Yoga in Squirrel Hill – Joni Sturgill of Schoolhouse Yoga

Joni Sturgill2Welcome to the first of four EXTENDED features from our Spring Issue, ONLY available here on the Burrow! 


Interviews by Mickey Gast


How did you come to practice yoga?

I found yoga over 17 years ago, when I was a basket­-case, type­-A, 20­-something. A friend told me I needed to settle down and suggested yoga. My transformation began with my first yoga class. Suddenly, I become aware of my body and how it felt ­ the tension in my jaw and in my shoulders. By the end of class, I had melted, softened, and I knew I needed this in my life. As I practiced yoga, I wanted my body to feel healthier overall, so I returned to what my mother had taught me. I started cooking, eating more vegetables and more whole foods in general. I read everything I could about yoga, nutrition and healthy eating. Slowly my body grew healthier and stronger. A year later I took my first meditation workshop. I found that I could deepen my life experience even more by focusing inward, learning to let go, to breathe, to find connection from the inside out.


What’s one valuable lesson that you teach to your students?

That our breath is everything. It literally gives us life, and learning how to deepen and control the breath can help us shift our mental and emotional state when we are stressed, to a more relaxed place.


Yoga can seem intimidating for someone who’s a beginner. What should someone expect from their first yoga class?

First, take a gentle class to start. Remember to work within your comfortable range. You can’t make yourself something you’re not. Just be you ­ doing yoga.


Who usually comes to your classes?

I teach a lot of gentle yoga classes, so that includes a wide range of students ­ young people wanting to learn stress reduction, those with injuries looking to recover, older people looking for ways to stay active and mentally sharp. I always offer modifications, because our bodies are all different, and they might feel different from day to day. Some days you may want to do a challenging pose, other days you might take a more gentle, modified posture. Part of yoga is about learning to connect with your body and listen to your own inner guidance about what you need that day.


How is teaching in the Squirrel Hill community?

The Squirrel Hill community is great to teach to. Everyone is so open and interested in all that yoga and meditation has to offer. It seems to be a community looking to grow and be the best they can be.


Joni Sturgill

Are there any misconceptions about yoga that you want to clear up?

Yoga is not about stretching, or wrapping your leg around your head. It’s about finding balance, balance between strength and flexibility, between effort and ease. It’s as much about mental and emotional balance than it is about physical balance, a balance of both strength and flexibility in the body; a balance between vibrant energy and quiet stillness; a balance in your life itself. In my classes and in private sessions, I also like to weave in bits of meditation and breath work to help develop a focused and calm mind as well as a strong and flexible body.


A lot of people shop around before they find an instructor that they like. What should someone look for in a yoga instructor?

You’ll know when you attend one class whether you connect with the teacher or not. Keep trying different teachers until you find a few that you like. It’s very individual. I would also recommend to make sure that your instructor has gone through at least a 200 hour training program.


What do you draw your inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from keeping up with my own practice, meditating and spending time in nature.


What’s next for you? Are there any projects that you’re working on?

I’ve started my own 200 hour mindful yoga teacher training program in the North Hills and plan to offer a daytime session starting in the fall, for stay­-at-­home parents. I also work with a lot of corporations, teaching yoga, mindfulness and wellness programs.


Where can people find you?

I teach at Schoolhouse Yoga. I’m also online at

about SHUC

Preserving, Improving, and Celebrating the Quality of Life in Squirrel Hill

For over fifty years, the Coalition has been an active and important link in the community. It has served as a sounding board for new ideas, as well as a “watchdog” in the areas of public safety, education, residential quality, the business district, and parks and open space. With its focus on the quality of life in the 14th Ward, SHUC continues to monitor activities and future developments in the community through a range of standing committees.


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