Category Archives: Profiles

Breathing Room

Bryde MacLean

If you can breathe, then it’s working.” Lemony Snicket

Many actors swear by yoga, from Matthew McConaughey to Naomi Watts to Robert Downey, Jr., because acting is largely a movement art and yoga on the mat is mostly about body awareness. Unless the role is Frankenstein or you’re Vin Diesel, more wooden than a talking tree isn’t usually in the script.

When Russell Brand dedicated himself to Kundalini Yoga he said, “these things are right good for the old spirit.” Gwyneth Paltrow wakes up every morning at 4:30 to practice, according to People Magazine. “It kind of prepares you for everything, honestly,” said Jennifer Aniston.

God knows, Iron Man could use all the yoga he can get.

Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame superstar dancer singers plug in to the practice, too. Madonna has unrolled her mat down the aisle of jumbo jets. The spectacle of the Queen of Pop in down dog pose is worth the plane fare, given that the average ticket price to one of her shows is upwards of $400.00.

Even though yoga is great for mobility stability control, it doesn’t always work out according to plan. When the singer Rod Stewart was trying a beginner’s balancing pose at home, he lost his balance and fell into a fireplace. “Surely, if God had meant us to do yoga,” he said afterwards, ”he’d have put our heads behind our knees.”

Not many yoga teachers swear by acting. They usually swear about you not being your authentic self, pretending to be somebody else. One of the eight limbs of the practice is about self-observation. In some respects all of the practice is designed to be an expression of your true self.

Bryde MacLean, a native of Prince Edward Island, an Atlantic Canada province, is an actor and a Moksha Yoga teacher. Two Canadian teachers founded the practice in 2004, focusing on strength, therapeutic flexibility, and calming the mind. It is in the vein of hot yoga, although not as hot as Bikram Yoga, nor as rigid in its sequencing.

“It’s built with the long-term health of your spine in mind,” said Bryde.

Moksha Yoga, which means freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, is environmentally active, one of its pillars of purpose being ‘Live Green’, and active in its communities, as well. There are more than 70 studios, most of them in Canada. They offer weekly karma classes with all the profits, currently more than $3 million, going to groups supporting human rights and holistic health.

“I was 21-years-old, working in a bar, hanging with my friends, having a lot of anxiety”, said Bryde. “Ryerson University had turned down my application. My sister recommended yoga. I had never taken a class in my life. Tara was dating Ted Grand, and he recommended it, too.” Ted Grand, her future brother-in-law, was at the time creating what became Moksha Yoga.

Bryde MacLean took her first class in the basement of a church in Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island. “It was myself and a bunch of women who were much older than me, in a definitely not heated space. We did lots of slow breathing and long stretches. It was a powerful experience. I decided I could get behind that.”

When Ted Grand offered her the opportunity to join his team and go to Thailand for yoga teacher training, she made sure she didn’t miss the team bus. “I wanted to travel and I wanted a skill I could travel with. I jumped right into the hot room. I loved it.”

She taught full-time in Toronto for a year before moving to Montreal, where she also taught, as well as attending Concordia University. “I had a full course load, but I wanted to study what I’m passionate about, so I applied to Ryerson again, and got in.”

Ryerson is a public university in Toronto, its downtown urban campus straddled by the Discovery District and Moss Park, focusing on career-oriented education. Bryde Maclean enrolled in the 4-year Performance Acting program. Long before she wanted to be a yoga teacher she had wanted to be an actor. She was scripting performing directing shows from the time she was six.

“We’d haul out Halloween costumes and my parent’s old clothes and dress up. We’d write fantastical stories and use construction paper to build our sets.” She and her friends play acted in garages, attics, and basements. Her parents encouraged her.

“They inspired me.”

Her parents were Sharlene MacLean and Bill McFadden. Her mother was pregnant with Bryde the summer of 1984 at the same time she was stage-managing ‘Blythe Spirit’ at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown. As an actor Sharlene MacLean has played the maniacal Lady MacBeth in ‘Macbeth’ and the prattling Minnie Pye in ‘Anne of Green Gables’, working on stage and on film, working around the births of her four children.

Her father worked and performed long and often at the Victoria Playhouse. Victoria is a seacoast village on the south shore of Prince Edward Island. “I spent a lot of time in that theater as a little person,” said Bryde “My dad and I lived in the building down the street that is now the Chocolate Factory.”

Her parents played the aging couple in ‘On Golden Pond’ in 2012 at the Victoria Playhouse. They had both starred in ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ during the theater’s first season in 1982, thirty years earlier. “I had never seen them on stage together, not as an adult,” said Bryde.

By the time she graduated from Ryerson University in 2011 she was teaching other people how to be yoga teachers. “I didn’t know what I was doing when I started, other than enough about teaching classes myself and being a good listener,” said Bryde. She became Manager of Yoga Teacher Trainings for Moksha International for 3 years.

“I dove into that. There’s a big community vibe. It pushed me to learn how to do things I didn’t consider myself capable of.”

2011 was a big year in more ways that one. She graduated with a BFA, got a full-time job, and got married, too. Jeremie Saunders, her boyfriend fiancée husband-to-be, was in the same class in the same program in the same university as her. One thing led to another. After graduation he trained to become a Moksha Yoga teacher.

“So, there we are, we do all the same things,” said Bryde.

They do all the same things, but with a difference. Yoko Ono once said the most important thing in life was, “Just breathe.” When Bryde wakes up in the morning she breathes free and easy. When her husband wakes up in the morning it’s with the thought, at least I’m still breathing.

Born with cystic fibrosis, Jeremie Saunders is in a lifelong fight with the inherited life-threatening disease. It is a genetic disorder that mostly affects the lungs. Infections and inflammation lead to a host of problems. 70 years ago, if you were born with it, you were likely to die within the year.

Even today, while cystic fibrosis has been made livable, there is no cure. No matter exercise regimens treatments antibiotics, median survival is less than 50 years. “I’m living with this terminal illness,” said Jeremie. “I know that my life expectancy is significantly shorter than most people.”

Two years ago he ran an idea for a new podcast by two of his friends. A month later they recorded their first episode of ‘Sickboy’. The podcast is about the day-to- day of living with an illness. Four months later it officially launched and three months after that it was included on iTune’s Best of 2015 list.

Although it is the essence of innovation to fail most of the time, when time is of the essence it’s better to succeed as soon as possible.

“It’s a comedy podcast,” said Bryde. “It’s laughing about the absurdities that happen when you’re sick, all the embarrassing and difficult things people usually don’t talk about.”

“I’ve always been a fan of honesty,” said Jeremie. All good comedy comes from a place of honesty. He doesn’t try to keep the beach ball underwater. “Every time I would talk to someone about being sick, this fog of awkwardness would fall over the conversation. It’s empowering to drop that, let it go, and not feel confined or chained down by your circumstance.”

Living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, teaching Moksha Yoga, co-starring in short films by Tiny Town Media, in early 2015 Bryde spied a last minute casting call for a summer show in Charlottetown. “I was lucky to see that.” She landed the role of the mom in ‘Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad’ in the Studio 1 Theatre at the Confederation Centre. She and the show were a hit. “Sets, characters, director score a hat trick,” wrote The Guardian in its review.

“Bryde MacLean says much with her guarded, often wordless reactions, like a smile tucked into her shoulder.” It was her first professional appearance on stage.

