Looking for a yoga instructor and studio is like finding the perfect pair of shoes - you have to try on a lot before you find one that fits. Last April, I won two free weeks to Devotion Yoga from the Hoboken Girl Wellness CrawI and took April Puciata’s class at the studio. The class was Ishta yoga, which likes to keep it hot, and it just so happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer. I didn’t pick Puciata’s class on purpose - I was free on that particular Thursday afternoon and wanted to get in some extra fitness. Now, I know that I picked the right class and the right teacher and am so glad to have made this connection.
I can’t really put my finger on what is so special about Puciata’s teaching. It could be her love of yoga and doesn’t that come through with most instructors? It could be that she does not have a “yoga body” and that makes me more comfortable in her class. It could be that she is an amazing teacher and has a beautiful ease that makes you want to work harder in your practice. It could be that she provides tangible changes and uses the right words to explain and move in the positions. It could be that she is an awesome person and I really like her! Just like my analogy to shoes, Puciata believes that, “People resonate with different teachers and connect with different people for different reasons,” and in my case, we are on the same frequency.
Puciata was teaching at Devotion Yoga for the past two years, but lives down the shore in Asbury Park and teaches at Inlet Yoga in Manasquan, EvenFlow in Red Bank, and PowerFlow in Asbury Park. She now participates and collaborates with the NJ Yoga Collective.
She found yoga by hearing the finishing “om” of a yoga class at a studio she worked at in New York City. Soon after 9/11 occured, “It was very hard to feel like I could actually take a breath. I’m sure many people felt the same way. I knew people who moved out of the city after that. I remember being in Victoria’s class in Savasana, the final relaxation at the end of class, a few weeks or maybe months later and having an experience I don’t think I could have described at the time. It felt like someone had breathed into me. I thought to myself I don’t know what that was, but I need to find out everything I can about yoga.”
Puciata initially had no desire to become a yoga instructor; once she fell in love with the practice she only wanted to learn and still sees herself as a student. She started to take ISHTA yoga because her sister gave her a gift certificate to a studio and when she was looking at teacher trainings, it was the only weekend program that would work with her 9-5 job. Ironically, the day after she finished her teacher training, she was laid off from her job in publishing. “I am so grateful to the universe for opening that space for me!” said Puciata.
With over 15 years of yoga experience, she has studied with various teachers at other studios and still loves learning. “I always come back to the Ishta practices and techniques. One of the reasons is that is works for me! Another reason is my teacher Yogiraj Alan Finger. In one of the first classes I took with him he said ‘You don’t have to stop doing anything, just start doing this.’ There was no judgment. And I was actually a smoker at the time so that really resonated with me and meant a lot.
With that comes a sense of community and home — Puciata can always come back to ask a question and find guidance. “The practices have helped me develop and trust my intuition and inner wisdom, but the community also gives me a home base.”
Her practices have evolved over time — “It was purely physical for a long time, but now, it is more about meditation, getting quiet and clear. My physical practice has become a way to be inquisitive rather than having to nail a pose.” Most of her classes are a vinyasa flow with a blend of Ishta pranayama/kriya/meditation techniques in as well. “I bring the philosophy that everyone is unique and so everything is an invitation,” said Puciata. This was one of the reasons I felt so connected and actually good in her class. If it works for you, do it; if not, then you skip it. Puciata provides modifications to enhance or decrease the move to work with our bodies.
While Puciata will say her teaching is not special, she recognizes that, “... I think you need to be able to laugh. I try to have an open mind and heart for students and do my best not to judge anyone who comes to class and I try to remember what it was like for me to walk into Victoria’s class that first time.” She makes sure that her students know they have the power in the class because it is their time to practice.
Years ago, she went to a lecture by Rod Stryker, who said ‘“just be a real person.” In response to this, Puciata said, “That really made sense to me. I strive for that. It can be challenging when you are trying to be creative yet authentic and that’s why it is important as a teacher to have your own practice.”
The most exciting thing that is coming up for Puciata is her third teaching trip to Cuba. She has always wanted to travel and find new ways to bring yoga to people. “Traveling enriches your life in ways that are really special. It allows you to connect and learn from other people, countries, and cultures. And this I think opens us up to possibilities and ideas and helps build relationships.” She has done other retreat locations, but Mhai Yoga is her only repeat location — “My relationship with the people at the retreat center is really special.”
When President Obama began talks to open the relationship with Cuba, she had the idea to do a retreat in Cuba during a morning meditation— “I just knew it would be such a special experience to be able to offer this. The people at the retreat center are so gracious and kind. The food is incredible – fresh and organic. We also are able to practice with Master Teacher Eduardo Pimentel who is known for bringing yoga to the Cuban people.” The retreat is in March 2018 and she can’t wait to go back.
She has also recently joined a new project called the NJ Yoga Collective, the only all-inclusive online destination for yoga studios, teachers, and students in Garden State.
April has such an amazing energy and presence, while remaining approachable and welcoming. If you happen to find yourself at one of the studios she teaches at, make sure to take a class and say hello.
“Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.” - Albert Einstein