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  • Philadelphian Perspectives: Courtney Windju

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    Philadelphian Perspectives: Courtney Windju

    Philadelphian Perspectives is our new series in name, but a concept that has been authentic to us for the last 2 decades: highlighting the individuals and local businesses who give the Philadelphia Running & Fitness Community its flavor. As athletes (primarily runners and walkers here), a lot of us are looking for diverse fitness avenues to enrich our running programs and training. Taking a breather (small pun here) from the work you’re putting in on the roads, trails, tracks, and treadmills? Yoga is a practice that tests us physically, enhancing our flexibility, while allowing us to expressively connect with our minds, bodies, and souls.


    We recently caught up with Courtney Windju, a Somatic Wellness Practitioner, Craniosacral Fascial Therapist, Yoga Teacher, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in training. Courtney’s interest in embodied health and wellness began early, as empathy, movement and storytelling became a way to help understand both herself and others. Courtney has her BA in Behavioral Neuroscience and is a current Graduate Student in Social Work. Courtney co-founded The Philly Yoga Network in 2023 with two friends she met at an Advanced Yoga Teacher Training in Philly (The Well Studio). Courtney is the founder of Sole to Soul Wellness, which focuses on embodiment, somatic awareness practices and holistic perinatal/postpartum support.


    In Courtney's words, without further ado:


    Some could say I hit the ground running coming straight out of the womb. I was always a very active little girl and I started playing soccer at the age of 4. From there, the running amongst soccer fields did not stop. I played up until I was about 20 years old, sprinkling in the odd half marathon or so in college here and there. My older sister was an avid runner and we lived close to each other while I was still in undergrad, so she convinced me to do a half marathon with her every semester, in which I begrudgingly complied and did not seriously train for… I would get to mile nine of every half marathon and my legs would feel like noodles. I would think to myself, “1) why did I decide to do this again?” and “2) why did I think it was a good idea to do this without proper training?”. For me, I have to say it was always more about the mental than physical tenacity. And I have to say that this is something I continue to do to this day…just not the 13 milers anymore! 


    My yoga journey began as a sophomore in high school playing Varsity soccer. My soccer coach just so happened to be a Hot yoga teacher as well, so instead of practice some days, she would have our entire team do a hot yoga class. The first couple of them most of us loathed, including myself. It was hot, we were tired and teenagers…triple whammy. It took until about the third class for me to start to understand that there was “something here”. Outside of my regular soccer season, I continued doing Hot Yoga (I began with a Hot 26&2 practice, which I seldom do these days..) regularly. I loved the simultaneous strength and flexibility that I began to explore in my yoga practice; it felt challenging, yet easeful and as a lover of paradox and juxtaposition, I started to recognize this is what yoga IS in action. Inhale/exhale, strength/flexibility, resistance/ease, softness/rigidity, and so many more.. 


    Here I am playing high school Soccer, 2011 


    Shortly after the beginning of my yoga practice, which was very much in the physical realm, I started to see and feel the mental, emotional and spiritual components of my yoga practice as well. I could arrive onto my mat, with the stressors that adolescence bridging into young adulthood brings, and rinse them away with breath, sweat and hard work for an hour or two. I can attest to there not being many other teenagers in my small mountain town booking it to a Hot Yoga class at one of the only yoga studios in our town once the 3 o’clock school bell rang. It became my church, my outlet, my sense of consistency and so, so much more. I can also confirm that I never had any soccer-related injuries, which I give full credit to yoga! 


