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Meet Trailblazer Agnieszka Pieterwas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Agnieszka Pieterwas.

Agnieszka, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I graduated from University in Poznan, Poland with a master`s degree in psychology. I did not know what I wanted to do though. The only thing I knew, I did not want to work as a psychologist or therapist. For over twenty years every August, there has been held an International Dance Workshop in my hometown. Still looking for what I wanted to do, the summer after my graduation I attended a choreotherapy class and hip hop class at the dance festival. This how I found my passion for dance, and I started to take regular dance classes. It happened, that guy who was teaching hip hop, was teaching yoga as well. I loved his perfectionism of the poses and its beauty. I was a very committed student. Daniel, the teacher was a member of a dance company, so they traveled. Sometimes for weeks. I didn’t want to be left without regular exercising so in the absence of his classes I decided to look for another yoga studio in my city. Since I always try to search for the best (our time is limited, I carefully choose all my teachers, and people who influence me with their knowledge and energy), I went to a famous, first yoga studio in my hometown, and took classes of the founder. She knew from day one I would be a yoga teacher. She told me to drop dancing, which I refused, telling her, this would never happen, I would dance until the rest of my life. But I also knew I wanted to teach yoga for the rest of my life.

One summer, my hip hop/yoga teacher went to Impulstanz Dance Workshop in Vienna, Austria, truly, one of the best dance workshops I have ever attended. He met there and took a workshop with Sri Louise. Inspired by his stories about her I decided to go to her workshop next year myself. She turned out to be one of the most knowledgeable yoga teachers I have ever met, thus I wanted to do my yoga teacher training with her. I waited two years, attending her summer workshops in Vienna (which were wonderful times since I always take dance and yoga classes, complementary to each other). She finally organized Yoga Teacher Training in 2008/2009 in Vienna. I was beyond happy and very committed, driving there from Poland once a month for a weekend for a period of eight months. It was a really great way to study because what one learns during the weekend can settle and be applied during a month of practicing it (a mind is a way faster than a body). I also did a teacher training with Sri and other Indian teachers in Rishikesh, India in 2011. During all this time, in between my training, I was teaching my students in my hometown.

2011 was a breakthrough year for me. I felt I did not belong to this city anymore, I felt suffocated, and I knew I needed to make some drastic moves to change my life, so I sold my car and decided to travel. My friend who I met and took his dance class at Impulstanz, Jermaine always said to me: “I have two bedrooms apartment in NYC, if you want to come visit, you are more than welcome”, so I reached out to him, and decided to go for three weeks to NYC on November 2011, and after coming home for Christmas, to India for three months. I fell in love with NYC SO MUCH, that after spending there almost a month I did not want to go to India anymore. I went through. Very rough time of my life. It is true what they say, that India always changes you, leaves an imprint on you forever. My heart was in NYC, so still being in Goa, traveling through South India, I bought a ticket to NYC to spend there another month in April 2012. I had literally two days in Poland to change my clothes and repack for NYC. My mom said I was crazy, LOL, life is but an adventure though.

And here I was, going back and forth, NYC, Poland, India for four years, taking classes at Jivamukti NYC, which became my second home (and eventually doing my third teacher training, and apprenticeship program with them), studying Ayurveda while in India, teaching, giving workshops while in Poland. It was not easy to maintain living like this. No home really, root chakra unsteady, but my love for America, and my dream was strong enough to keep me going.

In 2016, I decided to move to Los Angeles. It is funny because my first visit did not leave me with an impression to ever go back. It was my second visit, in 2014 which all of a sudden made me want to move in here. I am vegan. I am also crazy about a healthy lifestyle. I emphasize a strongly holistic approach to health, and how health is new wealth. Los Angeles is the city which gives easy access to vegan and organic food (which, by the way, was called just food by our grandparents). Holistic approach to health means eating organic food, exercising, moving your body, breathing properly, meditating, drinking enough water, spending time in nature, and having good amount of peaceful sleep. I chose America, Los Angeles because I truly love it. NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco are trendsetters in the world. Change is happening so quickly in here which is beautiful to observe, and be a part of! But also, when there is fast, energetic, loud, when there is lots of movement and noise, there is too much Vata (air, ether) and Pitta (fire) which creates instability, anxiety, and nervousness. Yoga brings balance to it. Regular practice of yoga cleans a mind from stress. And that is why I decided to invest my family money and open a yoga studio in Los Angeles, to give people in here an opportunity of taking and studying traditional yoga (which saved my life and my mind, and thats why I want to share, give and help).