When actors unroll their mats it’s to learn to control movement. It helps them be more aware of where their physical bodies are in space and the dynamics of change in that space. “Yoga helps me get very present with my body and what’s going on with it,” said Jennie Olson Six, who is, like Bryde MacLean, an actor and yoga teacher.

It also helps develop command over one’s breath. But, that kind of command can be a double-edged sword.

“Yoga helps, definitely, as an actor But, I think in some ways, because I did my yoga training before my actor training, it has hindered me.”

Actors practice breath control so that they can manipulate the range, volume, and speed of their speaking. They might breathe in to the count of four, just like in yoga classes, but when they exhale they do it through their teeth with an sssssss sound. When they come back to four they cut the exhale crisply. It’s a way of practicing ending speech on an exact syllable, making it toe the mark.

When it doesn’t, sometimes actors will flap their lips, making a brrrrrrr sound.

“When you breathe in yoga it’s to create a steady, measured breath, focusing on it, calming your nervous system,” said Bryde. “You don’t want that when you’re acting. You want your breath connected to your voice. When you breathe to speak you want your breath to come from a place that’s connected to your impulse. Yoga is about observing your impulses, but not reacting. Acting is reacting.”

In Shakespeare’s day acting was called a performance of deeds. It’s the same today. “Acting is reacting in my book,” said Morgan Freeman. Where actors want to go in their work, even though they’ve walked through it a hundred times, is to express feeling by following an instinct, not by controlling it. Magic on film and stage is created, not by staying in the rehearsal hall, but by being in the moment.

“You need to have a cool head, however, not get caught up in whatever you’re working on, and go off into another dimension and never return,” said Bryde.

“Yoga has been good for me in terms of focus, my ability to concentrate, and be able to handle my anxiety. It keeps my feet on the ground. It rebalances my body, too, which is the only thing I have to work with.”

While at Ryerson University she played King Richard the 2nd in a student production. “He’s a hunchback, crooked. After two hours of him every day I had to balance out that side of me. Maintaining a healthy body is a super important thing for a performer. Otherwise, you end up with injuries.”

She went back to her roots in 2016, appearing in ‘Blythe Spirit’ at the Watermark Theatre on Prince Edward Island. It was her second professional appearance on stage. It was the same show her mother managed on the same island thirty-two years earlier when she was carrying her daughter-to-be. If anyone was ever born to play one of the leads in the Noel Coward play it was Bryde MacLean.

That same summer her husband starred in the comedy ‘The Melville Boys’ at the Victoria Theatre, the theater she had roamed explored left no stone unturned as a tyke. The Watermark Theatre seats about a hundred people. The Victoria Playhouse seats about fifty more than that.

Spectacle sells, splashy musicals, casts driven by stars. But, small gatherings at indie theaters can have a big impact. Little theaters, summer stock, some in your own backyard, often have big talent. “Bryde MacLean has probably the most difficult role to play – the straight woman – and she carries it like a pro,” wrote theater critic Colm Magner. “She has great fun combusting before our eyes later in the play.”

“I love small, intimate performances,” said Bryde. “I like to be right in there with the audience.” It works for her because she often works in film. “I tend to be a little smaller in my performance size. You can do the subtlest things, so subtle, but so real.”

She kept up her practice all summer at a Moksha studio in Charlottetown, taking bar classes, a mixture of ballet, pilates, and yoga. “I love it, but it kicks my butt.”

There are many reasons people take up yoga, among them stress relief, flexibility, and physical fitness. “They come to yoga to get a cute butt, but you can’t escape all the other benefits of it,” said Bryde. “They stay because they get more mindful, awake, in touch a little bit more.” If they stick with it, the reasons for doing yoga change. The focus shifts from the physical body to the subtle body. Almost 70% of people and 85% of teachers say they have a change of heart over time, changing their focus to self-actualization and spirituality.

“Their buns still get really tight,” she added with a teacher’s keen eye.

After ‘Blythe Spirit’ closed Bryde worked on a 5-week shoot of a horror film called ‘But What Are You Really Afraid Of’. She wasn’t an actor in a trailer waiting to be called for her next scene. She was one of the workers who serviced the trailer. “A craft services job takes care of all the food on the set, the crew that does the dirty work,” she said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Although she continues to teach Moksha Yoga in Halifax, and continues acting, on stage and film, she is writing a screenplay for a feature film, producing a play she hopes to get on the road in 2018, and has launched another new podcast with her husband.

‘Turn Me On’ is a show based on sharing the couple’s sex life with others through interviews, candid conversations, and discussions about sexual orientation. “I don’t need crazy shock value to be interested,” said Bryde. In any case, guests on the podcast are free to talk about their sex lives “whether they’re whacky or not.”

“We are definitely having conversations that feel taboo,” said Jeremie Saunders.

Franklin Veaux, an author and sex educator, believes that what Bryde and Jeremie are doing is doing their audience a good service. “Sexual shame undermines people’s happiness and self-esteem, prevents them from being able to understand what they need and advocate for it and hinders intimacy,” he said.

Although ‘Turn Me On’ is not necessarily about heavy breathing, sex has always been a bestseller. It is often more exciting on stage and screen than it is between the sheets, but it is still emotion in motion, and a big part of nature and human nature. “I couldn’t have imagined we’d have over 12,000 listeners so quickly. It’s very cathartic for me.”

If it is about anything, yoga is about slowing down, slowing down your breath, your body, and your brain. It’s been said once you slow down you will connect with your heart. As many irons that Bryde MacLean has in the fire is enough to take your breath away.

“I wrestle with attachment and detachment,” she said.

Although detachment is a linchpin of yoga, nobody ever sincerely does it without a strong feeling of attachment to doing it. Almost everything we do is invented, so that detachment can be a kind of freedom. But, getting on the mat or breathwork or meditation is about involvement. Pattabhi Jois, who created Ashtanga Yoga a generation ago, on which most of today’s yoga is based, once said it is 99% practice and 1% theory. ,

“Lazy people can’t practice yoga,” he pointed out.

The way to get started is to get going get doing, opening doors, working hard at work worth doing. “I’m casting a net out for a bunch of potential opportunities. What matters is doing what you’re passionate about,” said Bryde MacLean.

Not much is ever accomplished without energy and passion, but to get anywhere you have to act it out.

“When you are inspired by some extraordinary project all your thoughts break their bounds and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be,” said Pattabhi Jois. “Just do and all is coming.”

Catching your breath will take care of itself.

Advertisements

Out On a Limb

4914425804_3a4ed4d0b4_b-500x333

I found myself tagging along to yoga in the first place because my neighbor Vera had started taking classes. Vera told me she was stiffening up. She was dropping in to the neighborhood studio because her husband Frank had taken classes for a long time.

“He said he went to yoga because he’s a counterculture kind of guy, even though yoga is a 5,000-year-old culture, and everybody does it nowadays, anyway,” said Vera. “Besides, his lower back hurt.”

Yoga never fixed his back, but Vera said he still gets on his mat every day, although mostly at home now.

I meant to start right after the New Year, but with one thing and another didn’t take my first class until the first week of February. February is the month I was born and the same month and year the Beatles first number one hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit number one.

Vera picked me up and we drove to the yoga studio across the bridge in Rocky River. She didn’t hold my hand walking through the front door, not that I wasn’t nervous.

The owner of the yoga studio was teaching the beginner’s class. We all had to say our names and then tell a story. “Tell your story,” said Lindsey. I had no story. “Oh, my gosh!” I said. What story do I have? I thought. “My name is Liz Drake and Frank Glass is my friend’s husband,” I said, pointing to Vera.

