Thursday, July 5, 2012

Interview #8: Amber Zuckswert

Amber Zuckswert

Age 26
San Francisco based
Epicself virtual studio

Amber is a professional dancer, pilates instructor and yogini. She runs the largest raw food meet up group in San Francisco, The Organic Health and Rawfood Meetup Group,which now has 760 members! Amber offers online pilates and yoga classes, as well as raw nutrition coaching and raw yoga retreats. You can find out more about Amber and her upcoming retreats at her website,

How long have you been practicing yoga? Did yoga lead you to raw food, raw food to yoga, or did they coincide?
 I’ve been practicing yoga for over 10 years. My nutrition studies introduced me to raw food, my dance training introduced me to yoga and pilates. 

You were also a professional dancer. Did dancing lead you to yoga? How did yoga effect your dancing? 
I still dance professionally. Training 2 hrs a day beyond my yoga and pilates work. Pilates helped me completely transform my out of balance alignment and fixed my overuse injuries from dance. Yoga opened my body in profound ways, has quieted my mind and refreshes my spirit daily. 

What company do you dance for/where can people go to see you dance? What style?
I've worked with a wide array of choreographers here in SF. Janice Garret and Dancers, Robert Moses Kin, Alex Ketley, Cathleen McCarthy, Liss Fain and Dancers. I'm not working on any specific projects at the moment. When I sign my next contract I'll let people know through my social media accounts. Contemporary Ballet and Modern.

What styles do you practice? Which style do you prefer? Why? Do you practice every day? 
I practice primarily vinyasa with an emphasis in Anusara, Iyengar and Ashtanga. 

You also practice pilates.
 I primarily teach pilates mat, equipment classes and privates. Yoga and Pilates/Yoga fusion classes are less frequent. What differences or similarities are there between yoga and pilates? Pilates is incredibly specific and technical about ribcage breathing, muscle engagement, alignment and quality of movement. Quality over quantity. Focuses on core strength much more than yoga. Yoga is spiritual and has 7 other limbs beyond the asana. Most yoga classes weave yoga life philosophy/spirituality into the mix. Pilates is all about harnessing the power of the brain to focus and connect with the body. Building nerve pathways and rewiring poor movement patterns. It’s used extensively for rehabilitation.  Did you begin pilates before or after yoga? I found pilates after years of yoga and dance. It completely healed my debilitating low back stress fractures from dance training. How do you integrate pilates into your yoga practice? I use the 8 pilates principles in all of my activities. Once you know how to implement them they can be used to make any activity more efficient and effortless. 

How long have you been a raw foodist? What type of raw do you follow now (high fat, low fat, etc). I’ve been a raw foodist for 3 years and due to my vata constitution eat a moderate amount of healthy fats from fruits, nuts and seeds. I eat an abundance of greens and veggies. Simple, clean, green and low glycemic. Not gourmet. 

Did you become a raw foodist while you were a professional dancer? Did this affect your performance? Dance was one of the primary reasons I tried raw foods in the first place. I wanted to see how my performance would change. I was elated to watch my body completely transform and my athletic endurance and strength increase drastically. My limbs have never felt so light or powerful. 

Who has most influenced your diet? Dr. Gabriel Cousins, Colin T. Campbell, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Kris Carr, Dr. Brian Clement

What was your diet like before raw? Were you vegetarian/vegan? I had been vegan for a year and vegetarian the 6 months before that. I grew up eating meat or dairy at every meal or snack. McDonalds twice per week, pizza, name it, I ate it. Only when I got into highschool did I start to realize what I was doing to my body. 

What was your transition to a raw diet like? 
Profound. The most challenging food for me to give up was bread. The meat and dairy was a breeze to eliminate and made the most obvious impact on my skin. I committed to a month raw as an experiment and fell so much in love with my energy, clarity and physical power that I had to keep it up! At first I lost too much weight and had to add more calories into my day. Finding a balance is vital to sticking with this fabulous lifestyle. Building a community of raw foodie friends is important. Family and their eating traditions  are still challenging.

What does a typical day's menu look like for you?
For a day in the life of me check out my feature on
 How has a raw food diet affected your practice?
Yes! Increased clarity of mind, energy and calm connection to my body.
What is your take on salt? Do you include it in your diet?
 I eat very low sodium. Salt, Sugar and Oil are highly addictive. I don’t add salt to any dishes. Veggies and seaweeds have plenty of sodium content. 

You studied at an Ayurvedic college. What is your take on the Ayurvedic diet? I adore Ayurveda! I think it makes a lot of common sense, much like Traditional Chinese Medicine. I like how the philosophy breaks down specific constitutions and incorporates yoga asana, detoxification methods, breath techniques and more lifestyle practices beyond just nutrition. Is a raw food diet compatible? Raw foods are more compatible for pitta and kapha dosha types. How do you incorporate Ayurvedic practices into your life? I use herbal remedies, yoga asana and detoxification methods like neti pots, cleanses, and adapt nutrition guidelines for raw meals. 

I've often heard that people with vatta dosha should not even attempt a raw food diet. What do you think about this? Do you have any suggestions for raw foodist vattas?
My suggestions for raw vattas is to incorporate more grounding foods, nuts, seeds, root veggies, and read Dr. Gabriel Cousins books. He specifically outlines how Vatta's can stay balanced eating raw. Practice grounding exercise like yoga and tai chi. Calm nerves with meditation. 
Do you find any particular fruit, vegetable, or combination affects your practice, either positively or negatively? Too much fruit causes me to become really spacey and ungrounded. I need more grounding foods like root veggies, nuts, seeds, and greens to keep my head out of the clouds. 

 Do you include any other types of exercise in your daily routine, such as jogging or dancing? I train in professional dance classes everyday and practice yoga/pilates as well. I cross train a few times per week with weights and hike the hills of the city to and from the studios. How do these activities affect your practice? They inform and enhance my practice. I take the nuggets of wisdom I learn from other teachers and all my activity experience to my mat. 

How do you integrate yoga into your day, when you also train as a dancer every day and do pilates? How do you find time for it all?
Yoga is my warm up and cool down from class. 

You currently offer online pilates classes via skype. How would such a session go? I meet my online clients on skype. They have their webcam focused on their body and mat and so do I. I instruct them through an hour private session where they can see me demonstrate and hear my specific cues for their unique body, mind and spirit. 

  Lastly, let’s play the Island Game, just for fun: You are trapped on an island for the rest of your life. It’s a magical island that grows only 5 types of fruit, but the fruit is always in season and always of top quality. What fruits grow on your island? 
1. white mango
2. coconuts
3. blueberries
4. bananas
5. oranges

What is the best way for people who are interesting in taking a class from you to contact you? By emailing me at or by connecting on facebook, twitter, G+ or

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