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About Sharon

I am an artist, healer, teacher, and yogini. I bring the wisdom of over twenty-years of yoga and meditation practice and teaching to everything that I do.  With two graduate degrees in East Asian Studies and Cultural Anthropology, I also draw upon my academic research and background in my writing, course development, and for creative inspiration.  Although I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, I have always been a nature girl and enjoy spending time outdoors practicing awareness, taking photographs, and walking in meditation and compassion with all living beings.  My academic background in Chinese and Central Asian Buddhist and Daoist cave art and temples is a part of my deeper curiosity in how spiritual spaces and nature are related and interact.  My research in cultural anthropology was focused on medical anthropology and, it is in this research and work, that I brought in the body and movement into these outdoor spaces created for prayer in motion, seated meditation, and connecting with God, diety, and power of spirit.  As I continue to study and develop my intuitive healing abilities, I have felt drawn towards herbal medicine and flower essences as these are ways to bring nature into the body.

The Story of Yoga Matrika

In 2005, when I was 20-weeks pregnant with my son, I moved from New York to Pittsburgh to be closer to family when I had my baby.  The first night I was in Pittsburgh, I stayed with my parents because we arrived too late to pull anything out of the moving truck in our new apartment.  That night, I got carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaking furnace exhaust system, and almost died.  But, I didn’t die and as my son is now a thriving pre-teen, he also survived.  At the time, althogh we survived, it was unclear what the outcome of my pregnancy was going to be.  I was overwhelmed by the stress of my move and the accident and the powerful layer of unknown that was thrust upon me, so I decided to go to a prenatal yoga class.  I was in a new city and had just experienced a traumatic event, but I knew that yoga was a way to connect with community and to find some peace no matter what the conditions of my life were.  I just searched the internet and went to the only class I could find that was offered somewhere that I could walk to.  The studio was packed with pregnant moms and the class started with floor work, laying on our backs, which didn’t feel quite right, but I didn’t feel quite right……so I did my best to let go and follow along.  From floor work, we moved to standing balance poses.  I was struggling to stand on two feet, never mind one, and that is when the teacher said, “You have to practice balance on your mat because if you can’t find it here and now, how are you ever going to find balance in your life as a mother?”.  Well, good question!  There I was teetering on the edge of disaster both inside my body and mind and outside on my borrowed mat because I hadn’t even been able to unpack enough to find mine with all the trips to and from hospitals.  After class, a group of other students stood in the front lobby talking and I tried to join in and introduce myself.  They listened politely, but then went on to discuss where they were going for tea and no one invited me along.  I left that class feeling worse than I did going in, and considering the fact that I walked in there feeling rather doomed and scared, THAT was a pretty dark moment for me.  What do you do when your go-to for nourishment fails?  How was I going to make new friends?  How was I going to survive this pregnancy?  Of  course, I never went back.  But, when my son was six-months old, I decided to open up my own yoga studio with a focus on pregnancy and health for families so that I could provide for others what I had desperately longed for myself.

I opened up the first location of Yoga Matrika in 2007 and helped to build the most nourishing, welcoming, and beautiful community around safe, creative, and innovative yoga and meditation classes that were open to all levels.  Although I invested the initial energy to open Yoga Matrika, it developed a life of its own in my life and the lives of everyone who walked in the door through all the amazing teachers who shared their hearts and light there (for very little financial compensation).  When I chose the name “Matrika” it was after the “little mothers” in Vedic literature–they were these fabulous women warriors who were gorgeous, bold, and powerful.  Then, over time, it was revealed to me that Matrika had a deeper meaning on the spiritual and subtle body level.  Matrika refers to the vibration of that which is most true to you and it resides in the central channel of the body.  When we are tight or have energetic blocks along the central channel, we have a hard time living in alignment with this creative symphony that connects us intimately to our soul purpose.  After almost eight-years of business, I decided to close the brick and mortar studio, Yoga Matrika, in Pittsburgh so that I could focus on bringing this practice to a global community through distance learning courses and training other teachers.

Pioneer in Distance Learning for Yoga Teachers

After I closed the brick and mortar Yoga Matrika yoga studio, I created an innovative online yoga school facilitating my certification program in Matrika Prenatal Yoga to yoga teachers all over the world who were interested in offering mindful and dynamic prenatal yoga classes to their students.  I also created the curriculum for over fifteen additional courses for yoga teachers and students all over the world who were seeking training and practices focused on meditation, Buddhism, and incorporating sounding, visualization, mudra, mantra, sutras and sacred texts, and Tibetan and Chinese yogas.  My teaching philosophy draws on my intellectual curiousity and academic research in public health, medical anthropology and requires that my students challenge themselves to see the interaction between culture and the body.  Online courses allow teachers all over the world open access to this unique approach and provide a flexible and affordable continuing education option.  I am a Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP) and Yoga Alliance permits that registered teachers meet a certain number of their continuing education requirements through distance learning.  All of my courses are available for CEU credits for yoga teachers, but they are open to anyone who is curious in expanding their personal practice.

