Hallie Stotsky: Healing minds, bodies and spirits through yoga

Written by Jillian Rowan
Photos by Ethan Shulman
April 11, 2023

When Hallie Stotsky graduated from Chatham University as an injured, basketball-wielding student-athlete, the “real world” lacked the structure she was accustomed to. 

Stotsky faced a lull coming off her two-year-long injury in her sophomore and junior years. Once her senior basketball season ended and graduation had come and gone, she didn’t know what to do with her life. Then, she found yoga.

“At that time in Pittsburgh, yoga studios [seemed to be] the only places with set schedules,” Stotsky said.

Pitt’s Stress Free Zone coordinator is a yogi of all trades. Working with the SFZ for 7 1/2 years, Stotsky is a 200-level instructor with a decade of experience rooted in traditional Hatha yoga. The Stress Free Zone gives students a physical and mental space to de-stress and practice mindfulness meditation on campus on the third floor of the William Pitt Union. The warmly lit and incense-perfumed room hosts a soft, carpeted floor scattered with royal blue yoga mats, blocks and bolsters. 

“The space is about that quiet and peacefulness, then giving you the educational tools of mindfulness meditation to help you when you leave here,” Stotsky said.

Stotsky’s path to this career wasn’t straightforward. In 2009, Stostky graduated from Chatham before heading to Pitt in 2011 for a master’s of education. While working toward her graduate degree, Stotsky noted that yoga quickly became an emotional need and a physical reprieve.

“Yoga really held me together within those two years of graduate school,” Stotsky said. “That's where the bodily practice really became a mental one, too.” 

After graduating from Pitt, she returned to Chatham as an assistant director of Student Affairs. During her three years at this job, she also pursued a registered yoga teacher distinction from Yoga Alliance. Stotsky found herself torn between a desire to instruct yoga and a goal of eventually becoming a dean of students.

“Lo and behold, maybe it was luck, maybe it was me putting it out to the universe and it was meant to be. I truly had a crisis. I love working with college students, but I needed to teach yoga,” Stotsky said. “I’m good at it. I can tell it's my passion, and I knew I could make a difference doing it.”

Fate intervened when she landed a part-time position as consultation and outreach coordinator at the SFZ in 2015. 

“The door opened to working with college students in the one specific field I’m truly passionate about — helping them help themselves,” Stotsky said. 

At her job, Stotsky is dedicated to promoting accessibility and encouraging students of all levels. She also offers a variety of props for those that struggle with difficult poses. 

“It's such an easy thing when a student will say, ‘I can't touch my toes. I can't do yoga,’” Stotsky said. “Give them two blocks to put their hands on, and suddenly you've brought the ground closer to them. It's those little shifts if a pose feels really difficult. Using that verbiage to help students feel more comfortable, wherever they are.”

The SFZ offers various workshops, classes and events on topics such as mindfulness meditation, yoga and tools for anxiety management techniques to help students reduce stress, improve their mental health and find balance in their lives. There’s yoga inversion stations, daylight lamps for those battling seasonal depression and even a laptop with a biofeedback program that helps students identify their stress levels and lower them. 

Ethan Shulman | Senior Staff Photographer

Stotsky emphasized that though it’s a Stress Free Zone, it’s not a place for unproductivity. 

“We have many students that will walk in and say, ‘Can I just take a nap or sit in here?’ and this space is really meant to be an educational setting,” Stotsky said. “I support naps and needing a reprieve, but I'm trying to teach what a purposeful break is.”

Stotsky’s coworkers have also noticed her commitment to helping students. Fatima Mendez Fuentes, a sophomore psychology major and one of the four student employees at the SFZ, said Stotsky “makes it a point to prioritize our well-being, helping us with anything she can.”

“Yoga is one of my favorite things about the space,” she said. “[Stotsky] has been a great mentor in helping us guide ourselves and others through meditation.”

Meg Mayer-Costa met Stotsky when she started as a registered dietician at the Student Health Center in 2015, and remembers her being “very engaging, inquisitive and wonderful to converse with.” Since then, Mayer-Costa and Stotsky have collaborated on various projects, including team training, nutrition and wellness programming across the University. 

“Stotsky is exceptionally kind and empathetic,” Mayer-Costa said. “I think she blossoms when engaged in her craft.”

Apart from her commitments at Pitt, Stotsky also spearheads the teacher training program for One Point One Yoga and hosts yoga events for student-athletes — a nod to her Chatham basketball roots. As a mother of two young children, Stotsky balances motherhood with her passion for yoga and working with college kids.

However, she still finds time to innovate at the SFZ. Stotsky is currently working on a campaign to discourage students from doomscrolling on social media when visiting the SFZ, which she said contributes to mental exhaustion.

“Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment and challenging your brain,” Stotsky said. “It’s not just lounging out and letting your mind daydream while being on your phone.”

She’s also considering starting a yoga therapy program for students dealing with grief, trauma or chronic illness. She added that she looks forward to the SFZ having a larger space so it can offer a broader range of classes, such as chair yoga.

Stotsky said she knows college can be overwhelming, and that students face academic pressure, social challenges and more within a new environment. Stotsky’s goal is to help students navigate these challenges and find peace of mind.

“I know these things can change your life,” Stotsky said. “These practices can meet every single individual, wherever they are.”