‘We are experiencing trying times’
Rebecca Zukowski-Gillespie, owner of Blondies Cupcakes in Catasauqua, has been practicing yoga and meditation for 25 years and teaching it for more than five.
To help others deal with the stress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19, Zukowski-Gillespie is offering free virtual yoga and meditation sessions online Thursdays, while the health crisis continues or while there is a need for it. The class can be accessed from her personal Facebook page, and she starts the livestream 6:50 p.m., with class beginning 7 p.m.
“Right now, we are experiencing trying times,” Zukowski-Gillespie said. “Yoga and meditation have an incredibly calming effect. If I can help just one person through these sessions who may be struggling, then the livestreaming served its purpose.”
Participants should find a quiet space and a yoga mat if they have one, although it’s not a necessity.
“The beautiful part is they can show up in their pajamas, and candles and low lighting are always a nice added touch,” she said.
Zukowski-Gillespie started to practice yoga when she was a teenager, after a yoga video caught her eye while she was shopping with her mother.
“For some reason, I was drawn to it. I watched the video as soon as we got home, and after, I felt absolutely amazing, like nothing I ever experienced previously. Since that day, I studied all things related to spirituality, philosophy and religion,” Zukowski-Gillespie said.
Zukowski-Gillespie went to a yoga session at a local Hindu temple six years ago and was amazed at how different the style was from what she had been doing. She spent three years learning from the instructor and incorporating new techniques.
“It was more meditative and calming, something I truly felt I connected with,” Zukowski-Gillespie said.
“Meditation is not really as complicated as what you would think,” Zukowski-Gillespie said. “When we focus on any task with complete concentration, we are, in that moment, meditating.”
For those who want to try meditation at home, Zukowski-Gillespie suggests starting with a minute of silence every day for a week and adding time from there. Though there are numerous meditation methods, she always uses guided meditation in her class so beginners aren’t left out.
“Regardless of how long you have been meditating, throughout the process, you may notice thoughts trying to emerge, and that’s OK,” she said. “Acknowledge the thought when it comes in, but don’t try and feed into it — simply allow it to slip on by. With time, you notice the thoughts slow down during quiet contemplation.”
Biofeedback therapy, used by psychologists, is the same as meditation, she said.
“Yoga is basically just a moving meditation. Being able to disconnect from the physical experience occurring outside of you and allowing yourself to turn inward, even for a little bit, allows your mind and body to relax,” Zukowski-Gillespie said.
She suggested viewing yoga and meditation as a “vacation for the mind.”
“Sometimes, when we become stressed or fearful, our body plunges into a fight or flight response. Quiet contemplation allows you to calm the senses, body and mind,” she said.
Though Zukowski-Gillespie has taught large yoga classes across the Lehigh Valley, she found that smaller class sizes are better for connecting. For the past year, she has offered one-on-one and small group sessions, both at the home of clients and from her own house, and will start again after COVID-19 is under control.
Zukowski-Gillespie has some advice to those at home during the pandemic.
“See if you can try, during this difficult time we are all facing, to connect to those things which bring you joy,” she said. “Maybe it’s spending time with your children, playing a board game, a hot bubble bath or even self-massage.
“Treat yourself with the same loving kindness you would to someone you care very much about,” she continued. “Remember to be gentle with yourself, and remind yourself how you are a gorgeous person and how great of a job you are doing with life.”