That is my long story short, and if you think about it, if you pay attention to what life brings you, you can see at some point, that everything that happens to you is related, and makes sense. All the people you meet are the part of your story and growth, and help you to walk your path. Whatever choices we make, changes slightly or dramatically our path.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I had obstacles all the way through! Where there is movement, there are obstacles. That is a physical law. No movement, no obstacles. So, you can only avoid obstacles by doing nothing. Obstacles are there to make you learn though. Spirituality grows in insecurity. You do not know how brave you are until there is a situation which requires your courage. When you learn how to stand up for yourself, how to say no if this is how you feel like, you will be proud of yourself. And no one will take this feeling away from you.

Also, whatever you do in life, keep focusing on your goal. You need to have strength, faith, and love in your heart. You have to believe. And stay true to yourself no matter what. There are always people with opinions about you. It does not matter. Everyone has a different opinion because everyone perceives reality through their own mind. They do not know who you are. They do not know what this struggle means to you. They do not know how important this dream is to you. With their own ideas and beliefs, they can even belittle your wants and needs and weaken you. No one knows about you but you. No teachers, friends, psychologists. Because only you have full access to yourself. If you look closely within your self, your heart, you will find the answers. It is called intuition. And that is exactly what I teach at my classes. Through these yogic practices, I help people to connect themselves to themselves. To listen to their body, to their heart, gut feeling.

I also strongly recommend to question everything! Your teachers, authorities are humans like yourself, usually with bigger knowledge and experience but they also make mistakes, and they are not responsible for your life. You are. It is like if somebody tells you to jump into fire, would you? No, because you know you would burn. Listen to your SELF. Listen if somebody is telling you to do something if it feels right.

To overcome obstacles you have acknowledged it, accept, embrace and find a solution. There is always a solution. And it is very often the matter of your attitude toward the problem. Because what seems big issue to you, can be really small to someone else. There is the same rain, which for one person would be “Oh my God, it is raining, I hate rain because I cannot go outside” while for another, “Oh my God, it is raining, I love the rain because I can read a book covered with a cozy blanket”. Very often we do not have control over what happens to us, but we do have control how we react to it. It is good to learn how two accept things we cannot change, how to have the courage to change the things we can and to know the difference between these two. This is a daily challenge.

And it is funny you asked what advice I have for women because my goal and main mission is to empower women, to show them their natural power, strength, beauty, versatility. To awaken what was suppressed for thousands of years because of patriarchy. It warms my heart to see there are so many men appreciating the power of a woman. You don’t need to look far, Barack an Michelle Obama is a beautiful example of it, but there are many more.

We lost our connection to nature. Yet, we are nature. Watch animals, and learn from them. Animals just are. If they lose leg they don’t spend days dwelling on it or complaining about it. Instead, they find a new way of walking. We, humans, have much more complex brains but this simplicity of living and overcoming obstacles is something we can totally learn from animals.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Vrkira Yoga Studio – what should we know?
Well, I teach yoga. It sounds like nothing special. So many yoga studios out there. It is special though. Yoga is a path, a technique, a tool to free one`s mind, not just a physical exercise, and definitely not a fitness.

According to Patañjali`s Yoga Sūtras, there are eight limbs of Rāja yoga: yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi to be practiced daily.
Patañjali Yoga Sūtras is a compilation of wisdom gathered from older Vedic traditions. It`s written in Sanskrit. Patañjali divided Yoga Sūtras into four chapters of books, containing in all of 196 aphorisms. On the market, nowadays you can find Yoga Sūtras with commentary from different Swamis.
This is the most important of all the sūtras:
योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः ॥२॥
yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (YS I:2)
yogaś =Yoga, citta=of the mind-stuff, vṛtti=modifications, nirodhaḥ=restraint
Which basically means, the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.
For a keen student, this sūtra would be enough because the rest of them only explain this one. Our thoughts can agitate us, give us pleasure, or even torture us, but they cannot lead us to a state of yoga. To achieve yoga we have to become uninvolved from the stream of thoughts, to go beyond it, to a higher state of consciousness. If the restraint of mental modifications is achieved, one reached the goal of yoga. To reach yoga is to free your mind.
Eights limbs of Aṣṭaṅga Yoga of Patañjali are the steps. This means that one step leads to another. One has to be very skillful in order to skip the steps and go directly from āsana (yoga pose) to dhyāna (mediation), for example.