Lindsey started laughing. “He’s the funniest guy I’ve ever met,” she said.

What? I thought. There are lots of funnier people than Frank, but since Lindsey was smiling up a storm I didn’t say anything. She was a good teacher, but I had no idea what was happening. I had no idea we had to go into poses. I had nothing. I didn’t know anything about yoga.

I had never done it, never seen a class, only a few minutes of it on TV. I had some idea about the mats, but no idea about the blocks and straps.

I thought it was going to be easier than what it was. You’re just stretching, right? We had to sit there, had to close our eyes, breathe, and I thought, is this what it’s going to be like? This is going to be easy. But, then you start doing poses. My God! It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.

I didn’t realize it, but I thought everyone was there for the first time, just like me. When we told our story I should have added I had never done yoga before. I forgot to add that. I had no idea what I was doing. Lindsey would say do this, do that. She had names for all the poses. What is that? I thought. What? I looked around, trying to do it, although I felt I was goofing on everything.

Although everyone else looked like they knew what they were doing, I didn’t even know what downward dog was. It was like when my Israeli ex-boyfriend-to-be convinced me to take Hebrew lessons. He said it was a beginner’s class for people who didn’t know Hebrew, but when I got to the class everyone was speaking Hebrew.

All during the yoga class I pretended like I was on the right track. I didn’t want to look like a total beginner. Lindsey would say, now everybody do this, go into this pose, and everybody would do it. I didn’t want to look like a total beginner, but I didn’t know what I was doing.

After some classes with Lindsey I started going Sunday mornings. Gina was the teacher. The room was always filled with incense at eight in the morning and we had to do weird breathing exercises. I thought I was going to pass out. Maybe I should fake it, I thought. I’m going to pretend I’m breathing, but I’m not going to, because I’ll get dizzy, get flashbacks.

“Pull it up from your core,” she said. Where is that core? I wondered. I never understood what that kind of breathing meant. It didn’t feel natural. Gina seemed to think we had to breathe differently to do yoga.

I liked Gina, but one morning I said I felt like I was doing most of the poses left-handed.

“I don’t even know the names of them. I just look around and hope I can copy somebody.”

“Oh, no, not the D word,” said Gina.

“What? What D word?”

“Discouragement.”

Everybody in the class was so sincere, so serious. They dressed like yogi people with their yoga costumes, special clothes, while I wore a t-shirt and sweat pants. At the end of class we sat cross-legged while Gina told us to imagine drifting down a river, putting all our bad thoughts on a leaf, and then letting the leaf float away. What are you talking about? I wanted to ask.

I moved on to a Tuesday beginner’s class with Tracy. It was at night right after a hot flow class. While we waited in the lobby to go in they were coming out completely drenched. Pools of sweat water were everywhere on the wood floor when we walked into the yoga room. You had to dodge around the pools.

Tracy was good at teaching us the actual poses. She took her time, walking around to help us all, although sometimes I would be in a pose waiting and waiting for her to get to me. I learned every pose as perfectly as could be since she was into perfect alignment.

One day there was a big guy who came to Tracy’s class. He was wearing funny plastic pants. Our class was usually mostly women. Sometimes there might be a guy or two, but after one or two times you never saw them again. Before we started, the plastic pants man said, “This is easy.” Once the class began he started sweating to death. He’s never coming back, I thought.

I never saw him again.

I never sweated, although I drank a lot of water.

I liked the crazy twists, for some reason, but standing on one leg was hard. I don’t have good balance because I can only see out of one eye. Whenever we did balancing poses the picture I got was, I’m going to fall down!

By the middle of summer I was ready to move up the yoga ladder. Tracy told me I should try Monica’s’s Basic Hatha Flow class. I bought a thicker mat. It was great for my knees. Some of the poses are hard on your bones, but that’s what you have to cut your teeth on. At least, that’s what Monica said.

She was tough, almost like a man, but I went to both of her weekly evening classes for five months the rest of the year. Most teachers had a soft voice, but Monica’s was never that soft. It became my main class, even though I dragged myself there. The whole drive to the yoga studio, even though it was only a few minutes, I would complain to myself. She’s going to come and push, she’ll walk around looking for me, I thought. She would push you down, sideways, all ways.

One time she pulled me when I was in a standing pose and I fell down. I just started laughing. You don’t want to be the center of attention, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

She made us hold poses incredibly long until my legs would burn and shake. I remember my thighs burning. I couldn’t even control them.

“What’s wrong with that, that’s good,” she said, “It’s good that your legs are shaking.”

I kept going back. She was top-notch.

One day she stood behind me and pulled my shoulders.

“How does that feel?” I started laughing, thinking, are you kidding me? Go to somebody else.

It didn’t feel good. But, it was a good pain. I liked being stretched.

A small man came to class and acted like he knew everything. “I’m doing this really great, aren’t I?” he said. But, he was just jumping around, moving fast. Afterwards he asked Monica about taking a more challenging class. “You have to be careful, basics would be best for the time being,” she said.

He wouldn’t listen, even though it was Monica telling him what for.

He had heard about Ashtanga Yoga and that’s where he went. I remember thinking, OK, buddy, you’re almost twitchy in this class, sweating, crawling out of the place. The next time I heard about him was when a story went around about a newcomer to the Ashtanga Yoga class who fell and cut his head and had to get stitches.

I was laughing.

Monica was the kind of teacher you were kind of scared of. When she told us we were going to be standing on our heads, I thought we had to do it, no question about it. But, I said to myself, Oh, Jesus! I don’t even know where to start. I never stood on my head in my life. She tried to get all of us to do it, but finally said, “If you don’t feel comfortable, you can sit this one out.”

“I’m glad you said that,” I said. Until then I had been ready, even though I was scared. I just give in and do it. I found out later that standing on your head is an advanced pose.

The one advanced pose I liked was wheel, especially when Monica walked over, got her hands under my back, and pulled up. It’s so hard on your back and hands. How much can you lift yourself? I remember thinking keep your hands there, right there, that feels great.

The whole thing about yoga was that I felt great at the end of class. Otherwise, why would anyone go and do it? I felt better, felt taller, all smoothed out. You had to take the pain of doing it to feel good once it was all over. That’s why I went back week after week, even though I knew Monica was going to push, make us stay in poses until it hurt.

It was because I felt darn good afterwards.

I didn’t want to give up on it, but it was so expensive after awhile. I went for a long time, almost a year, but then I thought I could do it at home. Frank Glass was doing it at home. Vera said he practiced yoga almost every day. If he could do it I could do it, for sure.

I started, but then stopped after a few weeks.

You have to be disciplined to do yoga at home. Whenever Monica saw anybody in her class slacking off she would say, “What’s wrong with you, get going.” At home you can say I’m not doing this pose today. The next day you can say I’m tired and won’t do anything today. I finally didn’t do much for more than a month, and when spring came I started working in the yard and going for walks in the park with my fox terriers.

That was the end of yoga for me.

Kill Me Again

fowler_kimberly_01

Most people, unlike cats and their nine legendary lives, when they die only die once. There’s no going back. The art of living well and the art of dying well are often thought to be the same thing. Kim Fowler is not most people. She lives well, but doesn’t die well, although if she were a cat she would be down to six lives and counting.

