• Interview with Rozel Gonzales

    Dynamic, Passionate, Open

    Where are you from and/or where do you live?

    I am Canadian, born and raised in Montréal, Québec, where we speak English and French. My parents, however, come from the Philippines.

    How did yoga come into your life and what has that journey been like for you?

    Yoga became part of my life when I was a student at McGill University. I had a lot on my plate, trying to stay fit, my studies, and work. I figured if I became a fitness and yoga teacher, it was a way for me to achieve a better balance in my life. In the first 10 years, I taught in the gym environment. I taught power yoga style classes, purely focusing on the physicality of the practice. I would cue my students to breathe in and out, but I actually did not really know how to breathe. As the years progressed, I started to yearn for more. I wanted to be a “real” yoga teacher and so I decided to enroll in a traditional teacher training. I had already started taking these new Ashtanga classes with “this guy” named Mark Darby who started renting out space above the local natural food store close to my home in Montreal. Little did I know at the time that Mark Darby was one of Pattabhi Jois’ original students. Mark and his son Shakara became my teachers for many years, my original teachers. Over the years I continue to learn more, traveling each year to learn from teachers like Manju Jois, Jody Manley, and Kino MacGregor. It has been an amazing journey that I am super passionate about. I love to connect with like-minded people and it is an honor to be able to share with others and learn from my students at the same time.

    How has yoga changed and what do you feel it creates in your daily life?

    The catalyst for change for me was when my firstborn son got sick in 2010. He was 5 years old at the time when he was diagnosed with leukemia. It was such a difficult time for our entire family. Yoga is what kept me sane. The community that I had built around yoga and fitness supported me so much through this time. This year my son celebrates 10 years of remission and we are so grateful. Yoga for me today is a way to help others. I use it as a tool to connect with others and to help them shine. I often say I teach Yoga Off the Mat. My goal is to give you a strong body and mind to help you deal with the journey of life… Sure, I can teach you how to stand on your head, but it’s just the by-product of what I am really trying to do.

    What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is my joy. I feel grounded, strong and open after I practice. My mind feels clear and I enjoy the journey of always learning. Yoga is my friend. It is always there when I need it.

    What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice, in teaching and within the yoga community?

    Covid-19 has been a challenge. As the owner of a health and wellness centre, I have had to adapt by being, flexible, creative and innovative. Fortunately, we have an amazing team and we have been able to remain viable and strong through virtual and hybrid options. We have an amazing community that continues to support us through this challenge and our innovation is helping us to remain leaders in our community.

    Why do you practice?

    I practice because one day… I want to be a wise old woman. In my mind I am calm, content, happily sitting in colorful tights and legwarmers, levitating in padmasana with lots of grandchildren around me.

    Why do you teach?

    I teach because I love it. I love meeting people, connecting and getting to know the stories of my students. My students keep me motivated to keep learning.

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    The Examined Life, Bram Levinson (my friend from Montreal)
    Yoga Mind, Suzan Colon
    The Gift of Imperfection, Brene Brown

    Through your own personal journey, what do you feel is your path and offering to the community- local and global?

    I think I offer an approachable way to learn yoga and Ashtanga in particular. I am strong, but far from perfect. My backbend needs lots of work…and the intermediate series is still very challenging for me… but I think that is a good thing. Imperfection makes you more authentic and approachable, in my opinion.
    Have you ever had a yoga teacher that you were shy to drink coffee next to? That has happened to me…I promise you, you can drink coffee next to me. Fun fact… one of my students recently said to me. I was so happy when one day I saw you eating a chicken sandwich. Yes, I eat chicken and I do not hide it. People say I am really good at explaining things. I think it is because I was a gymnastics coach for a very long time and my years in the corporate environment allowed me to hone my communication skills. I think its a good combination. I have spent lots of time studying the philosophy of yoga so each class is sprinkled with a positive message from the scriptures, deepening your practice.

    What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    Find a teacher that you can connect with. I recommend you research the lineage of your teacher. Find a teacher that will teach more than the postures, a teacher knowledgeable on the philosophy, the breath work and meditation. It will enrich your practice so much more.

    Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

    My current project is basically making sure that my health and wellness studio Energie EnCorps, based in Montreal continues to remain steady as we wait for Covid to pass. I have fantastic team of over 30 teachers, therapists and administrative staff that are like family to me. I need to guide this ship through this storm…

    What’s your favorite meal at a restaurant?

    I love Indian food and lots of spices. I think I was Indian in another life.

    What’s your favorite meal to make at home?

