Student Spotlight: LJ Pollack and Nancy Crowfoot

Hello Yogis!  We are John “LJ” Pollak and Nancy Crowfoot.  We are retired in our 60s. LJ from 3 decades as a nonpartisan bill drafter and administrator for the Iowa Legislature.  Nancy from nearly 40 years as a producer and director of presidential debates, Market to Market, Iowa Press, and other public affairs programming at Iowa Public Television. Before that, she was in radio news at WHO and KIOA.

We began our yoga journey in the 1990s when our friend Ron married Raquel Miller Graham, an Iyengar yoga instructor.  She soon rented space in Valley Junction for her classes, and we became regulars.  She brought in notable yoga practitioners such as George Purvis and Gabriel Halprin.

Racquel involved colleague teachers such as Jan Mitchell from Boone, so we received a variety of emphases – physical, mental, and spiritual that gradually became a part of our lives.  We looked for instructors who could blend all three.

Nancy has always focused on a healthy lifestyle of physical activity, a good diet, and spiritual exploration.  LJ dabbled with those same focuses but was less serious.   His initial interest was to improve flexibility in order to avoid back and leg pain from running, bicycling, paddling, and downhill skiing.   Frequently either he or his friend Ron would fall asleep during Savasana and begin snoring.  Does tossing an eye bag at the head of the snorer show adherence to yoga teachings? Nancy expanded her knowledge to become a yoga instructor for an area parks department.

When Racquel left for Ohio in the mid-1990s, other instructors stepped up in her space and nearby successor spaces (including a repurposed bowling alley).  Racquel stayed connected for many years by returning to DM to lead quarterly and then annual workshops for students and other instructors.  Marci Graham was followed by Cathy Wright.  During this time we remember Mary Heisterkamp as a fellow student and occasional substitute teacher.  Later, Brett Berlin opened a studio nearby.  We also practiced with Robin Bourjaily.

We reconnected with Mary Heisterkamp McCarthy through Yoga in the Park, and beginning in 2005 became regulars at the Monday night class at Plymouth Church.  Our yoga journey has had different emphases, depending upon what is needed in our lives.  Often the physical has taken precedence – we need to be stronger and better balanced in all the important aspects of life:  mental, physical, and spiritual.

Mary fits our needs best among the many instructors we have practiced within the Des Moines area.  She has evolved – her understanding of exercise physiology is a strong foundation.  She has continually expanded on that knowledge, incorporating new techniques and explanations, and addressing the mental and spiritual aspects of life.  Mary sets an intention of continual growth and renewal for herself and her students.  She is very available to address individual needs and problems.  We’ve been supported by her infectious laughter – usually at herself but often at the human frailties we all experience.

Her online classes have been essential during the pandemic. Our current favorite is Strength and Balance.  In 30 minutes, it covers all parts of a good workout – warmup, conditioning, cardio, and cool down (and balance, of course).  We are amazed at how Mary brings continual variety to the workout and leaves you feeling good.  Many exercise and yoga teachers fall into a rut with their practice – that doesn’t happen with Mary – there’s always something new.

We believe that yoga, and Mary’s style of teaching, have enabled us to continue doing the same outdoor sports we were doing in our late 30s when we started.  Except running – we switched that to walking.