Victoria Cendrowski and her daughter, Chelsea, each teach weekly yoga classes for Ann Arbor Public Schools’ Community Education & Recreation. In addition, they team-teach karma yoga once a month, and donate all proceeds to charity.
Victoria earned her Master of Education in Science of Human Movement from Wayne State University and has been the fitness supervisor for Rec & Ed since 1990.
Chelsea is a student at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and works as a certified nursing assistant at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.
Jo Mathis, editor of AAPS District News, talked with the mother-daughter duo at their home near Buhr Park.
Let’s start with the basic question: Why yoga?
Victoria: There are many forms of yoga, something for everyone, and you can do it at any age and ability. Yoga improves strength, flexibility, balance and posture, on and off the mat.
Chelsea: Yoga is for everyone, it is all inclusive. And I believe what we practice on the mat—the dedication, patience, compassion and strength—we then carry with us through the rest of our day. Yoga teaches us to be mindful, to listen to our bodies and our soul and helps us reach a peaceful place within ourselves so we can then go out into the world and be better prepared to live our lives and be there for others.
Some still dismiss yoga as New Agey, or assume it involves embracing Eastern philosophy.
Victoria: There is more than one way to do yoga. For some it is a way a life; for others it is simply a form of exercise. It is a personal choice.
Chelsea: Again, yoga is for everyone. I love the practice that my mom and I teach because we encourage people to respect their bodies and be mindful of the kind of practice they need at that time in their lives.
Chelsea, how did your mother influence your views on health and wellness while you were growing up?
Chelsea: She not only spoke about what it means to be healthy, in mind and body and spirit, but she lived it. The dedication that takes is humbling and inspiring and continues to inspire me today.
Victoria, when I met you about 10 years ago, I was immediately struck by your impeccable posture. Two questions: Why is posture important? Can you give the rest of us some tips?
Victoria, Thanks, Jo! Our posture affects our physical body as well as our emotional and mental well being. Good posture is energizing, helps us breathe better, can reduce stress on the body and uplift our mood. Poor posture can cause headaches, back pain, injuries and negatively affect our moods.
First, start with your feet parallel, about hip width apart. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed between both feet. Lift your rib cage up away from your waist so you feel taller. Open your chest and roll your shoulders back and down. Hang your arms loosely by your sides. Feel like you are being lifted up and think positive.
How would you encourage people who know they should get off the couch and move around a little more, but just can’t commit to exercise?
Victoria: Sitting is the new smoking! Too much of it is linked to serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Just standing, moving around more and being more physically active will help improve health. Or take my new Health Steps class! It’s for people who don’t like to exercise, but need to lose weight.
Chelsea: Start small. Yoga is a practice just like any form of exercise. With the busy lives we live it’s hard to make time for a full exercise session everyday. If you can that’s wonderful and you deserve it. Just doing a fifteen-minute yoga session can be an enormous stress reliever and a wonderful way to start your day. And you can work from there.
What are some easy ways we can improve our health and well being starting today?
Victoria: Take the holistic approach to health. Your lifestyle, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual and physical self are all connected. Enhancing each area will improve your quality of life. We can all move more and eat real, nourishing food. Get enough sleep. Unplug at least an hour before bed. De-stress through meditation. Think positive. Think of the glass half full rather than half empty. Get involved in a community activity like taking a Rec & Ed class or volunteering.
Chelsea: It’s about more than improving your physical wellbeing. It’s taking a holistic approach and being mindful of your body, your mind and your spirit. Of course this involves eating more greens and vegetables, whole grains, reducing the sugar in your diet… But improving your health also involves doing what makes your soul happy. Taking the time to do what you genuinely enjoy. And living in the present moment. Taking even just five minutes to meditate can make a difference. It could be simply focusing on your breath or meditating on a cause you’re passionate about or simply focusing on a mantra – breathe in peace, exhale joy. Allow yourself some time to find some inner peace and find your breath. And I deeply believe there is always, always something to be grateful for. And this includes things we don’t always think to be grateful for-clean water, a warm bed and the kind people in our lives.
