Student Feature: Mary Roberts

misc 019Mary Gentry Roberts was born a Midwesterner—in Rockford, Ill., just west of Chicago—but she’s also a bit of a California girl, having lived for a while in Huntington Beach when she was growing up. And throughout her life she’s been a world traveler, both for adventure and for her job with the YMCA.
“This organization is in 119 countries all doing work to best serve their communities,” says Mary, who majored in international business and Spanish at Illinois State University and spent her last year of college in Salamanca, Spain.
During the past 23 years, Mary’s job at the Y has taken her to St. Louis, Ann Arbor, Mich., Clearwater, Fla., and now Richmond, where she is group vice president. Overseas she has worked in London, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
One of their proudest accomplishments was the year Mary and her husband, Mike, took off to work as volunteers for the YMCA in Zimbabwe.
“We sold our home in Michigan, got rid of all our all belongings and raised enough money to support ourselves,” says Mary. “Our role was to teach the staff and volunteers how to be more self-sustainable. We taught them a lot, but that country and those people taught us so much more.”
Much of Mary and Mike’s work in Zimbabwe involved homeless children. “These kids live on the streets or in shelters and have been orphaned, usually because of parents with AIDS and HIV,” Mary says.
Many of these children simply spend their days begging for money. “Instead,” Mary says, “we would give them fruit, cookies or crackers. When they saw our blue truck coming down the road they would run after it. Working at the shelters, we played games and sports, sang songs and helped to teach them to read.”
Back at home and outside of work, Mary has always been a fitness buff. “I ran cross country in high school and then started running marathons. Once I moved to Florida, where there is such a big triathlon community, I got hooked on those,” she says.
Also in Florida, she discovered yoga. “It helped in strength and focus,” she says. But it wasn’t until she got to Richmond—“no bike lanes and cold winter days”—that her yoga practice overtook her triathlon training.
“Bikram Yoga Richmond was the first thing I looked for when I found out I was moving,” Mary says. “My second day in town I showed up at the West End studio and had my first class with Pam. I still do a triathlon once or twice a year,” she says, “but the long-distance ones are probably behind me.”
The youngest of five children, Mary is close with her family. “My parents would  say they had two families—my three sisters and then 17 years later, my brother and me,” Mary says. “My dad called me his caboose.” Her parents had been married for 67 years when her father passed away last year. “Even though he had an amazing life, it was ever so hard to lose him,” Mary says. A year later came another blow with the sudden death of her older brother from a heart attack. “I still can not believe he will not grow old with me,” Mary says.
“My mom still has the house I grew up in,” Mary says, “but after my dad passed away she went to stay with my sister in Atlanta and liked it so much she hasn’t left.” Mary’s two other sisters live Houston and Ann Arbor.
“I just love to spend time with my family, even though we have our differences,” Mary says. “Mike and I love traveling just the two of us but we also travel with my sister and brother-in-law my adorable nephew, who is the light of my life.”
“And now,” she adds, “every time I travel I go to a Bikram class if there is a studio.”




April Penland Wins 2nd Place at Nationals: RTD Article

Our beloved student, April Penland, takes second place at Nationals.  Check out the article in the Richmond Times Dispatch Sunday paper!

BYR Wins BEST Yoga Studio

Check out BYR wins second place as Richmond’s BEST Yoga studio.  That is right, we’ve been holding down the hot yoga scene in RVA for 14 years!!!  We love our students!!!  Thank you for voting for us each year!

Yogi Feature–Meet Rob and Carrie!!!

Rob&CarrieFather-Daughter duo, Carrie and Rob are 2 of our regular yoga practitioners who have been coming to BYR for 7 years!

Rob Estes was born in Richmond, VA, went to George Wythe High school and then William and Mary College. He is now CEO of Estes Express (we know you’ve all seen those yellow trucks on the highways).

Carrie Johnstone was born in Charlotte, NC, went to college at UNC Chapel Hill, and then moved back to Richmond to be with family. Carrie is a certified accountant who now stays home with her 3 children (ages 7, 5, and 2).

In addition to yoga, the two stay very active outside the hot room. Rob has been playing softball for a long time, and continues to play on a league today. In fact, a chronic hamstring injury was one of the motivators that brought Rob to yoga. That, and of course, Carrie ☺ Carrie loves to exercise, but admits that she wasn’t hooked on Bikram Yoga immediately.

“I took my first class in December 2007, but I wasn’t hooked. Then I came back in June 2008 and haven’t stopped since then!”

Rob says he came in “after being challenged by Carrie.” 8 softball seasons later, Rob says he hasn’t had a hamstring injury since beginning his practice! Overall, both say that they definitely feel healthier now that they practice Bikram Yoga.

Rob says, “I feel more relaxed , healthier, and my blood work proves it.”

Carrie also states that, “BYR has changed my life by being a constant in my life besides my family and friends over the past 7 years where life has had many ups and downs. I need the weekly check in where my body gets a full diagnostic scan and I have to stare at myself in the mirror for one and a half hours.  Nowhere to run! I feel strong and capable and at peace with myself every time I leave the yoga room.”

Carrie even shared with us that she has a dream of going to Teacher Training someday!

When we asked about Rob and Carrie’s goals for the New Year, Rob told us about their common goals for last year.  He said,

“You will need to get Carrie’s approval for this one:  She and I had related New Year’s resolution this past year. Hers was to be fit enough to be able to wear a sports bra in [yoga] practice. Mine was to be fit enough to look like I didn’t need to wear one.”  (We did check in with Carrie before putting this in the story!)

We are happy to report that both Carrie and Rob achieved their resolutions!

One last thing we asked Carrie and Rob to share with us were their favorite quotes.

Carrie’s is, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” , and Rob’s is, “Best is the enemy of better”.  In other words if you hold out for best you will never get better. True yogi thinking!

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.”