practicing yoga?
Having a dance background, I always dabbled in yoga from when I was very young but I hated it! It was mandatory, which made me dislike it even more, and I thought of it kind of as a precursor to dancing. I started practicing yoga seriously after losing my father to suicide in 2010.
How many times a week do you practice yoga?
The frequency of my practice fluctuates, which used to be kind of self-conscious about admitting. As a teacher, more people than you would think expect it to be something you do day in and day out. However, yoga serves different purposes in my life at different times. Sometimes I practice every day, sometimes I practice once a week. It is a balance. I will admit, the times when you don't want to practice are the times you probably need to.
What does yoga mean to you?
Yoga means so much more to me than just the physical aspect. It helped me get through the sudden loss of my father and during that trying time, my yoga mat was the only place I could go where I felt I could escape all of the terrible thoughts in my mind while still staying in the present moment, even if it was just for an hour each day. It changed my life. It is a mind-body connection that allows you to get really raw with yourself and your mind and will humble the shit out of you. I have nothing against people using "yoga for fitness," it simply does not serve that purpose for me and is not the main focus when I teach.
What is your favorite type of yoga?
My favorite type of yoga is vinyasa. However, I veer away for different reasons at different times in my life. If I need something more rigid or regimented because my head is in the clouds, I will often practice ashtanga or bikram. If my body and mind need a break from stress and chaos, I take myself to a hatha or sometimes a restorative class. Yoga serves so many purposes for different things, but for me, I always come back to vinyasa. Something about how whimsical and rhythmic it can be (depending on the teacher!) draws me back to it every time.
What is your favorite pose?
My favorite pose is and always will be happy baby! You can't help but feel great in it. I always tell my students that the most important part of happy baby is to SMILE! :) I try to remind myself of that in my own practice and it's silly, but it makes such a difference when you're in the pose! On the opposite end of the spectrum, I love challenging poses, and I always love to challenge myself in different versions of forearm stand.
Any tips for someone who's thinking about doing yoga but just hasn't taken that first step?
My tips for someone thinking about yoga is to NOT think about it too much. So often people tell me they're afraid to get started because they're "not flexible enough". Again, I try to stress that yoga should be more of a mind-body connection rather than focusing on the physical. There also a quote I love that says, "saying you're too inflexible for yoga is like saying you're too dirty to take a shower." It is so damn true. For anyone looking to start, make sure you tell your teacher that you are new to practice and they can pay close attention to you suggest modifications if needed throughout class.
As long as you are aware of your body and don't step your left foot forward when the teacher says, "step your right foot back," you have already won half the battle! And please, please, please, do not compare yourself to the person next to you. Yoga is a journey for yourself and no one else. I still always try to think of myself as a beginner when I am practicing to this day because there is always room to grow.
Can we join you in one of your yoga classes?!
Yes! Please join me for classes at studios around town like Priya Hot Yoga and Dana Hot Yoga, among others. You can follow me for updates on my schedule and events I'll be hosting on my Facebook page and on social sites like Instagram (@yes_noe). Hope to see you out there!
Noelle is a registered nurse and an advocate for mental health awareness and preventative holistic health practices. Formally trained in dance from the age of three, Noelle dabbled in yoga classes throughout her teen and college years to improve her flexibility and balance. After enduring a tragic suicide in her family and a ballet injury that left her unable to continue dancing, Noelle lost much of herself and her passion. While vacationing in Aruba in early 2011, Noelle was re-introduced to what she had lost by practicing yoga and learning about yoga’s positive effect on the resort instructor, who was alike in age and had suffered a similar loss. This allowed Noelle to find inspiration to incorporate yoga into her life. By developing a strong mind-body connection through her practice, she has acquired a new perspective on life and has improved her overall health tenfold. Noelle describes her experience with yoga as "profound, invaluable, and life-changing," and it has inspired her to teach and share her practice with others. Noelle completed her 200-hour teacher training at Dana Hot Yoga in 2012 and has been teaching ever since.
Check out Noelle's Facebook page and follow her on Instagram (@yes_noe)!