The Path Worth Taking

I wouldn’t be the Charlotte I am today if my parents never got a divorce.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The biggest and most painful, scary, vulnerable challenges are the ones that shape who you are to this day. Go ahead – think about a challenging time in your life where it was/is the most uncomfortable, demanding or obscure. Now think of your life without that moment. You simply wouldn’t be you, am I right?

Don’t get me wrong – for the better half of my awkward “tween-ager” years, I sat on a couch, and listed all the reasons why “life sucked” because of my parent’s separation to my regularly scheduled therapist. At that point in my life, I saw my “situation” as a tragedy, and I was the victim. Unavoidably, I was forced to grow up fast, asked to pick sides and torn between two homes, making Christmas and Birthdays my least favorite times of the year.

During this time, it was impossible for me to visualize my truest self in the midst of a chaotic storm. But the byproduct of the dishonesty that poisoned my parent’s relationship would end up being the reason why I value honesty in my relationship to myself and others.

As I mentioned, it takes time to separate yourself from the “valleys” in your life, so you can eventually identify the light in the darkness. But once you are able to take a birds-eye view of your circumstance(s), 10 times out of 10, these are the moments that define you… and often times for the better.

Take for example, my yogi friend who was recently granted a Green Card in the U.S. after straddling the border for the majority of his adult life. Among a vast pool of feelings, his alien status caused him to feel ungrounded, isolated and captive. Despite, this hardship, however, it only took an afternoon hanging out with him to learn that he is one of the most hardworking, talented and universal beings I know.

While watching the Argentinian/Netherlands futbol match together a few days ago, I couldn’t resist the question – “How are you so motivated?”

Post sip of his Amber Ale, he looked at me and said,

“As hard as my situation has been, I wouldn’t be the motivated person I am today if I didn’t come from a third world country.”

My friend’s response was the spark that ignited a “Ma-ha” moment, also known as, Mother of all “Ah-Ha” moments, in my brain –

Our obstacles are our wisest teachers.

Facing challenges such as enrolling in Teacher Training, majoring in Religious Studies, and traveling alone to Nairobi, Kenya would not have been possible if I didn’t trust in the wisdom that our challenges are actually our opportunities.

In the end, our moments of fear, doubt and challenge are not our downfall but as my mentor, Saren Steigel, states – “the path worth taking.”

Advertisements

5,204 Reasons Why I Teach Yoga

Do something for me:

Inhale.

Exhale.

Repeat.

Now that we are all on the same page, let me begin by saying…

“Hello. My name is Charlotte, and I will be guiding you through the next 60 minutes of your yoga practice. Let’s get this party started.”

A year ago today marks the first time I uttered this introduction to a small group of beginner yogis at a CorePower Yoga class in Chicago, Illinois. 337 yoga classes later, and this sentence has yet to get old.

I guess I could easily end this cute little blog post right now by telling you, plain and simple, that being employed, creating a sense of routine and, of course, making money were the reasons why I showed up to work in the past year. But then I would be lying.

Don’t get me wrong, the reasons above are real – i.e. how else am I supposed to afford my rent, food and other essential expenses such as the almond danish I gracefully shoved down my throat at the new Le Pain Quotidien cafe? I have to be honest though, these reasons are “farts in a hurricane” compared to the 5,204 reasons why I actually showed up to teach yoga 300+ times this past year.

5,204 measures the number of people who stepped out of chaos and onto their mats and allowed me to guide them through transformation. 5,204 represents the number of physical beings who decided to take one hour out of their day to dedicate themselves to inner peace. 5,204 marks the amount of hearts that beat their way through challenging asanas, or postures like ardha chandrasana (half moon) and hanumanasana (full splits) as 5,204 pairs of lungs expanded and contracted between 5,204 sets of rib cages. Finally, 5,204 is the number of times the greeting “namaste,” which means “I bow to the divine light in you” was repeated as 5,204 torsos bowed forward to their own reflection and to the reflection of those around them.

You see my yogi friends, this is why I teach yoga. I teach so a student like Sam Nelson, a retired Chicago journalist, can start a new chapter in his life as he not only finds breath control through challenging postures like crow pose but also makes the life changing decision to enroll in CorePower Teacher Training at the young age of 70! I teach so a yoga student like Cody Sattler, a professional body builder and a current contestant on ABC’s The Bachelorette, can find peace and stillness before he is faced with the life-altering news of whether Andi Dorfman will or will not be giving him a red rose. On a larger scale, I  teach to be a part of something greater than you and me combined. I teach so that my yoga students understand that the minute they leave their mats, their yoga practice begins – whether  they are stuck waiting on a stalled train or sitting uncomfortably as they hear unsettling news about a family member being sick.

