Ana Podcameni enters the studio in yoga pants and a loose-fitting shirt; 30 eyes stare at her waiting to begin. She leads them to their mats, sits cross-legged, and places her hands at her heart center. The class begins with the sacred mantra, “Om.”
What follows is a joyful and free flowing hour of yoga Ana-style. A new yoga teacher, the Brazilian FIU doctoral student found her way to yoga through FIU Professor Marcus Thiel. Along the way, she realized her studies in international relations shared something in common with her yoga practice: the pursuit of peace. But like many yogis, Podcameni didn’t start off enthused about yoga. She had to find the right teacher.
“I thought yoga was very boring,” she said. “I like to run at 11:30 at night with techno music.”
In December 2010, Thiel suggested she take a power vinyasa yoga class with Catherine Johnson, an instructor at LA Fitness in North Miami. He told her Johnson’s class was anything but boring.
He was right. Podcameni loved it.
“She WAS harder,” Ana said. “She still is!”
Before long the two became good friends. They bonded with coffee at Panera after yoga sessions. She began to see Johnson as a mentor and started assisting in Johnson’s classes. “My relationship with Catherine is what made yoga special to me,” she said. “I fell in love with her yoga.”
Eventually, Podcameni decided she too wanted to teach. So she turned to her next teacher, Mariano Ardissone ‘98, the owner of Ayama Yoga Studio in North Miami Beach. In July 2013 she began four months of intensive yoga training with Ardissone to become a 200-hour certified yoga teacher.
“Training was much more than I expected,” she admitted. “It was very complete.”
Podcameni, 35, was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and comes from a family of high achievers. Her parents, Abelardo and Vera Podcameni were professors in Brazil and her sister, Gabriela, 32, is an economist and owns a mediation institution in Brazil aptly named Namaste.
In 2009, after receiving a full-ride scholarship from a joint venture between the US and Brazil, Ana and Gabriel – her husband of 6 years – came to the US so she could finish a Ph.D. at FIU.
“I had an interesting topic of research,” Ana said. Her dissertation covers language – its meanings, uses and comprehension – and how it relates to international relations.
Interestingly, Podcameni’s sees connection between her academic studies and yoga. International relations and yoga seek peace and oneness. And as language changes from nation to nation; everything from the names of yoga styles to the word for how to breathe differs from one type of practice to another.
As a new yoga instructor Podcameni will be building her own yoga and distinguishing herself from Johnson. She hopes to one day own a yoga studio, but right now her next hurdle is completing her doctorate. She is using what she has learned through yoga practice and training and applying it to her studies.
“In every practice we set an intention, which also sets our mind to achieve the materialization of that intention,” Podcameni said. “So, whatever you’re doing or want to achieve, yoga helps.”