Overcoming Life's Challenges With Yoga
Yoga is personal. It is about you, your mind, your body. I want to make this story personal too. It is about me, Amber Martinez, and how yoga shaped my life. It is about how yoga carried me through a challenged youth. How yoga gave me balance in my stressed out early 20’s living in San Diego and New York. How, upon being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition I was able to stave off conventional treatment and live fully through yoga. How I finally found my calling in becoming a yoga teacher and how yoga got me here, back to Sedona where I now live a life that I love.
Yoga Found Me When I Was 9 Years Old
I have been actively practicing yoga for 26 years (before that I was simply a child moving innately). When I was just a girl, around age nine, my stepmother introduced me to yoga. Back then we lived in an old 1912 craftsman home in a town neighboring Sedona. She had this tattered old book on Hatha Yoga we’d follow which was published somewhere in the 60’s. Inside were black and white photos of people demonstrating contortionist stretches that looked rather exotic. My stepmother lit the incense, put on an old record, and together we practiced. This was my first experience with yoga as a formula for wellness. I was enamored to say the least.
I had somewhat of a tough childhood. I came from a broken family riddled with addiction. Sometimes violence. We moved 19 times within a 12 year span. Almost always to strange small towns. I was perpetually the new the girl. I did not eat anything close to a healthy diet. I struggled with most of the things you would expect from a child with this lifestyle. Self image issues, depression, anxiety. I was even diagnosed with childhood anorexia. The list goes on. Throughout it all, yoga was my one constant. My companion whom I knew was just a thought away.
Yoga kept me alive. I can honestly say that without it, I would not be here today.
I Developed Hashimoto's Thyroiditis
I moved out to live on my own at the age of 17. I was always interested in the performing arts. Like many, I aspired to create success for myself in the world of music, acting and modeling. I still today aspire in the direction of all things creative. Yoga has always enhanced that for me, though it took me years to realize that yoga was not just a tool along the path, but the path itself.
As I grew into my early twenties I grew into my yoga practice too. I had moved to San Diego, Ca, trying my hand in the entertainment industry. I had started developing my portfolio as a young model and landed my first leading role in a small indie film. I was networking like crazy and trying to keep up with a busy, stressful schedule. All the while expenses were mounting and the city life was spreading me thin.
Around this time I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
My personal salvation to the city stress I was under came from several yoga studios that became like a second home to me. Initially, I had started dipping in to the occasional Yoga For Surfers class to perform better as a surfer. I absolutely loved this, and as a result found myself trying out various other studios in town which were specific to acro yoga. Until this point, yoga had always been something I did on my own, so discovering an entire community of people who shared this passion was a revelation.
Becoming Dismayed by Studio Yoga
This was the period of life in which I practiced what I refer to as "fast food yoga". This was Vinyasa and Ashtanga Flow. It was pretty. Each studio I visited was full of beautiful, fit people conducting a vigorous but rhythmic series of asanas. It was dance-like. It was alluring. It was also almost inaccessible except to those who already know their stuff.
I worked my way in. I practiced hard and found myself feeling accepted. That was the weird part though. Up until now, yoga had always been a deeply personal thing to me. Now it was a scene.
I leaned heavily into two studios in particular, … and … . I really fell in love with Acro-Yoga, a gorgeous amalgamation of yoga, acrobatics and Thai massage. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined the joy, depth of connection and deep healthy exercise one could achieve that I found in Acro-Yoga. And the real beauty, I learned, was that anyone could do it.
The problem was, however, that not everyone was really welcome in the studios. I remember the day I tried taking my boyfriend of the time to a studio class. He was older than me and not in great yogic condition as he spent a great deal of time sitting in a sound studio. It took a lot of convincing to get him to try a class. Throughout the entirety of his first yoga class the teacher focused on him to the point of bullying. She repeatedly put down his asana attempts, correcting him again and again. I could tell he was embarrassed. At the end of the class the teacher said he needed to come to a beginners class only next time. To my knowledge he has never attempted studio yoga again.
