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A Gentle Way Yoga
8:53 PM

Yoga Alliance - A Place Where Everyone Fits In

 

 I recently attended a wonderful Yoga Alliance Conference in Indian Wells, California. Yoga Alliance is the national education support organization for Yoga in the United States. They work in the public interest to ensure that Yoga teachers nationwide value the history and traditions of their practice. Their goal is to open source knowledge to the public about yoga and increase the quality and consistency of instruction. Yoga Alliance also accredits yoga schools within the United States, and allows graduates of these programs official standing as “RYT” or “Registered Yoga Teachers.” Visit www.yogaalliance.orgfor more information on this wonderful foundation. 
 
When yoga alliance was founded in 1999 I chose to attend their first official meeting at the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco. I was a brand new yoga teacher at the time, and ecstatic to be apart of a groundbreaking moment in the evolution of yoga in the west. I have to admit that my experience was much different than I expected.
 
I was by far the largest teacher at the conference. I felt so out of place. I was looking forward to finding other teachers who taught plus size students and networking with them, but I could find none – only beautiful slender men and women floating through the conference halls, some with entire entourages following behind them.
 
I finally spotted a middle-aged woman who was probably two or three dress sizes below mine. I excitedly ran up to her and introduced myself, asking about her experience working with the plus size population. She seemed almost offended that I would consider her in that category, and coldly responded, “I don’t work with those people. You can’t make a living. They never show up for themselves or the practice.” She walked away offering me no encouragement, obviously offended that I had even mentioned the word plus size in relation to yoga. I felt defeated. My heart sank with despair, and I began to wonder if I was doing the right thing – trying to teach yoga in a plus size body, trying to fit into the yoga world, and trying to run a yoga center that catered to the populations no one else in the yoga world seemed to be serving.
 
But then something wonderful happened. Amidst a room full of hundreds of gorgeous, fit teachers, a small Indian man dressed in white robes ran up to me with a look of sheer elation painted on his face. He put his arms around me, hugged me joyfully, massaged my belly, and said in the most delightful accent, “Oh, thank God you are here! All these women in America are so skinny! Here is my most beautiful woman!”
 
His words relit my spirit. He instilled in me the courage to stand up in that first Yoga Alliance meeting and assert to the board that the standards for registered yoga were so physically challenging that someone like me couldn’t teach yoga. I refused to believe that because my body could and should not perform a sun salutation meant that I’m unable to be an exceptional yoga teacher.
 
So here I am now with 17 years experience and over 10,000 classes taught under my belt. At this year’s conference I no longer stuck out like a sore thumb. The conference was filled with teachers and students of all sizes, ages, colors and traditions. Some of the “popular” teachers of yoga back in the 90’s were now older, larger, and teaching “new” techniques that I’ve been faithfully practicing and teaching for 16 years. One of the “plus size” teachers that Damara and I had trained back in 2000 was there, looking 10 years younger than she did in 2000, happily telling me she had moved to Kentucky and now opened her own Yoga Studio!
 
There is no happier feeling for me as a Studio owner than to sit at the front desk of A Gentle Way Yoga and Joyful Movement Center and see people from all walks of life come through our doors and experience a yoga practice that is joyful, loving, and without judgment. And here we are, still training students to teach yoga, students that now travel to us from all over the world!
 
If you are looking for a great teacher outside of San Diego, visit www.yogaalliance.com. If you are a yoga teacher who is not yet a part of this organization, please join today!
This is an organization you will all want to be a part of.

A Gentle Way Yoga
7:08 PM

Autumnal yoga to balance the change of seasons

 
~ Diane Ambrosini
 
Been feeling a bit scatterbrained and fidgety lately? With the blazing temperatures we’ve had recently, you might want to place all of the blame for your discomfort on the weather. However, while the heat may be agitating, much of this edginess is due to the earth passing into its seasonal shift on September 22nd - the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. Even as thermometers are still hollering “summertime,” the fall equinox brings a subtle change to the air, and an emerging shift in our personal and hemispheric energy patterns.
 
