By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer | Photos by Viktor Budnik
My goal has always been to be healthy,” says Audrey Walzer, longtime yoga teacher and founder of Camarillo-Somis Yoga and Mindfulness.
That singular aim has taken her on a long and meandering journey, both personally and professionally. From Canada to Manhattan to Southern California, she has spent more than half a century pursuing wellness, and what it means to be well — in both body and mind — as one ages.
ICE RINKS AND DANCE STAGES
“I have been teaching movement for 54 years,” explains Walzer, now 65.
A native of Toronto, she grew up doing what most kids in her area did: recreating on ice.
“In Canada, if you’re a boy, you play hockey. And if you’re a girl, you ice skate,” she says with a laugh.
She was also an avid dancer and gymnast. By the time she was 11, Walzer was coaching kids in ice skating and started teaching dance when she was in high school. As a student at Seneca College in Toronto, she was part of the coaching team, along with legendary gymnast and coach Marilyn Savage, that worked with the 1976 Canadian Olympic Gymnastics Team.
Despite reaching this elite level, Walzer didn’t stick with gymnastics.
“I left gymnastics [at 21] because it was becoming less about the aestheticism,” she says, adding that the sport’s growing emphasis on scores and intense training didn’t appeal to her own fitness philosophy. “It’s just not a well-rounded physical life in many ways.”
Being active and healthy continued to inspire her, however, and Walzer studied anatomy and kinesiology at Seneca. She also pursued a professional career as a dancer, working on the stage as well as in commercials and on television in Toronto, Montreal and New York City.
She admits, however, that despite the knowledge she had gained about movement and bodies, “I didn’t apply it to myself. I was injured . . . as I danced more intensely . . . Dancers can be very flexible and strong, but being way too flexible isn’t always the best thing for your body.”
Back pain caused Walzer to give up dancing and take up yoga.
DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE
Around that time, Walzer relocated to California; Santa Cruz specifically.
“I moved there to surf,” she says candidly. “It was a great balance to everything I’d done before.”
She also continued to practice yoga, getting even more involved in it after moving to Southern California (her first studio was the Yoga Loft in Marina del Rey). She came to Camarillo after the birth of her son, with a desire to “raise the baby out of the city.”
It was Camarillo Yoga Center, which Walzer opened in 2001, that made her one of the most popular yoga teachers in the area; she regularly is voted among the best yoga teachers in the annual Best of Ventura County survey put out by the Ventura County Reporter. She is proud to say that many of her students have been with her for 22 years — since the beginning.
Walzer attributes this, in part, to her deep knowledge of body mechanics gained through years of study. It’s something that she says the current yoga industry could use more of.
“That’s how yoga was — you’d go to a teacher and learn how to move your body in a way that was healthy,” she says. “But now, instead of a teacher-student relationship, it’s become more instructor-customer. And now, of course, it’s possible to become a yoga teacher online — which is crazy to me.”
Through the years, Walzer says she’s seen a shift in the way many people approach their practice, with an emphasis on being slender and flexible. Today’s yoga “stars” are on Instagram, wowing their followers with seemingly impossible poses. That, she thinks, can lead to people taking up yoga without understanding the principles of certain poses, and pushing themselves beyond their limits.
“Workout yoga is great, but you want to know what you’re flowing,” she says. “If you don’t, you won’t get as much ‘juice’ out of the class, and you can hurt yourself.”
“What’s fascinating about our culture,” Walzer continues, “is that we live in these human bodies and we know less about them than we know about our iPhones or car.”
AGING AND MOVING MINDFULLY
Walzer has been teaching for more than 50 years. And in that time, she has amassed a wealth of knowledge and wisdom — and gained an appreciation for the aging body. She says that in many ways, her teaching “now more resembles physical therapy than gymnastics or dance.” An important question she asks of herself and her students: “Where has my body evolved given all the circumstances of my life?”
It is her goal to educate all of her students about their bodies, and the best ways to move them to stay healthy and in balance.
“Barring trauma, there are so many things that are preventable,” she says. “Plantar fasciitis, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome . . . so much is preventable — and the number one way is through posture. How are you living in your body? How are you laying in bed? How are you sitting at the computer? How do you carry your body during the day?”
Her classes are a blend of Iyengar and Viniyoga, with some Ashtanga and Kundalini folded in. But mostly, she focuses on the mechanics of the body, and the individual needs of her students — whose overall wellness she is concerned with above all.
