Monday, March 5, 2012

Inspiring Yogi-Jennifer Martinez Atzberger


Interview with Jennifer Martinez Atzberger, Founder of Urban Lotus Youth Yoga

RYJ: What made you interested in yoga?

Jennifer: I started practicing yoga for stress relief.  I was in a very high stress job and I had just had my first child, my daughter.  Honestly, I used to drink wine after work to relax, but with a baby that wasn’t really practical anymore.  I went with a friend and thought we were going to be doing some gentle stretches. I strolled into a hot powerful flow class.  I was not in great shape at that point and it was incredibly hard! By the end, I was a puddle of sweat on the floor. As I lay there the teacher read this passage, I don’t remember the whole thing, but the last line was, “You are not broken; you do not need to be fixed.”  I loved that, and just knew somehow that I had been meant to come that night and hear it.  After that I was hooked. 
RYJ: Do you have any special stories about yoga or anyone you’ve worked with?

Jennifer: I have so many.  Every time I walk into a yoga experience I am amazed by how much it has to offer. What I was not expecting was how many positive people it would bring into my life.  I went to teacher training thinking it might help to improve my practice and give me the skills to teach kids.  I left having created a bond with people that changed my life.  I met some really amazing and talented people that are now my dearest friends, and some of the people that I admire most in this world.

RYJ: Do you have a style of yoga you feel drawn to? 

Jennifer: I started out doing vinyasa “flow” yoga, which is really just a hybrid of many different hatha yoga traditions, but I enjoyed the focus on connecting the breath to the movement.  I really find that every style has something to offer.  I enjoy the challenge of Ashtanga, but I also appreciate the spirituality of and compassion of the Jivamukti tradition. Right now I am enjoying slowing things down.  I tend to go to more “Slow Flow” practices so that I can move more mindfully and breathe deeper.  Philosophically, my teacher came from the Tantric tradition.  He really spoke to me in terms of the divine being inside all of us, and the concept of “household yoga” being the next wave.  I see yoga as something that is for everyone, regardless of sex, race, or religion.

RYJ: A lot of people will say, "Yoga changed my life." Do you feel with that way? Why or why not?

Jennifer: I do feel that yoga changed my life. Not to be a cliché, but it really did.  It didn’t change who I am as a person, but it has really opened me up to the voice inside.  It also led me to interact with certain people I would not have normally encountered.  Those relationships have changed my life as well.

RYJ: Do you think yoga benefits people with mental and physical handicaps? Why or why not?

Jennifer: For a person struggling with mental health or physical challenges it can be a means to finding some self love. Yoga can be so healing and therapeutic.  In the end, it does not matter how many tricks you can do with your body, it is what you learn about breathing deeply and letting go of expectations that leads to a happy life.  Learning to be ok with who you are is one of the greatest gifts of yoga. 

RYJ: What are the advantages of practicing yoga?

Jennifer: Yoga can create physical health, mental clarity, and relaxation.  It also allows you to spend time with people who are trying to follow a path of kindness and compassion in this world. My teacher often quoted his teacher as saying, “You are the company you keep, so keep good company.”

RYJ: What are the disadvantages of practicing yoga?

Jennifer: Yoga can open you up and expose you to some things you may have been repressing.  Breaking through layers of denial has its downside.  It challenges your assumptions and pushes you out of your comfort zone. 

And yoga is also expensive.  Yes, you can practice on your own, but first you need to learn from others for many years.  This is one of the reasons I was inspired to start a non-profit organization that brings free yoga to children in the inner-city.  It is just not available to them right now, and it should be.  I started by teaching to the girls in our local detention center because I had worked with them as an attorney and I knew they could benefit from yoga.  After class they would ask me how they could find yoga when they got out.  I didn’t have any good answers. I knew it would be hard for them to find in their neighborhoods, and even if they could find a studio, it would be too expensive for them to go regularly. That’s when I decided to bring it to them in their schools, and through community organizations for free.  

RYJ: What is your favorite thing about being a yoga teacher?

Jennifer: I love teaching because it takes you out of your own head for a while and asks you to be totally selfless.  You can’t teach class thinking about what you want.  Ideally, you are all eyes on your students, trying to feel what they need and make sure they are moving in a way that is safe, and hopefully really feels good for them. It is also creative in a way.  You get to choose the sequence of poses almost like a dance.  Some days you have it all planned out, others you can be very improvisational. The best part though, is that you get to make people feel good. When I walk into a class at the detention center, often the girls look so stressed out and angry or sad.  To see them start to smile and have some fun, and maybe by the end look a little relaxed and happy, that is an amazing thing to have accomplished.

If your students could walk away with one message from you that is close to your heart, what would it be? 

You are not a bad person because of your imperfections.  In fact, it is those very imperfections that make this life interesting, and add to this amazing cloth of life we are all woven into together.

Or, I guess, “you are not broken; you do not need to be fixed.”

Jennifer’s style of yoga is Vinyasa yoga, meaning flowing movement from one asana to the next, with the breath always leading the way. She is inspired by the Tantric philosophy that embraces and celebrates our differences while recognizing that we are all inter-connected by a higher divine existence. She believes that yoga is for everyone and that the more people that practice yoga the better world we all will share.  To that end, she teaches in local Cleveland studios as well as teaching free yoga classes to children in detention centers and schools where she is both humbled and inspired by her students.  She believes that yoga not only heals our bodies, but helps us to open our hearts and gives us the strength to live a more meaningful life.

She is also an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland where she works on behalf of children and families. She founded Urban Lotus Youth Yoga, a non-profit organization that provides free yoga classes to inner-city youth,  

Jennifer received her 200 teacher hour certification through Yoga Alliance in May of 2010, studying with Mitchel Bleier and Tammy Lyons at Inner Bliss yoga studio, in Rocky River, Ohio. Her other greatest teachers are her husband and children who support and motivate her to be a better person every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment