Today we hear from Julie Gondzar, all the way from Wyoming! Another yogini and dog lover, Julie has discovered the magic of yoga unfolding into her life and is currently training to teach so she can share that magic with others. I love how Julie articulates the effect Yoga has had on her life. This is a good one. Enjoy!
1. Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Julie Gondzar and I am… This first question interestingly highlights something I’m passionate about, and that is not feeling restricted by who we think we are. I believe there can be various different endings to the sentence “I am”. My story begins in New England and my home state of Massachusetts. I went to school and achieved two degrees in Atmospheric Science/Meteorology. Since then, I have worked in the field of meteorology and science. A few years ago, I moved out west for my first job, and ended up meeting my husband. We are now married with two sweet and beautiful dog-children! It took me a while to stir up the courage to go to a yoga class, but I finally did in 2013. I’ve been practicing and loving my newly planted yogic roots ever since then. It’s truly changed my life. I’m currently now involved in a teacher training program in Laramie, Wyoming. My desire is to transition my career toward one that involves yoga and helping others find a source of inner power to bring to the outer world.
I’m a yogi and lover of nature, a writer, a dancer and a nurturer. My life currently resides in beautiful southeast Wyoming, living toward truth and happiness and striving to find a constant stream of peace and wellness.
2. Everyone who has ended up on a yoga mat raising their arms in their first sun salutation has a story of what led them there. What’s yours?
I had always admired yoga from a distance, with the fear and hesitation that I would not be good at it. I always saw such exotic photos of yoga poses in books and magazines and it really intimidated me. It was hard to imagine my body ever being able to conform itself to the extreme measures I was seeing. I created all these unrealistic expectations about yoga…then a friend helped stir my courage to attend a class with her. A few hours before the class started I actually called the studio to ask if I had to be flexible to be able to attend. I laugh now, knowing that flexibility is only a side-effect of yoga and not a pre-requisite! It’s amazing looking back and seeing my transition from a very scared person to someone who wants to share yoga with the world and teach it to everyone!
3. What keeps you returning to your mat?
I honestly feel like I could not live without yoga. The inner power and strength I have found on the mat keeps me going back. My body keeps me going back. My yoga mat truly is a sacred place. I’ve had a lot of realizations on the mat. I’ve cried, laughed, and surprised myself even!
It’s where I’ve taught myself to love my ugly toes, respect my shoulders and embrace tummy rolls! I’ve become very sensitive to how I feel, physically. My emotions and stress level plays a huge part in how I feel physically, and if I’m achy or stiff I go directly to my mat. I’ve learned over time how to use my mat and practice yoga in a way that nurtures whatever I may need that particular day. Yoga can heal, bring peace and create strength…all at the same time, and that always brings me back to my mat.
4. How has your yoga practice filtered through to your everyday life?
This is another subject I truly believe in and have proof of! Yoga hasn’t so much altered how I live my life, but more-so how I look outward onto life and onto myself. I’ve learned to slow down, listen and be more aware of feelings and surroundings. I think this particular topic is the main reason I want to be a yoga teacher. I want to show people how to integrate yoga into every part of life, because it can be done and it will create happiness, ease and peace. Having a sense of inner peace can significantly improve the way we handle stress and challenges. When I say that yoga has changed the way I look at life, I mean that life and all its situations and experiences are reflected back differently now. My view on what’s truly important has changed. My interpretation of what makes me happy has changed…all because yoga has taught me to listen and feel, from the authentic self. My image of self is filled with more acceptance and love, rather than objection. These every day changes originating from yoga have molded a happier life.
5. What is your favorite yoga pose, breathing practice or mantra?
I’ve always had just one favorite yoga pose, although I imagine it could change as I change over time. Right now, my favorite pose is Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana). When I first started practicing yoga, backbends were a completely new experience to me. Wheel pose was completely impossible for me to get into in the early stages of my practice. Instead, I started practicing simple backbends, like cobra, upward facing dog or just a standing backbend. Over time, I gained the strength and courage to push up into a not-very-rounded or aligned Wheel Pose. But hey, I did it! Maybe it’s because I’ve sat at a desk studying or working for the past 12 years, but my first wheel felt very similar to what it would probably feel like escaping a small cage after 28 years. Freedom, expansion, growth…joy. My whole body changed during that moment. I felt stagnant energy move for the first time. I smiled a big, goofy smile…and I still do each and every time I do wheel pose. It’s my glory.
6. What advice do you have for those just starting out on their yoga journey?
My greatest advice for beginner yogi’s would be to not get stuck on how you look or how you “are supposed” to breathe. The focus on breath and progress through the poses comes with time, and cannot be rushed no matter how bad you may want it. In the beginning stages, focus on finding balance in your body. What’s tight? What’s uncomfortable? What feels good? Learn your body, let the mind wander and be patient. Those are the things I learned (but was certainly not perfect at) in the beginning.
7. How has your yoga practice evolved over time?
I’ve come to focus more on breath, and really work on integrating it into my practice and asana movements. There is amazing power in our inhales and exhales, and I’ve learned how to use their power over time, just practicing and following teacher’s cues. You can really use both to your advantage. Sometimes they help open the body to create strength, and sometimes they help close the body to creating safety and comfort.
8. What are you loving right now?
I am loving my yoga props. I never really used them much, and never really thought I needed them. But it’s so not about that! Props can be used to increase flexibility, openness and comfort. I’m learning how to use blocks and bolsters in particular ways to benefit my body.
9. How do you nurture yourself?
Although I am a scientist my education, I am an artist by nature. Art and writing (and just listening to music) is how I nurture myself. I also constantly make sure to practice my hobbies in between my job. I love fly fishing and have recently gotten into archery. Spending time with my dogs is another way I take care of myself. It’s amazing how just watching them, playing with them or sleeping next to them can be healing.
10. What wisdom has your yoga practice revealed to you that you’d like to share with us?
Here is the wisdom I have learned since the start of my yoga practice: You are capable of anything, and with persistence and patience, you will be almost always be surprised as to what’s revealed.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us Julie!
Julie Gondzar is the creator and writer of Mats Down, a blog dedicated to yoga, natural wellness and discovering acceptance on the mat. Her goal is to reach aspiring yogi’s and teach the foundations of yoga movement for a fun, safe and sustainable practice. She believes yoga is a transformative practice that can be applied to all parts of life, leading us down a path toward natural healing and authentic joy. Julie lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming with her husband and two yellow labs.