Yogi Feature: Meet Jessica!

Yoga_halloween-2063Photographer Jessica Onderwater sees the big picture. She first became interested in Bikram yoga in 2005 when she was in college and going through a difficult time.

“I was extremely out of shape, overweight and just did not have a good outlook on life at all,” Jessica says. “I was on vacation visiting my aunt in Colorado. She dropped me off at a class and afterwards, I felt absolutely changed.”

For the next nine years, Jessica was able to practice only sporadically.

“There aren’t many studios out where my family lives,” she says. “The closest is the next state over, 90-plus miles. So trying to go regularly was difficult.”

About a year ago, Jessica moved to Richmond, where she works for a local school portrait company. It wasn’t an easy transition.

“I moved here for all the wrong reasons,” Jessica says. With her friends and family 800 miles away, life was difficult. Fortunately, on a visit the previous year she had discovered Bikram Yoga Richmond.

“As soon as I could, I signed up for a monthly unlimited and made it my goal to go 10 to 15 times a month,” Jessica says. “With my schedule, some months are better than others. But I could barely touch my toes when I started in January, and now I can go 75 percent of the way into Toe Stand.”

In addition to her practice, Jessica has become a regular at BYR special events, photographing visits to schools, the pool party, the juice social, Garland’s and Mary Jarvis’s workshops and the Speak Up race. Her collection of portraits of BYR yogis in action will soon be hanging in the West End studio.

Her job takes her to schools all over Virginia, where she photographs students of all ages, including cadets at VMI. She loves children and has four nieces who are very important in her life.

“My never-ending goal is to show them how big the world is and how important it is to travel and get out of the little bubble you grow up in,” Jessica says.

Jessica developed her love of travel in 2011 when she went to work as a photographer for a Hawaiian cruise line for a couple of years. “It was a crazy experience,” she says. “Work hard, play even harder.”

“Having Bikram in my life has enhanced it in so many ways,” Jessica says. “Not only has it helped with maintaining my weight, it has also helped me control my depression.” She is happy to have a “yoga family” at BYR. “I love all the instructors and the wonderful people I have met there, including my new best friend.” She also talked a work friend into coming to yoga.
“I brought my three oldest nieces to class when they came to visit, and they loved it,” Jessica says. “The oldest especially. I think she already wants to become an instructor, which hopefully one day I can become.”

When she’s not working or practicing yoga, Jessica says she is “Jane of all trades.”

“Groupon helps with that,” she says. “I knit, sew, paint, glass blow, do archery. I’ve gone paddle boarding on the James, gone kayaking.”

And her vision for the future is full of adventure: “So many things on my list to try: scuba diving, hot air ballooning, re-certifying for my motorcycle license. The list is ever growing.”

Yogi of the Month–Meet Renee!

IMG_5505If you practice at 5:30 a.m., you might recognize Renee Stramel as the one who smiles during Awkward Pose. She delights in the physical challenges of Bikram yoga.

“I am laughing at myself,” says Renee. “It cracks me up how much I wobble! But I look better and feel great.”

She also loves the active meditation aspect of the practice.

“I like having one part of my mind actively thinking and listening and the other disengaged and just doing what it needs to do,” she says. “It is akin to making art.”

Renee and her husband make art for a living. Jim is a filmmaker. Renee is a painter, a printmaker, a department head—and an art school dropout.

“I grew up in Alexandria and came down here to go to VCU,” Renee says. She had planned to major in art but in 1992 left for Spokane to learn to repair cameras. She came back and did that for 11 years in Richmond. Then, when she feared she was “becoming obsolete,” she took classes in landscape design at Lewis GInter.

“I got my certificate, but ended up taking a job with this little company called Old World Prints at the corner of Floyd and Robinson,” Renee says. “I started off hand-coloring antique prints.”

Then everything “morphed.”

Now known as World Art Group, the company sells artwork globally to interior design firms, furniture manufacturers and the hospitality industry. Renee heads the Embellishment Department, where she and her highly trained staff create artwork on paper and canvas according to specification.

“I work with some really amazing and talented people that constantly inspire me,” Renee says. “We pump out anywhere from 300 to 600 pieces of art a week with an average of 200 different designs. That is just our department. It is an art factory for sure.”

On the boutique level, Renee sells her artwork at Orange Richmond in Carytown. And she enjoys collaborating with her filmmaker husband. Jim’s most recent project is a zombie series called “Reviled.” Episode One is on YouTube. Renee and Jim just celebrated their 20th anniversary.

Renee began practicing Bikram yoga about six months ago. Like many, she says, “I had let my job take over and wasn’t taking care of myself.”

“It’s that mindfulness that really translates,” Renee says. “I am so much more aware of my body through out the whole day. I realize my jaw is clenched or I am hunched over, or I am not really breathing deeply.”

As in art, Renee loves the process of yoga. “Every little detail adds up in a posture.”

And she also finds inspiration: “After six months, I still get dizzy doing camel pose, but each time I try, I can hold for that millisecond longer. So I keep going.”