Matrika Prenatal Yoga

For the majority of my yoga teaching career, I have focussed on yoga for fertility, pregnancy, and moms and babies.  I also developed a yoga-based childbirth preparation class called Dynamic Childbirth.  The focus was on breathing, commnication between a laboring woman and her main birth support partner, and how to relax into the labor and birth process as a transformation.  After many of my students asked me to be present for their labors and births, I decided to participate in a DONA birth doula course and became a DONA trained birth doula.  I pioneered a prenatal and mom and baby yoga program at Magee Women’s Hospital and provided that program with teachers from my training program for many years.  In 2013, I published a Matrika Prenatal Yoga eBook and accompanying 45-minute audio guided practice.  I work with clients of all ages to promote optimum reproductive health through modern menstruation education, fertility awareness for both the prevention and encouragement of conception, and nourishing support for fertility challenges, pregnancy, birth, and life with a baby.

Yoga and Meditation in my life

For a year between my undergraduate education and graduate work at Penn, I lived in a rural town just south of the Gobi Desert in China in Shanxi Province.  When I came back to my graduate work, I experienced overwhelming culture shock.  I was trying to balance my research and studies with a lot of personal challenges and one day I saw a sign on a post along the Walnut Street bridge and it said “ARE YOU STRESSED?”.  It was an advertisement for Bikram yoga classes being held at a second floor dance studio.  I pulled the flyer down and walked straight to the studio with the flyer clutched in my hands.  The yoga teacher, Joel Pier, was there at the space and I told him that I was most definitely stressed out, perhaps beyond repair, and that I was inflexible and uncoordinated…..so did he think I could do this yoga thing?  He obviously saw that my needs for grounding were urgent because he encouraged me to take off my shoes and socks and have a seat with him on the floor right there and then.  He listened to me talk a bit more and said that I should come back later for class and how to dress for class.  I felt a lot better just for having been there for a bit, so I did come back for class later.  What happened changed my life….forever.  After class, I felt calm and centered and beautiful.  I also felt hungry and went out for a very nourishing meal.  I was so much more in touch with how I felt that after weeks of struggling to get a sense of myself in space, suffering insomnia, and not being able to think clearly in English that I had an appetite and slept deeply for the first night after returning from China.  That was almost 22-years ago and I haven’t stopped practicing yoga ever since.  I’ve practiced different styles of yoga over the years and every teacher and every experience has made an addition to my peace and well-being.  I’ve done an eclectic style 200-hour teacher training program, but completed my teacher training with Jill Satterfield of Vajra Yoga.  When I met Jill, she introduced me to a yoga practice that did not separate yoga and meditation.  At first, my ego resisted her style because it seemed “too easy”, but after my first session with Jill, I got on the subway and was filled with a sense of euphoria that I had never felt before.  That bliss feeling brought me to commit to studying Vajra Yoga with Jill and I would consider her influence, inspiration, and Vajra Yoga to be infused in everything I do and teach.

Over the past twenty-years, as my own practice has moved from a more athletic ashtanga vinyasa style into a more contemplative approach and then supporting my own pregnancies and post-partum transformations, I have brought more and more of my spiritual practice into my work with private clients and group classes.  I have taken a few courses in somatic movement therapy with Mark Chandlee Taylor and this approach to movement and anatomy has helped to guide my work in a very powerful way.  Finally, I have studied Vipassana meditation with Ven. Soorakkulame Pemaratana (well loved and known as Bhante Pema here in Pittsburgh) and have developed a committed personal practice that is reflected in my teachings and offerings.  My personal interests in nature and environment have inspired me to explore the intersections of mind-body work and nature and out of this has grown my current 200-hour teacher training program, Buddhi Vana.  

Art

I am a historian of traditional and ancient art and architecture of East and Central Asia with a specialty in Buddhist cave art and Daoist and Buddhist temples in Northern China along the northern silk route.  I am also a ceramic artist making mostly wheel-thrown functional stoneware pottery, but have recently started to explore pinch pots inspired by Paulus Berensohn’s work and book, Finding One’s Way with Clay.  I enjoy practicing awareness in nature through the lens of photography and enjoy taking pictures outdoors.  

writing

Most of my professional writing work has been as a grant writer and development professional for non-profit organizations.  I have twenty-years of experience managing government grants for museums and cultural organizations, acting as Director of Development, working in external affairs, and responding to request for proposals for social service and engineering and architecture firms for major State funded bridge, highway, and public transportation programs.  I have also maintained this website’s blog for over ten-years writing about resources, spiritual matters, yoga and meditation practices, my life and experiences, and much more.  One of my ongoing projects is called Pilgrimage Pittsburgh and it has expanded to explore the image of the deity in our daily lives here in America.  I was inspired by a book by Diana Eck on Darsan in India and felt that we have come to believe that, in India, there are images of Gods/Goddesses and dieties everywhere, but it is also true here in America.  There is a definite presence of Mother Mary that is obvious once I opened my eyes to it, but there are many other sacred sculptures and images placed outdoors and available for us to make note of and reflect on.  

Language, Culture, and Communication

As a writer,  antrhopologist and being fluent in conversational Mandarin Chinese,  I am uniquely positioned to provide support and guidance on written assignments, communication, presentations, interviews, and cultural adjustment issues and concerns that Chinese students and professionals face here in the United States.  I have the language and cultural skills, having lived in both China and the United States, to offer compassionate and empathetic advice and understanding for cultural adjustment concerns.  I apply breathing techniques and mindfulness to help my language and culture clients to remain calm in the face of the significant issues that can arise living, studying, and working in the United States.  My clients receive the highest quality writing, communication, and presentation guidance while also having their personal concerns addressed with sensitivity and understanding.

Sharon Fennimore CV