Student Series with Jerrie Gullick

Jerrie Guillick has been a private student of Michelle Dortignac’s since 2006, a couple of years ago she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  Michelle describes her part in Jerrie’s experience with Unnata Aerial Yoga and MS.

When Jerrie first started taking classes with me, she did not have MS.  She was diagnosed with it around 2 or 3 years ago.  MS has many different symptoms and severity levels, each person can exhibit different aspects.  For Jerrie, it has been a slow and steady decline of control, sensation and energy since she was diagnosed.  We only started using the Yoga hammock once she was diagnosed with MS.  Classes are always a mix of using the hammock, using the floor, and using the wall as a prop/assistant.  Our goal for classes has never changed, despite her changing physical abilities – to become more aware and therefore to develop more control of our beings, both physical and mental/emotional.  This is at the heart of every Yoga practice.

Admittedly, even 7 years later, our sessions are filled with laughter and having fun, despite the fact that some days are very difficult for Jerrie on both an emotional and a physical level.  I do feel its part of my job to help Jerrie find humor in her life.
–Michelle Dortignac

For Jerrie, her yoga practice with Michelle has been a crucial part of her life, physically and emotionally, before but especially during her struggle with MS.

Ok, I dislike talking or writing about myself, but when Michelle asked me to write something for her blog, there was no way I could say no. I’ve been a private student of Michelle’s for something like six years. During that time she has taught me so much, both in and out of the yogic practice. But I’m especially happy with the way she has incorporated aerial yoga into our practice.

A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. The diagnosis was confirmation of the fact that my body had started to deteriorate rapidly over a period of a few months. I went from being able to walk six to eight miles a day to having trouble walking two blocks – I don’t have the energy and my gait is reminiscent of a toddler. I now have to use a cane and getting up and down stairs is a struggle. I don’t have the strength or balance that I used to which makes yoga practice an interesting challenge.

By using the techniques that she has developed, Michelle has helped me to keep moving. She uses aerial yoga methods to help me stay steady while practicing warrior poses, get me upside down (hip hang is one of my FAVORITE poses) and keep in touch with my body. I tell anyone that will listen that if it wasn’t for yoga I would be wheelchair bound. More importantly though, Michelle has helped me to accept what is and to focus on what I can do today. When I sink back into feeling sorry for myself, it is yoga that helps me let go of what used to be and stop comparing. Sometimes I think I started practicing yoga before the MS just so that I would be ready for it when it arrived.
–Jerrie Gullick

Unnata Aerial Yoga Teacher Training, March 2013: Turku, Finland

Unnata Aerial Yoga Teacher Training, Turku, Finland
Unnata Aerial Yoga Teacher Training,
Turku, Finland

Group photo of the Unnata Aerial Yoga Teacher Training students; with host Vesta Sariola (center, front), and Michelle Dortignac.

Fuego Lounge Yoga Studio: Turku, Finland – March, 2013.

Rear row: Ville-Johannes Moilanen, Arja Heinilä, Lotta Lähteenmäki, Lauriina Nevala
Middle row: Katja Kiuttu, Charlotta Savander, Elisa Kuuttila, Petri Linnankivi, Marjut
Front Row: Salla Oksanen, Clare Gates-Sjöblom, Vesta Sariola, Sari Hellman, Michelle Dortignac

Student Series with Michelle Dortignac


This is the start of the ‘Student Series’ where we’re interviewing students of Unnata Aerial Yoga, having them describe their experience within the practice.  How has it impacted and changed their lives?  Of course, first we need to start with the founder, Michelle Dortignac.  Michelle teaches group classes as well as private, one on one, lessons.  She is describing her experience with private sessions below.

If a person is not used to it, it can be quite odd to have someone watching every move you make, and tell you where and when to breathe, which muscles to use, where to look when holding positions, etc.  A person can become quite self-conscious.  Therefore, when I start with new students who are also new to Yoga, I try to help them feel comfortable by cracking jokes and telling stories, getting to know them, etc.  Knowing what is happening for students in their daily lives does also help inform me which Asanas to work on from the perspective of which chakras may be blocked or excessively active.  Because I am very personal with my students, and we are always in an intimate setting (either their apartment or mine), I have to admit that being an entertainer helps them to relax.

With every student who is new to Yoga, classes help them “rediscover” their body, offering renewed control and awareness in the areas of balance, strength, sensitivity, and flexibility.  As a student progresses, the focus of classes shifts from becoming more aware of different areas of the body, to including becoming more aware of our minds – meaning, seeing our thoughts/emotions/opinions, and how our mental activities affect our physical bodies.
–Michelle Dortignac

Michelle Dortignac (and Unnata) Recognized By Alma Mater

Cornell Alum MagI’m honored to be one of two alumni featured in the Alumni Profiles of the Cornell Alumni Magazine this month.

Cornell University student Jillian Knowles (’15) interviewed me to find a few interesting and inspiring tidbits about the Unnata Aerial Yoga technique and this Cornell Alum of ’91.

…Dortignac splits her time between teaching at a studio in Manhattan’s West Village and training other yoga enthusiasts to become instructors in her discipline. Unnata Aerial Yoga is now offered around the globe, including in Brazil, Italy, Germany, and Russia. “People should never be satisfied with just a plain old fitness class,” Dortignac says. “Go for something that will change your whole life, not just the shape of your body.”