She is the founder and owner of YAS Yoga and Spinning Fitness Centers, with multiple locations in Costa Mesa, Venice, and Los Angeles, California. The first center opened in 2001 and featured the first fitness program wedding yoga and certified spinning. “Both together are an amazing combination of yin-yang,” she said.

Ms. Fowler’s Yoga for Athletes melds elements of Iyengar and Ashtanga practice to enhance athletic performance and reduce the risk of injuries. YAS classes are typically 30 minutes of indoor cycling followed by 30 minutes of yoga. “It helps you go deeper into and benefit more from each pose,” she said.

She is a successful innovator, teacher, and businesswoman. She is a resourceful yogi, and one tough cookie, too. She has learned to roll with the punches, literally.

In the early 1980s she was competing in a bicycle road race outside Dallas, Texas, when a car smashed into her. She rolled over the front of her bike.

“I bent the handlebar of my bike with my face.”

As late as 2013 there were close to a half million emergency room visits because of bicycle-related injuries and almost 900 bikers died. Texas is one of the deadliest states in America in which to ride a bicycle, ranking only behind Florida.

After recovering she worked with a physical therapist, a woman who happened to be an Inyengar Yoga instructor on the side. “She gave me yoga poses to help me.” A near death experience turned into a far and wide life experience.

“I guess yoga found me,” she said.

Whether it’s exercise or meditation, yoga is about trying to apprehend the inner being, what in the Yoga Sutras is called drastuh. It’s a burning away of what in the end doesn’t matter. Eternity isn’t something that happens after anybody dies. It’s happening all the time to everybody.

Kim Fowler was raised in an impoverished South Jersey neighborhood, the eldest of five children. “I grew up extremely poor. We didn’t have food or heat. My father had a bad car accident when I was young and ended up with 88 stitches in his face. He never pulled out of it. He became an alcoholic, didn’t work, and left us to fend for ourselves.” She had to make her own way.

Sometimes the freedom to be yourself comes from old-fashioned gumption.

After putting herself through school and earning a degree from Boston University she enrolled in law school. In her final year, in the middle of her final semester, she was diagnosed with a rapidly growing tumor the size of a golf ball in her brain.

“I had a bright career in front of me,” she said. Lawyers get a bad rap. Some people even believe most of the trouble with laws is lawyers. “No one wanted an attorney that had a brain tumor.“

Her doctors told her the problem was inoperable. “We could try to get it out,” one of the team of doctors told her. “But, you will lose your speech and sight. You probably won’t make it past thirty.”

Life can be rocketed into a new orbit by a doctor dispensing bad news from a clipboard in a bland voice. “I’m in my last year of law school!” she exclaimed. “This isn’t an option for me.” Once diagnosed, she had to decide whether or not to listen to their medical advice.

“I’m not going to let this happen to me,” she decided. “There’s got to be something else, something different.” She called a friend who helped her check herself out of the hospital. “Nurses and doctors were screaming. If I would have listened to them I would be dead by now.”

Dead again. But, she refused to buy the farm.

“It’s mind over matter,” said Kim. She began training for and taking part in endurance contests. She ran marathons, rode all-day races on her bicycle, and finally progressed to triathlons. “Someone telling me I was going to die caused me to go the whole other route and become a pro triathlete.”

She also made making it on the mat a habit. “Practicing yoga while battling cancer taught me the importance of balancing strength with flexibility. Focusing on my breath helped me stay centered.”

She gradually recovered. “It was hard, but I was full of piss and vinegar at the time.”

Although doctors are often crucial, recovery is more often brought about not by them, but by the person in danger. In many respects we heal ourselves, by means of our thought and breath, and sheer will.

After graduating from South Texas College of Law she stayed in Houston, going to work for a law firm. In 1990 she moved overseas, practicing international business law in Monaco. Five years later, back in the United States, she joined Winning Combination, a health and wellness business, as their Chief Operating Officer.

Then one day she went hiking.

The Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area in Nevada is gnarly, riven by narrow slot canyons, and laced with steep hillsides. The mountain is called Sky Island because of its elevation and isolation. While free climbing she slipped on a patch of ice, lost her balance, and fell more than twenty feet. She landed on an old tree stump.

The stump stayed rooted. She took the brunt of the encounter.

She cracked several ribs, punctured a lung, and severely lacerated a kidney. “I’ve been through worse,” she thought. She was a half-hour away from the closest medical help. She dragged herself off the stump. ”I knew I had to get to the hospital. It was mind over matter and I just did it.”

The kidney on the side that had taken the blow from the fall was leaking urine and blood into surrounding tissue. At the hospital she was told it had to be removed.

“No,” she said.

Kim Fowler was, again, determined to go her own way. It took her a year to recover. The Winning Combination let her go long before year’s end. “I lost my job as COO.” Getting fired can be like a bomb going off. It can also be a way to get on with your life. You only get to make one mistake with bombs. Firing Ms. Fowler was the Winning Combination’s mistake, although for her it turned out to be liberating.

“When I was rehabbing I would go from a yoga class on one side of town to a spin class on the other,” she said. “I was very frustrated. I thought, why doesn’t someone put this together and open up a yoga and spinning studio?”

That someone turned out to be her.

She opened the first of her yoga and spinning studios in Venice, California. The day she opened the doors her new business began to fail. “We had opposite energies coming together.” Spinners were looking for an intense cardiovascular workout and yogis were looking for a workout to calm them down.

What do you do if your business plan isn’t working? “In my case I regrouped and changed, fast.” She created a new kind of yoga to fit the spinners and sold the yoga crowd on the complementary benefits of spinning. “It was the best thing I could have done.” She was designated a Nike Yoga Athlete by the athletic and fitness company two years later.

Winning acceptance in the yoga world, however, was another matter.

“I got blasted by the yoga community when I first did it because it wasn’t ‘real yoga’, rather my own style,” said Kim.

It was a matter of building a better mousetrap.

The concept of zen on wheels made it into Yoga Journal, the world’s largest mass circulation yoga magazine, “Spin and yoga have merged into a killer one-hour class, created by Los Angeles-based yoga instructor Kimberly Fowler. It’s cropping up across the country.” It named the now better mousetrap one of the hottest fitness trends of 2014.

Since then Ms. Fowler has expanded her brand, moving beyond company-owned locations, and franchising her fitness regimen. “Indoor cycling gives you the best cardio training and yoga provides the best stretching, relaxation, and peace of mind to prepare you for the challenges of life,“ said Hugo Auler, new owner of the franchised YAS Fitness Center in Manhattan Beach, California.

Resurrecting her life led to resurrecting her career, and led to finding her business partner, too. Sherri Rosen is her partner in life, as well. “We were set up on a blind date just a few months after I opened YAS,” said Kim. “We are still together.”

“I’ve stayed in an operator’s mode,” said Ms. Rosen, former vice president of a fashion company. “Kimberly is the visionary. It is amazing what she has accomplished.”

Even though Kim Fowler has gone from cutting edge to business-savvy, even though she has transformed her business model to an investor approach, and even though she has gone corporate, she still lives in her sweats.

“I basically live in workout clothes,” she said. “I only wear green, gray, black, and white. Well, with a smattering of skulls.” She is the designer of an apparel line whose tag line is “Two parts functional, one part bad ass.”

Kim Fowler continues to see her doctor once in a while. “I went and he looked at me like I was a freak when he realized I’d been off medication for 20 years, like I shouldn’t have the life I have. The mind is pretty phenomenal when it comes to its power over the body.”

