Traveler, painter, and a mean hand with a sewing machine, Chantal began practicing Yoga in Miami and went on to study Iyengar yoga with Vladimir Ferrerio Gonzalez while she lived in Havana as the Hampshire College Cuba Program Coordinator. She is currently teaching yoga at the Centre de Yoga du Marais in Paris, while continuing her studies under Rod Stryker in the Tantric Hatha lineage to complete her Para Yoga certification.
Here, Chantal talks with us about the difference between Miami and Parisian mindsets, the eternal debate over audible sighs, and how to get your hubby to come to a yoga class.
How did you come to teach yoga? What else might you be doing if you weren’t a yoga teacher?
I worked at the front desk of Prana Yoga in Miami off and on between college and traveling/working in Cuba. I had just come back from Cuba and my cousin was leading the teacher training at Prana Yoga. I had always wanted to do it, and it just seemed like the next step.
If I weren’t teaching yoga, I would be teaching something else. Probably painting or working with disabled children and teens. I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher, but “yoga teacher” was not always the image I conjured up as I played “teacher” with my imaginary students. My make-believe took place in the form of detention with forms and grades, not straps, blankets or blocks.
Did you always follow a vegetarian diet, or did you go veggie when you discovered yoga?
When I was younger, my mom didn’t eat any red meat or anything with bones in it except for fish, which I never liked. I learned first about veganism, then vegetarianism while I was in college learning about the planet and how much waste goes into the whole “raising of animals for human consumption” thing. It just seemed that it was more logical to eat closer to the earth. A teacher of mine, Joyce Dibennideto-Colton, would come and garden with us every Saturday, and she made it real easy to understand: the sun is what gives us the energy that is in our food, why not eat the sunlight right from the trees, rather than from the trees that the cows, chickens and pigs have eaten?
You used to teach yoga in Miami, now you teach in Paris, France where you are currently living. Do you see any differences so far that have to do with a cultural barrier, or is yoga an internationally stood language?
I do think yoga is international as it is something you can mimic, body to body. It is also something that you must be leading towards. As a teacher, I find it a little different teaching the students here in Paris. For starters, they don’t laugh at my jokes! They are very serious students, and they don’t let out their ohhhs and ahhhs like they do in Miami. In Miami, I got a few dirty looks from my students when we were in not so “popular poses” (usually the men when we are stretching the hips). In Paris, I feel the students have a different idea of yoga– they are still under the impression that all you do is sit and breath, where as in Miami, they think it’s an exercise or a way to lose weight. All these things are true, you sit, you breathe, you move, you can lose weight and feel good. In Paris, the bodies are very different, they are more natural than the bodies in Miami. Yet in Miami, you see more body parts than you do in one whole class in Paris. People wear socks here in Paris and they cover themselves with the blankets. In Miami, it’s so hot we have to put the air on, in Paris, we have to put on the heater (and it’s not Bikram!) Students in Miami want so much more, they want more poses, harder, more challenging poses, even though they are not ready for them, where as here, students want less, they are more into relaxing. If you were to combine the strength of the students in Miami, with their humor and laughter with the attention, observation and listening skills of the French, you would have a perfect student. I think you need to work for your bliss.
Lots of yoga students are fascinated by the secret lives of their teachers. If we were to peek into your proverbial dirty laundry basket, what kinds of things would we find? Any vices you might want to share?
We are all human, but I think the difference is our discipline and commitment. As for vices, well, I love to go to Starbucks and work and have soy chai (or in Paris, grande vanille latté soja). I especially love the ones where I can use their plugs! I can watch a whole season of anything interesting in one afternoon (Dexter, Hell’s kitchen, Project Runway, American Idol or my favorite, Grays Anatomy). And last but not least, I can stay home for 3 days and only leave for food. I like saying home a lot.
I don’t think you can make an emotional error, and I respect every student that comes into the class because everyone is coming from a completely different place. I think the physical errors are usually when students don’t listen to the teacher or to themselves and are not present….and then they get hurt.
I have a friend who’s desperately trying to turn her husband onto yoga. Any tips on turning a yogaphobe into a yogaphile?
I think you can write a whole book about this, but really you can’t force anyone to do it, and it’s not going to be for everyone. This question was brought up in a training, “how can you be a yogi and not “be” with a yogi”? My teacher Rod Stryker made the point that if your partner respects and loves you than that is enough, they don’t need to be a yogi, too. But if you think that it could help your significant other, than have someone come and teach your partner at home. Sometimes guys just don’t want to look vulnerable in a class full of people with you in the room. They need some patience and support, and not any pushing at all. Do some yoga at home, let him watch you. My husband just started coming to my yoga class on a regular basis, and that’s after years of me being a teacher, teaching and practicing at home. Sometimes they need to come to yoga from a different route. Try a book on yoga philosophy if he’s the brainy type or suggest meditation or pranayama classes first, where they don’t need to move around so much. The most important thing is your respect, your time and your support.
Chantal hopes to inspire others to rediscover their shiniest self by sharing her knowledge of art and yogic philosophy. She can be reached through her website.
Photos used by permission of Chantal Tacoronte-Perez.