Lee Gregory Profile

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Teacher Profile •
Lee Gregory: A Community’s Yoga Teacher
Story and photos by Christine Cook
You never know what you will
find when you walk into a yoga
class at Loyola Park in the
Rogers Park neighborhood of
Chicago. You may find wedding
reception decorations from the
past weekend or
children’s artwork hung
on the wall from an afterschool program. Despite
the changing decor, you
will find two constants—
the teacher and a view of
Lake Michigan.
Lee Gregory teaches
Vinyasa flow classes at
Loyola Park. Because
these classes are offered
by the Chicago Park
District, students must
register in advance, and
Lee’s classes fill quickly.
It’s typical for 40 to 50
students to attend her
Wednesday evening and
Saturday morning classes.
During class you will
probably hear the sirens
of emergency vehicles racing
down Sheridan Road and, in the
summer, you will hear boys
playing baseball outside. Lee
says this is an excellent
opportunity to practice yoga
amid the commotion. She
encourages students to connect
to their breath and focus on the
postures instead of the
distractions.
Lee, who is 41 years old,
participated in her first yoga
class almost 20 years ago in
New Hampshire. During that
class, Lee had an “aha”
moment. The teacher asked the
class to “notice what you are
doing. Are you paying attention
to your yoga or watching
someone else? What’s going on
for you?”
At 23 years old, she had
never used a physical practice
to be more personal with
herself. Always athletic, Lee
grew up running and playing
soccer, where the focus was
years she has studied with Tom
Quinn (also now of YogaView).
When asked why she chose to
study with Tom, Lee says, “I
truly appreciate Tom’s
grounded and down-to-earth
Lee Gregory adjusts student in bhujangasana (cobra pose)
external and competitive. In
that first class an idea took
hold in Lee’s mind, but it
simmered for five years before
she took her next yoga class.
This time the class was in
Chicago and the teacher was
Brent Holden of I.D. Gym. She
liked Brent’s sincere teaching
style and the simple practice he
offered his students. Lee
started practicing regularly
with Brent and began noticing
changes. “I found myself
becoming more sensitive to my
physical health and mental
state and how the two were
closely linked,” she says.
From Brent’s class, Lee went
on to practice Ashtanga yoga
with Quinn Kearney (now of
YogaView), and for the past 12
14 YOGAChicago March – April, 2012
style. He is deep and
philosophical while also
remaining completely true to
himself and approachable. I
always leave his class with new
ideas to ponder.”
After practicing yoga for
several years, Lee’s friends and
family began to think of her as
a yogi, so much so that a friend
sent her a job posting for a
yoga teacher position at Loyola
Park. This piqued her curiosity,
despite not having completed a
teacher training program. After
speaking with her teacher, she
applied anyway. The park
district hired Lee, but before
she started teaching she
completed a 10-day “intensive”
with Tias Little. Sometimes it’s
better to put the cart before the
horse; Lee has been teaching at
Loyola Park for almost 10 years
now.
When I asked a few of her
students what it is about Lee’s
style that keeps them coming
back—many have been taking
her class for years—I heard
things like the calmness of her
voice, hands-on adjustments,
clear instructions, and her
sequences flow well. Her downto-earth style is
engaging and sounds
much like the styles of
her teachers.
Despite the all-levels
class designation, or
because of it, Lee’s
classes at Loyola Park
take on a noncompetitive
tone. Perhaps it’s the
community feel, but
most people just practice
their yoga without regard
to their neighbors on
adjacent mats. Loyola
Park has offered yoga
classes since the early
1970s, according to one
of Lee’s students. The
room itself is nothing
fancy. The floors are
covered in linoleum and
the walls in hardwood. It
doesn’t feel like a yoga studio,
and yet the energy of the room
is perfectly suited for yoga.
When you take a class from
Lee, you, of course, get a
physical workout. Her Vinyasa
flow sequences are physically
challenging for any level
student. When the class finally
moves to the floor poses, there
is a collective sigh of relief. And
yet, she strives to link the mind
and body through a connection
with breath. It is through this
connection that she feels her
students will become
comfortable in their own skin.
“It’s a gift to love your body
and what it can do,” says Lee.
