By Katie Kosinski
Suzanne Day is not afraid to walk the walk. A single mom of a teenage boy, two pit bulls and a rescued bird, her life is driven by a desire to help others heal and structured by a commitment to taking action. She greets strangers with an embrace and invites abandoned pets into her home without hesitation. A yoga teacher, acupuncturist and animal rescuer, Day’s open heart allows her to take selfless risks in fulfilling her life’s work.
Day remembers herself as a hippie kid in a large animal-loving family living in upstate New York. She explains, “Each of us seven kids was allowed to have any animal we wanted as long as we took care of it. By the time I was nine, I had a goat, a pony, a young horse, a pet raccoon and a dog!”
Day’s connection with her pets kept her balanced and remains an integral part of her identity. Living on the West Coast later in life, Day’s first yoga class was in the basement of a church. When her job in bartender training included travel to the Midwest, she decided to make Chicago her home.
Wanting change and acknowledging her interest in the healing arts, she studied for three and a half years to become an acupuncturist.
A disciplined yoga practitioner, Day arrived to one of her classes as
a student but was asked to fill in for the instructor. This unexpected opportunity inspired continued workshop study and eventually a teacher training. Though already a fitness instructor, Day welcomed the spiritual perks of teaching yoga.
“It gave me almost the same high as I got from [practicing],” says Day, who adds that she aims to offer more than just a sequence of poses and thrives on the collective healing energy of her classes. “It’s just the breathing and the vibe in the room, and figuring out why people are there.”
Day teaches an athletic, Vinyasa flow style that stems from her triathlon and marathon running days. She is also an anatomy junkie, studying with teachers from a variety of schools, including Ashtanga and Iyengar. “I like [learning from] people who are a little offbeat, maybe not the teachers that the masses go to,” she notes.
When Day decided to bring a dog home about 18 years ago, she learned from her veterinarian about puppy mills and the multitudes of forgotten animals at animal shelters. It changed her life.
“It began that whole crusade. I started volunteering at different shelters, and now I volunteer with Linda Schifferdecker at Lovin’ Life Rescue,” says Day, who has adopted her two pit bulls from shelters.
As a dedicated humane investigator, Day responds to reports of neglected or abused pets and has rescued about 45 dogs. “It’s our job not to take people’s animals away, not to threaten, but to educate,” she says.
She also works directly with dogs at shelters, walking them and advocating for them, including in yoga class. “We often rescue pit bulls. [They are] usually a misunderstood breed and they take 10 times longer to adopt,” she says.
When someone is ready to adopt from the rescue group, training is very seriously encouraged. “A trained dog doesn’t get returned to the shelters. An untrained, misbehaving, mischievous, bored, un-exercised dog will get returned,” she says.
Day’s intention is simple. “I want to save dogs. I just feel that animals are so pure and innocent that there’s no way they’re not a part of the whole,” she says. She finds strength for her rescue work in her personal yoga practice. “I see so much sadness and abuse that yoga helps my heart heal and stay open—open to keep saving, fostering, loving those pups, one at a time,” she says.
She leads outdoor “Ruff Yoga” classes to provide time for people to connect with their dogs in a quiet, meditative way. Dogs rest in the sun while their owners fold forward into Upavistha Konasana; a pup’s warm belly functioning as a prop. Passersby may question these calm mornings in Jonquil Park but for Day, it’s another demonstration of working from her heart.
“Saving animals is therapy for me. It saves me,” she says. “And yoga saves me. It keeps me very focused…so it all works.”
Ruff Yoga with Suzanne Day
Jonquil Park, 1001 W. Wrightwood Ave., Chicago
Spring/Summer 2015 dates: May 9th, June 13th and July 11th
Please bring your own mat.
Katie Kosinski is a practicing yogi, a screenwriter and an adjunct professor of visual storytelling at Columbia College Chicago.