Of course, I must add that my intention with sharing this large number is not to “wow” you with my “annual achievement.” Rather, I share it to ease your nerves and show you that 5,204 people in the past year have actually taken a conscious breathe within the midst of the inevitable growing pains of their lives. Are you ready for the best part? I am only one single yoga instructor out of thousands. This number just got a lot fatter and sweeter, didn’t it?

I read somewhere once that the word guru can be translated to mean “the light in darkness.” While I have only brushed the surface of my dharma, or “right path,” and I acknowledge that my passion to learn about the ancient practice of yoga has only just begun, my ambition is as follows: That I have been and continue to be the light that illuminates the right path for the yoga students that allow me to guide them through their life and yoga practice. With this said, I want you to do something for me:

Inhale.

Exhale.

Repeat.

yoga blog pic

With Gratitude,

Charlotte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Super Power of Perspective

During Level Two Teacher Training at CorePower Yoga in Chicago, one of the co-leads, Joel Klausler, pointed something crucial out to the group of yogis who were lotus-seated in front of him –

 “What your yoga students don’t know is that you end up learning more than they do when you teach a yoga class.” 

This is one of the many reasons why I worship yoga as an actual job. I’m okay to admit that, in a selfish way, I learn more and more every time I step in and out of this hot and humid sanctuary. Every class is different, with it’s own pair of eyes and a breathing-pulse that can not be duplicated. Students come in many sizes and shapes, both physically and mentally, and the temperature of energy in the room depends on factors like – the time of day, the type of music playing and if you remembered  to turn airplane mode on or not on your phone…

The moments where I learn the most are when students, like Jorie Gillis, break down their walls and laugh during challenging postures like Half Moon. You see, I learned in only a few seconds of watching Jorie cramp up and laugh her way down from Half Moon that yoga for her is not just a daily/weekly routine that gives her an hour of peace of mind and a nice sweat after a long day behind the desk. No, in fact, yoga for Jorie is synonymous with “making life happen.”  Her light-hearted and courageous nature during challenging poses gave off the immediate vibe that Jorie understands that life happens when she take risks.

When class ended, Jorie called me aside, thanked me for class, and told me that she was an artist and that her art work was currently on display just outside the studio walls where I had just taught class and where she had just taken class. With a white towel wrapped around my sweaty yoga uniform, I slowly scaled her work where Jorie’s paintings and photographs illuminated the wall. On the surface, I could tell Jorie has incredible talent – the way she brought color and light to life in the different mediums she used, whether that be in the form of processing film, dripping wax or distributing oil across canvas.

I was quickly taken back by one photograph in particular that documented Jorie at the many different stages of her battle with breast cancer. After witnessing her light-hearted and courageous nature in class, it was no surprise to me that the different pictures were accompanied with her smiling face and glowing aura.  I came to learn that Jorie’s creativity was a expression of what she called “the dramatic shift” in her late thirties when she was diagnosed with the Big C.

Her story struck home. In just the past five years I have witnessed both my parents receive news of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer (I’m sure someone if not all who are reading this can relate some how). Her artwork took on a whole new meaning that I could relate to and spoke to the fear, courage, and moments of victory that my sister and I felt when we got the news that my mom and dad would be okay.

I mentioned earlier how I learned from Jorie’s laugh and fumble during Half Moon  that “life happens” for Jorie when she takes risks. Not until after class when I viewed her art work and heard her story did I learn that, in fact, through the dramatic shifts she endured during her battle with cancer, Jorie was rewarded with what she calls her new super power: the super power of perspective. 

It’s in moments like these where teaching yoga becomes a lesson, where I become the student and my student’s become the teacher.

 “Now more than ever I want to shake things up and make life happen.”  – Jorie Gillis 

A special thanks to Jorie Gillis for allowing me to share her incredible life story with anyone who comes across this post. Jorie’s original life expressions can be found on the wall at the CorePower Yoga Bucktown Studio located at 1704 N. Milwaukee in Chicago, IL. All proceeds go directly to the non-profit she started called The Arts of Courage Project. Below are links to her non-profit website and facebook page, as well as her own personal website.

http://www.artsofcourageproject.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TheArtsOfCourageProject

http://joriegillis.com/index.html

 

 

Mikey

2/12/14 , 12:35 Am

I boarded the plane in Chicago, headed to Istanbul on route to Africa. I found my aisle seat situated next to a man who called himself Mikey, a round middle eastern man with piercing whites around his light brown eyes. Below I record a story that he insisted I write down while on our trip to turkey.

