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 24 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 strange and exotic. My stepmother lit the incense, put on an old record, and we practiced. This was my first experience with yoga. I was immediately enamored.
I had a rather 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 had 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.
Life, as it seems, likes balance. 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. As a result I found myself trying out various other studios in town. 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.
I Became Jaded with Studio Yoga
This was the period of life in which I practiced what I refer to as Glamour 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 on 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 yoga shape. It took a lot of convincing from me 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 she said he needed to come to a special yoga for beginners class only. To my knowledge he has never tried 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 translates roughly to “Union,” so this all seemed rather counterintuitive. I felt over-inflated ego, lots of it, and from all angles. I didn’t like it.
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
I love Indian Food. One fine day I went to pick me up some of the best Indian food there is at a restaurant in a neighborhood 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 a rather unassuming little sign attached to an unassuming building that read simply, “Yoga and Meditation Center.”
I knew in my body right there and then 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 ALL Indian. In fact, as I discovered, the community in it’s entirety was Indian. I would be the only non-Hindi speaking girl in most every class I took there. I loved it.
I had been on the fence about getting my teacher certification. I felt jaded from my experience with past teachers who leaned heavily on their ego. I knew the instant I met Sashi that he was my teacher. It was one of those beautiful moments in life when things simply feel aligned. I immediately signed up for my 200 hrs.
My first day in class I realized this was a style of yoga completely different from what I was used to. This was not Vinyasa or Ashtanga, it had no set flow. It reminded me of what I did with my stepmother, all those years ago, practicing from our old book on Hatha.
I Learned How To Breath
The first thing I learned from Sashi was how to breathe. He opened every class with heavy pranayama breath work. Quick rapid exhalations from deep in the gut. At first I thought this was strange. Then I felt it. This incredible, sense of peace and stillness that came from deep, intensive breath work. I was hooked.
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, he didn’t even care to use the Sanskrit names for asanas. He would sometimes say the Sanskrit name and then curtly dismiss it saying, “the name is not important, just the doing!”
He had a way of talking to people that I’ll always appreciate - with a big giant smile. There was a warmth and peacefulness that radiated out of him in spite of his sometimes curt Indian manner. Nothing was more soothing than being 4 hours deep into day of yoga practice, exhausted, holding an asana and looking up to see Sashi smiling away as he held the pose right along side us.
He taught simply, in a way that made sense. It wasn’t about the glamour for him. It was about the message of health and well-being. He wanted to teach people to heal themselves. He sincerely believed that one could heal any ailment through yoga. His teachings were about integrating yoga as a way of life to liberate the body from pain so spirit could live freely.
After several weeks of practice, I noticed my thyroid was functioning at its most balanced level in recent memory. I could feel no goiter in my throat and my energy, moods and appetite were returning normal levels. I began to believe what Sashi was telling me. With yoga, anything was possible.
I could write a book just on my teacher and school alone. I finished the school’s intensive learning program in 6 weeks, practicing about 6 hours a day. Upon completion, my partner 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 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 edge of burnout and back again. Seeing the glowing red rocks of Sedona warmed my soul and lifted my spirits. I immediately felt like I was home again.
With my newly printed yoga instructors license I searched for gigs teaching studio classes. We had arrived in the dead of winter, however, a very sleepy time for Sedona, and no one in town was hiring.
I initially felt discouraged. 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 skeptical. We had jumped states on little cash, and had only just begun to ground ourselves in Sedona. We had no funding for a business startup. I however, felt a determined sense of clarity.
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. 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 and I, together, were able to grow and develop at a much faster rate.
With each new private client I witnessed first hand the incredible benefits of yoga. I worked with students trying to recover from Diabetes. I practiced with clients recovering from major surgeries, including Lung surgery, and saw powerful growth and progress.
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 guides me both on the mat and off. I build strength and find bliss while washing the dishes and folding laundry. I apply yoga to my business, always aligning myself with the highest integrity.
My partner and I have evolved so much through this practice and are enjoying a rich life in the face of constant challenges. We have two young, inspiring children who help show us everyday how much yoga is needed.
By honoring my path I attract exactly the perfect clients who are meant to find me. I teach what I find to be the best clients there are. Truly. And of course, I am for them, as they are for me. I learn so much from every 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 yoga. More appreciation for purity. More life!
If you found me, then I feel you are meant to be here.
So come join me for an exceptional experience with 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 on the journey.