Jennifer Pastiloff is well known amongst west-side yogis for her classes at Yoga Co, Equinox, Fred Segal Santa Monica, and Lululemon, as well as her ongoing Manifestation Retreats in Ojai. But when Pastiloff's four-year-old nephew Blaise, who has autism, was recently diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, she and sister Rachel began a new venture, Gifts And Miracles Everyday (G.A.M.E.) Yoga to give free yoga classes to children with disabilities. Prader-Willi Syndrome is a disorder of the fifteenth chromosome that can result cognitive impairment, an extremely slow metabolism, and chronic feelings of hunger that often lead to life-threatening obesity and other health problems.
Upon hearing of Blaise's diagnosis, Pastiloff remembers, "I noticed my nephew would copy me with yoga, and I had previously worked giving free classes for cancer survivors. So I decided I wanted to give back and thought, 'what could I do?'" Pastiloff is starting small and currently works with children who have Down syndrome and autism, as well one child who is blind. She teaches on Saturdays at 12:30pm in rooms donated by Santa Monica studio Yoga Co, and she is assembling a team to expand her class schedule.
The official launch for G.A.M.E. Yoga took place at Lululemon on December 9, 2010. Pastiloff was able to raise four thousand dollars with a raffle that included a signed guitar donated by Snow Patrol and a necklace designed and donated by Jennifer Meyer, wife of actor Toby Maguire. The money, Pastiloff says, will help pay for studio space rentals and yoga mats, and eventually for a fully funded website that will provide families of disabled children with free, downloadable yoga videos created by well-known teachers and physical therapists. She also plans to include blogs, "and interesting articles, photos and interactive resources, as well as a connection and meet-up for parents and children facing challenges."
For now, the LA-based yoga instructor describes G.A.M.E. Yoga as a "grassroots" project, which she hopes will grow into non-profit organization with chapters nationwide and globally. One of the current challenges G.A.M.E faces is that Pastiloff's classes must be small in order to give each child personal attention. Her hope is to assemble a "cohesive team that will be able to mobilize easily and work throughout Los Angeles." And while the short term goal of G.A.M.E. is to provide children with one to three classes per week locally, Pastiloff plans to take G.A.M.E. east later this year. Pastiloff will travel to New York to work with Pure Yoga, Dhyana Yoga in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and alongside her sister at Hazard County Skatepark in Atlanta.
Pastiloff stretches with children in her G.A.M.E. Yoga class. While her nephew was the inspiration for starting G.A.M.E., Pastiloff says that her sister and she "want [G.A.M.E.] to be all-inclusive," and notes that children with other special needs or disabilities--ranging from Down syndrome and autism to ADHD, and even children confined to wheelchairs--can benefit from spending time in her classes also. Classes incorporate meditation, core exercises, singing, working with sound bowls and "visualizations and affirmations [that] help children access internal strengths". The exercises increase muscle tone and improve posture, body awareness and balance, but Pastiloff also emphasizes that she aims "to cultivate [children's] sense of self-esteem" as well. At the beginning of each class, Pastiloff asks questions like, "what do you love about yourself?" and when children are in Warrior 2 pose, she instructs them to assert, "I am a beautiful warrior." Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pastiloff
Jennifer Pastiloff greets people as the Ambassador of Lululemon, at the launch for G.A.M.E. Yoga at Lululemon on December 9, 2010. Pastiloff notes that 'G.A.M.E.' is a fitting name because a big part of her teaching emphasizes "being playful, and remembering that life is a game and about cultivating your own joy." For this reason, she encourages children to sing, dance, and chant along with her throughout classes, and she has found that such exercises have moved children to tears of joy and encouraged especially shy children to come out of their shell. Pastiloff's passion has already begun to pay off, as she notes," I work so hard so I can give back, and the gratitude from the parents is so overwhelming." Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pastiloff
Jennifer Pastiloff and a G.A.M.E. participant at the launch for G.A.M.E. Yoga at Lululemon on December 9, 2010. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pastiloff
Attendees for the launch for G.A.M.E. Yoga at Lululemon on December 9, 2010, where Pastiloff raised four thousand dollars for her project. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pastiloff