Yoga is a beautiful path towards liberation. Challenging as it may be, the beauty is generated through self-dedication and discipline. The churning discomfort generated during physical practice is not only because we are exploring the limitations of our bodies, but also because we are bringing up all the emotions up to the surface in order to transform and to heal. Yoga teaches patience, gives us tools to develop a calm and restful mind, as well as strength and flexibility. With regular practice, we gift ourselves with an alluring glow and a symmetrical shapeliness.

At my studio Vrkira Yoga, we offer 60 min and 75 min classes which include chanting, āsana, prāṇāyāma (breathing) and dhyāna (meditation) practices. Physical part of the class is vinyasa-based, which means one moves smoothly from one pose to another assisted and transitioned by breath. Class starts with OM and results in few minutes of Śavāsana, the final relaxation.

What I emphasize the most in my class, is BREATHING since breath is life. We can live for days without food or water but deprive us of breath and we die in minutes. Inhale is the very first thing we do when we are born, and exhale is the very last thing we take when we die. The quality of living is a quality of breathing, and yet we pay so little attention in daily life to the importance of breathing. From the yogi’s standpoint, there are two main functions of proper breathing: to bring more oxygen to the blood (and thus to the brain) and to control prana (vital energy).
When one is angry or scared, the breathing is shallow, rapid and irregular. When one is relaxed or deep in thought, the breathing becomes slow.

Since the state of mind is reflected in the way one breathes, it follows that by controlling the breath one can control the state of mind, for the two are interdependent. By regulating the breathing one increases intake of oxygen and prana, as well as prepares themselves for practice of concentration (dhāraṇā) and meditation (dhyāna).

I am also proud, happy and blessed to be trusted to work with pregnant women. I find it beyond rewarding and satisfying to prepare and assist mothers-to-be on the journey to welcome a baby. Pregnancy is such a special time in which woman should be protected, nourished, treated with special care, and worshipped. She is carrying a new life. It is a true blessing and miracle, indeed.

I also teach women Mukhabhyanga, Ayurvedic face self-massage. They can learn it how to do it every day as a part of skincare routine or they can receive it from me as a form of deep relaxation and healing.

Which women have inspired you in your life?
Women who inspire me? So many! I adore women for their strength, intelligence, inner and outer beauty, endurance, perseverance, possessing many talents at the same time. My main yoga teacher Sri Louise had huge impact on me. She is very inspiring, beautiful, strong and mesmerizing woman with profound yoga knowledge. She basically shaped me in regard to yoga understanding and teaching.

I love women succeeding in science like Marie Sklodowska Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields. I love actresses, Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, Julia Roberts, Marisa Tomei, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe among many for giving unforgettable, timeless performances. I love to watch them in complex dramas, perhaps because I am a psychologist and studying humans’ behavior fascinates me.

I love Beyonce for inspiring and helping women all over the world through her music by showing her strength and vulnerability at the same time. Lyrics of her songs gave support to so many of us.

First ladies, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Michelle Obama leading by example with their wisdom, elegance and grace. It is really not easy to be on the spotlight and on the firing line on a daily basis, exposed to judgment and criticism about their look, presence, clothes, behavior, etc., and still maintain a warm smile on their faces.

I admire all the moms out there working full-time jobs. Raising a family is a full-time job already, yet, society does not treat it like one.

Women are really wonderful creatures, creators of life and beauty. Like Carl Jung, my favorite psychiatrist said: “woman [in comparison to man] is the one who reflects, and can always find comfort and hope”.

Pricing:

  • first class by donation
  • 10 classpack to be used within 3 moths $180
  • 5 classpack to be used within 3 months $100
  • drop in $25

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Judson Emery, Bartek Cieniawa, Marek Kramarczyk, Agustin Musa

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