Yogi of the Month–Meet Lucy!

image1-3Lucy Homiller describes herself as being in her “third stage” of adult life. These days she is full-time mother to her children, Frances, 7, and George, 5.

So what was Stage 1?

“Between the ages of 17 and 20, I was a professional ballet dancer with the Nashville Ballet,” Lucy says.

And then?

In 1997, she went from dancing to Randolph Macon Women’s College and then on to UVa Law School, where she graduated in 2004. She practiced law, first at McGuire Woods and then at a small family firm, until George was 18 months old.

This year, Lucy placed 18th in the country in the National Yoga Asana Competition in Binghamton, N.Y., three years after beginning her practice at Bikram Yoga Richmond.

Could this be Stage 4?

Lucy has been a competitor all her life, which she says grew out of the fact that as a child she was diagnosed with asthma (both allergy and exercise induced).

“I was lucky enough to have a very progressive asthma doctor who encouraged my mother to put me in exercise programs instead of keeping me inside in a bubble,” Lucy says. She started swimming competitively when she was 8.

“My doctor’s theory was that the more I exercised my lungs, the stronger they would be—and he was 100 percent correct,” Lucy says. “I still have asthma and still take a daily preventative inhaler, but it is much better than it would have been had I not had a lifetime of physical activity.”

She began ballet at 10, which Lucy says “was very old to start such an intense program.” But she took to dance quickly. As a teenager, she attended summer ballet programs at professional companies including Pennsylvania, Houston, Boston and Pittsburgh. She joined the Nashville Ballet after high school graduation.

When she decided to go back to school she again took up competitive swimming. She was Randolph-Macon’s swim-team captain her senior year and set a school record in breaststroke.

“I also started running in college and loved it,” Lucy says.

Fast forward through five marathons, numerous half-marathons and 10-milers to August 2012 and her first class at Bikram Yoga Richmond.

“After my knee swelled to the size of a small cantaloupe for the fourth time, my doctor finally told me I needed to try something other than running,” Lucy says.

A friend from her former ballet days recommended Bikram yoga, knowing Lucy would like it because of the intensity of the classes.

“So I found my way into my first yoga class with the great Noel Swenson as my first teacher,” Lucy says. “It was hard. It was hot. It was intense. But I left the studio that day knowing that I would be back.”

Eventually, Lucy says, she realized she was drawn more to yoga classes than to running. “My body was simply happier in the hot room than it had ever been out on the pavement. My knees were a thousand times better, yes, and I was still running races—with zero injuries—but yoga was giving me something that running never could.”

In February 2013, Lucy did her first advanced class with Garland and the gang.

“I was completely floored,” Lucy says. “I thought I was fairly flexible until I looked around and saw the advanced group doing these seemingly impossible things with their bodies. I remember telling my husband after that first class, ‘I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.’ But something must have clicked, because I went back the next week and haven’t looked back.”

In her first regional yoga competition—eight months after she took her first advanced class—Lucy placed fourth and qualified for nationals. In 2014 she competed in the nationals in San Antonio and just missed qualifying for the semi-final round.

Her success this year in New York did not come without effort.

“I am always in training for the next competition,” Lucy says. “Now that my youngest is in grade school, I have much more time. During the year, I practice anywhere from seven to 11 classes a week. During the summer months, it’s usually limited to seven or eight, but I am always so grateful for any time I can get in the studio. I do about an hour-and-a half of core work, stretching and strengthening postures before class and another 30 minutes of advanced postures after class.”

She describes competing as her “yoga journey.”

“The format is unlike anything I had ever done,” Lucy says. “Initially I was drawn to it because it reminded me of my ballet days—performing a routine on stage in front of an audience.” But after two years of competing, she says, “it’s more about conquering fears and fine-tuning mental toughness. It is not easy to put on a leotard, walk on to a cold, drafty stage, and ask your muscles, which are usually shaking from nerves, to calm down and perform three minutes of tough yoga postures.”

Of course, when she’s not doing yoga, her full-time job keeps her plenty busy.

“I spend as much time as I can with my family, and we usually try and have one family day a weekend,” Lucy says. “I am adamant that my children spend a lot of time outside and in the beauty of nature, so we do a lot of hiking and exploring.”

Eagle Pose

Eagle Pose, or Garuasana, like all the other postures, has tremendous effects on many of the internal organs and glands in your body’s systems.

It effects the skeletal system by creating a pressure build up around all the major joints.  Make sure you are both sitting down and leaning back at the same time.  Follow the teacher’s instructions with lining up the joint.

That same tourniquet effect creates a flooding or irrigation of the circulatory system throughout the body.

You are also increase blood flow to the major organs of the abdomen, helping to improve their function.  This posture is famously known for improving the functioning of the reproductive organs.

Finally, you are improving the lymphatic system through the muscle contrition you create in the posture.

Please let your teachers know if you have questions about any of the postures.IMG_0695

Yogi(s) of the Month–Meet the Nanavatis!

Families That Yoga Together, Grow Together!

Mark and Julie Nanavati are both regular practitioners, so most BYR students have gotten to know the lovely duo. What a lot of people may not know is that their two children, Kate and Charlie are also up and coming yogis! Kate has recently started taking the 90minute class and Charlie has taken the kids’ class.

