Virginia Beach yoga instructor helping the homeless, pushing for meditation in schools

Jen Fedorowicz, owner of Shine Yoga. (Sean C. Davis/Southside Daily)
Jen Fedorowicz, owner of Shine Yoga. (Sean C. Davis/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Jen Fedorowicz believes that meditation can make the world a better place — and she’s out to prove it.

Her studio, Shine Yoga, places an emphasis on the idea that yoga and mindfulness are for everyone, from schoolchildren to senior citizens, underweight to overweight. They also hold regular meditation sessions that benefits the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, a local charity that helps the homeless in Virginia Beach.

The current studio location is tucked into a quaint shopping center off of North Landing Road near the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. The atmosphere inside is instantly calming. A large sliding wooden door opens to the wood-floored studio. The walls are painted soft colors and decorated with uplifting quotes.

Shine Yoga Studio (Sean C. Davis/Southside Daily)

Her business has been here, their second commercial location, for about a year and a half. It’s a big step up from teaching yoga classes to friends in her home, which she was doing as recently as just four years ago.

“I started doing yoga back in the ‘90s. [I] felt a huge difference in my life, in my stress level, in my reaction to things that were stressful and just started to feel different, so I became addicted to yoga,” she said. ”I have the personality that when I find something great, I want everyone else to know about it, so I started teaching my friends, and then they said ‘hey you’re pretty good at this, Jen. You should get certified,’” she added.

Helping others

After the transition to the new location, Fedorowicz decided to make charity work a priority for Shine.

In November 2016 another area yoga teacher held an event to bring toiletries and supplies to the homeless. Fedorowicz and her son ended up passing out bags outside the Lighthouse Center in Virginia Beach and got to know some of the people they were assisting.

“We left that night and went ‘wow we are just so lucky,’” she said. “Even my 14-year-old, when we left that night, was like ‘mom, when can we do that again?’ So I said this is perfect, I have this business, I have this opportunity to give more and more resources.”

At Christmas, her family filled stockings with snacks, gift cards, gloves and hand warmers and took them to the Lighthouse Center once more.

“They were so grateful to have these stockings and it just left us with the feeling that we can’t be done with this,” she said. “And so I have a meditation once a month because I think that the world needs more meditation. Meditation is really what brings peace to yourself.”

The meditations are held on the first Monday of the month at 6:45 p.m. The sessions are low pressure, great for beginners and they really are making a difference — just ask the charity they benefit.

“Judeo-Christian Outreach Center is honored to partner with Shine Yoga,” the organization said in an email. “Jen is a great ambassador for us and her fundraising efforts are making a difference in fulfilling our mission to help families, individuals and veterans recover from crisis situations. We look forward to continuing to grow our partnership.”

Shine also holds yoga classes on the first Sunday of every month to benefit another local organization, Connect with a Wish, which helps kids in foster care.

‘Not your average yoga studio’

The charity work isn’t the only thing that sets Shine apart. Their approach to yoga as a form of, or complement to, meditation is somewhat different than other schools of thought that prioritize the physical element.

“If you ask the people that come here, it’s a no-judgment zone,” Fedorowicz said. “There are people of all ages — I have 70-year-olds that come in here and do yoga. You don’t have to be a certain size or shape … because it’s about the peace. It’s about finding that internal peace.”

That difference is one of the key reasons their customers stick with them.

“When I finally decided to give yoga a chance I was very overweight and felt like my body could not do yoga,” Linda Herring Carpenter said. “Jen finally talked me into it and I discovered I could do more than I thought. I made some life changes and have lost over 40 pounds. My body becomes more flexible every day.”

“I think there’s a huge misconception about yoga,” Fedorowicz said. “People think yoga is this physical practice [where] you have to be super skinny and twist up like a pretzel … really the purpose of the yoga practice is to get the stress out of you. And then what it becomes is a meditation practice.”

Their approach to meditation is also perhaps counter to what most people think about it. If you’ve never been able to clear your mind of nagging thoughts and worries, you might get along with the instructors at Shine.

“You can’t quiet your mind. Your mind thinks,” Fedorowicz said. “Most people, when they sit down and close their eyes and don’t have their phone in front of them, the thoughts rush in …  [meditation] is not that. It’s sitting and noticing your thoughts, becoming aware of that cycle of thought you have all the time.”

The idea is not to empty the mind, but to observe it and correct the behavior. And there’s some solid science to back this line of thinking about thinking up. MRI scans have shown that those who regularly meditate have a smaller amygdala, which is responsible for emotion and fear, and a hardened pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for more advanced, deliberate actions.

“Meditation has taught me that my mind doesn’t have to be going 100 mph all day,” said Christin Teranto. “It’s good to give yourself a break and just enjoy being peaceful, if only for a few minutes.”

Teaching the next generation

A former teacher of 15 years herself, Fedorowicz is working to bring that mindfulness to one of the places it’s needed most — schools.

She wants to see meditation added to the curriculum of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, and plans to talk with administrators in the future.

“My hope is, I’d like to go to schools to train teachers,” she said. “Because if I could train teachers, they could easily use it in their classrooms.”

She views it as a way to reduce test anxiety and increase focus. It’s an idea that’s actually not that far-fetched. Schools around the country have already adopted meditation and yoga into their curriculum.

Shine Yoga will hold a meditation session Monday, Aug. 7 at 6:45 p.m.

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