At the end of exercise sequences on the yoga mat something called corpse pose is traditionally practiced. It’s the easiest and hardest pose. It’s easy because all you have to do is lay on your back with your eyes closed for 5 to 15 minutes. It’s hard because who wants to lie on their back like a dead person, doing nothing, for 5 to 15 minutes.

Corpse pose is about letting go. But, it’s not about zoning out or taking a nap. Even though it’s about letting go, it’s a pose meant to foster connection and clarity, or awareness. Many people struggle with it, however, and some classes look like popcorn popping the minute class ends and corpse pose is announced.

Other people have no problem with it. Kim Fowler is one of them. It keeps her in touch with life. “It’s a different awareness of your body,” she said. “I think for stress it’s amazing. Nothing’s better.”

She knows when to lie down and when to get back up. There are no surprises waiting for her in corpse pose. She’s been there before.

Good Vibrations

Beth Gatchall

Before she spent eight years chanting with Frank Barnett, before she took the stage with Brenda McMorrow at Bhakti Fest, and long before she sang back-up harmonies for Jai Uttal, Beth Gatchall sang ‘Dance of the Sleepyheads’ with her grandmother waking up early summer mornings in Chillicothe, Ohio.

“I was always singing with my grandma, singing songs, and learning songs.”

Even kirtan singers start small.

“My grandma was a schoolteacher, she always had a piano in her classroom, and sang songs with the kids,” said Beth. “All the cousins in the family know the sleepyhead song. Whenever we sing the tagline to each other we just crack up.”

Growing up in Chillicothe, a small town on the Scioto River in southern Ohio, home of Bob’s Banjo Barn, Beth Gatchall began taking piano lessons from both her grandmother and a family friend at the age of six.

“I really took to it. I could read music and I practiced as much as I could.”

At ten she decided to branch out and learn how to play drums.

“But, I didn’t think my parents would go for the drums, so I went for the trumpet, instead, although I think it might have been equally boisterous.”

Her parents were between a rock and a hard place.

The sound level of drum kits is usually around 100 decibels, although rim shots can peak at 135. Trumpets typically generate levels in excess of 110 decibels. Chain saws are rated at 100 decibels, meaning that loggers are required to wear hearing protectors.

While in middle school, and throughout high school, she played in bands, sometimes two and three at the same time. When she left Chillicothe to attend Baldwin Wallace College, where she earned a BS in Biology, she took her trumpet with her.

“I was in love with it. I used to play every day.” She didn’t care about getting a ring around her lips.

In her senior year she grew interested in the guitar. “I was just enchanted by the sound of Peter, Paul, and Mary, their guitars and their harmonies.” She took a class, and after graduation studied with a local teacher, Bruce Walker, for seven years.

When she later teamed with Kasimira Vogel in 2009 to form Pale Daisies, an acoustic guitar and rhythm instruments duo, she credited Mr. Walker as one of her influences, along with the Carter Family and Blue Sky Boys.

“But, where I really learned to play was when I went to work at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.”

The museum’s loosely-knit basement band was well into its more than 20-year tradition of playing roots folk music during their lunch hour when Beth Gatchall started watching and listening to them.

“They would tip their guitars away so I could watch their hands, and if I didn’t get the chords they would show them to me, always encouraging me,” she said.

“They were so kind.”

At the same time that Beth Gatchall was learning to fingerpick the guitar she was beginning to dip her toe into yoga. It was while she was teaching aerobics at the YMCA in Lakewood, the first-ring western suburb of Cleveland she had re-located to, that she took a yoga class, which led her to Bhumi’s Yoga and Wellness.

Harriet Bhumi Russell, a former Director of Yoga Teacher Training at the Kripalu Center who has studied with Amrit Desai and BKS Iyengar, opened the first public yoga center in metropolitan Cleveland in 1992.

After several years of taking classes, as well as practicing with Tom Carney, a Lakewood-based Ashtanga Yoga teacher, in 2003 Ms. Gatchall put on her game face.

“I decided I would do teacher training, so I did that,” she said.

Teacher training typically focuses on yoga exercise, the names of postures, principles of anatomy, an introduction to the subtle body, as well as some history and philosophy. Beth Gatchall’s training was more wide-ranging, even involving kirtan.

Kirtan is a sing-along is which the performer, or leader, sings a mantra, and the audience sings it back. Kirtan is chanting, although chanting is not necessarily kirtan. Call-and-response chants can last 30 and 40 minutes. It’s a way to immerse oneself in sound, or in a meditation of vibration.

“It definitely didn’t resonate with me at first. My reaction was, this is bizarre. But, that’s how I met Frank.”

Frank Barnett, a Cleveland native and fellow yoga teacher trainee, was already immersing himself in Bhakti Yoga and kirtan.

“Frank was doing some kirtans with Bhumi at a Presbyterian church. I went there, but I didn’t have the greatest experience. Frank and I started talking about it and he really listened to me. When that kirtan at the church dried up he took it to his house and we started to do a lot of chanting together.”

They hosted a monthly kitchen party kirtan and for several years a Sunday night sit-in-a-circle-on-the-floor kirtan at Inner Bliss, one of Cleveland’s most popular yoga studios, with Frank on harmonium and Beth on guitar.

“Singing together with Frank is what put the practice in my heart,” said Beth. “It was a powerful experience. He shared so much unconditional love with me through that practice. We got to be great friends.”

Frank Barnett committed suicide in 2011.

“There were growing indications that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t see the bigger picture,” said David Barnett, Frank’s brother and a reporter for National Public Radio. “He became increasingly irritable as his search for a job dragged on, after having been laid off three years before.”

Someone dies by his or her own hand in the United States about every 15 minutes. Most Americans believe adults have a moral right to suicide, according to the Pew Research Center. The Bhagavad Gita, a central yoga text, says that the self is eternal and cannot die. You can kill the body, but you can’t kill the self.

“We had been working on the Hanuman Chalisa,” said Beth. “I said the verses through a million tears every night when Frank passed. After a year of playing it continuously in my car I learned it.”

The Hanuman Chalisa is a 40-verse 16th century devotional hymn. Hanuman is a monkey-like being, sometimes described as an incarnation of Shiva, the God known as the Destroyer, and the hymn invokes his strength and wisdom.

“Then I learned Mere Gurudev. It’s a beautiful melody, and haunting. I sang that when we distributed Frank’s ashes.”

Frank Barnett’s ashes were scattered in the Rocky Mountains by a handful of his friends. “This mind of mine, this body of mine, my every atom is dedicated to you,” Beth Gatchall sang heart and soul. For the next three years she kept up Frank Barnett’s work with the Cleveland Kirtan Community.

“I just continued the practice.”

In 2012 she expanded her horizons by going to Bhakti Fest with her friend Craig Wise, known as Narada Wise, a percussionist and singer-songwriter.

Bhakti Fest Midwest, in Madison, Wisconsin, is a four-day festival of lectures, workshops, and practice. The kirtan ranges from the popular, like the Wild Lotus Band, to the local, like Amy and the Tribal Bliss Band.

Bhakti Fest West, a larger gathering, is a six-day festival in the desert of Joshua Tree, California. Both fests are centered on the devotional paths of yoga, meditation, personal growth, and especially kirtan. The soundtrack never stops.

“They’re huge festivals, beautiful, and just jubilant,” said Beth.

