Meet this month’s cover model, Cari Ellen, a true believer in magic, miracles – and, of course, yoga! Words and photos by Wanda Bogacka-Plucinski
Cari Ellen is 52 years old, a yogi, creator, photographer, space holder, and dreamer. Born in New Jersey, USA, she is a mum of two beautiful girls, 20 and 14, and “I married my soulmate,” she says.
“Having our first child was what led me to dive headfirst into both holistic health and an awakening of consciousness” she says. This way of life naturally led her to later discover yoga. Having children brought her to a realisation that they are often our best gurus, having so much to teach us about ourselves and the world. She considers herself as a spiritual growth junkie and laughingly says that she joined a book club so she would force herself to read something other than just self-help books.
During her earlier years, she lived and worked in New York City but after having children the family decided to move in search of a quieter life in the New Jersey countryside. She’s now very involved in her small rural community and finds that being in nature keeps her truly grounded. Her backyard is one of her sanctuaries where she loves to spend her time and where we captured these photos. She’s a believer of magic and angels and says that tears and laughter are equally good medicine.
How long have you been practicing yoga?
I took my first yoga class in my early twenties at my gym. I walked in and saw a lot of ‘older’ people and figured it would be easy for me, but it was really challenging! I spent the whole time thinking I’d never do this again but then during Savasana I felt this incredible sense of peace and oneness and it was all worth it. But I didn’t actually start practicing regularly until my late 30s and early 40s, so I guess it’s been about 15 years!
What differences have you seen in your practice over the years?
When my daughter was about four years old, I started going to a class or two a week. It was the only time I got to be alone or to feel like I was doing something for me. I didn’t realise it then, but it was the start of a connection to my Self (with a capital S). Once I became a mum, that is what my whole identity was, a mum. And yoga class was this tiny slice of time, of heaven, where I could just put the rest of my life aside, and focus on me, and figure out who I was again.
Much later, when the kids were old enough to stay home alone and my husband started practicing with me (we did hot yoga, power yoga and acro yoga), suddenly yoga became more of a physical outlet. We were feeling our age and yoga class was an attempt at reversing the clock and getting fit again.
And then during quarantine I did my 200-hour teacher training with Cathy Madeo, and my practice changed again, and deepened in profound ways. Now I see that my practice is not just while I am on the mat, but all throughout the rest of my life. How am I showing up? How am I pushing myself or having compassion for my limitations? How connected am I to my body? To my mind? To my spirit? To my Source?
What are the main styles of yoga you practice?
I love hot yoga, power yoga, aerial yoga, acro yoga, gentle yoga, yin yoga, and restorative yoga. I don’t think I’ve met a style of yoga I don’t like! Most days I practice alignment-based vinyasa yoga online with my teacher Cathy Madeo.
Who else inspired you in the early days?
My earliest teacher, P. Casey Barish, opened up my eyes and my heart to yoga. To this day, she is an inspiration to me because she truly embodies peace, love and acceptance. As she walks through the world, she role models for me and others what unconditional compassion looks like, on and off the mat, and I am forever grateful for her!
As a working mum and wife, how do you prioritise your yoga and wellbeing practice?
It’s easy for me to maintain my yoga practice because I have a partner to keep me accountable! When the alarm goes off at 5:30am there’s at least one of us that encourages the other to get up. As far as the rest of my wellbeing goes, at 52 I am finally learning how to prioritise taking care of myself first. Sometimes in our culture that can be seen as selfish, but I disagree. Like the flight attendants say, if you don’t put on your oxygen mask first, you can’t help anybody else.
Now that my girls are older, I am able to dedicate quite a large chunk of time to my physical, emotional and spiritual growth. I cook ayurvedic meals for myself every day. I regularly work with a Mothering Coach, an EMDR therapist, and a Rose Path Priestess. I enjoy deep connection and sacred space with women’s circles and scheduled phone dates with close friends. And most nights my husband and I give each other a five-minute massage, and then I meditate for five minutes before going to sleep at 10pm. All of these things fill my cup, so that I have energy to help others.
How often do you get to practice?
Before Covid-19, my husband and I were going to class three or four times a week. But now we do an online class together every single weekday morning! And we usually practice on weekends too.
How do you feel when you practice compared to when you haven’t been able to get on your mat for a while?
Oh my gosh there is no comparison! All it takes is two days without yoga and I feel stiff and contracted in my body and busy and irritated in my mind!
Do you think anyone, at any age, can enjoy the benefits of yoga?
Yes, of course. Absolutely! We all have a body and a mind and a spirit so who couldn’t benefit from moving or meditating or connecting with their higher power?
Do you have any advice for those who would like to introduce their partner to yoga but don’t know how?
About four years ago my husband wanted to get back into shape, and since we are both Librans and love to do things together, he tried coming to classes with me instead of going to a gym. He found that he really enjoyed it, and soon regained his strength and enough flexibility to far surpass me in challenging poses!
Besides becoming more physically fit, yoga also helped him to feel calmer and more centred. We are in such a great groove now that I can’t imagine why we would ever stop doing yoga together. When I asked him what advice he thought would be helpful in enrolling a partner, he smiled and said: “naked yoga!”
What has yoga done for you personally over the years?
Kept me sane, more centred and focused on what really matters. Tending to my body, mind and spirit reminds me that my time here in this particular life is finite, and guides me to living it as mindfully as possible.
