AMANDA RAMIREZ| AN IWR INTERVIEW
Hello Wellness Warriors! Amanda here. If you don't know me, allow me to introduce myself... I am a Leo, so I am very passionate. I live big and love hard. In my spare time I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Yoga Instructor, and co-founder of Integrative Wellness Retreat (IWR). December 2014 will mark the 1 year anniversary for IWR. What a trip. Jenn and I co-founded IWR mainly because we wanted to get paid to teach yoga and drink wine on the Amalfi Coast. We envisioned ourselves sharing this experience with a small, yet soulful, group of people who were into wellness, good food, and meaningful connections. We haven't made it to Italy yet, but we have created a seasonal Ayurveda, Alignment, and Yoga retreat offering that we launched in Malibu, California this past fall, and we're excited to head down south with it to Tulum, Mexico this February. For both of these experiences we collaborated with the most divine plant-based chef , Claire Ragozzino of Vidya. I, initially, met Jenn at the yoga studio and connected with Claire because I stalked her blog, thought she was amazing, and reached out. Both of these brilliant ladies came into my life when I was doing what I love and they were welcoming of me for no other reason than we shared similar passions for mindful movement and spirited adventures. Last week, I caught up with Claire for her IWR interview and at the end she turned it around and asked me a few questions. Jenn was curious, so she threw in a few questions of her own. While I am I here, I also decided to answer some of the questions I most frequently get asked from family , friends, and patients...ENJOY!
- No. 1| 2015 is on the horizon, where are you looking to make deep, meaningful shifts in your life...business, personal, and otherwise?
AR: For me, 2014 was focused on elevating my own personal wellness. I've spent years building my holistic health knowledge and last January I made it a priority to integrate more of that wisdom into my day-to-day life. I spent the first 3 months of 2014 working one-on-one with an Ayurvedic health coach. She helped me figure out ways I could stress less, yet still be productive. She held me accountable to eating well and encouraged me to go on more walks rather than doing intense workouts (which ultimately was just feeding into the intensity of my life). She also made me realize how much room for improvement there was within my own self-care regime. I am so grateful that I spent 2014 indulging in baths, meditating more, getting better sleep, and saying no to all the obligations that cramped my heart's desire. More than ever, I feel really connected to my own purpose of guiding myself and others towards vibrant states of health. In 2015, I am journeying down to Tulum, Mexico to lead a group of yogis through a wellness experience of a lifetime. Jenn and Claire have been my soul sisters in business this past year and together we've been thoughtfully planning IWR's winter renewal retreat coming up in February. We'll be there during a full moon in Leo, so I am sure we'll come back with lots of soul filled stories. I've been seriously day dreaming of all the spirited adventures we'll have! Afterwards, I'll be back home in California dedicating more time to re-branding my personal business. I'll be launching a new website/blog and I am re-packaging my physical therapy and yoga services into offerings that are geared towards those who are really serious about taking their well-being to the next level. I'm currently most interested in working with those who want to make those changes using an integrative medicine model. I want to use my expertise to help people who have a mind-body mindset explore how it's all connected. I am also collaborating with a few people on some other side projects and as far as releasing them, 2015 just so happens to be when the time is right. It also seems that in 2015 I need to hire a business coach to help me manage all these ideas! The most meaningful shift I am looking to make in 2015 is to be more efficient with my time. I want to use my expertise to make a bigger impact without that "I am running myself down into the ground" feeling. The goal is to be wildly productive, but also let my life flow with a bit more ease. I am looking forward to adopting my new mantra "hustle less and let more happen". I put up this breathtaking picture of Tulum next to my computer to remind me of that.
- No. 2| When it comes to business, you have a lot of ideas. How do you know which ones to pursue and how do you recover if it doesn't work out?
AR: I've been lovingly diagnosed with entrepreneurial neurosis because I am the type of person who has at least 3 new business ideas before I eat breakfast. I attribute a lot this creative energy to 1) Getting up early and sitting in silence and 2) Being a very visual person, I am always day dreaming. I also have a very scientific mind, so I am always breaking things down into parts. On any given day you can find me engrossed in trying to understand complex scientific concepts to wondering what is in this donut? This makes me very observant of trends and keeps me interested in how things can be delivered in better ways, which I guess makes me an entrepreneurially inclined kind of person. I've only taken one business class...Spanish 332: Spanish and Entrepreneurship. It was such a unique class, it was all in Spanish and the course taught me that entrepreneurship means more than starting a business. It emphasized social entrepreneurship, so I picked up the skills of entrepreneurship-opportunity recognition, resource gathering and value creation in regards to addressing social issues. Ever since this class, when it comes to business, I always ask myself 3 questions... Where is there a need and do I have the expertise to create change there? What ideas am I most passionate about? What ideas can I bring to life if I collaborate with others? If an idea I am in love with doesn't take off or isn't lucrative, it's technically a passion project, hobby or a non-profit. Failed business ventures are of course always disappointing, but realizing that something is a hobby isn't bad, it helps me see where I should focus my energy and gives me insight into how to prioritize my time.
