Thrive Yoga Faculty


Susan created Thrive Yoga more than 14 years ago and has lived a healthy lifestyle for more than 30 years. Thrive Yoga Center is a community-driven wellness center focused on programs and events to inspire and support a healthy and joyous life.
Like many people seeking a life of vitality and joy, Susan created Thrive Yoga after several life events (9/11; premonitions; family death; insomnia) made it clear that her trajectory was successful but lacking freedom, joy and vitality.  Susan traded a high-pressured and lucrative corporate career for a future that would be uncertain but free and true to self. In creating Thrive, many of the joys were unexpected-the Thrive community (thousands of kind friends and students); youth and playfulness in work; tools to handle life's challenges; a forward thinking and cutting edge peer group; how breathing consciously would culminate into major paradigm shifts.
Susan has received awards as a business leader in Maryland including awards in entrepreneurship; community giving and leadership by the City of Rockville; Rockville Economic Development; Maryland Womens Business Center. Susan's personal story of creating Thrive Yoga and the Thrive Yoga "appeal" has been featured in The Washington Post; The Gazette; WUSA News and other various local newspapers and TV news.  Susan regularly mentors and coaches aspiring business owners and teachers.
Susan E-RYT500; YACEP, as the Yoga Training Director,  has created training curriculum that integrates yoga  with complimentary  techniques from science, philosophy, and spirituality. Susan's experience in teaching integrated methods for human change and transformation spans more than 16 years and 10,000 hours. Training curriculum is current, fresh and exciting while still being rooted in the foundational study of yoga (experience) and research (knowledge).  Numerous practices and methods invite the individual student to find their formula to lead a joyful life regardless of the conditions of the outer world.  Susan has studied various yoga styles and practices for more than 25 years, including Baptiste Power Vinyasa, ISHTA, Kundalini, Iyengar, Vini, Yin, Restorative, Prenatal, Yoga Nidra and Therapeutic Yoga. Specialty studies that inspire the Thrive Yoga Trainings include: Anatomy; Neuroscience; Quantum Healing; Intuition and Clairvoyance; Thai Massage; Emotional Intelligence: Sound Healing.
Thrive Yoga Trainings have graduated more than 400 yoga teachers who today continue to uniquely influence yoga in America (and other countries). 

Describe yourself in three words: Fun, inquisitive, clairvoyant
Why do you teach Yoga?
It keeps me present and young at heart. No other job in the world requires me to consciously breathe all day long.
What inspires you?
Anyone who asks questions
Where did you get your training/certifications?
I have several certifications and have attended yoga workshops and trainings in all different styles since 1987. The biggest influence on my skill as a teacher has been from teaching yoga to thousands of students over the last 16 years. My style is derived from the yoga tools that are the most effective and most pleasurable ways to live a conscious, healthy and loving life.

Julie Alter, E-RYT500, completed her training at Thrive Yoga through a collaboration with ISHTA , NYC from 2008-2011. She completed a Restorative Teacher Training at ISHTA , NYC in 2013. Her interest in meditation lead her to enroll in a two year study of iRest Yoga Nidra and in 2016 became a certified teacher through The Integrative Restoration Institute.

She has taught several enrollment sessions of iRest meditation at Thrive Yoga laying the groundwork toward supporting psychological health, well being and spiritual freedom. This accessible form of meditation is for everyone. Developing a meditation practice helps participants rediscover how to live a contented life free from conflict and fear; opening the mind and body to its inherent ground of interconnected wholeness with all of life.

Julie has been teaching at Thrive Yoga since 2011. She teaches a weekly Hatha class that incorporates restorative poses, pranayama and meditation. She enjoys seeing students reap the benefits of moving their bodies, deepening their breath and finding more peace from within.

A regular yoga practice is often thought of as a way to simply increase flexibility in the body. It certainty does that. A regular asana practice can help maintain fluid motion in our bodies by lubricating joints, hydrating connective tissue and increasing circulation in tight muscles. The transformational potential of a yogis practice can far exceed those physical benefits. A well rounded practice can help foster better breath support for everyday living, increased mental clarity and greater emotional resiliency.

Describe yourself in three words: Kind, hopeful, happy.

Why do you teach yoga? It's not about looking a certain way but yoga is about tapping into the essence of who you really are. I teach to continue to learn. The more I practice and learn the more I lean toward prioritizing "Being" practices that focus on meditation, pranayama, Yoga Nidra, restorative yoga and feeling balanced on and off the mat.