Do you feel yoga is more mental or physical or a combination of both?
Definitely a combo: the body and mind are 100% connected.
Do you believe it is an alternative form of healing and medicine?
Yes, I truly do. Moving your body and paying attention to your ‘mind stuff’ is, in my opinion, by far the most healing medicine out there!
What do you think of famous people like Gwyneth Paltrow and influencers getting into yoga? Is it good for yoga or does it make it too commercial?
I think it’s great. The more people that find their way to yoga the better!
YOGA & YOU
What does yoga mean to you personally?
Yoga to me is a lifestyle. A path towards becoming more conscious. A way of practicing looking at life through the eyes of oneness. It is one of the most powerful ways in which I can connect with both the physical aspect of myself, and to the part of myself that is connected to the ALL. Yoga to me is a gateway to the divinity that we all share.
How has yoga helped you see yourself and your body over the years?
When I was younger I was more focused on how yoga could help my body look better, and now I am more focused on how yoga helps my body feel better. I definitely have more love, compassion and gratitude for my body the older I get and the more I practice. I think that is because, after years of yoga, I now see my body as part of my cooperative ‘team’ instead of a separate entity that I have no connection with.
How do you overcome challenges in your life and stay motivated?
I happily dive headfirst into emotional challenges because I am a warrior for healing! I’m not nearly as great at physical challenges or at staying motivated, but I’d like to change that story. In fact, I have just committed to doing the splits and a handstand by my 53rd birthday…and I am enrolling my daughter in helping me to stay motivated! I’m hopeful that her support will help me overcome this physical challenge.
What’s the one place you feel most at home or at peace?
I have the most peaceful backyard and I love just swinging in my hammock, daydreaming.
Do you have moments that you feel you are truly ‘in the flow’?
I love this question! I know I am in the flow when the universe speaks to me. For example, when I am thinking about someone, and in that minute, they call me, or when I’ve asked for guidance and I start seeing it everywhere I look. Synchronicities, signs, and symbols are just some of the ways that I feel confirmation that I am moving with the flow of energy. It feels so good to be in collaboration with my source!
What are you most grateful for?
In my morning prayers there is a part that goes like this: “I am eternally grateful, to be here now, in this sacred moment, as this soul, in this body, living this life.” So, yeah, that is what I am most grateful for. I am incredibly blessed in this lifetime, and I try to appreciate it as much as possible.
What do you believe is your true calling in life?
To be a part of raising the vibration of the planet.
How do you raise your own vibration?
I have found that the first and most important step is awareness. I’m training myself to notice when I am low on the vibrational scale, and instead of just ignoring it and pushing through my day, I will stop and use any tool that is accessible. Some examples are breathing, stretching, dancing, tapping (EFT), shaking, praying, and going outside to put my feet on the Earth. Once the emotion (that had me feeling discomfort) has been acknowledged, and then I’ve allowed it to move through me (it’s just energy after all), I feel lighter and higher. Voila! Haha, I’ve definitely made it sound easier than it is!
What do you love to do when you are not practicing yoga?
I love being in sacred space and going deep. Give me some sage to burn, a beautiful altar in the centre of the floor, and a circle of women who are willing to both truly listen with an open heart and speak their raw truth, and I am in heaven.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently working on launching a project/business called BeDivinely. The focus will be all about celebrating our divinity and our humanness. I will be holding sacred space for women doing ritual and circles and putting love and acceptance out into the world. It’s another way I can help raise the vibration of the world we live in.
How do you set boundaries in your life?
Still working on that one!
What are some of your self-care practices?
Abhyanga (oil massage) to keep me calm, creativity to allow my juices to flow, dancing to release stuck energy, women’s circles to connect deeply, spending time in nature to feel rebalanced, cooking meals to nurture myself, and calling on my guides for support, guidance, and to remind myself that I am never alone.
FAVOURITE YOGA OR SELF-IMPROVEMENT BOOK?
A long time ago I read Christy Turlington’s ‘Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practiceʼ. Her story was so inspiring, it made ‘living a more yogic life’ more accessible to me.
The Breakfast Club. I’ve watched it countless times in the past 25 years and know almost every line by heart. It really speaks to the archetypes within us all.
GO-TO HEALTH FOOD?
You know the saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, in Ayurveda we say: “You are what you digest.” So, healthy, to me, is simply something that is easy for me to digest. I do love sweet oatmeal for breakfast and savoury dal for lunch most days.
HOLISTIC REMEDY YOU SWEAR BY?
30 drops of Vit D3 at the first hint of feeling a cold or flu.
“With our mind we create our whole world.” - Buddha
And also: “Enjoy here while we’re here, ‘cause there is no here, there.” – Ziggy (The latter was my husband’s Senior quote in high school)
FAVOURITE YOGA POSE?
Dancer. I love the balance, the grace, the beauty, and the feeling of open-hearted empowerment! I also really love half-moon.
IF YOU COULD TAKE A CLASS AS A STUDENT WITH ANY TEACHER FROM ANYWHERE AND FROM ANY PERIOD OF TIME WHO WOULD IT BE WITH AND WHY?
I wish I could have taken a class with Tao Porchon-Lynch before she transitioned. It would have been so incredibly inspiring to see, in real life, a 101 year old who still dances and does yoga and is so peaceful and happy and in love with life.