While she was a student at Ohio State University, Ottawa Hills high school 1998 grad Marie Hajjar Russel suffered a leg injury. She subsequently chose to seek out various methods to aid in her recovery, which led her to visit a Columbus yoga studio.
Not only did Russel find yoga helped alleviate discomfort from the injury she had at the time, she soon discovered she was "happier and healthier" when she was practicing yoga, so much so that she became a regular at the It's Yoga studio in Columbus.
It's Yoga was founded in 1989 by Larry Schultz, and is a series of yoga studios dedicated to teaching and training the practice of Ashtanga yoga. After a few years of practicing at the studio in Columbus, she moved to San Francisco, where It's Yoga's headquarters was located, to pursue the training full time.
"I totally immersed myself in the culture and the practice," Russel said. After training, she stayed in San Francisco for several years, Schultz having offered her a position teaching at the studio in California.
When Schultz passed away in 2011, Russel found herself the head of the studio, and felt a pull to move back to Toledo. She gave into that urge, and in April relocated the headquarters of It's Yoga International from California to downtown Toledo.
"Having a Toledo base was part of this grounding force; knowing that I had responsibilities internationally to our organization, but also wanting to have a solid community here in Ohio," Russel said.
It's Yoga focuses on the type of yoga developed by Schultz, called The Rocket. The Rocket is a variation of the classical Ashtanga yoga system, and modifies the Eastern tradition to fit the lifestyles of Western practitioners, while still holding tight to the direct lineage and roots of yoga that originally come from the East, Russel said.
An important element of It's Yoga training is the aerobic and dynamic aspect. There is a strong emphasis on breathing and movement, with each breath you take corresponding to its own distinct movement. However complicated and challenging it may sound, Russel assures even beginners can practice it.
"The Rocket takes advance postures and modifies them for beginners," Russel said. "Our philosophy is that all levels practice in the same room." The training uses the group energy and loving environment to inspire everyone to be stronger than they think they are.
It's Yoga offers two classes a day, as well as a life-coaching class. In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, Russel believes it is important to look at one's past, make corrections, and have more focus on where one is going in the future.
She recommends yoga to everyone, of any level, and calls it "the ultimate health management system." Yoga helps with flexibility, strength, and stress reduction. Yoga also empowers its participants.
"Yoga reminds us that we have more power than we think we do. If you feel better, you live better," Russel said.
In the future, Russel would like to see It's Yoga International grow from 12 studios around the world to more than 200 locations. The studios would offer more advanced curriculum in The Rocket. Additionally, Russel wants the center in Toledo to help build a stronger community in the city.
It's Yoga International is located at 701 N. Madison St., in downtown Toledo.