By Sophie Nelson
Photographs by Sean Alonzo Harris
Name: Charlotte Clews
Occupation: Yoga teacher + wellness entrepreneur
When did you begin practicing yoga?
As a little girl, I went to a wonderful dance class with a local woman from Blue Hill that was very free-form. It was cold and dark in the winter and there was nothing else to do, so we’d be in these tiny spaces learning to stretch and breathe. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was doing yoga. I loved being in my body and I loved movement. It took me a long time to get back to that.
In addition to yoga, you also teach Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle skills. How do you see all of these practices working together to improve a person’s health?
I try to create a positive, nonjudgmental space where we can play with food as a friend. It starts with working people toward more prana-filled food, which means fresh, vibrant, colorful food prepared and consumed with love. To figure out the best way to do this, first off I assess a person’s overall condition—how clear are their channels and what is their constitution? Then in the process of cleansing we learn even more. What I’ve found is that even simple shifts in diet and daily rhythm can have a tremendously positive effect, especially if they are aligned with the natural rhythms (the seasons for example) and personal constitution. I love the flexibility and responsiveness of the Ayurvedic system.
Is self-discipline a big part of the health equation?
Most of the people I work with are struggling for some reason. They’re in a state of disease and they have a real desire to change but they don’t know how to make that happen or sustain it. I ask people to dig a little deeper into the idea of how improving our personal health improves our ability to serve in the world. I have to see it that way because, like everyone else, I have a story and I can come up with all kinds of excuses. It helps to remind myself that the unfolding of my life is going to be best if I’m healthy and clear. I am of greater service to my family and my community when I’m in clear alignment with nature, and yoga and Ayurveda really help this alignment.
And when you slip up?
When I’m hard on myself for not being disciplined, it’s okay—it’s part of the pulse. It’s not meant to be a steady uphill climb. I say, “Okay, today was a day of jellybeans. Now I’ll step back and watch, wait and see, and take time to follow my breath.” Most of us have a hard time trusting the supreme intelligence of our own bodies, but I’ve regained that trust by learning to follow my breath. The breath is a wonderful reminder that there is something bigger and more intelligent then our small critical-mind. I always make better choices when I pause and listen to my breath.
It’s clear that health is so much more than a physical condition. What mental shifts have you made in your own life?
I grew up pushing hard, striving, and being oppositional in an attempt for individual definition. And yet, I have experienced over and over that the more sensitive I become to the current of life, the more fun I have. Sometimes little moments, like when I’m getting my kids dressed in the morning, can feel like a serious struggle. Then I take a step back and say, “Let’s see, in what ways can I soften? In what ways can I help?” It’s like paddling downstream instead of struggling against the current.
Can you speak to the importance of spending time in nature?
I feel a shift, sometimes within minutes of being outside. I let myself smell and see and be. There is beauty in all forms, and wild places showcase the complexity and deep patterning found at all levels of nature, including ourselves.