By Ayurveda standards, autumn is considered the Vata season. Vata energy is associated with the elements of space, air and movement, which make sense, since fall weather generally presents drier, windier conditions. Think of the bone-dry Santa Ana winds that bluster through San Diego this time of year! Internally, vata energy is associated with our body’s nervous system and when out of balance is the cause of the frenetic energy that creates prickly attitudes and makes it difficult to produce focused thoughts. Also on a physical level, this is the time of year many of us notice drier, rougher skin and a few more pops and cracks in our joints.
 
To balance out this super-charged energy, we need to focus on getting more grounded, calm and balanced. So, just as we changed our yoga practice when spring turned to summer, we now need to flow with the season and switch up our asana practice once again. At this time we need to modify any overly kinetic yoga practices, because vata energy can very easily become chaotic.
 
To promote more stability and serenity in our practice, if we normally practice a flowing vinyasa, it’s important to slow down the pace. Exhausting ourselves only makes us crankier! And, by practicing more standing poses, especially balancing poses, we increase the focus on our foundation and gain more overall stability. If we hold our poses just a little longer we experience a feeling of earth-centeredness, which on a psychological level is reassuring – we don’t feel “flighty.” Practicing “groundedness” draws the mind inward and calms the nervous system.
 
By practicing slower moving, meditative restorative yoga, Iyengar-style or Yin yoga we tend to experience a deeper feeling of sthira (stability). Yin poses also have the added benefit of bringing attention, and more relief to the deeper connective tissues within and around the joints.
 
Other poses to add to our fall practice are twists, inversions and easy backbends. The wringing action of any twist is calming to the spinal nerves and also stimulates the digestive system, which oftentimes gets stagnant in the fall and leads to indigestion, bloating and other intestinal disorders. Inversions help to focus frenzied energy back toward the earth, giving a deeper feeling of support. Backbending poses open the chest area and can build up a bit of internal heat, which is very beneficial as the warmer temperatures of early fall cool off.  
 
Making pranayama (breathing practices) a habitual part of our yoga practice promotes a more restful nature overall. Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) is said to clear out and relax the deep, subtle energy channels within the body. And ujjayi breathing deepens the breath and, like backbends, warms the body as it pacifies an agitated nervous system.
 
Another extremely satisfying fall ritual is regular full-body self-massage (abhyanga) with warmed oil. This practice is beneficial throughout the year, but during the drying autumnal months, the moisturizing effects of the oil are even more healing to dry skin, and the massaging action is comforting to our cracking joints. By adding some scent to the oils, we create a sweet in-home spa treatment! Add a cup of tea, and it's Nirvana!
 
So, as the wild winds blow and the air gets static charged, we can turn to our “fall focused” yoga practice as a pacifying daily routine. By tweaking our asanas to be more grounded and centering, we can more easily flow with the rhythms of the earth during this time of change.

A Gentle Way Yoga
6:37 PM

Prana - in a nutshell ~ Diane Ambrosini


Prana.
 
It’s a word you’ve heard before, but you might not know its true significance. Yes, Prana is the name of a yoga/active-wear clothing line, as well as a lovely yoga studio in La Jolla. But what are these businesses named after?
 
To grasp what prana is, we must ask the question “What makes us alive?” Like the age-old questions “Why are we here?” and “What is my purpose in life?” the issue of what makes us alive can be quite a head scratcher! And, because there is no way to see or measure prana, how do we know it really exists? 
 
Think life-force energy. Many people believe that if an organism breathes, grows and/or moves, it is infused with a non-physical quality of energy, which is the essential ingredient for life. Some call this energy ‘the Spirit of God”, “chi”, “ka”, “mana”, “élan vital”. The yogis call this quintessence by its Sanskrit name, “prana.”
 
So what does this prana energy do? Philosophical mind-benders aside, most can agree that there are definite energy systems at work within a living entity. Chemical impulses send signals with messages that build up and break down tissues, create respiration and other bodily functions, and in the case of animated beings, movement. And, while you can’t see it, there is no denying that every living thing has an innate energy within it.
 
In yoga, prana is often associated solely with the breath through the practice of pranayama, which is loosely categorized as breathing techniques. Prana is not the actual air we breathe, nor does air actually transport prana, yet asana and pranayama help us control and direct the movement of pranic energy throughout the body.
 
