New Hill instructor uses yoga for healing

by Len Lear
Posted 7/4/24

When potential customers walk into Jennifer's Leaf Health & Wellness Studio, they naturally assume the ultra-fit owner and certified yoga instructor is named Jennifer.

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New Hill instructor uses yoga for healing


When potential customers walk into Jennifer's Leaf Health & Wellness Studio, which opened June 7 at 8135 Germantown Ave., they naturally assume the ultra-fit owner and certified yoga instructor who greets them is named Jennifer. She is not. She is Desiree Pressley, who prefers to be called Pressley. So why the name Jennifer's Leaf?

"Jennifer was a dear friend of mine who was passionate and kind," Pressley said. "When I was 20 and she was 17, a kerosene heater exploded in her South Philadelphia home. The steps caught fire, and everyone in the house died except her mother. I promised I would find a way to keep her legacy alive, and that's what I have done. And the 'Leaf' means rebirth. Jennifer is living on."

Although you would never know it today, Pressley was sick and disabled as a young person. "I suffered for years physically and mentally," said the West Philadelphia native who has lived in Wyndmoor for the last six years with her husband and son. "I was disabled at a young age with lupus, and I also had Evans syndrome, a rare autoimmune condition, with avascular necrosis (the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply) and deteriorating bone mass. I was in so much pain. I had surgery, a bilateral hip replacement. I could not even bend over to touch my knees or put on my socks."

Pressley's husband, Mikhail Arslanian, suggested that she take yoga classes. She did but disliked them intensely because, according to her, they consisted of physical exercises with no mind-body connection or spiritual component. "When I was growing up in West Philly, yoga was not a thing," she said. "And whenever I saw photos of people doing yoga, none of them looked like me."

The Overbrook High School alumna attended Edinboro University, near Erie, Pennsylvania, on a full academic scholarship. She now has an undergraduate degree in forensic accounting and a minor in criminal justice from Edinboro and an MBA from Gwynedd Mercy University.

She has worked with several area nonprofits, providing accounting and consulting services. "I thought about going into the theater, and I always did a lot of dancing and singing and started 'Black Voices' in college, but I was so nervous on stage, I had trouble getting the words out."

However, Pressley overcame stage fright and has been performing with her husband in a two-person band, The Coolies, with guitar and drums, for 10 years in local cafes, marketplaces, private parties and restaurants. She was performing for several years before The Coolies.

"We met through music," she said. "He was in a band that I joined later through a friend. I was told not to date him because he was a party animal. All I can say is that we're still partying."

Arslanian was born in California but moved here with his mother as a child. He and Pressley both write songs and perform only originals — soul, R&B, hip-hop and rock. Their son, Brandon, 17, 6-foot-2, is the high scorer on the basketball team and a rising senior at Springfield Township High School.

Pressley started doing yoga again in 2018 and was certified to teach yoga in 2023 at the renowned Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Its founder, Amrit Desai, now 91, a pioneer of yoga in the West, taught yoga sessions at the Unitarian Society of Germantown in the 1960s. Pressley teaches gentle yoga, chair yoga and Kripalu yoga.

"As soon as we came in here, I knew it was the right space," Pressley said. (It was previously home to SL8 Hair Lounge.) "What sold me was the First Friday. I saw so many beautiful people on the street. I love suncatchers, midriff shirts and scarves, so I am selling them also. My neighbor, Laura Demme, makes all of the ceramics, paintings and yoga mats. We have handmade macrame tops and colorful T-shirts and soft mats also."

Although she says that a doctor told her mother many years ago that Pressley might not make it to age 40, she is now 41 and very healthy. "Yoga should be for everyone, especially for people with disabilities," Pressley said. "I believe that anybody can do anything if you put your mind and heart to it. I dreamed of this place, and here it is."

For more information, call 267-966-7916 or visit or