This energy of exclusivity was something I was deeply sensitive to. I became increasingly aware of a sort of non-union that made me feel uncomfortable in the studio setting. The very definition of yoga (or "yog") translates roughly to “Union,” so this all seemed rather counterintuitive. I felt over-inflated ego from students and teachers alike, and it felt wrong to me.
After being amongst the San Diego yoga community for nearly 5 years I now wished to stop. I had met some amazing people and had developed my practice, but I wanted something different. Something that felt more real. I found it in the most unlikely of places.
I Found A Yoga Teacher Who Changed My Life
Allow me to preface by saying, I love Indian Food! One fine day I went to pick up some of the best Indian food in town in an area of San Diego called Mira Mesa. Mira Mesa has a strong East Indian population leading to its endearing moniker, "Little India". It was there I noticed an unassuming sign attached to a simple office building that read, “Yoga and Meditation Center.”
Something within my body knew that I had found my place. This wasn’t anything like the fancy, glamorous studios of La Jolla that I had just severed ties with. This was just a simple building, with a simple message, and a profound teacher who was "fresh off the boat" Indian. In fact, as I discovered, the yogic community in it’s entirety was Indian. I would be the only non-Hindi speaking person in most every class I took there. It was AWESOME!
I had been on the fence about getting my yoga teacher certification for some time, but had felt wary from my experiences with past teachers who leaned heavily on ego based methods. I knew the instant I met Sashi that he was meant to be my teacher, and the one who would go on to certify me in the art of classical hatha. It was one of those beautiful, goose-bumpy moments in life when things just feel aligned.
My first day in class I realized this was a teaching style completely different from what one might expect from a standard western flow studio. This was not a "style" like Vinyasa or Ashtanga. It was in actuality a non-style which had no set flow, but rather, encouraged innovation and spontaneity through fundamental links unknown to the western world. It reminded me of what I'd practiced with my stepmother all those years ago. It felt real, raw, medicinal and scientific through natural observation.
I Learned How To Breath
The first thing I learned from Sashi was how to breathe. He opened every class with kapalabhati pranayama (breath work).Quick rapid exhalations coming from thoracic diaphragm. At first I wasn't sure what to make of these pranayama. Then I felt it. This incredible, purging and heating of the cells, followed by sense of peace and stillness.. I was utterly enthralled and quickly devoted.
The breath became our guide and our salvation. I was used to being reminded to follow my breath in past studio classes, but this was on a different level. Here, breathing was the primary focus, with the asanas merely falling in line as a vehicle for the breath. Yoga had never felt so good.
Sashi had this incredible gift of making the study of Yoga practical and accessible to everyone. The teachings were simple and down to earth. Amazingly enough, he didn’t care to use the Sanskrit names for asanas. He would often say the Sanskrit name and then quickly dismiss it by saying, “the name is not important, just the doing!”
Sashi had this magical way of captivating the minds and hearts of his students, with a warmth and peacefulness that sprung forth in spite of his culturally reserved disposition. Nothing was more soothing than being 4 hours deep into yogic practices, holding an asana with intensity, only to look up to find Sashi smiling away as he held the pose right along side us.
He taught deeply yet simply, and in a way that made sense. It wasn’t about the glamour for him. It was about the message of curative and preventative medicine. He wanted to teach people to heal themselves so they could be empowered, instead of reliant on others. His teachings were really about integrating yoga as a way of life to liberate the body from pain so spirit could live freely.
After several weeks of intensive practice I noticed my body's functions optimize in a way I'd never known. I began to believe what Sashi was telling me. l
That through yogic discipline, anything is possible.
I could honestly write a saga on my teacher and school alone. In short, I finished the school’s intensive learning program in 6 weeks, practicing about 6 hours a day. Upon completion, my partner Lance and I decided we had had enough of the city bustle and moved back to my childhood home of Sedona. It had been nearly 6 years since I'd left.