- No. 3| Where did you pick up your passion for holistic health and integrative medicine?
AR: For those who wonder where I get my hippie healing ways from, it's from a real gem of a lady, my grandma, Lola. From a young age, she encouraged me to move and taught me food was medicine- beans were a great source of protein, vitamin A was good for your eyes, and she would make me my favorite homemade coconut milk popsicles, not because substituting with coconut milk was trendy, but because coconuts grew abundantly in the backyard and she was aware of their nutritional value. When we talk, we always bond over our latest lotions, potions, tonics, teas, herbal preparations + natural remedies. I couldn't be more grateful or more blessed to have such a wonderful healer and guide in my life. There was a moment of magic when she watched me walk across the stage, doctor of physical therapy degree in hand, one step closer to becoming a modern medicine woman in my own way.
- No. 4| When you talk about the physical body, most people can follow, but when you get into talking about the energetic body some people can't wrap their heads around that. When did you become interested in this idea of healing on an energetic level?
AR: Growing up my mom did Reiki, an energy healing system with roots in Japan. She did self-healing treatments on herself and also did healing sessions with me and our family. At that time, the whole concept of Reiki was something I didn’t completely understand, so I never truly rejected it or accepted it. She encouraged me to become interested in it because she had heard of Doctors that used this approach, and she believed I could use it to make the sessions with my own patients more powerful. NATURALLY, I thought that was RIDICULOUS and I went about living my life. During my yoga teacher training, I would come home and tell my mom about all the wonderful and magnificent things I was learning...yoga could help you recognize your imbalances! Yoga could clear your chakras (energy centers)! Yoga could help you find you Higher Self! This is deep and juicy stuff, mama! She told me that she too learned all about chakras, auras, and self-healing journeys through Reiki. Hmm, interesting. What is this Reiki thing you speak of again? (I’m pretty sure I’d heard her explain Reiki a million times before). Reiki is an ancient hands on energy healing system. The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words – Rei which is loosely translated into “Universal Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy”. Realizing that Yoga and Reiki had so many parallels allowed me to be more open to this idea of energy healing. Then I found myself in a situation where I needed more healing than I could ever imagine. My relationship at the time fell apart while I was in the middle of finals in grad school. The holidays were also right around the corner, needless to say I was restless and sad. In some ways, out of hopelessness, I became open to guidance from Reiki Masters and ended up doing sessions with different energy healers. This kind of work taught me that your happiness cannot be dependent on another person’s actions. If someone has hurt y0u, instead of being resentful, send them love, so that in time they begin their own journey of self-healing. I found myself using forgiveness as an avenue to access deeper healing. Overtime, I got back on my feet, and found my true north. It was around this time when I made the conscious decision to start approaching life with a positive state of mind. So just like that, a complicated break up is how I came upon this unique opportunity to understand first hand how it is that we hold onto old stories...and how those stories can turn into thought patterns that we store in our metal, emotional, physical, and energetic bodies. To me, energy healing is just another way of getting in touch with our intuition- this ability to understand something, without the need for conscious reasoning.
- No. 5| We know there's probably a days worth of things you do to keep you in balance, but what's the ONE health/wellness ritual that you swear by?
AR: Pooping. Eliminating. Going to the bathroom. Completing the digestive cycle. Whatever you feel comfortable calling it, make sure you're doing it. I am personally uncomfortable if it's not happening daily. The stuff on its way out is made up of dead gut cells, leftover indigestible fiber and bacteria. If that doesn't see itself through to the other side, then you'll likely decrease your potential to heal and end up feeling fatigued and irritable due to a back up of toxic waste in your system. I agree with wellness activist Kris Carr, this may not be the sexiest of subjects, but vibrant health is pretty darn hot. And whether you like it or not, healthy elimination cycles are part of that picture. If my patients ever need to know 4 great ways to get things moving along in that department, I usually send them this article.