“One day one person he was young. Age 25 years old. He was born in Iraq but served in US army as a linguistic but at same time he was a troop. This young man get more experience from this war. He got a friend from this nation. They called this nation America.

This guy loved to work with his team. As a member of this team he didn’t feel at time he is Iraqi. He is all time American soldier and defend America and Iraq against the enemy. The enemy is terrorism, al Qaeda in Iraq.

No one know He work with translators for US soldiers. His family doesn’t know because for security for himself. If someone from his family talk about his job Al Quada and militants will hurt him.

The situation in Iraq is difficult and sensitive. This man was very smart to save his life and no one knows about his job.

Just God.

That not mean he not trust his family. But this is call of duty for America as a great nation. He believed one day he will be US citizen and he will defend all of America as a US troop because he believe he is the one from the team.

An explosion happened in his convoy by IEDs. One soldier from his platoon and the soldier got wounded. He ran over to solider and he pushed wound on leg of soldier to stop bleeding and he was crying on his friend, the soldier.

He told the soldier, “you have to be patient. You will not die. You are American you are strong man and I’ll give you my leg”. At that time he was crying. After that the soldier got operation. He wake up and found this man beside him along with the platoon and friends. Another soldier told this soldier “the man who saved your life he’s Mikey.”

That is my nickname. Mikey.

The team had a party for Mikey and after that day Mikey was very happy because he was now a part of this team in US.”

The Sacred in a Wormhole

Getting back into the flutter and flap of day-to-day life post Nairobi, Kenya is no walk through Amboseli park. When people ask me how my trip to Africa was I often think to myself, “what trip?” I guess I’m not able to put into words my own experience just yet. When I am asked to remember my time in Nairobi, it is like I am being asked to remember the death of someone I loved with all my heart: I immediately light up with joy and than in a split moment, I realize that for now on the only way I can get these sweet moments back are through pictures.

Right now in the mourning process, I have built up a defensive shield that keeps me from acknowledging the unacceptable truth that I am not in Africa anymore and instead sitting on a couch looking at snow (…). I will call this protective barrier my “denial shield.”  I’m sure you can relate : It’s just plain easier to negate a major shift and experience in your life than take the time to validate and confirm what you’ve experienced especially when the person asking usually doesn’t have all day/year to hear all the incredible things you experienced with this person, or in my case, place, that you are no longer with.

Honestly, when people ask me how my time in Africa was I automatically think of a wormhole. You know, the old “Einstein-Rosen Bridge” or a “hypothetical topological feature of spacetime that would fundamentally be a “shortcut” through spacetime” (aaaaaaaaaathankyou Wikipedia). Africa happened but existed and continues to exist in a  different realm/dimension, separate from space and time. I guess I feel this way because it was such a different reality than I am used to back in Chicago.

When I was in Nairobi, I stayed at a hotel situated within a Plaza (an outdoor mall so to speak) where Indian vendors make a living off selling mini wooden Genesh icons and delicious Indian food. Life consisted of the beautiful wake up “call to prayer” from the Mosque next door, bananas and honey for breakfast and then a quick and winding walk up  the mall stairs, past the Indian strip club (seriously) to the Shine Center, where I was instantly greeted with hugs, smiles and more hugs from the Africa Yoga Project teachers and volunteers.

Yoga became our universal tongue that reunited us within the studio walls. Positivity and enthusiasm made its way to magic yoga carpets that put the gods back into our feet, and lifted us to a alternate level unattainable on any human plane of existence. The Shine Center became a sacred space situated in this wormhole and yoga was the hierophany, or manifestation of the sacred, that reunited family members from all walks and tongues of life.

As I explore this idea that the Shine Center was a part of a consecrated world unlike any other world I knew back at “home”, I can’t help but flaunt my religious studies feathers for a quick second and remember the 20th c. Romanian historian of Religion, Mircea Eliade’s, concept of religion, “the Sacred & the Profane” and it’s connection to my time in Africa versus my time right now.

There is a chance I might have scared you with this religious studies babel (pun intended) but just give me a chance to explain (I promise I’ll try to make it interesting).

According to my boy Eliade there is Sacred time and then there is Profane time.

The Profane is the realm of everyday “shit I locked myself out of my apartment” bis-nass. The mundane, if you will, occupied by the ordinary bro/chick who sits on his/her couch till 4am and watches reruns of “How I Met Your Mother” as he/she stuffs left-over enchiladas in their mouth and itches their crotch.

The Sacred, on the other hand, is the sphere where everything bad-ass, extraordinary, memorable and momentous occurs. The sphere of the supernatural, where the ancestors you actually wish you met, your greatest heroes and coolest imaginary gods and goddess kick it over refreshing watermelon and chilled cucumber water, splashed with gin.