What inspires you? Beauty and being outside in Nature inspires me. The simple beauty and perfection in a flower or watching birds at my feeders.

Julie believes yoga is for everyone.  It is her mission to honor and embrace each student's search for self awareness.  Julie's aim is to teach with compassion, love and a sense of humor.  Find your inward feeling and outward spreading of joy in each individual accomplishment through yoga and interactions out in the world.

Jess Apo, E-RYT500; RPYT; YACEP as a Yoga Trainer Jess, holds a masters degree in education and spent the first part of her career teaching elementary school when she realized stress was a major issue in her life. Ten years ago after only a few yoga classes she fell in LOVE when she noticed expansion of her spirit, feeling it was her calling to make a career change to teaching yoga. Her desire to become a teacher trainer was there from the beginning, recalling her passion for teaching in a classroom setting. Her energetic enthusiasm for sharing her devotion to yoga is felt by the teacher trainees. She loves vibrational movement and has an outstanding ability to evoke emotion guiding her students to engage with source. Her teaching aligns with the yoga sutras seamlessly because she honors the practice by living it. Yogic philosophy, sequencing, hands on assists and her innate ability to connect with the individual are among her strengths. She loves teaching many styles of yoga and enjoys watching transformations in her students as they take their practice off of their mats and into their daily lives. She leads yoga retreats all over the world taking her students to exotic locations to immerse themselves in yoga. This year she has also written an 85 hour prenatal teacher training and completed an aerial yoga teacher training. Yoga has transformed her life and she so grateful for the practice.

Describe yourself in three words: Outgoing, honest, caring.

Why do you teach Yoga? Teaching yoga allows me to move at a higher vibration. I enjoy seeing the transformation that takes place for my students not only on their mats, but in their everyday lives.

What is something surprising about you? I enjoy saying things for shock value!

What inspires you? Music, movement, and nature.

What's the scariest thing on your bucket list? It might seem silly, but to embrace the aging process.

Where did you get your training/certifications? 200 hour - Yoga Works, 300 hour ISHTA Yoga, E-RYT 500, RPYT

Kristin Leal, As Yoga Anatomy Trainer, Kristin’s teachings are infused with the miracle of the human body and the liberating potential of movement. Her unique and dynamic voice makes her classes a powerful blend of strong anatomical alignment and intense vinyasa flow. She is the creator of the Kaya Yoga 200- and 300-hour teacher training - graduating over 1,000 students since 2005 – and leads workshops around the world. In love with how esoteric anatomy links so effortlessly to Western anatomy, her MetaAnatomy™ trainings blend serious scientific knowledge with a sense of humor and a deep connection to the divine within us all.
Her teachers have included Sharon Gannon, David Life, Katchie Ananda, Adrienne Burke, Rodney Yee, and Betsey Downing and their beautiful teachings, along with her students, continue to inspire her every day. Since 2006 she has been working with and studying under the teacher Yogiraj Alan Finger of ISHTA yoga and has helped this yogi master translate his teachings to create his 300- hour and ISHTA marma point teacher training. A licensed massage therapist since 1995 (Swedish Institute of Massage,) she also holds certifications in Reiki, Thai massage, neuromuscular and myofascial release, and is a co-author of the book “The Yoga Fan” (2003) and the author of MetaAnatomy™ (2014) which was called "smart and sassy" by Elena Brower and "a luscious resource" by Rod Stryker.

Danielle Conger, E-RYT500, As Yoga Trainer, Danielle embraces yoga asana as an expression of strength and meditation through movement and teaches from a holistic practice of health and well-being. Specializing in Ayurveda and Reiki, she brings a gentle, healing energy to her classes that creates a welcoming atmosphere of calm compassion. Danielle's playful spirit shines through as she strives to make every class grounding and empowering.

Describe yourself in three words: Vibrant, compassionate, grounding.

Why do you teach Yoga? It's a gift of love and spirit to myself and the world. Yoga offers deep healing and self-awareness; it's an energy exchange on a profound and meaningful level, creating space for peaceful, nourishing community.

Something surprising about you: I was an organic farmer for six years, so I have a unique and precious relationship to the earth and food that informs all my choices.

What inspires you? Music, poetry, the communion of souls.

What's the scariest thing on your bucket list? Solo travel, hiking in the wilderness with only my self to rely on.

