Denville woman finds true calling in yoga

Jillian Risberg

After years as a manicurist, Meryl Hayton left it all behind to “follow her bliss” and on a journey of self-discovery found out who she really is.

“It was the best thing I ever did,” Hayton says of her yoga practice and later becoming a yoga teacher. “It helped me completely transform my life.”

She credits many inspiring teachers and mentors for sharing their gifts.

Hayton says all those years of repetitive motions and sitting hunched over doing nails caused chronic pain and there were constant signs she should move on.

Yoga offers empowerment and healing for people of all lifestyles and age groups.

“I was immediately impressed by just the whole person. She’s very confident, warm and friendly but professional at the same time and she really knows her stuff,” says Mary Ellen Zung, a holistic health coach from Boonton who takes Hayton’s yoga classes at the Lakeland Hills Family YMCA.

Certified in individual structural assessments, Hayton is passionate about making yoga accessible to people with injuries and limitations at the beginner to intermediate level.

Her classes incorporate breath work, attention to alignment, innovative use of props, creative sequencing and cultivating spiritual awareness.

She started taking private yoga in 2001 and practicing various styles, including Hatha, Iyengar and Restorative.

“That got me into taking classes at the gym and all over,” Hayton says. “It was just a part of my life and then one day in 2012 my teacher that I was going to regularly knew I was looking to get out of the salon and was like, ‘Why don’t you become a teacher.’”   

Hayton thought she was crazy but signed up for 200-hours of training in Hot Vinyasa at Younique Yoga in Cedar Grove.

“I definitely had some obstacles,” she says.  “After the first few weeks I had a gallbladder attack, bronchitis and I threw my back out from all the coughing. I thought to myself, ‘this is not for me, what kind of yoga teacher will I be.’”

Hayton says she’s not a typical one.  

“Where I’m hanging and doing all crazy arm balances and stuff — that’s not who I am.”

Zung appreciates Hayton’s approach.  She’s had her own practice for 15 years, but says she doesn’t like to do it alone.

“I am a social exerciser,” she says.  “I really like to be in a class setting; there’s something about that community that really resonates with me.

“I don’t get the same benefits working out by myself.  So that’s a really important part of yoga for me, anyway.”

She calls Hayton’s classes calm and accepting, she doesn’t make you do anything that would cause injures, provides options for your levels, with a lot of it based on treating your body with kindness.

“It’s a feel good kind of class rather than how long can you hold your headstand,” Zung says.  

Hayton’s teacher, yoga instructor Donna D’onofrio offered encouragement.

“A lot of people take the training but don’t necessarily teach; they just do it to deepen their practice. You’ll figure that out as you go,” D’onofrio told her.

Next stop: Kripalu in Massachusetts, where Hayton took a continuing education class: ‘Yoga for Common Injuries and Limitations,’ and then became certified in chair yoga.  

“I wanted to know why we do it and not just practice it, there was more that I wanted to explore,” she says.

Hayton eventually recovered from her ailments and was genuinely committed to yoga despite a lingering hip injury. She went on to complete another 300 hours of training — in Practical Yoga Therapy, making her a 500 RYT.

“I needed to change how I practiced and where I practiced,” Hayton says. “It took me another year and a half to start to really find my niche, ‘cause there’s a million yoga teachers out there and who was I gonna attract.”

Attracting clients was not a problem.  Hayton developed a loyal following.

She teaches yoga therapy and Level 1 yoga at the Y in Mountain Lakes, senior chair yoga and meditation at Fox Hills at Rockaway and subs at several different places in the area.

“I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t enjoy her class; she’s really a very special lady,” says Valerie Morgan, who takes chair yoga at Fox Hills.  

Now Hayton devotes all her time to building her business and leads an inspirational workshop, “I am enough.”

She weaves that theme into yoga classes and was inspired by another Kripalu class, ‘Mind Body Medicine,’ where you use your mind to help heal yourself from negative thoughts (which Hayton says really put a damper on your nervous system).

“When we’re constantly living in fear and shame and grief your nervous system is always in fight or flight, she says, adding that the goal is to be present with the pose so you can hopefully bring that off the mat and into the real world.”

Zung says that Hayton was the first practitioner she ever had that actually taught the different chakras and mudras and what they mean.

“She actually has like a lesson plan, so there’s always something very intentional about her classes,” Zung says.  “She doesn’t just come in and do the same Vinyasa flows and the same Warrior IIs.”

According to the yoga teacher, living in a higher consciousness can help one find more contentment, joy, peace and love in everyday life.

As for why students are drawn to her classes, Hayton has a theory…

“I make yoga accessible to all levels. I always give lots of options when I teach, which makes my students feel supported,” she says.  “My classes are very grounding and kind of intense because I do a lot of breathing and meditation. And I want to guide people through the poses.”

According to Zung, Hayton remembers things you’re working on or restrictions you have.

“She sometimes does spiritual readings in the class,” she says.  “The first time I met her it was just like, ‘she’s my kind of person.’

Zung can personally relate to Hayton’s energy because she is also helping people live the life they deserve.

“She wants to give people acceptance of themselves, the health coach says.  It comes from the heart. That’s really why I got into it — to take away people’s pain and create more happiness – genuine happiness and acceptance in the world.”

Hayton offers private yoga instruction through her website. To find out more, go to Tula means balance in Sanskrit.

Bill Bradley, a psychic medium from Lake Hopatcong wasn’t relaxed being in a group class environment but Hayton’s one-on-one training was just what he needed.

“I have a bad arm, an old athletic injury and my flexibility is really poor. She didn’t miss anything,” Bradley says. “I really felt she knows what she’s doing.  She pushed me but gently.”

As they wrapped up the session, Bradley was still nervous he was going to be sore and that it would put him out of commission for the day.

“Maybe my perspective is different being a man, not that it matters,” he says.  “But it’s mostly women in the classes. I’m just comfortable with Meryl. I’m really comfortable going to her (Denville) house.”

His fears were unfounded and the psychic actually had a great rest of the day.

“What impressed me the most about Meryl is when I first met her she had a nail business but left that to pursue yoga as a teacher. “If somebody’s in their passion I want a piece of that.”

That is everything, Zung adds.

“I wish that she could replicate herself because everybody needs a Meryl in their life,” says Zung.

The yoga teacher wants to help people achieve inner peace and harmony. Hayton even created a salon wellness program, ‘Living Well in the Salon,’ self care for hairstylists and nail technicians.

“I find her classes both relaxing and energizing and I think I get a lot out of it,” Morgan says.  “She talks through what you’re doing, explains why you’re doing it and there’s a very interesting spiritual component. If anyone had told me 10-years-ago I would be interested in yoga, I would’ve told them that’s nuts.’”

And Hayton hasn’t missed a beat.

The yoga teacher also gives back, including volunteering in the Downtown Denville Events Planning Committee and was a mentor for Yoga Impact, teaching teacher trainees in Newark.

“Yoga physically helps you to create space in your body and when you are trying to meditate holding these poses, the mind automatically starts to wander,” Hayton says. “You want to always practice pulling yourself back to the meditation in the pose.”

According to Hayton, when you slow yourself down, calm your mind and nervous system, you’ll learn to deal with challenging issues in a more graceful way.

She knows firsthand what that’s like, as the yoga teacher says she used to have a tougher energy, was angrier and didn’t know how to express herself.

Now she’s so hands-on that she’s really able to connect with people.

“I do believe we’re all given obstacles,” Hayton says. “I feel that my purpose in life is to overcome them or learn to accept them, learn to love myself and teach that to other people.”

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