    I carried onto college where my yoga practice ebbed and flowed amidst the new demands of being a college student. I would take free pop up classes on campus and single-credit yoga fitness classes. I also began my Corepower Yoga practice in San Diego, CA where there are studios by the number…much different than my small mountain town in Northern Idaho. I would bring friends to class with me who would get hooked and we’d be scrounging our pennies together to see if we could scrape by managing a monthly membership. I also did the notorious “try out every studios free or reduced two week membership”, which is a real college student power move…i’m sure some of you reading know that move as well! I remember at one point telling my parents, “watch, I’m going to graduate college and become a yoga teacher.” *spoiler alert* That’s exactly what I did…


    In college, I also joined a sorority and we helped support the philanthropy Girls on the Run (GOTR). Girls on the Run is a program that helps empower elementary aged girls get outside, exercise and eventually complete a 5k! GOTR has a handful of after-school running practices that lead up to a community 5k event. It is amazing being in a position as a mentor coaching and celebrating school-aged girls run more than they ever thought they could. For some it’s a lap and for others it’s an entire 5k. Being involved in this experience really opened up my eyes to the importance of exposure to fitness and holistic wellbeing, especially as children. Some children take to running, cycling or weight lifting just as their parents do, but others don’t have that same exposure, thus might not even realize what their physical bodies are capable of! 

    Volunteering with Girls on the Run, 2013


    Shortly after graduation, I moved to New Zealand in 2016 and lived there for a couple of years. I was perusing GroupOn one day when I came across a discounted aerial yoga class. I signed up without hesitation; as I was exiting the yoga studio that day I saw an advertisement for their upcoming 200 hour training. There was some initial hesitation as to whether or not I could afford the training, but it was such a strong “yes!” that I couldn’t avoid. I organized a payment plan and promptly signed up for the training. I really think this training changed the trajectory of my life in many ways. Building upon the mind/body/spirit connection that I had always been curious about has had a ripple effect into the work that I do today as a Craniosacral Fascial Therapist, Lactation Consultant in training and Student of Social Work. I was also immersed into a like-minded community, one in which I felt seen, heard and understood by. 


    Finishing my 200 hr YTT in Auckland, New Zealand at Raw Yoga, 2017


    Teaching back at my “Yoga Alma Mater” Sandpoint Hot Yoga, in 2018


    I carried on to teach yoga in various places - the jungle of Sri Lanka, beachside in New Zealand, to backpackers in Belize and all the way back to my small mountain town in Northern Idaho - across the next several years. Moving to Philly and having a baby in the year of 2020 put a halt to my in-person yoga teaching, but I still continued to offer virtual classes intermittently throughout the pandemic. Come 2021, I started teaching two classes/week at a local community center in the suburbs of Philly, which I continue to teach to this day. In August 2023, I started teaching at LOVE, a hot yoga/pilates/sculpt studio based in Conshohocken connected to the gym Vision + Fitness, voted #1 “All in One Gym” by Philly Mag in 2023 and “Best Yoga studio in Conshohocken” by More than the Curve. Additionally, I have done a number of small group and business yoga collaborations, in addition to starting The Philly Yoga Network with a couple of friends to help unite the Philadelphia Yoga Community and shed light on all of the yoga and wellness related happenings across Philly. You can find us @phillyyoganetwork on Instagram or at www.phillyyoganetwork.com


    Photoshoot with Jaime Marrero for The Philly Yoga Network, 2023


    Lastly, I’ll fast forward to July 2023 when I completed my first sprint triathlon, which has always been on my bucket list. My sprint triathlon training looked like a lot of cross training, mostly in the realm of yoga, HIIT and weight training. I also ran a few 5ks in a 6 month time span, lap swam once and did a handful of indoor cycling classes. That’s all to say, again, my training regime could have been more structured, but all in all, I felt prepared for my first triathlon. This was one of my first big physical events - aside from a 5k - postpartum and I owe the ease back into training and competing to a lifelong yoga practice and holistic fitness journey. 


    Just completed the Philly Women’s Sprint Triathlon, July 2023


    All in all, I am here to tell you that yoga is a lifelong journey. For some folks, running is as well and for others, it is not. That is OKAY! What I can’t stress enough is moving your body in the way that feels best for you. Movement does not have to be a “one size fits all” journey; I can assure you there is something out there for everyone! The final thing I would like to stress is there is no being bad at yoga and there is NO prerequisite that you have to have a certain amount of flexibility before starting. What I love to tell my students is, “There is no being good at yoga, there is simply showing up!” 



    Do you have a story that you would like to share, or a runner that you would like to see featured? Send us an email: brodie@philadelphiarunner.com


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