See Full Article in Cornell Alumni Magazine. »
(It’s the second article on the page.)

Why I Still Perform: Video + Essay

The above video is of an act I performed this past weekend. By the way, the aerial apparatus you’ll see me performing on is one that I recently invented, and for lack of any existing term, I’m calling it the “teardrop.”

Why I Still Perform

Quite honestly, there are many aspects to performing that I find completely un-Yogic. One has to become incredibly self-absorbed leading up to a performance because 100% of a good performance is in the audience’s perception of how the performer looks (and sounds). Therefore, before a performance, its necessary for me to make sure my appearance is as top notch as possible, which is a never-ending battle because in the circus entertainment industry, one can never be too young, too pretty, too flexible, too strong. In addition, many of the shows that I perform in require me to do my own publicity and advertising, which from the perspective of a Yogini feels completely wrong – like bragging, or being a pushy salesperson. In addition, performing can be quite terrifying. Sure, some performances are more nerve-racking than others, but all of them merit some amount of nervousness. After all, people ARE watching you, and they ARE judging you. Even in a “friendly” audience, people are comparing you to other things they’ve seen or things they’ve imagined, and EVERYONE has an opinion. On some level, a performer can never forget that.

So, as my ever-deepening Yoga practice continues to push me in a direction of self-improvement, health and egolessness, I frequently wonder if it’s time for me to “let go” of performing. Being an aerialist is physically quite challenging, I’m sure my body would feel much better not to be pushed so hard. I’m sure my mind would feel less conflicted at not trying to always “stand-out” from the ocean of performers and entertainment choices in New York City. I’m sure my heart would love not feeling judged all the time.

With all that being said, this past weekend’s performance was a reminder to me of why I keep going, and why I still perform. Granted, it was one of those low-stress shows, but since I’m not a natural performer (I’m not a “life of the party” kind of person), this is what performing has become for me: a chance to tap into the Yogini Warrior.

With every performance, I muster up the bravery to:

  • be okay with “what is,” whatever goes wrong or right during the performance
  • be completely focused in the moment, because in live performance, its never exactly the same from performance to performance, and the performer has to be ready to make instant decisions when i.e. the costume gets caught/rips, the soundtrack suddenly stops, an injury occurs, the apparatus moves differently than expected, I hit a wrong note… (all of which have happened at one time or another)
  • breathe deeply during times of stress
  • give up the fruits of my labor to a higher power (sometimes I spend more money in rehearsal space and other necessary expenses than I make, and there’s no fame to be had, either)

Thank you for listening,


Unnata Aerial Yoga Teacher Training, October 2012: Saint Petersburg, Russia


Pictured above: Yelena, Lyuba, (Olga G.), Marina, (Michelle D.), Valentina, Olga, and Zulfia. (New Unnata teacher Elvira was not at the studio for the above image, but is pictured in the photo below.)

Congratulations to the 7 new Unnata Aerial Yoga Teachers here in Saint Petersburg, Russia!

Event hostess Olga Gunina became an Unnata Aerial Yoga Teacher at the Oct. 2011 training in Ciudad Real, Spain. She’s now opened the first dedicated Aerial Yoga studio in Saint Petersburg, Russia! See:

Big thank you to Olga Gunina for being such an amazing teacher, leader, and host for this training at her studio. Our trip to Russia went so smoothly thanks to Olga’s caring oversight; she really went above and beyond to take care of us and all of the Unnata Aerial Yoga teachers who had travelled to Saint Petersburg for this training.

Pictured above with diplomas: Lyuba, Elvira, Zulfia, Marina, and Valentina. (New Unnata teachers Olga and Yelena had already traveled home before this image was taken.)

Advanced Unnata Aerial Yoga Workshop; NYC; Sunday, October 7



Sunday, October 7th, 2012, 9:00-11:00am
at the Sacred Sounds Yoga Center, NYC

This workshop is designed for regular practitioners of Unnata® Aerial Yoga
who would like to go deeper into their practice. Learn advanced postures not
commonly taught in Basics or Open-level classes, and learn techniques to
adjust common aerial yoga positions into more advanced versions without
distracting or drawing attention from other students.

Cost: $30. Pre-registration is required. Contact Sacred Sounds Yoga at:
[email protected] or call (212) 533-YOGA (9642)

Unnata Aerial Yoga Teachers Class of Late August 2012!


Congratulations to the Unnata Teacher Training graduates of late August 2012!

Great work folks!

Pictured: Maria Fernanda Pacheco (Costa Rica), Raven Roth (Colorado), Michele Carnesi (New Jersey), John Vilardo (Germany), Lori Lee (Saskatchewan, CA), Fabienne Moore (Washington DC).

Not pictured: Michelle Dortignac (Founder), and Becky Stella (Teaching Assistant; Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Unnata Aerial Yoga Teachers Class of August 2012!


Congratulations to the August 2012 Unnata Teacher Training graduates!

Great work Ladies!

Pictured: Sebnem Akbulut (Turkey), Brittany McBride (New York City), Vesta Sariola (Finland), Ann Morgan (Unnata Teacher / Training Assistant), Stacey Huard (Saskatchewan, CA), Lori Anne Bryant (Ontario, CA), Lehua Kai (Hawaii), and Michelle Dortignac, Founder!