I have a new best friend. I look forward to the time we spend together everyday. My husband knows about this new friend.. and encourages our relationship.
My friend’s name is Vytas. Vytas is really good at yoga. Vytas is helping ME get better at yoga.
Note: I've never met Vytas. He lives in my computer. Please halt all potential warnings to Vytus about his creepy 'friend' in Nebraska.
Like so many, I struggle with my weight and nutrition. I lose weight, then I lose interest and lose control. I'm an emotional eater. Pretty sure my body is 99% coffee instead of water. When I was 18, I could get away with eating Chex Mix and Mt. Dew for breakfast. Now, a few trips through the Runza drive-thru and the only thing that fits are my husband's sweats (and he gets grumpy when I steal them!) But aside from how I look and my confidence, my health has started to suffer because of my less than ideal lifestyle. I feel like I've been sick in some form since early November.. and just after Christmas, I contracted strep throat. A trip to the ER, 2 rounds of antibiotics and a week in bed later, I promised myself I was going to start doing a better job taking care of the body God has given me.
I've been trying Beachbody on the advice of my friend and coach, Amanda Soltero. One of her challenges to kick off 2017 included 3-Week Yoga Retreat with Vytus. I tried it.. and became hooked. I LOVE the way yoga makes me feel. I love awakening the muscles I used to stretch in gymnastics as a kid. I love realizing I can touch the floor with my hands, or now keep my legs straight in downward dog. I love when I automatically sit up straighter at my desk because the practice has already improved my posture and carriage. Most of all, I love the retreat that yoga has provided me. It’s a chance to breathe deeply and for 30 minutes a day dissolve all of the stress and burdens that have piled on throughout the other 23 hours.
For Wellesley Michael, this is a message of health and wellbeing she's understood for quite some time, and one she's now taking to children across eastern Nebraska.
"I am currently a yoga teacher and went through children's yoga teacher training this summer," said Wellesley. "Both of those experiences led me to mindfullness. I then continued my training on mindfullness with [my platform] 'Mindful Schools: Peace Begins With Me'."
A platform that skyrocketed last fall when Wellesley was crowned Miss Omaha 2017.
"I've always admired the women that have been in the Miss Nebraska Organization," Wellesley told me recently. "Then, when I was old enough, I felt as if it was time for me to stand up and be a leader and role model like the women who have been in the system before have been for me."
A title doesn't make you a role model. A crown doesn't make you a leader. But Wellesley used both of those tools to find new audiences in schools across Omaha.
"Mindfullness is the act of paying attention on purpose without judgement," said Wellesley. "I've spent a large part of my year so far going to schools and working with students on techniques to help them breathe, focus, listen and just feel good! In a world that is so chaotic and go-go-go we have to find a way to slow down. It's healthy! Mindfulness brings that stillness we are often missing."
Wellesley is also a frequent visitor to Children's Hospital and Medical Center, delivering blankets over the winter holiday and bringing in Valentine's Day crafts for patients this week. She's also partnered with businesses like Yogurtini in Lincoln to raise money for the Children's Miracle Network, the Miss America Organization's community partner.
"Three words to describe me are driven, organized and focused," said Wellesley. "Goal setting is one of my favorite things. When I set a goal I dig in right away and figure out what it takes to get me to my dream."
These are the character traits Wellesley hopes stand out to both children and adults, attributes she credits in part to her participation in the Miss Nebraska Organization.
"This organization has helped me to clearly articulate my opinions and beliefs without fear," said Wellesley. "It has given me experience in skills I will always need such as interviewing and networking. I go into a lot of situations with more confidence than ever because of this organization. The fact that I get to even put on the Miss Omaha crown and sash and meet so many amazing people around my city is unreal to me. The whole experience is a dream come true."
Wellesley is clear: her big goal is to become Miss Nebraska. However, she is also mindful of the big picture. Wellesley is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student majoring in advertising/public relations and journalism and has authored her own fashion/pop culture blog for several years, www.WellesleyLauren.com.
"Beyond the pageant world, I hope to one day combine my loves of journalism and yoga to work for a wellness magazine or website like The Yoga Journal or mindful.org," said Wellesley. "At the state pageant, my plan is just to do my best and get people thinking about mindfulness and all of its benefits."
Wellesley and her fellow titleholders will be the first to tell you, just as yoga isn't just 'stretching', competing for Miss Nebraska isn't just slapping on makeup and waving your hand in parades. They spend hours in the gym every week. They dedicate countless hours to people and causes they care deeply about. They study, they work hard, they plan. But at the end of each day, Wellesley also remembers to breathe deeply and to reflect.
"Here's a mindfulness tip before I go. I do this everyday," said Wellesley. "Take five minutes, mute your phone and listen to your breath. Maybe you say 'inhale, exhale' with each breath or count how many times you breathe. Thoughts will come up and that's ok! After five minutes sit for a minute and notice how you feel."
On behalf of this blossoming yoga instructor, Namaste. To you, Miss Omaha Wellesley Michael, NamaSLAY.
Check out the gallery from last year's Miss Nebraska Pageant.
Brandi Petersen is a former Omaha television news anchor, the Co-Marketing Director for the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Organization and the author of blog Anchor’s Away. To read more about this year’s Miss Nebraska Pageant contestants, visit www.brandipetersen.com.