- No. 6| If you're in the health and wellness world, you're always trying something new... What are you experimenting with these days?
AR: This year I got rid of most of my furniture. I now happily live in a house with no couches and just 2 chairs. I now have lots of space to stretch, do yoga, and sit on the floor. The kitchen table was swapped out with a lower one for a Japanese-style dining experience. We often neglect getting into deeper hip, knee, and ankle ranges because our modern world makes it pretty easy to adapt to only sitting in chairs that require 90 degrees of flexion at the hips and knees. I sit on the floor as a way to maintain deeper ranges of hip and knee mobility. When I had more furniture, I I always preferred to sit on the floor to eat dinner and hang out, but from time to time I did find myself using it. Getting rid of it? No big deal, but what I didn't realize was how much different my hips would feel from making the floor my main option. My yoga practice is on a new level now (yoga is actually just you paying someone to sit on their floor). I see a dramatic difference in my hamstring length and hip mobility. In class I find myself getting into all these new shapes and poses that were not accessible to me until I started hanging out and rolling on my own floor for free. When I play volleyball I notice I am jumping higher and moving faster because I now have easier access to those deeper ranges of hip motion and I don't carry so much tightness around all those major powerhouse hip muscles. I get excited about the fact that I haven't done any specific volleyball drills or done more yoga moves to get "better" at these activities. All I did was create a more dynamic environment that allows me to use my body in different ways and gets me moving through more ranges of motion. When we invited 3 friends over for the first time in the new set up, we made sure the wine was flowing freely and in between dancing, lip-sync battles and card games I noticed squat challenges were going down and impromptu stretching was happening... for the yoga/mobility nerd in me, this kinda gathering was a dream come true.
- No. 7| You got rid of your furniture. This is strange. Please explain.
AR: I get this question a lot. My lack of furniture definitely freaks some people out. When it comes to explaining this decision, I don't think I can say anything more succinct than what biomechanist, Katy Bowman had to say about living furniture-free. So I usually default to saying something along the lines of, "I study movement for a living. I understand the relationship between musculoskeletal function and the immune system, bone robusticity (density and shape), and functions like digestion and breathing. Having furniture isn’t an option for us, in the same way a cupboard full of junk food isn’t an option for many others." I also throw in her ice cream analogy from time to time too...If I have a couch, I am going to sit in it, just in the same way that if I have ice cream in my fridge, I am going to eat it. Since I know I shouldn't eat ice cream everyday, I just don't have it around. I also know that being stagnant on my couch everyday deprives my body of much needed movement, so I just don't have one and instead opt for sitting and lying in a variety of positions on the floor.
- No. 8| Outside of yoga, how else do you move your body?
AR: I love beach volleyball. Playing co-ed doubles is my favorite. It incorporates a lot of elements that I love...being barefoot, catching sun, getting sandy, and believe it or not a lot of mental strategy. A good hike also makes me happy. I recently did some backpacking in Yosemite. We hiked about 35 miles in 3 days. That was life changing.
- No. 9| As a physical therapist, you must notice all sorts of interesting body and movement habits in yoga class. How do you share your alignment awareness with your students during your public classes?
AR: The biggest movement dysfunctions I see in my public yoga classes seem to be associated with people spending the majority of their day sitting in the same position which creates tight hamstrings, increased tension in their psoas, and shortened hip flexor muscles. All of these things can lead to inefficient movement patterns of the spine and hips that ultimately cause compensations, and over time can cause pain. There was a point when my classes were very alignment driven. A part of me really didn't want to move on to the next pose until everyone could find the correct alignment. To my biomechanical mind, the changes I was asking my yogis to make seemed like such an easy fix...rotate your knees into alignment, stand tall through the spine, and drop your ribs down. It dawned on me that even if changes seem subtle, that doesn't mean they aren't overwhelming. And just because I tell you what the correct alignment is doesn't mean you can immediately access it, especially if you are lacking body awareness and/or are so tight and stiff that your body is preventing you from achieving the biomechanical ideal. I am in a phase with my teaching where I am not so alignment driven and I am more focused on how I can educate people throughout the hour-long experience that is my yoga class. If I guide students into a hamstring stretch, I may say something like, "If you find this difficult, have you considered that maybe your hamstrings are tight because you've been doing too much sitting?" or "Hey! fun fact, tight hamstrings are correlated with back pain. Is anyone here trying to get a handle on their back pain? Try getting up more throughout your day and consider giving this stretch a try more often in between yoga classes." If my students start to understand the "why," then my hope is that they can be empowered to make changes outside of class that will help them make more progress on their mat. I try to emphasize to people that what you do for one hour with the most intention won't trump what you mindlessly do for 23 hours. The beautiful thing about yoga is that overtime that mindfulness starts spilling off your mat and into your day. Our movement patterns are developed out of repetition, so alignment work takes a lot of re-visiting before you can finally say, "Ah-ha! I get it. Not only does that make sense in my mind, but my body is also capable of achieving XYZ postion." It took me yeeeears to become as body aware as I am now, so I try to be compassionate with my patients and students. My main focus now when I teach is to create a sacred space where people feel comfortable enough to explore movement and their bodies.
