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Nancy Candea: Yoga Impact

 For Rockaway resident Nancy Candea, a typical Thursday afternoon begins with sun salutations at the Morris County Jail. 

 Candea, 50, has been teaching yoga to inmates once a week since moving to New Jersey in 2010, but she’s been practicing her own asanas for nearly three decades. Though she opened her own yoga studio in Hawaii, it was during a stint in Colorado leading the practice for women’s shelters, jails, and at-risk youth programs that she decided she wanted to continue reaching underserved populations.  “I was ready for a new challenge,” she says. 

While in Colorado she became a certified yoga therapist and teamed up with a handful of yoga professionals to launch Yoga Impact in 2008.  The organization aims to take yoga out of the studio and into the community to reach populations who may not otherwise have access to the benefits of the practice, including the young, senior citizens, homeless people, and individuals who are incarcerated.  Her teacher trainings help prepare other instructors to lead yoga classes comprised of these populations; it’s her hope that the organization inspires other studios to implement similar programs.

She continually asks herself, “How can we inspire more people to experience the yoga lifestyle?” That lifestyle includes yoga postures, nutrition, breathing, relaxation techniques, and an awareness of the well-being of both the individual and her community. Says Candea, “We’re trying to take yoga to the next level by teaching these other life skills.” 

While Candea’s mission is making yoga more accessible to all people, she is particularly interested in reaching those who may be intimidated by a typical yoga studio setting — or the cost of taking yoga classes. She notes that approximately 86 percent of people who practice yoga fall into the upper- or middle-class economic bracket.  “It’s easy to find the underserved population,” she says. 

 Candea knows that for inmates at the jail, yoga is more than just a way to tone muscles and improve flexibility and posture. A key element of her practice is an extended relaxation period at the end of each class, where students are invited to meditate and express sentiments about love, kindness, truthfulness, and forgiveness.

 “Though the physical practice of yoga gets endorphins flowing, it also opens [people’s] minds.  I often see tears rolling down their cheeks,” she says.  “They tell me it helps give them hope that they can make some different choices in their lives.”

Candea has firsthand experience with making difficult life choices.  Like many women serving time at the Morris County Jail, Candea grew up in a home marked by domestic violence and can speak candidly about issues related to depression and addiction.  “These are women who aren’t much different than any of us,” she says.

She strongly believes that by engaging in traditional yoga poses, stretching, as well as movements such as handstands and backbends, her students are using their bodies to tap into their inner selves.  “When we create movement, we unlock emotions,” Candea explains, likening the phenomenon to anxiety causing a tight stomach or anger leading to a constricted throat. Indeed, practicing yoga has been credited with a wide range of mental and physical health benefits, including reduced stress, improved memory, better concentration, weight loss, and lower blood pressure. It has also been associated with alleviating symptoms related to chronic conditions ranging from asthma to insomnia to arthritis.

To extend her reach even further, Candea works with nonprofit organizations including Denville-based Purple Om and Kula for Karma in Franklin Lakes to train yoga teachers to teach groups such as special-needs children and teens as well as those affected by trauma or addiction.  She also leads training sessions at Princeton University.

“It’s not just about going in and doing some exercises.  The bigger picture of yoga is about service—and I do it because it makes me feel good,” Nancy Candea says.  “At age 50, I’m still doing cartwheels. I’m enthusiastic about life, I’m enjoying my career—and I want that for all people.” To learn more about Nancy Candea and Yoga Impact, visit NancyCandea.com or YogaIimpact.org.

Jennifer L. Nelson is a New Jersey-based freelance writer specializing in health, parenting, and lifestyle. Visit JenniferLNelson.com.

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