Julia Ruocco of Honor Yoga relaxes in a chair in her Pennington studio. (Photo by Joe Emanski.)

By Jacquelyn Pillsbury

Honor Yoga classes traditionally end with the exchange of the Sanskrit word Namaste. Pronounced “nah-mah-stay,” it means, “I honor and respect the divine place of love, light, peace, and truth that resides in everyone. As such, we are one.”

In September, Honor Yoga opened two new studios, for a total of three locations. New owners Julia Ruocco (in Pennington) and Shannon Cranell (in Mansfield), both used the phrase “we feel hand picked” by founders Melody Appel and Maria Parrella-Turco to become owners of the newest Honor Yoga studios.

Cranell said Appel and Parrella-Turco “are very selective of the people they chose to be yogis. They have to have the intention of love and healing for the community. It is a great honor to be hand-picked to take the movement into the community.”

Cranell and Ruocco are both alumnae of Northern Burlington County Regional High School. Ruocco said she turned to yoga as a high school student in the 1990s, long before there were studios in the area.

“I started practicing out a book someone gave me about the Hare Krishna when I was 14,” she said. “The book and a VHS fell into my lap and I was fascinated by it.” Yoga helped her through her teenage years, she said.

Ruocco eventually became a bartender, saving her tip money while telling people at the bar how yoga can change their lives. She spent many years saving money for her first studio, Studio Mango, which was on 206 in Lawrenceville. Later, she moved to Pennington.

“I was sitting in my studio. I didn’t know how to expand the business,” she said. “Two weeks later, I got a call from Maria. She said ‘I know how to grow the business and help it along.’ It was divine timing.”

Her new studio is located near the Stop and Shop in the Hopewell Crossing Shopping Center in Pennington. Since opening less than two months ago, 500 people have walked through the door.

Cranell’s life took a different path. She got involved with Honor Yoga after living through a tough time.

“Four days after Christmas, my house burned down in Atlanta, Georgia. I was facing a divorce,” she said.

Cranell has since moved back to the Bordentown area with her three small boys, ages 2, 5 and 10. She said she’s happy to be home, near friends and family.

Before opening Honor Yoga in the Mansfield Shopping Center next to Italian People’s Bakery, Cranell was a massage therapist for 15 years. She said it was a natural progression to add yoga instructor to her resume.

“I knew I needed to open my own studio. I put it out there to the universe. I’m a big believer in that,” she said. About a month later, the owners said they were expanding, and wanted her to take on a new location, she said.

She teaches restorative healing through Honor Yoga, which is meant to heal the mind, body and spirit. Honor Yoga offers a variety of classes, including mommy and me classes with infants to chair yoga geared to senior citizens. In between are classes geared for children, tweens and teens.

The restorative yoga classes are very popular — so popular they often have a wait list, she said.

“They use props to help them hold their poses,” Ruocco said as she described the class. “People who are recovering from chemotherapy or injuries use this practice as a way to find peace and calm.”

Chair yoga is another way to make yoga more accessible to people who have troubles holding poses, as they can use a chair for support.

“It makes yoga accessible to everybody, which means we modify the poses for everybody,” she said.

They still get a good work out, though. “People are surprised when they sweaty, with muscles hurting,” she said.

Ruocco added that Honor Yoga makes yoga accessible to everyone, and she believes that people with kids and crazy work hours can still find a class that fits their schedule.

Classes are offered seven days a week in both locations. For more information and a complete schedule of classes, go online to honoryoga.com. Namaste.

Honor Yoga (Mansfield) is located in Mansfield Shopping Center, 3224 Route 206, Building D. Phone: (609) 462-5595. Email: shannon@honoryoga.com.

Honor Yoga (Pennington) is located at Hopewell Crossing Shopping Center, 800 Denow Road, Unit H. (609) 667-8880. Email: julia@honoryoga.com.