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.”