When Lee was young, she felt
the disconnection between the
Lee Gregory in
ardha chandrasana
(half moon pose)
different parts of herself. Through yoga, she
learned to connect her body and mind to feel
whole. This is what she hopes all her students
experience. One thing is for certain: Lee makes
everyone feel welcome and comfortable.
“She is most certainly one of the best teachers
I have ever had,” says Venn R., who is Indian and
has been practicing since a young boy. “She
scales her class excellently. She is very unique in
her ability to build multiple levels into the same
class, so both the beginner and the advanced
students get the most out of it. She is also very
good about bringing awareness to the principles
of yoga—not just treating it as a simple form of
physical exercise but also as a mental exercise.”
Another student, Traci H., says, “Lee’s classes
have a natural flow, as if they were planned
perfectly, yet there is nothing scripted about any
one. I just feel at home in her class.”
Over the years, Lee continued to study and
deepen her knowledge of yoga. She has taken
intensives with well-known teachers such as
Sean Corn and Ana Forrest. She also completed a
prenatal yoga teacher certification. In 2007, Lee
enrolled in the YogaView teacher training to
connect with other teachers and rededicate
herself to her own practice.
Lee finds a regular home practice a bit of a
challenge while raising three children with her
partner, Elena. Lee’s a morning person and
sometimes practices alone, sometimes with
Elena. She tries to take at least one group class a
week. In the meantime, she delights in watching
her children play and notices how fully
connected they are—in mind, body, and spirit.
When not teaching her classes,
Lee is a stay-at-home mom. Even
though she holds a master’s
degree in social work from the
University of Chicago and does
some social services work on a
contract basis, Lee is currently
studying to become a registered
nurse—at least that’s what she
thinks she’s doing. She says about
this possible new career that she is
“living her way into it.”
When asked if the school work is
hard at her age, she says “yes!”
But she is also more determined
than ever. At the beginning of the
semester, most of the young 20somethings don’t want anything to
do with the “old lady.” But by the
end of the semester, they want to
be in her study group because she
knows the material. (Flash cards
help!) She’s persistent and works hard, which is
how she has practiced yoga over the years.
Lee is just as committed to her students. She
teaches three classes a week at Loyola Park, and
you will rarely find a sub teaching the class. She
is proud of this class she built and especially
proud of its annual fundraiser. On the evening
before Thanksgiving, students are encouraged to
bring family members and donate “whatever they
can” to the Chicago Food Depository. In the past
four years, this class has contributed more than
three thousand dollars for the hungry in
Chicago—deepening the sense of community.
After practicing yoga for so many years, Lee
reflects on how her practice and teaching style
have evolved. She says, “You know, I feel like I’m
always at the beginning of my yoga practice. I
can’t believe how many years have gone by and
yet here I am at the beginning. It is a journey,
isn’t it?”
Lee also teaches a Friday morning class at
Imagine Yoga in Rogers Park.
More about Lee
Birthplace: Albuquerque,
New Mexico
Astrological sun sign:
Aries
Favorite pose: Always
changing, but it has been
ardha chandrasana (half
moon pose) for a while
Favorite snack: Sweet
sesame almonds from
Trader Joe’s.
Currently reading:
Microbiology texts
Favorite book: Why I
Wake Early by Mary
Oliver
Spare time activity:
What spare time? I have
three kids. If I had spare
time I would sleep more.
What people don’t know
about me: At home I
have a hard time sitting
still.
Words I live by: Talk
doesn’t make rice.
(Apparently, it’s a Chinese
proverb. I read it on a tea
bag and it has stuck with
me.)
Long-term vision:
Synthesizing yogic
teachings, social work,
and Western medical
practices to help people
find their path to health
and comfort with their
physical selves.
Lee Gregory teaches yoga at Loyola Park, Imagine
Yoga, and small group and private classes. She can be
reached at [email protected]
Christine Cook is a writer and yoga teacher in
Chicago. She blogs at itseasybeingvegan.com. She
also speaks at yoga teacher trainings on ahimsa
(nonviolence). For more information, you can contact
her at [email protected] or
773.960.2436.
YOGAChicago
March – April, 2012 15
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