Training/Certifications: RYT 500, Thrive Yoga; PRYT Shakti Inspired Prenatal Training; Reiki 1 and 2; Ayurveda for Yoga, The Ayurvedic Institute

Kristen Garaffo E-RYT 200, received her 200 hour training here at Thrive in the Summer Intensive format - and has been teaching ever since!

Kristen is an actor and a singer, and has a BFA in Musical Theatre from Boston Conservatory. Conservatory life was a dream, however the stress slowly began to build and the lifestyle of being a professional actor led to burnout. She knew she needed a change, and yoga was the answer! Through a consistent yoga and meditation practice - Kristen transformed her stress and anxiety to freedom and joy. She soon felt called to share this incredible wisdom and learn as much as she could, which led to her 200 hour training, as well as multiple trainings at The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Wanderlust, Gabrielle Bernstein's course Spirit Junkie Masterclass, and Tony Robbins' Unleash the Power Within. Kristen is also a certified Souluna Life Coach, and is passionate about living yoga and supporting others in finding their unique gifts and sharing them with the world. She shares her own unique gifts as a yoga teacher and trainer - blending music, storytelling, and her light-hearted spirit - and offering a relaxed, safe space for students and trainees to find ease and joy in their minds and bodies.

Describe yourself in three words: Fun, Sweet, Strong.

Why do you teach yoga? It is a precious opportunity to spread light. Our world needs it!

Something surprising about you: I'm adopted and was born in Asuncion, Paraguay!

What inspires you? Human potential. Living with Intention and seeing it in action in myself and in others. Transformation. Knowing it is always at our fingertips. Music. Art.

What is the scariest thing on your bucket list? Writing a one woman show. Performing my own words on stage. In front of people. As an actor, it is much easier for me to perform other people's words. But mine? Totally different story!

Where did you get your certifications? 200 hour Thrive Yoga! Quarter Life Calling with Coby Kozlowski, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Karma Yoga Leadership Intensive - Coby Kozlowski, Nosara, Costa Rica


Kristen is passionate about living yoga and supporting others in finding their unique gifts and sharing them with the world. She shares her own unique gifts as a yoga teacher - blending music, storytelling, and her light-hearted spirit - in hopes of offering a relaxed, safe space for students to find ease in their minds and bodies.

Jane Stelboum, E-YT200 and RYT500 as Yoga Trainer, 

Jane earned her 500-hour training here at Thrive Yoga through a collaboration with ISHTA Yoga, NYC from 2009-2012. She completed Duke University’s Integrative Yoga for Seniors training and is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

Jane has been teaching at Thrive since 2010 and leads a weekly class for aging adults at the Ben Gaither Senior Community Center. She loves introducing our Rookies to the joys and benefits one can find from yoga and regularly teaches the Yoga for Healthy Backs 4-part series so people can learn to practice in a way that is safe for their own bodies and conditions.

In 2012, she founded Sarasvate, a company whose mission is to prevent Alzheimer’s and help those already impacted maintain a high quality of life as long as possible. Through Sarasvate she conducts Yoga Designed for the Brain workshops at senior living communities and centers, provides professional and personal caregiver training, has shared her workshops at yoga studios and wellness centers at studios in our region, NY and Florida, and teaches Mindfulness for Clear and Creative Thinking to corporations and organizations. Her workshop is now part of the Thrive teacher-training curriculum. She has been a featured speaker and/or panelist at conferences and events including the Smithsonian’s Yoga as Lifestyle Medicine Symposium here in D.C., the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center (ADRC) Annual Conference on Long Island, NY, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) Educating America Tour on Long Island, NY, and the Mid Atlantic Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) in Baltimore.

Jane believes that no matter what the age or level of the practitioner, yoga should be practiced in a way that’s safe for their own body, now and in the future. And that all the facets of yoga -- asana, pranayama, meditation -- all play a role in our health and well-being on and off the mat.


Describe yourself in three words: Optimistic, determined, direct.

Why do you teach Yoga? It’s made such a difference in my own life. I really wanted to share.

Something surprising about you: Tough marketing professional by day. Confident, compassionate yoga instructor by night.

What inspires you? People’s ability to see the best in any situation, to overcome challenges and adversity and to experience life to its fullest.

What's the scariest thing on your bucket list? Hmmm, dying to do flying trapeze but not sure I have the nerve.

