THE BACK STORY
When I talked to Amarylis, she automatically put me at ease. She has a soul that is brimming with love and acceptance. I felt comfortable and really listened to. I listened as she told me her story, her hopes, and her attempt at balance in life. When I walked away, I knew I’d met someone that influences people in a gentle prodding way, a spiritual guiding way even. It was love, all love, that she shared with me and her class of beautiful pregnant yoga mamas.
This was the first time I had met with Amarylis.
One day my husband came home from work saying one of his running buddies has a wife that teaches yoga as well as being a mom to a 2-year-old. Having recently gotten into yoga, I immediately asked him to contact his friend and hook me up with her info. When I emailed Amarylis, she agreed to my interview and photo shoot and I couldn’t have been more grateful.
Yoga to me is kind hearts, self love, patience, and spreading peace. Amarylis and her yoga practice embody that fully. Amarylis is joining my community of Dynamos. Dynamo is a series dedicated to showing real people, real power-houses, who inspire me and people around them in their healthy living. You might not always think you do, but I believe that we all influence others more than we realize or recognize. That inspiration is empowering for others and ourselves. I believe in the good of every person and I believe that these stories can change our outlook, our dedication, and our perception of the people around us. Up next in the Dynamo community, I introduce Dynamo: Amarylis.
If you had to describe yourself in 7 words, what would they be?
Playful, stubborn, nap-lover, spiritual, dancer, list-maker, dreamer
How do you feel that yoga has given you strength?
Yoga has primarily given me mental/spiritual strength. It has facilitated a process of diving deeper into who I am. In this journey, as I start to expand my awareness, some darker things have come up. These things are typically ignored, denied, or suppressed. But shedding light on them helps shift, lighten, and change them into something better or brighter. At the very least it gives me the OPPORTUNITY to shift them. If I stayed blind to them they’d still be in my subconscious, influencing my life in negative ways without my knowledge. I want to be able to take full responsibility for my actions and my life. It’s a process and it may be a very long one. Yoga has given me the strength to look at the truth of things, even if they are uncomfortable or inconvenient.
What is it about yoga that gives you the most peace?
It brings my wandering, anxious mind into the present moment so that I’m not just running through my life and missing everything in a hasty blur. It slows me down. It allows me time to stop focusing so much on the external. The internal shift helps guide me toward more thoughtful, authentic decisions about my life and my parenting. Even one posture, one moment, helps me savor the amazing things and people in my life.
If you could share three things that practicing yoga has taught you, what would they be?
- Things cannot be forced no matter how much I might wish.
- The practice on the mat suddenly spills over into everyday living.
- Even 5 minutes can be an exceptional yoga practice when done with full presence of mind, body, and soul.
What routines help you you navigate transitions (moving, job changes, children, health, etc)?
Transitions are tough and I can certainly struggle with them if I don’t focus on the things that help center and ground me. Down time is absolutely essential. Instead of doing more, I do less. I take a step back so I can reflect upon and process the changes. Nightly, before I go to bed, I do a short, gentle yoga practice including breath work and recite a mantra on my mala beads. In the car, I listen to kirtan (devotional chanting) and sing along. It’s fantastic because it’s breath work and prayer all rolled into one! Sometimes, my daughter will even request to listen to it. The breath work (pranayama) is important because as the breath slows and calms, the mind calms as well, whether it’s done singing along with kirtan, doing yoga, or through meditation. Last, but not least, I connect with good friends. Enough cannot be said about the importance of connecting with others. I truly value my friends (husband included). They help me stay sane, centered, and a lot less serious!!
Can you tell us about your eating habits?
I’d say I’m a well-rounded eater. I focus on healthy, whole foods that are unrefined, seasonal, and organic. However, I’m not a fan of extreme diets and mentalities which say “never” to any foods. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but will occasionally cook it or gratefully accept another’s home-cooked dinner which includes meat. I don’t believe a lot of refined grains are healthy, but I’d never cut grains out of my diet. Instead I eat a variety of grains such as quinoa, spelt, amaranth, millet and wheat. I love beer! I love coffee! I love sweet treats! I love cheese! But all of these are on occasion. That’s the key – moderation (well maybe not the cheese). For me, it’s not about restricting and saying “never” to these foods. It’s about occasionally saying yes and truly enjoying them without guilt. I feel that having a broad and balanced approach to what I eat facilitates better emotional, mental, AND physical health. I want to LIVE and that means enjoying all these delicious things that life offers. This is especially true when I travel abroad. I want to be able to experience the local cuisine and literally get a taste of the country. And even though I feel home-cooked meals are best, I will totally open up a can of soup for dinner on “those kinds” of days. Also, right now I’m beginning to explore Ayurvedic cooking and hope to add this ancient wisdom to our kitchen.
You are a certified yogi, how long have you been practicing? Did anyone inspire you to start practicing?