Yogic wisdom maintains that within the human body there are over seventy-two- thousand energy channels called nadis that, like small tributaries, feed pranic energy into three main prana channels: the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna. These three key nadis are located to the left, right and center, respectively, of the spine and direct the primary flow of energy throughout the body.   
 
The main purpose of practicing hatha yoga and pranayama is to balance the Ida’s cool, loving, feminine energy with the Pingala’s heated, intense, masculine energy. As these two oppositional energies meld together in harmony, a person’s deep-seated spiritual energy begins to rise from the base of the Sushumna toward the crown of the head. Balanced prana leads to physical, mental and spiritual states of ecstasy.
 
That’s quite a lot of action for something that can’t be seen! But no matter, because everyone can feel, if not see its existence. All the rhythmic functions of the body, from the heartbeat to the flow of the breath—as well as moments of absolute clarity and seemingly pointless flashes of bliss—are all signs that prana is present. And looking out beyond our own bodies, we can definitely see evidence of prana in nature. So take some time, sit quietly and tune into the tingling flow of prana pulsating through you, connecting you to the rest of the living Universe.

A Gentle Way Yoga
12:38 PM

Meditation Movement: The Yoga I always dreamed of – Lanita Varshell

Dreams of Being

Not coming from an exercise background, if you are a yoga teacher, or yoga addict, when you first meet me you may wonder what in the world I have to teach you that you do not already know.  Having always been chubby in my youth, and always a large woman, you may initially look at me and conclude yoga has not worked for me.
But if you are willing to spend more time with me, if you are willing to not run away from my style of teaching, you just may discover “a softer side of yoga” that is changing the lives of hundreds of yoga students each year.
When I was introduced to yoga, there were very few teachers modifying it for the needs of the, larger, older, or less physically able students.  When I was introduced to the slow, relaxing floor style of yoga we now call MIMSY - Meditation in Movement Style Yoga, I knew that my first teacher, Naomi Judith, had discovered something very special:
That when you relax before you begin to stretch, balance, twist and sweat, our bodies do not resent being moved.  Movement becomes joyful, dancelike, welcome, and healing.
At first I thought that this MIMSY would only attract larger women like myself, but soon they began bringing their more fit friends, and husbands, and those who were used to traditional active poses soon realized that this slower, softer side of yoga was a great missing link to a fully balanced yoga practice.
Sixteen years later, and thousands of classes later, the effects of MIMSY just keep getting better. As we lie on the floor, relaxing the body, and then slowly moving every different way, there seems to be a channeling that moves through me, leading each class into many similar poses, but still customized for those who attend.
After each class, someone will just sit there, not wanting to get up and say:  “how did you know that was exactly what I needed today?”  And that is how we know it is yoga.  Union with ourselves.  Poses that are steady, comfortable, and healing.

~Lanita Varshall
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Here is what a few of our students have to say:
"BEST THING I EVER DID FOR MYSELF! I spent a week in July 2011 at Feathered Pipe Ranch with Lanita Varshell for a yoga retreat and Plus Size Teacher Training. It was such an amazing, peaceful, healing time. The heaven on earth beauty of the ranch, the great staff, the incredible food, yoga every day and the wonderful people you meet makes for such an incredible break from our busy lives. This is the most perfect place to experience Lanita's unique, gentle yoga and meditation. She creates such a healing, safe, non-judgmental environment for everyone to practice her style of yoga, which will relax and rejuvenate you from head to toe.
It may be the hardest yoga you've done because you have to completely let your body go and allow yourself to relax and release. (A hard thing to do for those of us so wound up with tension, busy, demanding lives and the monkey mind that never stops.) You will feel as if you had a massage after taking her classes. I highly recommend you do this for yourself - it will truly renew your heart and soul. I hope to come back every year, it's the best gift I can give my mind, body and spirit.

