Embracing differences

Tools and techniques drawing from yoga and mindfulness can help us with challenges.


Jason Mazar-Kelly, affectionately known as YogiJay, has set out to make a difference for a community where differences can significantly affect daily life. From his personal experience growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), he knows that how energy is expressed in an unconscious way creates mental differences, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and generalized anxiety disorder.

Over the years, YogiJay has discovered helpful tools and techniques drawing from yoga and mindfulness that will be part of his free April 27 program, “Confidently Sensitive: Yoga for Mental Differences.” The event is planned from 1 to 6 pm at the M.V. Yoga Barn in West Tisbury.

“I wanted to create an event for people working with mental differences — caretakers, and those who just feel anxious and are looking for ways to help. It will be a collaborative program combining the yoga tradition and mindfulness lineages with a scientific and empirical perspective.”

He continues, “I had wanted to get rid of OCD, but when I found yoga and mindfulness, it allowed me to see it through a different lens. This energy is me, but it’s about how I get it in control. To have a conscious influence over it to use it to my advantage, thus the title ‘confidently sensitive.’”

The program came about through YogiJay’s connection with Lululemon, which selects local ambassadors who give back to the community. For him, this includes teaching yoga in schools, collaborating with different community partners around the Island to host wellness experiences, and working with the Island Housing Trust, Edgartown affordable housing committee, and Dukes County Housing Authority. As an ambassador, he acquired a competitive grant through Lululemon’s Community Initiative Fund, which provides seed money to launch an ongoing program that is meaningful to the community: “I had been wanting to increase access to resources here for mental health through yoga and mindfulness. ‘Confidentially Sensitive’ came about through my experience and working with people with mental differences to find a balance through these practices to become sensitive to life.”

YogiJay explains that many mental differences are various energetic levels of sensitivity. For instance, he says ADHD is typically an energy that is expressed outward. For him, OCD is an energy that is very constricting:. “I would have an obsession around a fear of death, or something bad happening to someone, that would drive a compulsion. It might be repeating something again and again in my mind. Or it might be washing my hands over and over, because every time I take them away from the sink, and I bump into something, I feel like I get germs on my hands, and then they will get onto my mom, and she will get sick or die.” He has learned to use yoga and mindfulness to calm his nervous system and become more aware of his body, building resilience to stress in a conscious and safe way.

“It’s important for us as individuals, caregivers, and a community to create a space for the individual experiencing the mental difference to feel supported in showing up to the practice,” YogiJay emphasizes. “We all express our energy every day in many ways, regardless of whether we’ve been diagnosed with a mental difference or not. Yoga and mindfulness can teach us how to hold space for this energy, no matter who we are, and express it more intentionally and creatively.”

The program will be robust, with YogiJay sharing how he got into yoga and its philosophy and application to support mental differences. Two mental health experts, Jen Russel, the Vineyard school psychologist, and Rachel Foster, an OCD specialist from New York City, will speak from an anecdotal and scientific, research-based perspective. There will be a Kripalu yoga class followed by a restorative sleep yoga session, and finally, a community meal by WholesomeMV to foster further connection and networking. Participants will also have access to an on-demand virtual library of the tools and techniques taught in the course.

“I want people to feel empowered that they have a toolkit they can use when feeling stress, anxiety, or general discomfort that will allow them to reidentify with the energy so that they can be more mindful in how they express it and feel better,” YogiJay says. He also hopes that with outside funding, this event will be just the beginning, including events for younger children and older adults.

For more information and registration, visit bit.ly/yogijay. YogiJay’s meditation and yoga videos are also available free at bit.ly/medyo.