“Kirtan is a practice of singing from your heart. When you chant from your heart it’s the same as my heart, like we’re all in this together. It’s a community experience. I got that from Frank, from my friendship with him. It’s all about giving and receiving the chant, back and forth.”

The first year at Bhakti Fest she worked as a volunteer backstage. The next year she was on stage with Brenda McMorrow.

Brenda McMorrow is a well-known Canadian musician with roots in both folk and jazz. She has described her first encounter with kirtan as not knowing what it was about, only knowing that “every cell in my body started vibrating.”

She needed an extra harmony vocalist for her next day’s set at Bhakti Fest.

“Oh, Beth can sing harmony,” said Narada Wise. Sometimes you just have to step up to the plate and volunteer somebody else to do something.

“So, within an hour I was at Brenda’s campsite and she was teaching me the music,” said Beth. “The next day I was on stage singing with her. It was so fun, so fun.”

Kirtans are usually sung in their native language, which is Sanskrit. “It’s a vibrational language. There’s something powerful about the vibrations of the mantras. When you intend them sincerely from your heart space, they’re potent.”

Kirtan is the participatory chanting of simple melodies. The imaginary fourth wall between performer and audience is not just blurred, but it and the other three walls of the stage are imagined away, so that performer and audience are all on the same stage.

“It’s not about having a great voice or knowing anything about Hanuman,” said Beth.

Krishna Das, the best-known kirtan singer of his time, has said knowing the meaning of the lyrics isn’t the first or even the last step. “It’s about doing it and experiencing. Nothing to join, you just sit down and sing.”

Beth Gatchall recently appeared at the Cleveland State University Student Ballroom with Jai Uttal. She is the singer and guitarist in her own Vandanam Kirtan Band, accompanied by Eric Vogt on drums and George Shumway on upright bass. She performs at kirtan chant events throughout northern Ohio from the Zen Temple to Yoga Rocks the Park.

“The feeling of kirtan is a warmth in my heart that spreads through my body,” she said. “It’s a sense of vibration, of joy, in me.

“Something ignites in your body. It’s the yoga of the heart.”

From Yogaville to Cheeseville

10613066_819775761394272_7322438322921762949_n

When Hannah Inglish interned at the North Country Creamery in Keeseville in far northern New York near the Canadian border for six months she didn’t know it was the penultimate step in her transition from Cleveland, Ohio, yoga girl to cow herder maven and cheesemaker.

She also didn’t know that a year later, eight years after she began studying pre-Christian non-theism, rolling out a yoga mat, and changing her eating habits, she would be making arrangements to move away from where there were 5000 people per square city mile to 15 people per square country mile, with only her boyfriend in tow, and take up farming.

“I didn’t know it was going to happen so quickly,” she said.

“But when I was at Yogaville” – a teacher training facility and retreat center in Buckingham, Virginia, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains – “I read Shivananda’s writings, especially the parts about adapting, adjusting, and accommodating, so the change has been kind of easy.”

Born in Oklahoma, she and her sister grew up in Lakewood, an inner-ring old school suburb of Cleveland, and graduated from Lakewood High School. In her senior year she started reading Alan Watts, the British-born philosopher and populariser of Zen Buddhism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“He was an awesome philosopher, trying to explain the deeper meaning of things, the underlying energy you always feel,” she said. “It makes the unexplainable easier to explain.”

After high school she experimented with raw foods and vegetarianism and began commuting across town to Cleveland Heights to the Atma Center, a holistic studio dedicated to Satyananda Yoga. “They taught traditional yoga, with pranayama and chanting, not your typical soccer mom hot yoga. I wanted that.”

Satyananda Yoga professes an integrated approach to the practice and is known as the yoga of the head, heart, and hands.

The next year she signed on and went to Yogaville for three months to train as a yoga teacher.

“It was a great experience. I cut my long dreads and went by myself. All of a sudden I looked and felt different and I was around completely different people, waking up at 6 AM and meditating.”

Once back home in Lakewood, certified to teach the hatha style of Integral Yoga, she freelanced, teaching around town, but was disillusioned by the high cost of classes at studios and the prevailing focus on yoga as a workout.

“For me it’s more of a lifestyle, and the benefit of yoga is being present in the body and learning to relax. That isn’t really taught in a lot of classes.”

The next summer, with her boyfriend Max, she returned to Yogaville for another three months, but this time as an intern cooking for the ashram’s community.

“We worked in their big kitchen, cooking for hundreds of people, buffet-style, vegetarian and organic. It was another great experience.”

Returning home that fall, inspired by her kitchen work at Yogaville, she found employment at the Root Cafe, a local vegetarian restaurant, organic bakery, and espresso bar doubling as a community clubhouse featuring local music and art.

“It was my first serious cooking job,” she said. “I was the youngest person there. It was tough, although I got the hang of it. It was a lot of fun.”

But, the next summer she broke her wrist while crowd surfing in the mosh pit at a heavy metal concert and was unable to do kitchen work for several months.

“It was bad, really dumb, but I feel like it was almost like life telling me to slow down.”

After her slam danced wrist got better she returned to work, but her job at the Root Café having been filled, she instead found a new job at Earth Fare, an organic and natural food market in neighboring Fairview Park.

“I was doing my own thing at first, with the fruits and vegetables, but I kept getting transferred all over the store, and the managers were really rude, and it was just unfulfilling.”

Destiny has been described as the opportunities that arise to turn left or right when coming to a crossroad. Sometimes it takes karma to work out the windings on the road from Yogaville to Cheeseville.

“I was looking for another job, and not having any luck, but I had been thinking and looking at farm internships when I found an organic farm website I liked.”

It was the website of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. Hannah Inglish filled out an application for an internship, posted her resume, and sat back to wait. She didn’t wait long.

“Steve Googin from the North Country Creamery in Keeseville called me the next day, even though I hadn’t applied there. There are only a few little organic farms in Ohio, but when you look at New York state it blows up.”

According to the National Young Farmer’s Coalition, most of today’s young American farmers are first generation farmers, primarily interested in growing organic foodstuffs and grass-fed dairy and beef.

“He told me I was accepted. I made plans right away. My mom drove me up there, and it was so much more than I expected, all the young farmers and the movement that is going on there.”

Steve Googin and his partner Ashlee Kleinhammer, co-owners of Clover Mead Farm and the creamery, bought and rehabbed a small trailer for Hannah to live in. They tore out its thin carpet, replaced it with hardwood flooring, and parked it under the stars. A stray cat showed up. She went to work milking the twenty cows, feeding the calves, and doing the many odd jobs that farms have an endless supply of.

“All the cows have names, like Nellie, Petunia, Trillium. Trillium was my favorite. I would pet her and she followed me around, sticking her neck out, looking to be petted. They were all such gentle giants, except for Ida, who was cranky, not so gentle. If you got too close to her she would head butt you. Once, I didn’t realize she was right behind me and she got me, which was a big pain in my butt.”

No sooner than she had gotten the hang of herding and milking the shorthorns and Jerseys in her care than the plans Mr. Googin and Ms. Kleinhammer had been making to open a farm café to sell their milk, yogurt, and cheese bore fruit. They hired a cook with experience at New York City’s Blue Hill at Stone Farms to manage the café and put Hannah in charge of the cheese.

“I think Steven really wanted to make cheese himself, and he did a few times, but they’re so busy doing everything else so they asked me to take over the cheesemaking.”

