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Jackie Stewart has been a self-proclaimed “fitness nut” for the past two decades. And the title isn’t for naught. Her obsession with fitness started when she took her first step aerobics class in high school. The rest is history.

In fall 1998, Stewart left for college at Clarion University and was determined to avoid the "Freshman 15" ­— the number of pounds many women supposedly gain when they first go off to college.

“I went to check out the group fitness schedule,” says Stewart, who today owns Twisted Yoga and Barre Studio in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. “It was there that I saw the sign for a part-time aerobics instructor. I auditioned, got the job and over winter break for my 19th birthday my parents paid for my first group fitness certification."

That was the start of Stewart's fitness career. Little did she know her part-time job would mold her future, introduce her to some of my best friends and become her life's true passion.

A long road to yoga

After graduating from Clarion, Stewart got her first adult job as a fitness director. She wanted to learn everything she could about fitness and all the evolving trends.

“I would spend almost every weekend at a fitness training or certification,” she says.

But she admits she at first had a love-hate relationship with yoga.

“It was a long road for me to fall in love with yoga,” Stewart says. “I would try it and then write it off several times over a span of about 15 years. I heard of a hot yoga studio and thought I would give it one more try. That began my love affair with heated power-flow yoga. After that class, I felt fatigued and sweaty yet proud and energized at the same time.”

Stewart's been teaching yoga for the past eight years and credits the practice for changing her body, as well as her perspective of life.

“It made me a better person,” she says. “After I started seeing the physical and emotional benefits, I want everyone to experience it. So that is how Twisted Yoga and Barre Studio came to life.”

Best job perks

The studio opened in September 2013 and offers hot power yoga, beginner yoga, yin yoga, barre, and stand-up paddleboard yoga at Lake Julia in Buhl Park during the summer. Many clients have been attending since opening day.

“We also do a donation class once a month where 100 percent of the donations go to a local charity,” Stewart says.

Movements are influenced by classical ballet barre methods, Pilates and orthopedic exercises, according to Stewart. The goal is to feel less stressed and in a better mood.

“You come out feeling like you performed at your peak with a positive vibe you can carry with you for the rest of your day,” she says. “I want people to feel strong — not just physically but emotionally, too. I want them to take what they discovered about themselves in class and use it in their everyday life. I don’t care if they can’t touch their toes. There is way more to it than that.”

And her family totally supports her.

“My husband did all the renovations to the studio himself,” Stewart says. “He is also my bookkeeper, finance manager and maintenance man. Some of my best friends I made from meeting them at the studio. Opening Twisted is honestly one of the best decisions I ever made.”

As for her love-hate relationship with yoga? It’s a distant memory. As a yoga teacher, Stewart tries to show students their potential and strength. She values the opportunity to help each person with what he or she needs that particular day.

“Yoga isn’t about what just happens on the mat,” she says. “Students take that goodness off the mat and in the world. There is no better feeling than knowing you made difference in someone’s day or even their life, and to me that is the best part of the job.”

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