Inspire – Helena Zera-Axelrod: Helping People Find Peace in a Healthy Lifestyle

By Janelle Davis

“I believe in the concept that you are what you think you are. You are what you eat, you are what you see, you are what you hear, and you are what you ingest,” said Helena Zera-Axelrod, founder of Vyana Yoga and Polari Tea. “We ingest from all of the senses of our bodies. That’s what yoga means to me and how I help people, not just on a physical level, but many different levels of healthy lifestyle and wellness.”

With initial dreams to become a nurse, Helena found a second calling when she discovered yoga 24 years ago. She suffered from anorexia but rose above that challenge to become a nurse in hopes of helping people also suffering from anorexia. She put herself through nursing school and ended up working in intensive care and the operating room.

After marrying her husband who is a doctor, Helena gave birth to three boys and became a stay-at-home mom. While raising her boys, Helena stayed active with skiing, tennis, and Tai Kwon Do. And then she discovered yoga.

“I felt my body was coming apart at the seams. I had all these injuries, including back issues. And somehow yoga healed me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Back then, it wasn’t something that everyone talked about,” she said.

She was so inspired by yoga that she decided to take a change in course and train to become a yoga teacher through Shiva Rea’s Yoga Teacher Training. The training took her all over the world from India to California. Helena became a polarity therapist, someone who uses a variety of techniques to manipulate energy flow and balance.

Shiva Rae was on the cutting edge of moving yoga from what it was all the way back in the 1970s and making it more creative and inspired. There was a lot of energetic alignment, as well as flow. This catapulted Helena into a whole world of knowledge. Studying Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, and how our bodies differ and digest differently, brought Helena back to her desire to help people with anorexia.

Helena used to perform sound journeys at Vera House and is interested in bringing them into schools and hospice settings because of how calming it is for people’s anxiety.  

“Yoga has allowed me to really see things differently. When you slow the breath down, you slow the mind down. When the mind slows down, the mind can listen to the heart, and the silence of the heart can only speak to the mind. You don’t have to shut your mind off completely, as long as you are present and observing things,” shared Helena.

As an registered nurse and polarity therapist, Helena considers herself a “hands-on teacher” with loving guidance and deep humility in the holistic health and wellness service. “I enjoy helping people, not only physically through yoga but also through the practice of Ayurveda,” said Helena. She goes on to explain that the different styles of yoga are good for different styles of people with different doshas. “We’re all made up of the elements. We are made from the stars in the sky. We all come from the earth and water.”

Walking into Vyana Yoga Studio you’re immediately met with a tranquil setting of zen, peacefulness, and dim lighting, to prepare you for a mindful break from the everyday stresses of life. The studio teaches a variety of styles of yoga. Helena explains that yoga is more about healing yourself from mobility, movement, and functional mobility, where it used to be doing a lot of handstands and drop-back bends. Not everyone can do those movements, so it is more about healing. “It’s not as much of a gymnastics show as it used to be,” she said.

Some classes Vyana offers are gentle yoga, physical yoga, Kundalini yoga, and Prana Flow. Helena also teaches meditation and breathing techniques, which are incredible for anxiety and calming the nervous system. Helena explains that you can’t completely turn off the nervous system, but you can harmonize and balance them.

“My newest favorite thing that I do is alchemy sound journeys,” shared Helena. People get comfortable with blankets and bolsters and Helena plays crystal tones, alchemy gemstone singing bowls, gongs, harps, and ceremonial resonance instruments. The heavenly sounds lull people into a meditative state. It is described on Vyana’s website as, “Where soul force merges with spirit.” “People enjoy coming in after a long day of work, and then they float home and have a great night’s sleep,” said Helena.

Vyana Studio has a Great Yoga Wall, which is the only one in the area within 30 miles. The Great Yoga Wall is a wall where you can do movements like Downward Dog without using your hands and getting tired, but you are still getting a distraction from the spine. It is beneficial for the back and it’s a lot of fun.

Her love of Ayurveda is “steeped” in the zen den Vyana Tea Lounge implementing adaptogens and Ayurvedic principles in creative and delicious beverages, elixirs, and tonics for health, longevity, and wellness. Everything is made fresh with natural ingredients including energy balls, lattes, and almond milk. Their coffee is organic and they make their syrups with fresh fruit and either maple syrup, honey, or unbleached sugar.

“This is my mission. This is my dharma,” she said. “I knew when I started yoga, that there was something I was meant to do. Everything I have done in my life has led me to where I am now.”