Talk about the importance of diet. What do you eat and drink? What do you never allow in your house?
Victoria: I prefer to use the word nutrition instead of “DIEt”. I eat lots of vegetables, cooked whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and a little bit of fish and fruit. I drink lots of water and tea. I allow only real food in the house, so no empty calories like pop, junk food or sugar.
Chelsea: Same as my mom in many ways. Plenty of vegetables, Greek salads, whole grains, fruit, especially mangos and I love anything coconut flavored. Honestly when I eat better I feel more energized. And I believe in everything in moderation, so once in a while I love having some coffee frozen yogurt or Hello Faz pizza. The spices they add to their pizza are incredible.
Chelsea, you work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence at SafeHouse Center. And that’s while working part-time and enrolled in one of the toughest majors out there—whether most people realize it or not. Why do you make room in your schedule for volunteering?
Chelsea: We make a living by what we do but we make a life by what we give. And I believe we can always give more, live a more empathetic life.
Volunteering is simply giving of yourself without expecting anything in return. This is something we can all practice more often, not only once in awhile but in our day to day lives. This may be always taking the time to speak with the Groundcover vendors who you admire, standing outside in the bitter cold all day. This may be making your friends dinner or writing a thank you card to loved ones for all that they are and all that they’ve done for you and for others.
And I love Karma Yoga because it’s a way for others to join in this – to get outside of yourself and help fund clean water projects, provide aid to refugees in Syria, help sexual assault and domestic violence survivors here in Ann Arbor but also find space and time for a practice for yourself.
I have great respect for the generous people I know, not only because of what they’re doing with their lives but because of their intentions -the way they treat those around them, strangers and friends alike in their day to day lives.
When you first meet someone you don’t truly know their story: what they may have experienced, what they’ve endured.
If we spoke with everyone keeping this in mind, that one in three women and one in six men will be assaulted in their lifetime, and if we spoke with every person as if they were our sister, our closest friend, our son who may have experienced an assault, can you imagine the world we’d live in? Every one of us is a component of a larger community, a common culture. How we live our day to day lives has a butterfly affect on those around us. One person is capable of profound change, because simply speaking this way with someone who may have been assaulted profoundly alters that survivor’s life. For that person this is something they’ve been living with for a day, a month, a year, 20 years or 50 years. Someone speaking with them with warmth means the world to them.
This is an issue that is close to my heart and one I am deeply committed to. I’ve seen close friends and family as they’ve experienced sexual assault and have seen the ripple effects and repercussions this has had on their lives years afterwards. And I was raped – at the end of my freshman year of college. I believe that what happened to me has made me a stronger, more empathetic, more grounded and grateful person who is able to more deeply connect with both the patients I work with at the hospital and with survivors in my work with SafeHouse Center.
I always carry this quote with me: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I can’t change what happened to me and the profound effects it’s had on my life but I can change how I handle everything moving forward- how I use what I’ve been through to make me a better nurse, a better advocate, a better person.
More than anything it is a privilege to work with survivors through SafeHouse Center. I meet with survivors immediately after an assault or domestic violence incident and it is an honor to be able to be there for them in whatever way they need at this overwhelming, vulnerable, surreal time in their life. And it will be an honor this summer to work in India with the New Light Foundation working with survivors of human trafficking.
And for all the survivors out there and the family and friends of survivors, I bow down to you. And when I say survivor I mean survivor. Whatever your situation may be, the scars you bear don’t take away from who you are but instead make you into something stronger, more resilient, more compassionate. Whether you’re in an abusive relationship or have just gotten out of one, or if you were assaulted yesterday, last week or two years ago doesn’t make a difference – every single person is a survivor.
Namaste. And when I say Namaste I return to its purpose, its core intention. I bow to you. I bring my palms together, my hands to my heart chakra, the wellspring of compassion in all of us, and I honor that place. That place we all share and that has such great capacity for good, for selflessness, for simple, true kindness.
The outdoor photos are by Victoria’s husband/Chelsea’s father, Dwight Cendrowski.