Chris Calarco (www.chriscalarcoyoga.com) has been practicing yoga for over a decade. He recently began incorporating Phish’s music into some of his classes, including classes for the benefit of The Mockingbird Foundation, and we wanted to take the opportunity to publicly thank and acknowledge him for his work, and learn more about his inspiration.
Can you explain how or what inspired you to create Phishy yoga classes? Does your experience with Phish's music inform your practice?
When I first started practicing yoga, I would feel exhilarated and exhausted following class. It was a truly beautiful, wonderful feeling, and it felt really familiar. Pretty quickly it came to me that the feeling reminded me of the post Phish show feeling. So, in that way, Phish informed my yoga almost immediately. I had always said that I learned the most about myself dancing at Phish shows. But that was before I found yoga, which insists that one be willing to skillfully and honestly stare yourself in the face, and be self-reflective. Yoga isn't simply a physical practice. It’s a way of looking at yourself and the world. So much of the yoga philosophy that I studied and continue to study is a sort of “homecoming,” in that I first learned it all through the creative inner exploration at Phish shows. It was a beautiful confirmation to "re-learn."
When did you get “IT” with respect to Phish?
I was a later comer to the Phish game. I initially ignored them. I didn't understand them, and even pushed them away as my friends got into them. My brother started getting into them in 1995, but I was not down. But I eventually got “IT” in 1997. In summer 1997, after my freshman year in college, I was living in London. Phish was on their European tour. My brother told me Phish was playing Royal Albert Hall (6/16/97), and that venue was literally like three blocks from my house. So I walked there with a couple friends, and saw my first Phish show. I was hooked, immediately. I freakin' loved it! I called him up and told him to get me tickets to Star Lake and Darien. Needless to say, I loved those shows as well, and then decided on a whim to drive to Limestone for The Great Went. It was all over from there.
What are you up to yoga-wise these days?
Well, I am involved in a big project here in Portland, and that has been taking up most of my time and energy for the last year. For the last two years, I have been building a green building. I've never been in the construction business before. But practicing yoga in good company at Yoga Union in Portland, Oregon (www.yogaunioncwc.com), has been central to my personal growth over the past eight years. I am good friends with the owners of Yoga Union, and because of the growing community there, we decided together to expand the studio. I found an old building just a block and a half away from the current studio and purchased it. We entered into a long design phase in order to renovate the building and to build it in the most sustainable way possible. Little did I know the adventure I was getting into! More than two years later we are deep in the throes of construction with a finish line in sight in mid-June of this year.
The project has taken a lot of patience and forced me to look at myself and my habits like nothing I have done before. Basically, it has challenged the effectiveness of my yoga practice, and been an amazing learning experience. The building is called The Breathe Building and will house an expanded version of Yoga Union with two studios, locker rooms, sauna, larger retail space and gorgeous roof top deck for gathering and outdoor yoga classes. There will be a full service holistic wellness center on site called Prema Health, as well as a healthy cafe called Fern Kitchen. We've got a lot going on in a 10,000 sq. ft. space!
Christ, you do sound busy!
The Breathe Building will truly be the most sustainable built community wellness center in the country, and I can't wait till the doors open. You can find out a little more here https://www.facebook.com/breathebuilding and www.breathebuilding.com.
So, in light of this work, I personally didn’t teach much Phish yoga in 2014. But in May 2013, I held the first Phish Yoga Teacher Training in New York. Five people -- all of them Registered Yoga Teachers (a requirement) – attended the training, and we discussed the in’s and out’s of teaching yoga with Phish music. It’s a unique and super fun way to practice for sure. So, in 2014 those guys held it down big time on summer and fall tours. Big shout out to them: Tracy Stonaker, Kerry Contini, Michael Levin, Sara MacConnell and Brooke Carlson.
What was the playlist of the last Phish-themed yoga class you taught?
The setlist from the last Phish class I taught is:
Soul Shakedown Party 7/3/11
Roses are Free 4/3/98
Brian and Robert 7/31/13
Harry Hood 7/3/13
I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see that you played the Berkeley Cities. That’s up there with my favorite Phish improvisations, frankly. When did you first begin practicing yoga?
I started practicing seriously in 2005, when Phish was on their second hiatus, of course.
How would you describe your yoga practice to someone who's largely ignorant of yoga, e.g., someone like me, who has only attended three or four Vinyasa classes?
Well, yoga has come to be understood by many in this country as a purely physical practice, and really modern yoga has even become synonymous with the postural practice. But while this is a huge part of the practice to be sure, in my view it’s not all of it. I truly see the postures as a way of gaining self-understanding. The poses are blank slates; they have no inherent meaning in them. They are shapes we take to see how our bodies, mind, and hearts react. In some way, like drugs. It’s like, "Try this pose on. This is the shape. These are things that might help. Do your best. Get a good teacher and stay strong when things get hairy. Rest when you need to. And keep practicing." You can learn a lot about yourself when you are dedicated to a repetitive discipline.
The postures bring us increased strength and flexibility, as well as the ability to find some form of calm in intense situations. An endless exploration of lessons learned on the mat has a lot of relevance to how we are off the mat. There is a whole world of meditation, of learning how to breathe more effectively, of philosophical teachings that can help inform how we approach ourselves, others, and the world around us. Yoga can become something you do for exercise, or it can become a way of living. Either is great.
Do you have any advice for people just beginning to take yoga classes or who haven't yet taken one but are interested? For example, is there a certain beginning style of yoga class, like Vinyasa, that you would recommend that someone take before getting into other styles?
I would recommend starting with a "Yoga Basics" type class. Generally, this would be called a "Hatha" Yoga class, which in reality is a very general term for the postural practice, but has become a way of saying "slower, more mindful yoga." I believe it’s necessary for beginners to take it slowly, and learn the shapes and the alignment of the body, their body, before taking a Vinyasa class. Vinyasa is certainly the most popular form of yoga in the modern world, because it is often fast, athletic and a great workout. Unfortunately, however, I think there is a lot of bad instruction out there, and beginners should really begin at the beginning. Some might move on more quickly than others to be sure, but a basics class, or even a private lesson, is ideal.
Phish-themed yoga classes are now taking place in cities nationwide, right? Where can one go for more information about them? Is there an email list or Twitter account to follow for updates on the locations and dates/times of classes?
Yes, Phish yoga classes do happen nationwide. The best place to look for information would be both our Facebook group page www.facebook.com/phishyoga for all of the latest announcements, as well as our website www.surrendertotheflowyoga.org.
Proceeds from the Phish yoga classes benefit two organizations. Because both Phish and yoga have given me so much, it was natural for me to use this platform to give back to kids who need music and yoga, so we give 50% of our proceeds to The Mockingbird Foundation (which Phish fans are very familiar with). The other 50% goes to Living Yoga, an amazing non-profit that provides yoga and meditation to children and adults in schools, prisons, drug treatment facilities, and more.
What music do you listen to other than Phish? Have you thought about using other improvisational rock music during yoga classes and, if so, what?
I listen to all kinds of music. Truly. Far too much to start listing here. I do teach other music themed classes. People seem to really dig em. Often I'll even use live DJs for my Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, and Madonna classes. Those are a blast. My friend and I do a Pink Floyd class with video projections, a light show, and more. I've also done a Soul Music class with a live DJ. I stick with the artists that have moved millions of hearts, ya know? It’s a great time.
Thank you for your time, for your practice, and for your support of Mbird.org, Chris!
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