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Agents of Change

Can you reinvent yourself in 2011? These three Richmonders are out to help.


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The secret to a better 2011 is daily yoga and green juice. Writing down 100 of your wildest goals. Duct taping the mouth of your self-doubt. Or maybe, all of the above.

We asked three Richmond life changers what advice they have for people seeking fresh starts this year. Here's what they said (interviews have been edited.)

Yoga instructor Juan Diossa, 42, is a ponytailed Colombian dynamo who believes healthful living can turn back the clock. Diossa teaches 32 classes a week at Diossa Yoga on Three Chopt Road.

Timothy L. Harris, 46, is a motivational speaker, actor, martial arts instructor and aspiring author. At 6-foot-6, he's also known as perhaps the nicest bouncer in the city in his role as head of hospitality and security at F. W. Sullivan's Fan Bar & Grille.

Amy Knowles, owner of Apex Coaching Services, is a psychotherapist, a life coach and a cheerleader for the psyche. She helps people defeat the “inner saboteur that wants to protect us.”

Style: What's your story?

Diossa: I used to be exactly as everybody else out there. I used to go out, to drink, to eat out all the time.

I always had this emptiness inside me that would tell me, this is not right, what you're doing. One specific day — the day before I ate pork chops, late night. And I woke up in the morning and I looked at the mirror, and I saw myself. I didn't have [a] shirt, and I had this big, big fat chunks in here [points to his waist]. I said, “No!” I said, “I'm going to be vegan from now on.”

[image-2] Harris: I worked in corporate for 20 years [at Philip Morris], and over that time I just decided that I wanted to do some different things and more meaningful things.

I can remember talking to colleagues [who'd ask], “What is it you want to do?” I said, “Well, motivational speaking.”

Some say, “Oh, that's something you'd like to do on the side, keep it on the side.” If it's something you want to do, why not make it what you do full time? And so I stepped out on faith to pursue that.

Knowles: I've been doing therapy in private practice [since 2009]. And one of the things I love most about doing the therapy is seeing people be successful. So seeing people improve, and seeing people reach their goals. So once I heard about this new, upcoming field of life coaching, it was really interesting to me.

Style: Why do people come to you?

Diossa: It's really hard to make people to change their habits. Unfortunately, we live in a society where … we live to work. That's it. That's people's life. They get fat, ugly and sick, you know? They come in here because they have an internal search and they haven't found it anywhere. They actually become very skeptical of traditional medicine. So they said, “I need to find another way.”

Harris: [They're] stuck in a place where either they want to do something different, or they want to try something new, or just need some motivation just to move forward. And one of the things I share with people is, in order to make that change … you first have to understand you.

Knowles: The typical person that would seek life coaching would be somebody who is fairly successful, fairly high-functioning, but for some reason they're not able to reach their goals. A lot of people kind of look back on the first part of their lives and question: “What have I contributed? And am I really happy? And where do I want to go from here?”

[image-3] Style: What's the first step to making a fresh start?

Diossa: Yoga is not the solution. Yoga is just part of the parcel. You need to make a lifestyle change. I tell people do not eat anything in the morning until you drink at least four glasses of water. I ask them to come in here at least three times a week. I help them to get rid of sodas and teas and all that kind of stuff, the bad things. I teach them to drink natural juices.

Harris: I've learned to write a list of just a hundred things. Just go crazy. Just write a list of “What I Want.” Don't be judgmental. It could be whatever. … Pick one thing. And for 22 days, just do that. So if it's going for a five-minute walk, do it for 22 days and it becomes a habit.

Knowles: Break your life down into different compartments, like work, or physical, or spiritual, or social. And we'll go through each one of those different compartments of your life and I'll ask them: “How satisfied are you now? On a scale of 1 to 10, for example. What would make it a 10?”

Style: What's your personal goal for 2011?

Diossa: I know what my weaknesses are, and I already target 10 different weaknesses that I have in my personal [yoga] practice that I want to overcome. I'd like also to grow. I have a teacher training program going on right now. So I'm going to be able to have more instructors to spread the word, the message. So I'm planning [to] expand in the Fan area, to put a yoga studio down there.

Harris: One of my goals for next year is to learn how to swim. Because I had an experience this past year. … It was kind of tragic. I almost drowned with my son right there, and only the two of us at the pool. So my next goal is to push forward and fully overcome [financial difficulties]. And move forward, and get out there on the speaking circuit, and become known as the big man.

Knowles: One of my discrete goals is that I want to do a Spanish immersion program. It's something I've wanted to do for so long. … I'd love to be more mindful. I'm so often not where I'm supposed to be. I'm in my head so much. I'm not perfect. I don't have it all together. But I'm working on it, just like you're working on it.


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