Welcome to our monthly series, Beyond the Sheets Each month, we will speak with an expert or influencer, disrupter or trendsetter in the wellness industry to glance into their journey around health and wellness.
Karen Conley is a practitioner of fluidity. From her discovery of yoga through VHS tapes encouraged by her mother, Conley’s relationship with yoga has been one of self-discovery and balance. Conley, along with her husband Sean, own Amazing Yoga studios. They opened their first studio in 2002. The first day of their opening, no one showed. “It’s a great reminder,” said Conley, “that small beginnings, you just don’t know where they are going to end up. If you keep putting the love into what you do, it will eventually work out.” Since then, Amazing Yoga has provided the groundwork for yoga in Pittsburgh. Conley and her husband have published the Amazon best-selling book Amazing Yoga: A Practical Guide to Strength, Wellness and Spirit, shared a Ted Talk about being present and held yoga retreats around the world.
Conley embraces the connection of yoga to the skin. During our conversation, we found parallels between the benefits of Nollapelli bedding and the purpose of yoga. Nollapelli’s in-house writer, Jessa Gibboney, chatted with Karen about the ups and downs of her relationship with yoga, how yoga is sleepcare and how yoga impacts the skin. Enjoy absorbing Conley’s compassionate wisdom. We sure did.
Nollapelli (Jessa): You have been practicing and teaching yoga for over 20 years. What elements of yoga initially drew you in?
Conley: I was skeptical. My mom was practicing yoga, and I was in one of those places that was not the best place. She offered this [yoga] and I was like, ‘oh yeah, what is stretching going to do for me?’ So I started doing these VHS tapes of yoga. It was almost instant. The breathing component, they’ve now come to know is so significant in yoga. When I started doing this breathing with these movements, it would just be a matter of 15 to 20 minutes of yoga and I was in awe of how much more relaxed and peaceful I was. That is what drew me in; I can feel really good doing this. It was all for personal reasons at that point. I think we all have those critical points in life where life throws things at us, and there are changing points. This was a critical point in my life for me. This changed the trajectory of my whole life.
Nollapelli: How has your relationship with yoga evolved over the years?
Conley: Like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. It has its honeymoon stage and there are days when I want to throw it all in. Things get frustrating. Life gets busy. Being a mother and a giver, it is so easy for me to rationalize not taking time for myself. Over the years, what I have learned from yoga is that when I am in those places, I have to practice even more so. So you know, sometimes yoga and I have little arguments with each other.
Nollapelli: Being honest, I have a hard time being consistent with yoga. I have great runs, then I stop, great runs, then I stop. To hear you, a yoga guru, have those types of battles, that is encouraging to hear.
Conley: In a long-term relationship, you have your ups and your downs, that’s what actually strengthens the relationship. You go through things together. Your relationship with yoga is really the relationship with yourself. When I get on the mat and I’m not having the greatest relationship with myself, it’s really that [yoga] that’s bringing me back to me again.
Nollapelli: That is hand-in-hand with Nollapelli’s comprehensive wellness approach. Our soft bedding is one component of achieving an overall healthy well-being because when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you can be good at what you do and in turn, do good for others around you. How would you say yoga impacts overall wellness?
Conley: The reason I always come back to yoga opposed to any other exercise is because it is physically good for me and it also allows me to get in a good headspace. If my mind’s busy, I can never really be in my heart. If you always have a busy mind, you can never have a peaceful heart.
If you always have a busy mind, you can never have a peaceful heart.
Nollapelli: What a beautiful saying. You often speak and write on being present in the moment.
Conley: Well, because it is hard for me. It’s like a practice. It’s hard to be present when you are doing seven different things at the same time. The happiest I am is when I am present.
Nollapelli: You’ve developed this personal relationship with yoga. How does it evolve into your brand, Amazing Yoga, and your personal brand?
Conley: It’s been easy for me to have the Amazing Yoga brand. The personal brand is much smaller for me. It’s hard for me to sell myself. I’m learning what I have is really valuable, but it is still very personal for me. It is easier to sell Amazing Yoga because it has its own identity.
Nollapelli: You have led teacher trainings and yoga retreats around the world. How did that develop?
Conley: The retreats are newer for us. We have been doing teacher trainings for a long time. We saw a lot of value in what happens when you take people out of their day-to-day life. When they do that, they have these significant life events. They get the headspace to see things differently. It changes things when you can pull people out of their routine. It is not an easy week; but by the end of the week, they have transformed. That’s been the most inspiring part of it.
Nollapelli: Is there a particular destination you gravitate towards?
Conley: The two places we do teacher trainings are Mexico and Costa Rica. Over the past few years, Costa Rica has been the most valuable. The place that we go is a blue zone. They have the highest Centenarians that live there. The place that they live is beautiful, they eat healthy food, and they have community and very low stress. That place has resonated the most with our family, and we love to share it with people.
Nollapelli: Similar to our skin-conscious community, the community surrounding yoga is strong.
Conley: People have forged lifelong friendships during these retreats.
Nollapelli: How can one create a yoga retreat at home?
Conley: It’s not like you can’t create a retreat at home, but the whole idea is to leave home for a little bit, break those habits, and create new ones. It doesn’t seem to have the same impact. It’s a reset.
Nollapelli: We believe bedding’s impact on skin has been overlooked for too long. The link between healthy skin and yoga is overlooked as well. What are some of the ways yoga benefits the skin?
Conley: So often the reflection of our skin has a lot to do with the internal state of our body. The connection from yoga to that is when we start to feel good inside, when we have a healthy relationship with ourselves and our body, it reflects in your skin. You are glowing, you are happier, your eyes are clearer. All of that, which is helped with yoga, is working inside out. That is where it parallels to Nollapelli.
Nollapelli: We see yoga as sleepcare. Sleepcare, to us, is the intentional practice which improves and maximizes one’s overall well-being during and surrounding sleep. How can yoga impact sleep?
Conley: Yoga is directly related to sleep. When you exercise or when you do yoga with the breathing, it is very calming to the nervous system. Often times the lack of sleep is when we lay in bed and we are thinking, the mind is ruminating. In yoga, we call that the monkey mind, jumping from one thing to the next. When you lay in bed and that happens, you have a hard time falling asleep. The breathing techniques you learn in yoga allow you to get present and move out of that space.
There is a whole system of yoga called Yoga Nidra, the yoga of sleep. If you do Yoga Nidra before bed, it basically walks you through your body. It allows you to drop into that hypnagogic state, that state before we fall into a deep sleep.
Nollapelli: Yoga Nidra is definitely sleepcare.
Conley: Absolutely. I occasionally teach Yoga Nidra workshops. It is a nice tool to have.
Nollapelli: For those intimidated about yoga and unsure of where to begin, what are your tips?
Conley: Look online and find something that resonates with you. Even if it is scary, try it out. And, give it a few tries. Yoga is about connection. Sometimes you will connect with certain teachers, sometimes yoga takes time. It is a gut feeling.
Nollapelli: For people entering yoga studios for the first time, how can they feel comfortable?
Conley: Everyone feels scared coming in. You are not alone in that. Everyone feels intimidated coming into a new place. The one thing to remember, most likely, every studio wants to be of service to you. And, everyone else in the class is not looking at you, judging you. Everyone is there for the same reason; they want to feel better.
Nollapelli: What is one thing you do for your skin every day?
Conley: Wash it [laughing]. I also have been much better about using sunscreen, and I have been really into Rose Hip Oil for my face.