    Palak Paneer, a vegetarian indian dish

    What do you like to do for fun that’s non-yoga related?

    I also teach ZUMBA! For real!

    Who is your greatest inspiration?

    I have 3 boys… Luka, Jona and Kai. But my eldest son Luka, who is the cancer survivor is my greatest inspiration. He was just so brave. What is most inspirational is how he has been able to bounce out of that experience with no regrets and still so much passion for life.

    If you were stranded on an island what 3 things would you bring with you?

    My family, my yoga mat and my ukulele

    What’s your favorite TV series?

    Right now I am rewatching the 24 series on Netflix!

    What’s your favorite quote/affirmation/mantra?

    Little by little, a little becomes a lot…

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    By Rozel Gonzales

    Rozel Gonzales is a passionate yoga teacher, speaker and entrepreneur from Montreal, Canada. Following her son’s battle with cancer in 2010, Rozel left a successful corporate career to follow her dream and open the Energie EnCorps Wellness Centre. The centre is an expression of gratitude for her son’s remission and a platform to promote balanced and healthy living in body and mind. Rozel pours her heart and soul into uplifting others, teaching others to live in the present moment and to take the philosophy of yoga OFF THE MAT and into the world. Rozel has been teaching yoga and fitness since 1997. An Ashtanga trained teacher, she is the lead trainer for the Energie EnCorps Yoga Teacher Training program. Rozel continuously attends workshops and training around the world to update her skills and to build upon the foundations taught to her by her teachers Mark Darby and Manju Jois.

  • Yoga Teacher Interview with Cristi Christensen Part 2

    I want to wake people up. I want to shake people up. I want to bring these practices of yoga, and dance, and music to every single corner of the world. I want to help people feel grounded in their bodies, integrated with who they are, and help them stoke the belief in themselves, that they can do everything and anything that they put their energy and attention towards.

    What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice?

    My whole life had been driven about competition.  I was competing at a very young age, training at an elite level from the time I was ten years old.  Training eight hours a day.  It was all about competition and what the body could do. I would say by the time I came to yoga that I didn’t know what movement was that wasn’t in the name of competition. Whether it was for dance and being picked to be in the performance, or to be picked to go to special school, or was it to train your body so you could jump higher, flip faster, get into the water with no splash.  All the movement had a very specific reason to achieve a goal.  I think the biggest struggle, maybe at first, would have been to like, A) this is not about competition B) it’s actually not even about what poses I can do.  And letting go of that, and just allowing the practice to be a practice, because that was very foreign to me, but also because I had done so much athletics in that way, it was almost a relief that it didn’t have to be that way.  Once I got that. This isn’t about me learning handstand, it’s not me being able to put my foot to my head, but I had never done anything that wasn’t goal oriented movement before. Once I got over that I felt such freedom in the practice and I enjoyed it so much more.  It was about the love of being in my body.  The love of being present with the sensations that were in my body.  Also being connected to the other people on their mats, or being connected to the teacher, and the energy we were creating together.  It was getting over the fact it was okay, that based on my injury, that I couldn’t do some of these “advanced poses” and that wasn’t going to limit me in the potential of how my yoga practice could serve me. I think getting over that was a pretty big milestone for me.

    What is yoga favorite yoga pose and why?

    One of my favorite poses is handstand, and it’s just because it’s fun. I’m not practicing handstands on ledges. I just do it for fun. It reminds me of being a kid. It opens up that exuberant energy in me more and more. I just like to be upside down. There’s that monkey in me from being gymnast and a diver from a young age that still really enjoys that. I also really like Shivasana [laughs] because I think we’re all really tired and having that deep rest, like having that permission for deep rest is really welcome a lot of the time.

    What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga teacher?

    One of the things I’m known for is this yoga dance collaboration.  It comes in two forms. One is called Sol Fire and the other one is called Deep Exhale.  It is a combination of meditation, movement meditation, yoga, dance, eccstatic dance, and going back into yoga, and sound healing.  It has been one of the practices that has brought me so much joy to share. It’s been so healing for my own life and seeing the response, like actually, the visceral response in people’s faces and people’s bodies from these experiences.  I feel bad sometimes because I’m getting so much from it, that I’m like, “I hope my students are getting half as much as I am.”  There was one in particular experience, it was in 2017 at the Lightning in a Bottle Festival.  It was the Deep Exhale with my partner Marques Wyatt, he is a world renowned DJ.  It was like a vortex in this tent. We had about 700 people, and there were as many people surrounding the tent as that were inside.  The whole tent was pulsing with energy.  Everyone was jumping and lifting.  Feeling that energy and connecting with the students in that way, and seeing the ripple effect of this positive alignment and connection when we connect to what’s inside, and how we can allow it to express out. Really witnessing the reason why we put this yoga dance together and witnessing it being revealed in front of us. This really does work, and this really does light people up.  And it’s really bringing people into their power, and they’re having a really amazing time in the process.  That is one that in that moment it was, like, wow, this is it. This is it.