Felicia Piacente, E-RYT 500, as Yoga Trainer, Felicia was born a teacher! From an early age, she was drawn to children, particularly those with special needs. She made a full-time career in special education with Montgomery County Public Schools--as a teacher, specialist, administrator, and a division director. During the same period she also taught fitness classes in aerobic dancing, conditioning, and body toning--where she found her passion for teaching adults about healthy living. When she took her first yoga class in 2006, she discovered the perfect balance of strength, flexibility, and wellness and soon realized her dream of teaching yoga.

Felicia has been teaching weekly classes, master class progressives, and workshops at Thrive Yoga since June, 2009. Her high-energy style incorporates pranayama, grounding, power asana and relaxation to all student levels.

Felicia completed her 200-hour training in 2009 and 300-hour in 2012, both through ISHTA Yoga under the direction of Alan Finger, Sarah Platt Finger, and Susan Mondi. She received prenatal yoga and level 1 Thai Yoga Massage certifications in 2010.

Felicia has a keen knack for making all students feel welcome and skillfully weaves modifications into her intricate sequences, themes, and creative playlists so yoga becomes accessible and enjoyable for all. Her years of helping struggling learners gives her the unique ability to break down challenging poses into manageable parts so students experience success. She serves as a mentor to new yoga teachers and through observation and feedback, helps them flourish. She brings her passion for teaching and learning into Thrive’s yoga teacher training. She is able to build on prospective teachers’ strengths and gives positive and constructive critiques to optimize continuous growth. She keeps current in the special education world by working part-time for the University of Maryland, supervising interns as they launch their careers in teaching.


Describe yourself in three words: Balanced, passionate, optimistic.

Why do you teach Yoga? Because yoga teaches me.

What inspires you? My children, my work, and the first day of spring.

What's the scariest thing on your bucket list? Holding handstand in the middle of the room.

Where did you get your training/certifications? ISHTA at Thrive:RYT 500;RYT200,Prenatal; Thai Yoga Massage Level 1

Ugonma Fontaine came to Thrive yoga almost a decade ago. At the time she was looking to take a yoga teacher training and find a new yoga kula. She found that and so much more at Thrive.  To date, Ugonma is Thrive Yoga's Studio Director. Along with the rest of the team, Ugonma creates the programs and event's at Thrive. She is 200 Hour E-RYT, and has studied Vinyasa Flow and Kundalini styles of yoga for over 10 years. She is a teacher and forever a student of yoga.
In addition Ugonma is a Reiki Master/Teacher and has co-lead Reiki Trainings and Yoga classes for NIH and Children's Hospital. Her work has been featured at Holistic Health Fairs,  conferences, and wellness centers on the East and West Coasts.  She continues to developing her speciality in energetic wellness through integrating indigenous and meditative practices into her yoga journey. She believes yoga is a path to self transformation, peace, and joy.   
Traci first started yoga in high school as a way to condition for sports and was quickly drawn to the additional mental benefits her practice also provided! She used yoga as a way to heal past traumas and reconnect with her true self. Having that experience, she wanted to become a yoga teacher to help create
a loving and safe space for her students so they can discover just how strong they really are, inside and out!
Traci would practice hot power yoga almost every day, sometimes twice a day, until a major injury caused her to slow down. She found her way into a restorative class and loved how the props provided support in different poses for a deeper yet easily accessible stretch.
Wanting to explore more styles of yoga with props, Traci went to an aerial yoga class. It was a combination of her new love of prop support and the fire she had missed from her hot power days. She wanted to learn everything she could about the world and co-created a Level 1, 2, and Restorative Aerial Yoga Teacher Training.

Training/Certifications: 200 YTT from Thrive, 300 YTT at Thrive, Reiki Level 1 and 2, Thai Yoga Massage Level 1, Aerial Yoga Level 1 and 2, 20 Hours of Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) with David Emerson

Describe yourself in three words: Ether, Air, Fire

Why do you teach Yoga?: Yoga has helped give me what I like to call my "phoenix moment," rise from my ashes and overcome trauma; first feeling physically stronger, then mentally, then spiritually. As a teacher I want to help provide a space where others can reconnect with themselves and reclaim their bodies.

Something surprising about you: ...have you heard me laugh?

What inspires you?: I recently learned that a butterfly must struggle out of its cocoon in order for it to be able to fly. I think that is a beautiful reminder that sometimes in life we need to struggle in order to develop our ability to fly.

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