~Jackie Anderson
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My first introduction to Lanita Varshell as a teacher was at a retreat last summer at Feathered Pipe Ranch. It was nothing less than a trans-formative experience for me. More than twenty years ago I had been a practitioner and teacher of Himalayan/Iyengar yoga.  Since then I had gained a lot of weight and only in the last two years started to practice yoga again on a regular basis, but felt too intimidated to take yoga classes at the studios where I live.
I found an ad in the Yoga International listing Lanita Varshell as a gentle yoga teacher who also taught a certification in plus size yoga.  I felt something inside of me say, "Yes!" I was very excited and afraid of going at the same time, afraid of being judged for my more than plus sized body.
Lanita had a way of immediately making me feel not only safe, but at home in the body that I have.  There were no judgments, only an awakening of the beautiful spirit that was so lovingly and gently coaxed out in my time with her as my teacher.  Lanita has an intuitive style of teaching that just allows everyone to simply be in there body and let go of layer upon layer of feelings that are stored in our bodies to be integrated with our minds and our spirits.  It helped me find a balance and a deep sense of peace with which I have since been able to take care of others and my students that I now teach, thanks to Lanita's encouragement. I would recommend this retreat to everyone, whether you are new to yoga, or an experienced teacher.

~Carol Radke
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Lanita doesn’t “teach yoga” in the traditional sense. Meditation in Movement is less a yoga class than a deep experience. You cease fighting gravity as you lie on your back. You release tension from parts of your body you had no idea you were clenching. You open yourself to waves of relaxation and invite the body’s innate healing wisdom to do its work.
Now you can move. Now you can move muscles that were too tight to move with ease or pleasure when you came in the door. Now you can stretch those muscles and enjoy the stretch. You’re moving slowly, mindfully, and with the breath, so your movement feels natural. You go to your first place of tightness and then ease back instead of pushing an edge. On the physical level, this gives tight muscles a chance to loosen gradually. On the mental level, this calms fear and resistance because you know you will not go too far and injure yourself.
Meditation in Movement is not about how much you can do but about how much you can let go of. As the body releases tension, the mind gives up its need for control.  As breath and movement work to shift energy in the body, the spirit lifts.
When I first began taking these classes with Lanita over ten years ago, I thought we weren’t doing enough. I wondered where the Warrior poses were. Then I came to see that the impact of Meditation in Movement style yoga was a profound change in the way I inhabited my body. I reconnected with it on a deep level and I felt more integrated, body, mind, and spirit. This yoga will change your life. It changed mine.
~Carolyn Wheat, ERYT-500

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The practice of yoga has brought greater ease to my body and calm to my mind. There was just one area that still brought forth a hot little seed of frustration and disappointment - the fact that most classes were still targeted toward to people who were already perceived as flexible and fit.
The pace was too fast.  Modifications were not offered to people with structural variations or recovering from injury or years of neglect. The risk of injury was high. This yoga was clearly NOT available to Every Body.
Lanita's approach to yoga is completely inclusive. It is the kind of yoga that you hoped to find the first time you gathered the immense courage it takes to step into your first yoga class - worried that you might look foolish or be judged by others. There is no "failure" in Lanita's teaching. Only support, ease, calm and acceptance. What you learn here will not only make you feel comfortable and safe, but it will give you tools to make the practice truly your own. I cannot recommend this workshop highly enough.

~Cindy Davis
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Lanita will return to the Feathered Pipe Ranch this summer, Sept. 1 - 7th for the retreat, We are Limitless: A Gentle Way Yoga Retreat. Save $100 & accrue retreat credits for your Studio/Organization...Feathered Pipe's Community Discount Program!!!


Lanita Varshell

Lanita Varshell is the owner of A Gentle Way Yoga & Joyful Movement Center in San Diego (La Mesa) California, and is the founder of “Meditation in Movement Style ® Gentle Yoga. She has been interviewed in several magazines about her plus-size journey through yoga, including Yoga Journal, and Bella Online. She has produced a Gentle Yoga class CD, is working on her first books and DVD’s, and leads yearly Gentle Yoga Retreats in California and throughout the US. She trains students and certified yoga teachers in her Gentle Yoga, Restorative, and Adaptive Yoga methods. To find out more about Lanita and her incredible work visit: www.agentleway.com.