- No. 10| If you could share one alignment tip, what would it be?
AR: If your work keeps you in front of a computer, instead of trying to sit in perfect alignment all day, figure out a way to make your workstation more dynamic...from time to time stand, sit on the floor, and go for walks often. I personally avoid being in the same position (standing or sitting) for > 30-45'. Sitting inherently isn't bad, but sitting the same way for 10+ hours a day for 25+ years can wreak havoc on your body. I have treated fed-ex delivery drivers and professional athletes with brutal travel schedules, so I understand there are circumstances in which sitting has to happen, but if sitting is a big part of your day-to-day, then you have to learn how to stretch your hamstrings properly. My line of work doesn't keep me sitting all day, but there was a point when I wasn't making progress with my hamstring length and my hips felt tight because, *gasp*, I too was cheatin' during my hamstring stretch.
- No. 11| Being a Docotor of Physical Therapy + Yoga instructor you must never have pain or ever get hurt. Is that true?
AR: I wish! It would be quite the dream to never be sidelined due to injury or pain. I will say that I certainly know how to increase my chances of NOT getting hurt and I probably have more knowledge than the average bear on how to get recover from a setback, but at the end of the day I am human. There are days I don't stretch when I know I should. I, too, get addicted to my work in front of the computer for hours on end then wonder why my hips are tight and my neck is stiff. And every few months I find myself over stressed and under slept and then this happens. What I will say though is that pain is not a part of my day-to-day existence, and I do things EVERYDAY to make that statement a part of my daily reality. If something kinda sorta doesn't feel right, I have to stop and ask myself why. The more I explore my day-to-day habits, the more it exposes why I may be hurting. Checking in with your body on a regular basis isn't as easy as it sounds. I too would rather kill time on instagram than ask myself why my hamstrings are tight. At the end of the day, I take self-responsibility for what's going in my body because it puts me in control, and that's a lot more empowering than blaming my knee pain on my age or my parents. Being in pain is not normal, but at the same time pain can be very complex. If I am in pain and can't figure it out, I never hesitate to call someone who can help me troubleshoot my way through whatever is going on.
- No. 12| Tell us about a specific time you were in pain or got hurt. What did you do PT wise, how did you navigate your yoga practice, and what holistic health remedies did you try?
