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Education professor spends ‘inspiring’ day teaching yoga at White House

UB professor Catherine Cook-Cottone (right) at the White House on April 6. Photo: Meghan Powell

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published April 9, 2015

“It is a day I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Catherine Cook-Cottone, professor
Graduate School of Education

Calling it “nothing short of joyful,” UB Graduate School of Education Professor Catherine Cook-Cottone guided an Easter yoga class on one of the country’s biggest stages – the annual Easter Egg Roll on the front lawn of the White House.

Cook-Cottone, a certified and registered yoga instructor who started a nonprofit called Yogis in Service, was one of 22 yoga experts promoting yoga on April 6 on the White House South Lawn.

Cook-Cottone’s appearance was part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” fitness initiative that fulfilled a wellness and movement component to the annual Easter Egg Roll.

“Teaching yoga at the White House in the Yoga Garden was a truly moving experience,” says Cook-Cottone, whose Yogis in Service offers yoga classes in underserved sections of Buffalo.

“I spent the day with the most inspiring, passionate individuals with an unparalleled love of yoga,” she says. “It was nothing short of joyful. It is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. My heart was, and remains, filled with inspiration and fun.”

Cook-Cottone was among scores of honored guests at the White House, a lineup that included storytellers from “Sesame Street,” all-star dancers from “So You Think You Can Dance,” and professional athletes including Robert Griffin III and women’s tennis pro  Coco Vandeweghe.

The 2015 Easter Egg Roll is the largest public event of the year at the White House.

Cook-Cottone said she was so moved by the White House experience, she is still struggling to find words to “capture how magical it was.”

“Imagine spending a day at the White House, teaching and sharing something you love completely, with a team of other amazing teachers who love yoga as much as you do,” she says. “It was literally breathtaking at times. I had to intentionally ground myself and breathe so that I could take it all in.”

Cottone’s White House yoga team was led by Leah Cullis, a nationally renowned yoga teacher. This is the seventh year Cullis has brought yoga to the White House Easter Egg Roll.

The team included MC Yogi, a leading voice in conscious music, and his wife, artist Amanda Giacomini. Also in the group were Dan Nevins, who was awarded the George C. Lang Award for Courage, the highest award bestowed by the Wounded Warrior Project, and Keith Mitchell, a former NFL linebacker who has found a new life purpose through yoga.

Cook-Cottone’s Yogis in Service group holds all-ages classes every Saturday at Resurrection Lutheran Church at Genesee and Doat streets in Buffalo. They plan to start another program soon at Delavan-Grider Community Center, including plans for seniors.

“My dream is to have these guys become yoga teachers themselves,” Cook-Cottone says. “Our goal is to create access to the self-regulating, centering, health-enhancing benefits of yoga for everyone. This is why I research yoga and why I have written my book, ‘Mindfulness and Yoga for Self-Regulation: A Primer for Mental Health.’”

The complete list of yoga teachers participating at the White House:

Peg Mulqueen, Faith Hunter, Michelle Kelsey Mitchell, Rachel Dolan, Caroline Lowe, Jafar Alexander, Ahmed Jabali-Nash, Elizabeth Burris, Justin Blazejewski, Olivia Barnett, Jessica Mitcheletti, Keith Mitchell, Dan Nevis, Tonya Farmer, Bari Koral, Nicholas Giacomini, Amanda Giacomini, Chris Lucas, Nancy Sheridan, Roger Rippy, Albina Rippy and Claudia Cavazza.