2016-01-20 / Local News

JCC fitness instructor writes yoga-themed children’s book


HOMETOWN: Cherry Hill

FAMILY: Children Alana (Pat) Smith, Ben, and Jake (Allie); granddaughter Ella



Nancy Davis first started drawing and shading shapes to represent people while studying to be a teacher in college. With no discernable skills as an artist, the Philadelphia native used the shapes time and again in lessons for teaching various concepts to children.

“I’ve always had these different shapes in the colors of the rainbow in my head,” recalled Davis, a fitness instructor with the Katz JCC Health and Wellness Department as well as the JCC’s guest services supervisor. “It seemed like a natural combination. Shapes, colors and sizes are very easy for children to relate to. Children aren’t born with prejudices.”

In her first book about yoga for children, “Finding Tadasana: A Children’s Story About Playgrounds and Postures” Davis’ shape people have returned. A square, circle, rectangle, triangles and line learn to accept differences among themselves while doing yoga postures in a playground. They ultimately learn there is no perfect way to move because no two shapes are the same or have the same flexibility. The “right” way to do yoga is to do what feels right by their own bodies.

The self-published book, which can be purchased at the JCC for $10 or $11.95 through Amazon.com, is dedicated to her first—and so far only—granddaughter, Ella. The toddler, now 18 months old, experienced her first yoga with her mother Alana Smith and grandmother as a participant in a Mommy & Me yoga class Davis led last year at the JCC.

Although the book may be geared for youngsters, the message is one Davis preaches to all her students, young and old.

“I try to get my students to focus inward,” said Davis, 61. “I encourage them to focus on what it feels like (to be doing the posture) instead of what it looks like. Nobody is going to look like the 20-year-old photo-shopped model on the cover of Yoga magazines.”

She is actually a second-generation yogi. Long before the mind-body discipline was trendy, her father Herbert Wilf learned the practice at the Y in Philadelphia from Amrit Desai, one of a handful of gurus who came to America from India in the early 1960s to teach. Her father, grossly overweight and stressed out, found his way to better health through his practice and went on to teach it. When she was a teen, Davis would model poses in her father’s classes at the Gershman Y.

In college, however, she lost interest in yoga, only to return to it years later when she too needed an avenue to wellness.

In her own life, yoga has been life saving. Diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in her 30s, Davis has had her knees, both hips, and both basal joints replaced over the years. The mind-body discipline of yoga was instrumental in her recovery and remains a key strategy in her ability to live with chronic pain. She became a certified teacher in 2005 and has been teaching various classes, from water yoga to baby classes, at the Katz JCC since then.

“We all have an inside—we may not see it but it’s there—and we all can move our bodies,” Davis said. “The message I hope to get out to kids is that you don’t have to be perfect; just be you.” .

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