It is going to take a while for me to understand my time in Nairobi. Honestly, it might take me my whole profane life to answer the question “How was your trip to Africa?” and for a long time I might just answer “what trip?” For now I will leave you with the confusing understanding that my time in Africa was the Sacred in a Wormhole and exists untouched by the mundane, glistening in sacred, extra-ordinary time where the gods and goddess sip on Patron and “High 600” with their multiple extremities.

Feb. 15: Re-Union

On February 15th, I went to a community yoga class where there were over 300 people packed into the Africa Yoga Project’s Shine Center – a relatively small, two floor community space reserved for free yoga and dance classes in the heart of Nairobi, Kenya (a space once reserved for strippers and schillings before AYP founder Paige Elenson claimed the space a few years ago). It goes without saying – the enthusiasm and vigor in the room during the morning class was beyond belief but it was something about the afternoon yoga class/workshop with Yoga Mama and Laughing Lotus co-founder Dana Trixie Flynn called “Dare to Fly” that struck a cord in me.

It was a combination of things I guess. Time didn’t exist. The cosmic clock took over and there was a white noise that threatened the negative vibrations outside the Shine Center’s walls. Dana said it perfectly –

“Yoga is not a union. Yoga is a reunion.”

That is exactly what happened. Forces aligned. The room was split down the middle, half of us facing the right and the other facing left. A valley created down the center, the mirror image of what I did with my own body echoed in front of me, and the single motion of mountain pose where one lifts their arms above their head, repeated itself over and over again right before my eyes. The class became a dance. We were being danced. Papa, an older and skinny Africa Yoga Project teacher in Kenya along with the younger and skinnier Fred were my partners during this dance. We laughed, hugged, high fived and dripped sweat after supporting each other physically in challenging postures that required assistance. We became props for one another, the link that brought the earth closer to our bodies so we could experience taking flight. Props like blocks were pushed aside and instead our physical bodies and the ground served to bolster us up into the air.

During the moments that we linked our bodies to our breath, we danced with the divine. We became “the breath within the breath.” Mary, an Albino AYP instructor occupied the mat across from mine. When we took off  into Warrior III during this yoga surge we linked together, grasping each other’s arms and looked up to smile into each other’s faces before we crashed down into crescent lunge. Charles (another AYP instructor) and I held hands in wild thing and stuck out our tongues in lion’s breath.

Of course, there was a moment of stillness as there is after every moment of action. But my mind could not stay still. It finally hit me. Three days later and it hit me:

 You are in Africa doing yoga. You are in AFRICA doing YOGA. YOU ARE IN AFRICA DOING YOGA.  

Africa. This place. Associated with fear, violence, doubt. Where friends and family back at home were scared for me and waited anxiously to hear my voice &  I was experiencing the strongest form of communal love I had ever, ever felt in my life. Incredible. How else can I say it?

We laughed, danced and clapped on our mats. In final corpse pose, savasana, we held hands. Not because we were asked to but because we were having a reunion. I couldn’t help myself. I burst into tears. I could feel the pulse of Papa run through Fred, run through Charles, run through Mary and make its way through the 200 bodies that blanketed the ground underneath me. The tears were chronic and I went into fetal pose along with the rest of this celestial body. I opened my eyes and no more than three inches in front of my nose was Fred’s bare back. The clearest most beautiful color, a glowing darkness that was brighter than any light I’d ever seen. His skin, his color, historically associated with discrimination, hate, doubt, fear, judgment was so beautiful, so alive, so incredibly real. The tears created a pool under my cheek, I couldn’t understand how his skin was and unfortunately still is what keeps some people from knowing Fred and how bright and beautiful is light shines.

Whatever evil there is in this world, that class was the counter-argument. The anti-thesis. The opposite and honestly much more powerful and threatening than violence and evil. When we moved and reunited like that, evil and violence became vulnerable, at risk. Our actions made the wrong in this world, if just for a cosmic second, insecure and in danger of becoming extinct. A threatening encounter indeed.

Before I left for the trip, I wrote in my fundraising page:

“If we are ever going to witness world peace, it will probably happen when every single person practices yoga. I’m not so naïve to think this will happen tomorrow. But I’m convinced by yoga’s transformative power.”

For those who have donated to my Africa Yoga Project fundraising page as well as supported and acknowledge my vision for peace through the transformative powers of yoga :

It gives me great pleasure to present to you the experience I had above. For it was this moment in my Africa journey that I hope helps you realize that I was not naïve to think that world peace is happening right now, one yoga class at a time.

Namaste lovers,

Charlotte