Cheese is sometimes seen as milk’s leap towards immortality, although age matters when you’re a cheese. Making cheese turned out to be the fulcrum that would take her back to Keeseville.

“Making cheese is 90% washing dishes and cleaning everything so it’s sterile, but I loved it, and besides, I really like cows. When you’re milking them they get so relaxed. I’ve seen them fall asleep right on the spot. It’s funny hearing a cow snore while you’re milking it.”

By the end of October her internship was over and she went home again to Lakewood, saying, “I was ready to come back and see my boyfriend.” No sooner was she home, though, than she started making plans again.

“I want to be a farmer,” she said. “But I can’t go out and do that anywhere. I have to go where I can learn from people, and Keeseville is where I decided to go. Even though I asked them so many questions when I was there, they weren’t saying there’s this dumb city girl, and all that. The community there is so attractive to me, the people actually doing it. Whatever it takes.”

With her mother’s help she bought a house in Keeseville and when spring comes is moving there with her boyfriend. She will go back to work at the creamery, milking cows and making cheese, and raise chickens and keep bees on the side  on her own. “There’s a beekeeper across Lake Champlain in Vermont who breeds Northern Survivor Hybrids that do really well in the north country. I’ll see what I can accomplish.”

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field,” Dwight Eisenhower, whose forebears were farmers, once said.

Farming is hard work and farmers are compelled to start over again every morning, very early in the morning, valuing their work, love of land and water, and their communities. It’s early in the sack, early to rise, no black limos for getting to work.

“The farmers around Keeseville, at Clover Mead and Mace Chasm Farms and Fledging Crow, they’re all young and it’s inspiring to see them doing that,” said Hannah.

“It’s hard, hard work, but super rewarding. Eventually I want to own land and build my own cob house. That’s the plan.”

From farm to table is the cheese way. From city girl to cheesemaker to farmer is the way Hannah Inglish has made for herself. When a cow crosses her path it means the animal is going somewhere. Here comes the cheese.

Once your plan has been signed sealed but not yet delivered what remains is bringing home the cows and getting them all on the tune of om on the milk machine so they can slumber away on their feet happily snoring.

Mammon Goes Mantra

Screen-Shot-2015-10-08-at-6.49.38-PM

Tim Feldmann and Kino MacGregor met in India, studied Ashtanga Yoga with Sri. Pattahi Jois, married and moved to Miami, and co-founded the Miami Life Center in 2008. Tim Feldman is an accomplished teacher much in demand for workshops in Asia and Europe, while Kino MacGregor is the author of books and producer of videos about the practice,

When they were asked by one of their yoga studio employees, who doubled as front desk man and janitor, if they would be interested in his take on their financial performance, it is to their credit “Mind your own business” wasn’t the first thing they said.

“I was the guy who took out the garbage,” says Matt Tashjian. “But, it was perfectly fine with me. I never thought about it.”

What he did think about was the yoga center’s bottom line.

“There’s some down time during classes when you sit behind the front desk. I started poking around the computer, looking at their numbers, and one day I sent Tim an e-mail suggesting there were a couple of things they could do to improve their numbers.”

Over tea at a local coffee shop he shared his thoughts with them. “We never thought about that, that could be of great value to us,” they said, and for the next year they met monthly, talking business. As they did Tim and Kino began to suspect Matt was someone who knew exactly what he was talking about.

For good reason.

After graduating with a degree in economics from Arizona State University Matt Tashjian worked at and then led a wealth management group at Citi in Hartford, CT, and since 2009 has been the chief advisor, and founder, of the Tashjian Group of Merrill Lynch.

But, before leaving Hartford and moving to Miami in 2008 two things happened: he ran out of steam and had a falling out with a close family member.

“My moving was a result of what can happen in the banking world, which is you get burned out,” he said.

“I was in my late 30s and very focused on professional success and money and got pulled into a cycle of achievement and striving.” As the liquidity crisis of 2007 became the global financial crisis of 2008 he withdrew from the economics world almost entirely. “I went from working 90% of the time to working 10% of the time.”

He found relief by doing more yoga, which he had been introduced to some years earlier, and sought advice at a Buddha Sangha.

“I was looking for a way out of the suffering. It opened my eyes,” he said.

“I reconciled with my sister and realized my life was more important than just work, and I needed to meet those needs. It so happened Miami could fill some of them and that was the impetus for me to start a different life.”

While shopping at lululemon for yoga shorts a sales clerk recommended Miami Life Center to him.

“I started taking classes and eventually asked if I could work there, behind the desk and mopping the floors. I went from being one of the top 500 financial advisors in the country to making sure the bathrooms had toilet paper.”

His personal practice started one day in the mid-1990s when he took a yoga class at a local gym instead of lifting weights.

“I didn’t have any predisposition to yoga or spirituality,” he said. “What piqued my interest was our instructor talking about the breath, patience, and being in the body. I got into it a little bit, started studying yoga, and then Buddhism.”

Sometimes one will go to a yoga class and get the exercise they need to get through the day. Other times they will start thinking about connecting to a higher energy.

“I would say my gym’s yoga class led to a transmutation of how I think about the world. Before yoga I experienced the world through the external, but now I experience it through the internal self. The primary takeaway to my practice is that ultimately all yoga leads to being more compassionate and empathetic to everything around us, and more sensitive to how we’re all connected.”

Compassion and empathy are not common benchmarks of stockbrokers and financial planners. Ambition and desire are the normative ideals, rather, as well as a dollop of greed.

In the modern world making money justifies any behavior. The incentives against financial crime are nominally zero. Almost no one, literally, has been arrested for the banking and market meltdown of the past seven years.

“Is it any wonder that we as a nation seem to be in search of spirit?” asked Kino MacGregor. “What else is left for America to invent than an authentic self in the midst of such rampant materialism?”

If yoga is mixed into the cauldron of capitalism the brew can begin to smell sweeter.

“When you’re deeply ingrained in the yogic path you relate to people differently. What I attempt to do with my clients is infuse the virtues of a balanced life,” said Matt Tashjian. “What’s the sense of having all the money in the world if you’re miserable?”

Sometimes a transformation of motivation can lead to healing and redemption.

“I now try to take a more holistic view with respect to how I interact and counsel clients.”

When Tim Feldmann and Kino MacGregor restructured their yoga center in 2013 they invited Matt Tashjian to join them as a partner.

“There are distinct pros and cons to running a yoga studio,” he said. “The pros are you are surrounded by thoughtful people who care not only about themselves, but other people, too.

“But, like any small business, there are many moving parts every day. Who’s going to change the air conditioning filter or update the holiday schedule on the web site? It’s death by a thousand paper cuts,” he laughed.

The Miami Life Center business model is to employ integrated tools, assimilating reiki, arurveda, as well as life coaching, reflecting Kino MacGregor’s approach to supporting people’s paths holistically. “There is a magic there that can’t be expressed in words,” said Claudia Borges about practicing at the studio.

At the heart of the practice is Ashtanga Yoga.

“Ashtanga is definitely very physical in nature,” said Matt Tashjian, “but it really speaks to more of a spiritual practice. Ashtanga studios like ours, by their nature, put their emphasis not only on asana, but on the other limbs of yoga, too.”

But, at most yoga studios it is exercise, not introversion or meditation, that is the de facto breadwinner.

“We’ve Americanized yoga, made it into an exercise,” said Matt Tashjian. “Asana is certainly a component of it, but asana is really to keep the body healthy so we can comfortably sit in a meditative state.”

