Published on July 21st, 2013 | by Catherine Tingey0
One of my favorite yoga teachers. And I’m particularly honored that he is the first profiled teacher here. A fixture in the Santa Monica yoga community, Charlie Samos is simply one of the most heart-centered, compassionate and thoughtful teachers I’ve ever met.
With his gentle soul and Zen master-like spirit, Charlie leads you into yourself, confident that you the student are also your own best teacher. His classes are like a Zen koan – full of space, minimal verbal cues and an expansive energy that comes from within. I think this may be due to the many hours Charlie has spent exploring the vastness of the American National Parks (he loves the outdoors), but just take his class and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
I sat down with Charlie and talked about what Yoga means to him.
13 QUESTIONS: CHARLIE SAMOS
Where are you from?
I grew up in Rhode Island!
What is your mission as a yoga teacher?
My mission is to create a space where my students feel respected and nurtured. This is accomplished by providing a space that is physically and emotionally safe for the students in the room. It’s important to connect with each person in class, whether through simple eye contact, a smile, an adjustment, something that lets each person know I see them, and am there to help them. I also respect my student’s personal space. People tend to come to yoga to quiet down a bit, slow down, remove themselves from the outside world, and find some type of clarity in their life.
What can students expect from studying with you in class or one-on-one?
Each class and teacher is different- we all do the same basic stuff in a million different ways. I offer my students a chance to practice with themselves in a room full of energy and people. While some classes are geared towards having a group experience, or maybe an experience with that particular teacher, that is not my goal. I actually try to disappear in the room, only influencing one’s inner voice. I don’t use the pressure of the group to “push” the student, but rather encourage the compassion of the group to flourish. I believe the student has a right to determine how their yoga class will benefit them. It’s their choice whether they push and work hard, or back down and take breaks. I also consider the day, time, and season. Is it hot out, raining, or cold? Is it mid-week, mid-summer, dead of winter? From that information I structure a class and remember that whatever the external circumstances are, it is always their day.
What is your daily practice?
Varies season to season, but in general I practice 4-6 times per week. I have a home practice. I also go to studios. I like to vary it, I actually like new teachers, love to hear something new, but I also have my favorite teachers as well.
What is it that keeps you practicing?
Yoga enhances my quality of life. The practice keeps my body healthy, and my mind more steady and still. In my experience, the magic trinity is meditation, asana, and something outside in nature. This has been my path towards contentment.
When did you move to LA and why?
I never intended to come to Los Angeles. From a young age, I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I worked hard as a teenager, and well into my mid 20s, putting all my effort into this dream. After years of successfully pursuing this goal and moving up the ranks, I endured a career-ending injury while pitching. This was the darkest period of my life. Since I never had a Plan B, I fell into my family’s business and found myself unfulfilled and empty. I knew I needed change – my soul was dying. So I saved my money and made the crazy decision to travel across the United States in my car. I intended on visiting all the National Parks I’d been craving to see, but more importantly I needed to find my purpose. So I simply packed my car and drove West, zig-zagging across America, stopping at any National Park I chose, staying for as long I wanted, then moving on. I was living so simply that money and time were not issues. I left Rhode Island with about $5000 dollars, and back then that went a long way since I only needed gas and food. I saw many of America’s finest National Parks, I discovered some important parts of myself, and embraced the journey. Months later, I was in Joshua Tree National Park, and low on money. I called my sister in Santa Monica, and came to visit her with no plan to stay. And I guess I must like it because two decades later, I’m still here!
When/where/why did you take your first class?
When I was 19 years old and deep in the crux of my athletic training, I was looking for something to increase my flexibility. One day in a bookstore, I was browsing the sports section (of course) and stumbled on a book, Richard Hittleman’s “Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan”. I read the book, cover to cover, one Christmas Day, and immediately did the Day One practice before our dinner guests arrived. As I worked my way through the 28 day plan, I loved the way yoga opened up my body and increased my strength and flexibility. When I came to Santa Monica I decided to try my first public class. I made the common mistake of thinking, “I’m an athlete- I’m in great shape,” so I immediately went to an advanced level class. What a disaster! After being profoundly “humbled”, I found some good quality level one classes and began to understand the physical practice. Over time, I moved into the deeper poses, as well the deeper understanding of yoga.
Most memorable thing that happened in that class?
I experienced Down Dog, way too much. I experienced how something so simple, can be so difficult. I watched people stay in this pose with ease, not a care in world, as I struggled and wondered, when are we going to stop doing this thing called Down Dog? It was comically brutal.
Something else in your life that compliments your practice?
In the West, people tend to focus on the physical practice. So physically, I hike, rock climb, and mountain unicycle. These activities align me with a higher energy at times, and bring me great joy. But people seem to forget that the whole point of the physical practice is to get still enough to meditate, and that is a crucial stepping stone along the journey. However none of these things, including the asana practice or meditation, solve anything. They simply illuminate the issues in your life that need to be addressed. If your yoga and meditation practice isn’t enhancing the way you move though the world and your actions, it’s not working. If your actions create peace, joy, and happiness within yourself and others, then it is working. It’s that simple.
Describe a turning point, shift, evolution in your practice
My biggest turning point was when I noticed my practice moving off the mat. I became softer, kinder, more aware of others. These changes happen for me at different times. After I had a bike accident that left me a physical mess, I softened to the idea of pain and suffering. When life throws me lessons, I seek to learn, and take something away that is for the better, on the mat and off.
One of your favorite aspects of yoga/your practice?
I love the energetic quality of the practice. If you do the practice correctly, it will not deplete you, it will renew you, it will invigorate you, it will support your journey. This is the magic of the practice. If the practice is depleting you, you need to change your practice.
When / how did you know that you wanted to be a yoga teacher?
I never wanted to teach yoga, even after practicing for 10 years. I even completed two teacher trainings at Yoga Works with Maty Ezraty and Lisa Walford, only striving to deepen my practice, rather than becoming a teacher. I was a climbing instructor at a rock climbing gym and a woman came in for some lessons. She climbed easily because she was strong and flexible. One day she asked me to sub her yoga class at Malibu Fitness. At first I was reluctant, but eventually said yes. When I mentioned to a few people that I “had” to teach a class in Malibu for a woman named Lauren Peterson, they laughed and said “you are subbing for a world-renowned yoga teacher.” I was nervous, but got through it. Later, when Lauren got back from her trip, she asked me to sub some more. We became good friends. Before I knew it, I was teaching more yoga than climbing and I had to accept the fact that I was now a yoga teacher, not a climbing instructor. In the end, it sure worked out. I would consider teaching yoga one of great gifts and privileges of my life thus far.
What was the last thing to happen that reminded you that you love teaching yoga?
A few months ago, I was blown away. A woman who took my class regularly, waited for me after class and introduced herself and thanked me for getting her through her chemo therapy sessions – she would take my class the day before her chemo treatments in order to survive the treatment. She said the peace and stillness of my class got her through. I once again realized that we often have no idea what our jobs, or a simple act of kindness, mean to another.
Charlie’s Teaching Schedule (by location)
Yoga Works, Main St – Saturday & Sunday, 2:15pm to 3:45pm (Level 2)
Yoga Works, Pacific Palisades – Tuesday & Thursday, 6:30pm to 7:45pm (Level 1/2)
Yogis Anonymous –
Monday, 1pm to 2pm (Level 1/2)
Monday & Wednesday, 7:45pm to 9:15pm, (Level 2/3)
Friday 6pm to 7:30pm, (Level 2/3)
Saturday 10am to 11:30am (Level 2/3)
Malibu Fitness -Tuesday, 10:45am to 12:00