“In general, people come to my classes as a group that’s learning together,” Walzer explains.
And while there are several teachers at Camarillo-Somis Yoga, all with their own specialties and flavors, Walzer notes that “we all have the same biomechanical principles.”
YOGA FOR EVERYONE
“All of our classes are gentle,” Walzer explains of the studio’s “menu” of options.
“I have seniors in their 80s who take my classes two or three times a week,” she says. “There are classes for less flexible people. We have people with Parkinson’s… We do have advanced practices, but not like it’s a circus performance.” Her core philosophy for aging bodies: “Do what you can with intelligence…for as long as you can.”
Commitment to overall wellness, and a positive relationship to one’s body, comes through in all the teacher bios on the Camarillo-Somis Yoga website. “I love teaching yoga because it allows me to help others improve their physical, physiological, and psychological health,” states Anthony Lorenzana. Karen Davis sees her practice as “…an opportunity to make people aware of their mind/body/spirit connection.” Ultra Gentle Adult Yoga teacher Christi Harman is “particularly passionate about…dealing with the aging process in a graceful, healthy, and mindful way.”
While it’s true that the studio has many senior students, Walzer adds that there are classes for everyone. One special offering is the Tween/Teen Girls Mindful Yoga, taught by Kellie Gilmore.
“Young girls have a lot of pressures on them,” the studio owner explains. “So that class is specifically for them…They can be at ease in their bodies and develop a healthy practice.”
Mindfulness Meditation is another specialty — and it’s different from what many people think of as meditation. For one thing, it’s a moving meditation. It’s also not focused on clearing the mind, which Walzer says can be very challenging for people.
“Everybody can meditate,” she insists. “If you’re struggling, it’s possible that your expectations and approach might be wrong.”
Walzer thinks of it as emotional regulation, a way to “down-regulate” the activity of your nervous system through breathing and relaxation.
“It’s a practice that makes people resilient,” she says. “Many people relied on mindfulness during COVID.”
SOMIS THURSDAY CLUB
Camarillo Yoga Center was located for many years in the Santa Rosa Plaza, on Santa Rosa Road near Leisure Village. In September 2021, the studio reopened in a new space of historical significance, which has been a multilayered blessing.
The studio’s new location is the clubhouse of the Somis Thursday Club, on Bell Street in Somis — hence the recent name change to Camarillo-Somis Yoga and Mindfulness.
“The space is twice the size of our old studio,” says Walzer. “It looks out onto fields and people paragliding.”
It also happens to be one of the area’s oldest buildings. Built in 1895, it was originally a one-room schoolhouse. The philanthropic group known as the Somis Thursday Club purchased it in 1924. It was designated as Ventura County Landmark #85 in 1991, and continues to be a beloved location in Somis.
It’s a perfect fit for the studio.
“The students love our community,” says Walzer. “This is a community that has held up the roof during COVID. We’ve raised money for charities and did community work together. This community is so important…Being in this historical building, it feels meaningful to us.”
THE CRYSTAL BALL
Walzer is profoundly grateful for the myriad paths that have brought her to her home in Camarillo, and the community created within Camarillo-Somis Yoga and Mindfulness. And she’s also deeply appreciative of the many years she has had to learn and explore so many aspects of the body, wisdom that she can now share with her students.
“It’s great being old!” she says without a hint of sarcasm. “I’ve had a chance to learn from my own body and learn what you lose with every decade of your life.”
She describes it as like having a crystal ball: What you know about your body before you have problems will give you insight later on. For example, she relates a story about a young, healthy student who had one shoulder that tended to be restricted. She told him about her concerns, and years later, she was not surprised to learn that he ended up needing rotator cuff surgery.
She knows from personal experience that overdoing it when you are young and healthy, or not paying attention to bodily vulnerabilities, can lead to bigger injuries and more difficult problems down the road. She hopes to educate others so they can avoid those very common pitfalls.
“It’s necessary to find balance as you age so you can keep doing the types of things you want to do all your life,” she says.
“I feel like God brought this gift into my life — to help people deal with being human,” Walzer continues. “We can be empowered and have an approach to aging such that whatever life throws at us, we have strategies to deal with it.”
Camarillo-Somis Yoga and Mindfulness
5380 Bell Street, Somis