    Why do you practice? 

    I practice because I have to [laughs].  And I don’t mean that in a negative way.  I practice because this is the tool that helps me stay on my path of life. If yoga is life, then everything is my practice.  Setting up my alter, is my practice. Rolling out my mat, is my practice.  Playing my drum, is my practice.  Writing, is my practice.  And all of those, to me, are yoga.  Those are the practices that I need to stay sane [laughs].  to feel connected to who I am, to feel connected to the Earth below me, and to feel connected to infinite above me. I need these practices and they continue to feed me on a very deep level, and light me up, and support me in those times where I need the extra support and I need to be held by something.  The energy of these practices I can lean into and can hold me.

    Why do you teach? 

    Because I can’t not.  I do not want anyone to not have access to these practices that have helped me. I assume if they have helped me, they’re going to help other people. I teach because I want to share, with people, the transformative power of yoga in all forms.  So that it can be of service to as many people on this planet as possible.  Honestly, I’ll also say, I’m my best self when I’m teaching.  I hope I can continue to become a better person through becoming a better teacher.

    What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    My favorite mantra is, ah-hum pray-mah, ah-hum pray-mah, ah-hum pray-mah.  I am divine love. I am divine love, and I am divine love.  If we can have every cell of our body vibrating at that remembrance of exactly who we are, being divine love, that our families, or communities, or world, are going to be a much better place.

    What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    Inclusivity.  That you do not have to be a certain size, sex, weight, sexual preference, religion, culture, socioeconomic status to be a part of this practice. That we can open up the doors to bring these practices to everyone, so no one is left out, and no one feels left out. That they have to be a certain thing to be able to do yoga and to have this healing modality of what yoga is. I really think making this practice not a practice that’s just for the privileged, and that is a practice that is for everyone.  There are other benefits of how social media is reaching more people to bring yoga together, but I think that, for me, is really wanting to open a) what yoga is, and b) to make it so inclusive that everyone can benefit from this practice in the way I have, or in their own unique way.

    All of us embracing our shadow.  That yoga is not just peace and love and everything is going to be rainbows and sunshine and unicorns just because I’m doing yoga.  There is this notion sometimes that yoga is only about this liberation toward the light.  And, of course, that is part of the practice, but we can’t truly liberate and find freedom until we go down into ourselves. Until we go down into our bodies, go down into the really the guts of it.  To go down even into the metaphor of the Earth, into the dark fertile soils, back into the womb and address what is the root of everything.  So that we’re not suppressing, we’re not denying, we are not further oppressing anything, and putting this spiritual, “oh but it’s all peace and light,” gaze over it all. I want to say that as a community at large as an individual for myself, so much of my work is about embracing the shadow versus turning my back to it, and doing the work necessary so that I can transform.  So I can liberate.  So I can truly find freedom, and I’m also not going to harm another in that process.

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    My favorite book that travels around the world with me, everywhere I go, it’s very batted up, is called the Radiant Sutras.  It is by Dr. Lorin Roche, who is one of my teachers and mentors.  It’s poetry as far as I’m concerned. It’s different, it’s basically the awe and wonder, gateways into the awe and wonder of what it is to be alive.  It’s a conversation between the God and the Goddess, about life.  And it’s different gateways, we could say, into meditation.  Each of these sutras are just dripping with poetic beautiful words. I am in love with the language.  It’s a living breathing text.  That is, hands down, my favorite yogic text.  Check it out, for sure.

    What is your dharma, your life mission?

    There are still parts of it that are being defined, and I know that.  Right now, one of them is, I want to wake people up. I want to shake people up. I want to bring these practices of yoga, and dance, and music to every single corner of the world. I want to help people feel grounded in their bodies, integrated with who they are and help them stoke the belief in themselves, that they can do everything and anything that they put their energy and attention towards. I want to inspire, I want to empower.  I want to get people moving and breathing in a really conscious, but fun, way.  That’s my mission right now.

    What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    Find a practice, and a teacher, that you deeply resonate with.

    By Cristi Christensen

    Practice Yoga with Cristi on Omstars