Sedona Healing - A Way To Reach People
Arriving back in Sedona there was a sense of relief, of cleansing and washing away. I had spent the last 6 years living in a fiercely material world. The stresses of the city life had taken me to the precipice of burnout and back again. Being amongst the glowing red rocks of Sedona warmed my spirit and harnessed a potential for an ever-expanding existence.
With my new yoga teacher's license I searched for gigs around town teaching studio/gym classes. We had arrived in the dead of winter however, which was historically a pretty sleepy time for Sedona. Making it very difficult to find work.
Initially I felt pretty discouraged. For I had never felt so much drive and purpose to do any one thing, and yet I had no available outlet. I kept up my practice at home, and after several weeks of intensive breath work, asana and meditation it came to me: I would simply open my own studio.
My partner was a bit skeptical by the prospect of opening a studio. With little cash, and the reality of having just started rooting ourselves in Sedona, it seemed an improbable dream to set up shop on the fly. I however, felt a determination and clarity that in hindsight must have been universe working its magic through me.
I looked for spaces and wrote up a business proposal for our future landlord. Once we settled on a space we quickly made it in to our very own yoga and meditation center. It was a dream come true. We named it Yoga For The People and made the entire studio donation based.
We had many wonderful times learning the ins and outs of running a business, trying, failing and trying again. The most valuable aspects to donation based studio were the connections we made. I could write a book on that experience alone as well.
I Saw the Power of Teaching Privately
During my time running a yoga studio I taught many classes big and small, and it was there I really realized how much I resonated working with students one on one. My private students really grasped the worth of the teachings and understood the value in what they were receiving. With close, attentive instruction specific to the individual my students, as well as myself, were able to evolve our practices at a rapid yet deeper pace.
With each new private client I witnessed first hand the incredible benefits of yoga. I worked with students recovering from diabetes, cancers and an array of autoimmune diseases and surgeries.
I realized that when practiced right yoga was indeed a therapy, an encompassing healing modality widely available to us all.
I Teach Yoga As A Way Of Life
Once I realized this true potential I made a pact with myself to integrate yoga into every aspect of my life. The breath as the foundational guide both on and off the mat. I build strength and find bliss while washing the dishes and folding laundry. Applying yogic methods to business to ensure alignment with the highest integrity.
My family and I continuously evolve through this practice and are enjoying a rich life in the face of constant worldly challenges. We have two young, inspiring children who help show us everyday how much yoga is needed. As well as how well it's working.
By honoring the yogic path I've attracted THE most outstanding students who are truly meant to find me. And of course, I am for them, as they are for me. I learn so much from each student, every class. It’s because of this exchange I get fueled up to continue teaching. Just as my intention with my clients is to fuel them up for more yogic integration. More appreciation for purity. More appreciation for life!
If you found me, then you are meant to be here.
Please join us for an exceptional experience of life and yoga. Feel the power of the Prana, the breath of life, moving through you and invigorating your cells from the inside out. Come and play, experiment and evolve. I look forward to meeting you wherever you are on your journey.
"I can’t say enough about how deeply impactful Amber’s yoga instruction has been in my life."
This experience formed the foundation for 6 years of intuitive practice, I am still incorporating her teachings and breathing techniques almost every day. Her beauty and brilliance really shines through her teaching style."
"One of the absolute best, most transformative yoga experiences I've had was in a private session with Amber."
With the right instructor, yoga has the potential to be a wholesome awakening for your entire being. The experience is deep and powerful and I truly wish I lived closer and was able to work with her on a regular basis, because I have searched endlessly to find an instructor with the ability to vibrate the same impact, and am still searching. Amber is truly, truly amazing.”
"I Can't Say Enough Good Things About Amber"
You will not find “drive-through” yoga from her, but what you will find is a true master of her craft. And, if you’re fortunate enough to take a series of sessions with her, you’ll walk away with knowing the importance of your breath, balance, stability, strength and how important it is to smile.