A Gentle Way Yoga
9:30 AM

"Should you change your yoga practice during the summer months?" By Diane Ambrosini MA, ERYT-500

Should you change your yoga practice during the summer months?
As the temperature on the thermometer begins its slow upward shift in mid-June, I’m often asked if it’s important to modify one’s yoga practice during the summer months. Based on Ayurvedic philosophy, the answer is, “Yes.”
Ayurveda is the Sanskrit term meaning science of life. It is the sister science of yoga. Traditional Ayurvedic wisdom states that during the Pitta months, between June and the end of September (OK, mid-October in San Diego), the heat and more concentrated energy of the sun dominates the season and motivates all life on Earth toward increased movement and productivity.
Think about it—with more daylight hours and the intensity of summer’s energy we see new generations of animals covering the landscape, gardens growing prolifically, and we humans are generally motivated to increase our physical activities. We tend to travel more and attempt more projects at this time of the year, as well as spend more time outside with friends and family. And for those of us living in communities near the beach, the summer heat is a driving force toward the cooler breezes of the waterfront. Ahhhh!
Ok, so what does all this have to do with changing our yoga practice? Well, because we’re all susceptible to the rhythms of Nature, as the sun gets higher in the sky, a rise in Pitta energy brings more heat into the body and mind. If we aren’t mindful of these changes, we can experience disagreeable physical and emotional side effects like sunburn, heat rash, aggression, anger and irritability.
It’s important to remain physically active because exercise literally blows off steam, even in the summertime. It is, however, essential either to curtail most overly heating activities, or to balance them out with activities having more calming properties. And we all know that yoga is a perfect activity for this!
<spanThose who typically practice vigorous, heat producing styles of hatha yoga need to balance the dynamic nature of these styles with some of the more restorative practices. Instead of a constant diet of brown and red classes here at A Gentle Way, drop in to a few pink, purple, green and blue classes. And for those with a solid home practice, do fewer standing poses and heat producing postures like headstand and sun salutations— and be sure to add a longer savasana.
For anyone who has never taken a brown or red class, it’s still possible to add more relaxing practices to your day. Try to spend some additional time in meditation, which cools and calms both mind and body. Additionally, you can cool down your body by practicing cooling breathing techniques such as shitali, (cooling breath), or “moon breathing,”- where you simply close off the right nostril and breathe through the left for a minute or so.
No matter what changes you make to your asana practice this summer remember to focus on finding calmness, peacefulness and gentleness within yourself and those around you. And don’t forget – after September you can count on another shift in your practice as you follow the rhythms of Nature!


A Gentle Way Yoga
3:13 PM

Retreating with Lanita at Feathered Pipe Ranch - September 2012 by Lanita Varshell