AR: For about 6 months I had on/off back pain and my right sciatic nerve would intermittently get irritated. As a physical therapist, I am blessed to have access to amazing physicians and I get to work alongside world renowned spinal surgeons. My first course of action was to check in with them and go down the route of ruling out all the serious stuff (fracture, slippage, herniated disc, etc). That all came back negative. Physical therapy was the next step. As a health care professional that works with people on a daily basis who are recovering from trauma, injury, or surgery, it's actually REALLY difficult to 1) admit when you're in pain and 2) seek out help for yourself. We live in a very ego-driven society, and I think part of the reason that some health care providers avoid addressing their aches and pains is because there's a sense that you're being judged for it. No one wants to go into someone and say, "Hi, I am in pain, and I can't get it under control which is ironic because this is what I do for a living." I have a ton of physical therapy friends who are always willing to lend a helping hand in exchange for a glass of wine, but this time I knew I had to make a bigger commitment than the occasional once a month treatment exchange. I put my ego aside, prioritized my well being, and asked for help. I paid to see a physical therapist (outside of my office and outside of my circle of PT friends) 1-3 times a month. She totally called me out on my tight hamstrings, inadequate calf length, and inhibited spinal stabilizer muscles. I found it helpful to have another pair of well trained eyes watch me move and give me unbiased feedback about my alignment. She also pointed out that my spinal rotation range of motion was less than ideal, which explained why anytime I did a yoga class focused on twisting, I'd inevitably throw my SI Joint out of whack. In my mind, I TOTALLY thought I had the capacity to make my way into those deep juicy twists, but turns out I didn't have the muscle length for it, and I was just cranking into my joints and over-stressing my ligaments. In my yoga practice, I had to back off twisting until I was better able to use my muscles to support my pelvis and spine. I had to do a lot of hip stabilizing and glute strengthening work before I got to the point where I had the body awareness to know when deep twisting was actually serving me some good. I put in a lot of work, but was rewarded with significant pain relief and was much more present in my body. Once I calmed down the back pain, the thing that became most apparent at this point was that the intermittent sciatic pain I was experiencing was actually happening in a very cyclical fashion... once a month, right before my menstrual cycle started. I asked the people in my western medicine world what they thought about this and most could only offer me the endometriosis explanation. Knowing my body, I knew that I didn't fit the classic endometriosis presentation. It all finally started making sense when I began working one-on-one with an Ayurvedic practitioner. She explained that from an ayurvedic standpoint, we needed to optimize my "apana vayu." This is the life force most active in the pelvis and lower abdomen, and it governs the eliminative functions (excretion, urination, menstruation) and the downward and outward flow of energy in the body. Over the course of 3 months, she coached me through self-care rituals, breathing techniques, and gave me the guidance on what herbs, foods, and elixirs would best support my digestive tract and reproductive organs. About 2 months into this work was the last time I experienced sciatic pain.
- No. 13| What led you to Ayurveda and how has your commitment to it changed your life?
AR: Ayurveda (The Science of Longevity/Life) is known as the sister science of yoga. I was first introduced to it during my 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2009. For me, learning about Ayurveda awakened an even deep interest in holistic wellness. For the first time I was taught about a medical system that placed equal importance on the mind, body, and spirit. I was in complete awe learning about how Ayurveda uses food, yoga, and lifestyle to bring the whole being into balance. I remember leaving the yoga studio so hungry for more. Wanting to understand this ancient wisdom on a deeper level, I have worked and consulted with several Ayurvedic practitioners, read numerous books and blogs, and studied ancient texts. I am committed to it and passionate about it because Ayurveda helped me heal from the inside out. Eliminating my back pain and sciatica was actually just the beginning of how powerful this work has been in my life. At the end of 3 months of focused work, my digestion improved, my energy levels increased, my skin was more radiant, and overall I now feel more in tune with the rhythms of my own body.
- No. 14| Do you now preach about Ayurveda to all your patients?
AR: As a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Yoga instructor, I have a solid foundation in how to lead a healthy, mindful lifestyle, and although Ayurveda helped me reach a new level of wellness beyond what I knew, I don't push it upon everyone I treat. If it's appropriate, I'll share some yogic philosophy or tie in ayurvedic elements into my explanations, but over time I've learned that healing is really personal. We all have our unique paths to wellness. Ayurveda certainly played a big role in mine, but I am in no way suggesting that it is a miracle cure for everyone. It is my hope that eventually all of my patients arrive at a place where the subtle things going on in their body start to have meaning. How they get there doesn't really matter. It may be Ayurveda for me, and acupuncture for you, but if we both awaken to a deeper understanding of how our body operates, then in my book, it is a win.
- No. 15| Tell us something most people don't know about you!
AR: My schooling through 3rd grade was in all Spanish. I learned to read, write, and speak at school, but since my mom is from Puerto Rico and my dad is from Mexico, my fluency was also reinforced at home. In high school, to fulfill my language requirement, I took German. I fell in love with linguistics and considered pursuing that in college. I didn't, but languages ended up being a gateway for me to travel more. I studied abroad in Germany and now I love travelling and immersing myself into local culture, wherever I am. My parents both moved to the states when they were 17 and 18, so they are both still very rooted in their respective country's traditions. My upbringing was culturally diverse and because of that, another reason I love to travel is because I am fascinated by customs and rituals that take place around the world, especially ones related to health, healing and wellness. When I travel, I love picking up locally made healing balms, essential oil blends, crystals, and handmade pillows and blankets. I am pretty obsessed with styling and interior decorating my VW bus. I love that it is mostly adorned with global textiles and soulful travel trinkets that remind me of all my adventures. Traveling by VW is, hands down, one of my favorite ways to explore and see the world!