Over the years, all 4 family members came to yoga for different reasons. Julie (a Corporate Team Business Manager at Hunton & Williams, MOM, Wife) came to BYR in 2008.

“I was looking for a change from my mundane fitness routine of jogging and the gym.  Running had become harder on my knees and joints so I wanted to take a break from all of the pounding.”

Mark (Partner at Sinnott, Nuckols & Logan, DAD, Hubby) came to BYR in 2009.

“I was seeking relief from very significant low back pain and I had a solid recommendation from Jayne Randall.”

Kate (Soon to be 3rd grader at Collegiate) and Charlie (Soon to be 5th grader at Collegiate) both took their first classes in 2014.  Kate and Charlie are incredibly active! Kate loves to draw, paint, and read. She also does gymnastics, swims, and spends a lot of time with friends. Charlie is the sports lover of the family – he participates in lacrosse, soccer, and wrestling.  He also enjoys fishing, kayaking and swimming.

Neither Kate nor Charlie makes it to yoga as often as their parents, but who knows, maybe one day they will be regulars too! Their parents’ both have inspiring stories about how yoga has changed their lives.

When Mark first came to yoga, he says, “It was brutal.  It reminded me a lot of how I felt after a wrestling practice but I could almost immediately tell it was exactly what my back and body needed.”

Julie had similar thoughts about Bikram Yoga when she first started.

“Not only was it more physically rigorous than I ever imagined, I had no idea about the benefits of calming your mind and the sense of peace you discover in the room.”

Mark and Julie believe that practicing yoga consistently for an extended period of time has most definitely changed their lives in a positive way.

Julie says, “ It’s hard for me to ‘focus on myself’ being a full-time working Mom with two young children.  In the yoga room, I truly do ‘focus on myself.’  Each time I go, I feel like I have given myself a gift – a gift of calm, quiet and serenity for 90 minutes.

Mark says, “I am no longer in constant pain.  I do not live on Advil and have not seen a neurologist or chiropractor in five years!  Without the pain, I think I am actually in a better mood most of the time, too.

In addition to feeling healthier and having enjoying a better state of mind, the Nanavatis believe coming to yoga with friends and family is “a wonderful way to share a healthy hobby.”

“It gives us a shared interest and something to talk about and look forward to together.”

When the family is in the room together, they give each other some space, but also share some positive energy.

“We prefer to practice on opposite sides of the room to give each other space, but we usually wink or smile several times during class.  When Kate comes, she practices next to us.  Sometimes we hold hands during savasna…..we are always so proud of her coming with us and it is basically 90 minutes of quiet family bonding.”

If you’ve ever thought about bringing a loved one to yoga, let the Nanavatis be your inspiration! You can’t be too pushy, but if you have a willing family member, bring them in! You may discover a mutual love for yoga  ☺


Yogi of the Month–Meet Autumn


“The little victories are addictive,” says Autumn Cypres, 49, who first came to Bikram Yoga Richmond in July 2014. “The first time you can grab your foot for Standing Head to Knee pose, the first time your right toe goes all the way around your left calf for Eagle pose.”

And then: “The first time you can do a backbend against the wall and touch the floor.”

(Editor’s note: None of the above victories should be considered “little.”)

“I was very intimidated my first two months,” says Autumn. “I am not an athlete. I am not thin, I am not coordinated, and I have horrible balance. I could not bear to look at myself in the mirror.”

And then there were the yogis in the back row practicing their advanced poses and preparing for competition.

“I felt like I did not deserve to be there,” Autumn says.

Then she made a discovery: “Even the most gifted students struggle. That was a huge surprise! And they are so humble and encouraging to me.”

The lesson: “It does not really matter what I look like in class. What matters is that I am trying. And for 90 minutes I don’t think about all the other very stressful things in my day.”
 Autumn is a professor of educational leadership at VCU and also chairs that department. “It’s like having a job and going to school—I always have homework.”

She will be leaving Richmond for a new position in New York City, as Research Professor at St. John’s University, where her job and homework will be about expanding research and  preparing school leaders.

Meantime, she says, “I am always thinking, worrying, or writing in my mind. Yoga has helped me to learn to relax, and turn my mind to something else, like locking my knee.”

A regular in the 5:30 a.m. classes, since January, Autumn’s also been working on Peacock pose. She became inspired after seeing it  demonstrated by a 70-year-old yogi in North Carolina.

 “He had on a denim work shirt and blue jeans. He was lecturing about stress reduction. When someone in the audience said they did not understand what he meant by Peacock, he just bent down, put his arms down and then levitated.”

That’s when she decided she wanted to master the pose.

“When I started,” she says, “I couldn’t do a pushup. I was not even able to lift my head. Now I can balance for about half a minute with my legs bent.  I am shocked my arms are so strong.”

“It’s challenging to tell a colleague or friend how profound a moment can really be when you overcome your own doubts and hold a pose for the entire duration of the dialog. It’s difficult to explain the joy of being able to lift your legs up one-quarter of an inch higher in locust. But it is a joy.”