There is nothing more important for the body and the mind than to make the time to
get away, away from your work for awhile, away from your home, your everyday responsibilities and environment.  Not only to get away, but to go to a place where you are taken care of in a way that you can actually feel stress melting away from your body and your mind.  Somewhere where you are not in charge of holding the world up if just for today.
Making the time to get away and release stress, and manifesting the money to do this, is not a luxury.  It must go to the top of your priority list, for stress that does not release turns into disease. Most of us realize that we are holding stress that can hurt the body and the mind, but many of us don’t even begin to realize how much we are holding until we retreat.
I know that this is much easier said than done, until we begin to create a healthy habit of getting away on a regular basis.  That is why 10 years ago I began to lead weekend Retreats in Julian, California, just an hour East of San Diego, and now I lead 6-night retreats in Montana at Feathered Pipe Ranch each year. Taking a full week to retreat on this beautiful land is an experience you will never forget.  It is a week that will fill your soul.  Below is an article I wrote for the Feathered Pipe website about what to expect at a Retreat with me.  I hope you enjoy it.
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I have led retreats for 10 years now.  They are truly one of my greatest joys. To get people to realize that we are working to live, not living to work is a great accomplishment.  It is something that yoga is teaching me. To get ourselves to carve out the time and re-assign our money to travel to a place where we unpack, relax, do not need to go anywhere, or do anything to feel happy or fulfilled; this is a great joy!  I know for some of us it is not easy to take this time off, or to manifest the funds to do so, but if you are ready ask the universe to guide you and you will be shown the means and the way.
To be asked back to Feathered Pipe  Ranch for a 2nd year is a great honor. It is with deep respect that I follow outstanding Feathered Pipe teachers like Lilias Folan and Judith Hanson Lasater who have made great differences in my life. To spend time with India Supera, founder of Feathered Pipe, is a true treat.  She is a woman without pretense, and a great mystic. To hear her stories of being with her guru Sia Baba, and her adventures in India, and how she was gifted the Ranch is worth the fee all by itself.  Her stories alone expand our mind and awaken our consciousness.
The land of Feathered Pipe is nothing less than magical.  The morning hikes led by Mary Superak, (Meri Canary)  with her magical flute singing right along with the birds is a gift you give yourself that you will never forget.  Feathered Pipe staff is kind and loving. The accommodations are great!  The healing massages and body work treatments offered are some of the best I have ever had.
Feathered Pipe will feed you three wholesome and delicious meals. You will be fully taken care of without dishes to wash! There is nothing you need to do. Everything is optional.  This is a true vacation. You can spend as much time, or as little, with me as you wish.  I am your guide to teaching you different levels of letting go.
All I will ask of you is to practice letting go.  For in letting go we begin to realize the limitations we have put upon ourselves, and only in “letting go” do we begin to see how limitless we really are.  If you are experiencing the “aging process” with me, or if you have a body that does not easily move, this is a very important practice, for our habits and thinking today determines the health of our body tomorrow.
If you choose to attend my two daily workshops, you will be introduced to two different styles of yoga:“Mediation in Movement Style Yoga” (MIMSY) and Aalamba Yoga - Yoga with Support. MIMSY is a unique style of yoga that focuses on floor poses connecting to the energy of Mother Earth beneath us.  It is a unique combination of restorative and gentle yoga, with many subtle, specific movements designed to illicit the relaxation response.
When this is experienced, a deep inner shifting begins within, opening you up to your many different bodies within bodies.  It is yoga for your back, hips, spine, your central nervous system, and much, much more.  This style of yoga needs to be experienced and practiced, not studied.  The more you relax the more your body remembers yoga.  MIMSY is usually the most delightful yoga for students new to yoga who are intimidated by more active practices, and often times the hardest yoga for traditional teachers, but a very important way to get yoga teachers to slow down, and a wonderful way to get all students ready for quiet meditation.
Aalamba Yoga takes the traditional & restorative poses that are being taught in many yoga classes and studios, and breaks them down to make them doable for any body, any size, any age, any ability. Aalamba Yoga helps a yoga teacher learn how to teach rewarding multi-level classes, and teaches yoga students how to enter a yoga studio or class and know how to modify poses for their body and their needs. Aalamba Yoga is all about joyful active movement, and customizing yoga for the needs of your body.
Each workshop ends with deep relaxation (savasana) or quiet meditation.  Each evening is filled with practical yoga philosophy, story, fun, or music.
What seems to be most unique about my retreats, classes, workshops, and teaching styles is my ability to bring together both the true beginner, and most experienced students of yoga, and find not only a common ground, but a melting down of the prejudices we consciously or unconsciously hold against ourselves and each other. In this “melting down” we all discover that we are more alike than we are different.  We all walk away with a bond of trust and understanding.  We stop taking ourselves, our bodies, or each other for granted.  We all leave knowing ourselves, and liking ourselves a whole lot more.  Just as we are today. It would be an honor to have you with us!
Lanita Varshell
Lanita will return to the Feathered Pipe Ranch this summer, Sept. 1 - 7th for the retreat, We are Limitless: A Gentle Way Yoga Retreat. Save $100 & accrue retreat credits for your Studio/Organization...Feathered Pipe's Community Discount Program!!!
Lanita Varshell is the owner of A Gentle Way Yoga & Joyful Movement Center in San Diego (La Mesa) California, and is the founder of “Meditation in Movement Style ® Gentle Yoga. She has been interviewed in several magazines about her plus-size journey through yoga, including Yoga Journal, and Bella Online. She has produced a Gentle Yoga class CD, is working on her first books and DVD’s, and leads yearly Gentle Yoga Retreats in California and throughout the US. She trains students and certified yoga teachers in her Gentle Yoga, Restorative, and Adaptive Yoga methods. To find out more about Lanita and her incredible work visit: www.agentleway.com.