Sitting and meditating don’t pay the bills, however.

“Studios that are more spiritually oriented face economic dilemmas that exercise-centric studios do not.”

To further their aims he has incorporated economic compromises into Miami Life Center’s mission statement.

“We’re committed to the Ashtanga lineage and we’re committed to the idea of bringing forth something that is more than just vinyasa,” said Matt Tashjian.

“It may not be for everyone, and it’s conceivable that we will make less money, but we want to be the kind of business in the business world that not only does good economically, but more importantly does good, all rolled into one.”

It is the financial advisor in Matt Tashjian that makes him understand it is spiritual snobbery to believe we can be happy without money. It is the yogi in him that reminds him to make sure there is money in his wallet, not in his heart.

From Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones

2014-11-13-CharlotteandI1-thumb

When Krishna Venkatesh, a musician who wrote the score for the yoga documentary movie ‘Enlighten Up’, suffered a serious back injury in 2008, he began a yoga practice, searching for relief. He explored Iyengar and Ashtanga practices, and eventually found the Stone Center for Yoga and Health in Teaneck, New Jersey, outside New York City. He immersed himself in the study of Stone Yoga, an adaptive, therapeutic approach accredited by the Yoga Alliance, in time resolving his back pain.

He returned to the music world, recently producing a groove re-mix chant CD with David “Durga Das” Newman, but in the meantime began teacher training at Stone Yoga. After completing his studies, the newly registered yoga teacher began working, with a focus on precise, but case-sensitive alignment.

That the eponymous Charlotte Stone of Stone Center teaches yoga, much less trains teachers, would have been difficult, if not impossible, to predict in 1973, when she began her yoga journey as a student at the University of Zurich

“I was born in Philadelphia, but my father was Swiss. We moved to Switzerland when I was ten-years-old.

“I was studying medieval literature and English, working part-time for an advertising agency, and doing competitive sports. I was stressed out. One of my friends said, ‘You’ve got to do yoga, because you’re driving all of us crazy.’ He gave me a book called ‘Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan’. After 28 days I could just about touch my knees.”

A weight lifter and swimmer, she was undeterred.

“I’ll be damned if I fail at yoga,” she recalls thinking.

Going into action was her method for dealing with failure. She found Sivananda Yoga
teachers near the university in Zurich and began attending classes.

Sivananda Yoga is a traditional system concentrating not only on exercise, but breathing, relaxation, meditation, and diet, as well. “They kept saying, close your eyes, focus on your breath, and I kept saying, when are we going to get to the good stuff, moving, sun salutations. I always skipped savasana because I thought it was a total waste of my 10 minutes.

“I didn’t understand the benefits of it. But, I stuck with it.”

Nothing takes the place of persistence. After a year she was able to touch her toes. She continued her efforts and eventually entered into an informal apprenticeship.

“They slowly but surely allowed me to ease my way into learning more.”

But, they warned her against ever teaching yoga to others.

“You must never teach yoga,” one of her teachers told her. “You are too competitive. You’re going to kill all your students. Never teach yoga, no, no, no.”

But, within a year, with their blessing, she was teaching an occasional Sunday morning class.

“I really fell in love with it,” she says.

She studied with physical therapists, medical students, and delved into Iyengar Yoga. “If I was going to tell people how to stand, how to move, I wanted to know more about physical alignment.”

After returning to the United States in 1977, enrolling at the City University of New York to pursue her master’s degree, and meeting her future husband, she taught power-style vinyasa yoga part-time at gyms.

She also taught at a small ballet school near Lincoln Center.

“The school was run by a Russian lady and one day she looked in on what the girls and I were doing. It did not go well,” Charlotte Stone remembers.

“What are you doing, teaching girls to relax? They are ballet dancers, must never relax! What is belly breathing? No belly breathing in ballet! They must suck belly in!”

“I regarded that as my exit cue,” she says.

In the next ten years she married, had two children, and worked in advertising, concentrating on focus groups, and later becoming a moderator and analyst. “We worked on issues like what shade of red should the next Maxwell House label be, which was apparently a vitally important question at the time. But, I do have to say I loved my work. I learned how to really listen and pay attention.”

She continued to regularly practice yoga, her own Ashtanga-based practice deepening, and continued to teach part-time.

Then, in the late 1980s she was involved in a serious car accident, which curtailed her professional career. “A truck and I had a close encounter on the George Washington Bridge and the truck won. “

After recovering from her immediate injuries she was in physical therapy for the next eight months. “It sidelined my ability to travel. I also developed repetitive strain syndrome in my hands from writing so much. I was only able to consult now-and-then.”

She fell back on her yoga practice, which brought out a side of healing that even her physical therapy couldn’t. She took gentle yoga classes at Kripalu. “It helped open my eyes to people like me, who had injuries.”

She began to share her newly adaptive style of yoga with others.

“I found, if I can’t write full-time, yoga is the only other thing I know how to do, so I did that. Whenever I brought it up, it always fascinated everyone. They would ask, what do you like about it, what can it do for me?

“The yoga began to take off, and I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was and get formally trained.” She enrolled with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a Vermont-based training program that combines old-school yogic wisdom with contemporary dialogue techniques with the aim of guiding practitioners to their edge of deep physical sensation, inviting insights about their lives off the mat.

“It was an eye-opener,” she says.

In 1991 she opened a small studio in Teaneck. “All my friends said they were tired of moving furniture around in our family room for classes. I thought I’m going to give it a shot.” Within five years she had trained as a Structural Yoga teacher, then as a Structural Yoga therapist, and moved the studio to larger quarters. She increasingly worked with people suffering chronic pain and illness.

“It’s based on anatomy and physiology, with a grounding in Ayurveda, and goes far beyond saying do yoga three times a week and call me in the morning,” says Charlotte Stone. “It’s being present for the person and inviting a change to occur.

“I feel what changed for me happened when I was seriously injured. I realized this body is very precious, that no breath should be taken for granted. It was a huge, huge change in my thinking about yoga.” While recovering she wondered how she would teach. Her anatomy instructor told her, “Now you’re going to become a really good teacher.”

The art of teaching is the art of awakening the mind and spirit, both student and teacher.

“I used to think yoga was a great sport. Over time I came to understand it is much more. In the Yoga Sutras it says yoga should be ‘steady and comfortable’. If you look at some of our yoga today, it doesn’t look steady, and it certainly doesn’t look comfortable. It almost makes me want to send letters of apology to my early students,” she says.

A member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Charlotte Stone blends her experience of Structural Yoga with the adaptive approach of Viniyoga, the principles of Ayurvedic balance, and the organic movements of Feldenkrais, which is a method of communicating with the unconscious through movement.

“Our motto is your yoga your way,” she said, explaining her multi-discipline approach. “It’s not about what you can’t do. It’s about what you can do. The practice needs to meet you where you are.”

Stone Yoga’s emphasis is on alleviating pain, reducing stress, and enhancing well-being at every level.

“Every day I’ve been granted after my accident, I think, there’s a reason I’m here. It began with me, peeling away all the illusions of who I was. It ended by working with others, who, like me, had to re-build themselves.”

Out of past beginnings had come a new beginning.

Postscript:

In 2014 Charlotte Stone began a new project, expanding Stone Yoga, recently voted #1 in her community for the second year in a row. “It’s exciting,” she said about adding another practice room. When asked what priorities she was assigning the new space, she replied, “The space will teach us what it’s there for.”