I’ve been practicing yoga for more than a decade. I’d dabbled with it prior to this since I was a dancer and interested in spiritual paths, but it was on my own through books. However, it wasn’t until I was enduring a really tough time about ten years ago that I found a yoga teacher where I lived in South Carolina. The class was tiny, but the teacher was a goddess! I don’t think she even knows what an impact she made on me. Those weekly classes became my salvation and helped see me through a very rough patch in my life. I’ve been with it ever since. I’ve studied Iyengar, anusara, and vinyasa, as well as done a variety of workshops and retreats along the way. I received my 200 hour training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and I recently received pre/postnatal teacher certification from the Bhaktishop Yoga Center.
What propelled you to become a prenatal yoga teacher?
During my pregnancy I drove 40 minutes to my weekly prenatal yoga class (taught by Shana Celnicker-Chong).I went out of my way for this one particular class because of the sense of community I felt there. It was a huge class where the women talked about all sorts of joys and fears. Friendships and connections were made during those classes that have stayed for many years. I didn’t realize it at the time, but starting to form my “mama tribe” was REALLY important as I began my journey into motherhood. This yoga class was one of the key places I started to form this tribe. I haven’t seen any mother who hasn’t needed the company of other mothers after the birth of her baby. And this is the main reason I decided to become a prenatal yoga instructor. Of course, yoga is physically and mentally great for mom and baby, but it’s the connections that are made that are truly a gift. I wanted to provide a space where moms could openly share with one another and perhaps continue that support beyond their pregnancy. Pregnancy and postpartum is such a unique, wild, and tumultuous time in a woman’s life. These women need other women experiencing the same and prenatal yoga classes are a great way to connect.
What is the most rewarding thing about your current job?
I currently teach prenatal yoga, but I’ll be teaching mom & baby classes, as well as leading Mother Nurture Nights soon. It’s truly rewarding to know that the classes help positively shape and transform their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum and perhaps the baby’s as well. This has power far beyond the few months women experience pregnancy and postpartum. Positive experiences during this time can have lasting effects for YEARS. And now, more than ever, women need these positive experiences as they embark on the long-haul path of motherhood. It’s not just about the individual- it’s about shaping healthy, happy families, mothers, and entire communities. I feel blessed and honored to be a tiny contribution to this.
Why do you think it’s important to do yoga during pregnancy? What benefit does it give to expectant moms?
There are so many benefits! Women cultivate a bond with other mothers going through the same experience, they strengthen and increase flexibility of the muscles used during childbirth, increase stamina, improve digestion and elimination, fight depression, reduce inflammation and swelling, improve sleep, decrease back pain and sciatica, alleviate headaches and shortness of breath, and they are less likely to have low birth weight babies or pregnancy-related diabetes and high blood pressure. And more!
But, most of all, I feel this quote from Rachel Yellin, a teacher in San Francisco, truly sums up the biggest benefit to expecting moms; “Doing prenatal yoga doesn’t mean you’ll have the ‘perfect’ birth; it means you’ll be able to accept the perfection of the birth you’re given, regardless of whether it goes according to your plan.”
How did yoga help you in the preparation, delivery, and recovery from the birth of your own child?
My prenatal yoga teacher had frequently said “You can do anything for one minute” as we were all doing some challenging, thigh-strengthening postures that truly forced us to dive into the uncomfortable sensation and focus on the breath (or counting or whatever else we needed) to get through the intensity. These were great practice for mentally focusing during contractions and not running away from the pain. I repeated “you can do anything for one minute” as a mantra in my mind during labor. Recovery from birth was the toughest for me. I did a little bit of yoga (meaning one or two postures or breath work) each day to help energize my tired body and sluggish mind, and to counteract the perpetual shoulder hunch new moms have. The biggest impact yoga had during this time though wasn’t physical, it was mental. I had to use a lot of what I’d learned about letting go in this postpartum time. My new life was challenging to accept and yogic philosophy slowly but surely helped this transition.
What do you hope that women come away from your class feeling and learning?
I hope they come away from any of my classes feeling empowered. I want them to feel and know that they CAN do this (whatever “this” may be for them). They can give birth how they choose, they can still be a good mom regardless of work choices, they can adjust to the myriad changes, they can endure the sleep deprivation, they can ask for help, they can move through the labor pains, they can love their big, full bellies, they CAN do whatever they choose. They are mothers and they are strong and powerful. To be honest, I love to feel the energetic shift as they leave class compared to the way the group felt when they entered the room. It’s magical.
If you had the chance to share one truth with someone, what would it be?
We’re all struggling or have struggled in some way or another, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Be compassionate. Don’t compare your path with another’s. You may not know everything they’ve been through or going through. Don’t assume someone has it “so good” or a “perfect life”. You don’t know. Be compassionate.
Do you have a mantra or quote that has helped you in your yoga practice?
Yes!!! At night and throughout the day (when I remember) I chant “Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram”. It’s a mantra for spiritual liberation. Here’s another one I try to repeat to myself frequently: “Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.” Our minds can play some big tricks on us and we end up believing things we tell ourselves that wreak havoc in our lives. I have to remember to question what is true.
What would you say to someone considering beginning yoga?
Short and simple: start. No matter the reason. You’ll benefit in so many unexpected ways. Start.