“Belize Welcomed Home Her Very Own Yoga Master, Yogi Charu!“
The 37 year old yoga practitioner and teacher, Yogi Charu, was born in Belize City and grew up on Prince Street. He was first introduced to yoga at age 15 through his classmate and lifelong friend, Alexander Aguet. By age 16, determined to deepen his yoga practice and his understanding of life through the science and philosophy of yoga; the young Belizean set off on a journey that took him to places like California, Hawaii, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Germany, Poland, Sweden, several countries in Africa, and New York where he currently resides. More than 20 years after leaving Belize; after years of studying yoga and meditation with adept yogis, after living as an ascetic yogi in the Himalayas, after years of teaching yoga around the world, after making a name for himself as an authentic yoga master; Yogi Charu has returned home to Belize to share his knowledge of yoga with us.
Over the Easter break, Charu and a small cohort of 7 yoga students met at his cousin’s house in Buttonwood Bay for the first of a three part yoga teacher training program. The program operates under the name “Belize Yoga Institute” and offers a 200 hour certification in yoga teacher training that is recognized by Yoga Alliance, the globally recognized professional association that promotes standards for yoga training. The studies cover the theories and practices for teaching classical hatha yoga, and consist of written material as well as practical exercises. There are three incremental sessions built into the program, each lasts approximately one week, with two 3-hour classes each morning and evening. Charu offers the yoga teacher training program here at reduced rates in comparison to his usual fees; and he accepts payment installments, and even grants scholarships for those who sincerely want to participate but do not have the requisite funds. Upon completion, successful participants in Charu’s program will be certified yoga teachers. Yoga teacher training students in Charu’s first cohort here in Belize include educators, entertainers, entrepreneurs, and health fitness professionals, among others. Here is what some of the participants said about their teacher, Yogi Charu: • Ashanti Garcia (dancer, yoga teacher and owner/operator of the Fitness, Health & Wellness Studio) said: “The 200 Hour, 10 Month Professional Yoga Teacher Training by Yogi Charu has been extremely informative so far. Even though I’ve only been in training with him for a little over a week, I’ve learned so much new and exciting information about yoga, including an in-depth history of this ancient science and art, various different techniques for teaching breath work, adjustments in poses and yogic cleanses. Yogi Charu himself is an excellent Yoga Guru. He knows so much, and yet, he is a humble, friendly and extremely down-to-earth. His sense of humor is amazing and he his entire life’s story is truly inspirational.” • TyfaraAndazi Panton (entertainer, entrepreneur, and part owner of “FlavazEnt.”, a Belizean production company) said: “Yogi Charu is simply inspiring! I knew him for a short time when we were growing up in Belize and met up with him again some years ago while I was living in NY when he moved from Australia to NY. Though I had been exposed to the practice of Yoga for some time, I feel like I had never had a real Yoga experience until I took one of the classes he was teaching in NYC. … it wasn’t until I took a class with Yogi Charu that Yoga felt like more than just exercise to me. I am inspired by the way that Yogi Charu dedicated himself to his Yoga journey at a time when this type of practice was not only unfamiliar in Belize but was viewed as “crazy” even. … In times like these in our intimate Belize where many have seemed to simply lost an appreciation for human life and humanity itself, spreading the Yoga practice which teaches discipline, appreciation for all living things and even just an ease of tension can only be beneficial to our society and I look forward to being a part of Yogi Charu’s mission.” Indeed all of us here in Belize who love and practice yoga should offer our praises to Yogi Charu for returning home with a wealth of knowledge to implant here. Of course, we cannot forget that other Belizean natives have returned home after years of yoga training abroad, and have made substantial efforts to embed yoga into Belizean society. For example, Dr. Orlando Pelayo (in Belize City), Dorman Baltizar (in Hopkins), and yours truly (in Belmopan); as well as expats like Kate Devine (in San Ignacio), and Agnes Balawejder-Busch (in Placencia); along with others, we have all done our part to varying degrees to share our knowledge of yoga within our local communities. Now we should be glad that a master like Yogi Charu has joined our ranks, and has come to bring more awareness to the practice of yoga, to share his expertise, and to train others in the ancient science of mind body soul harmony, that we call yoga. Indeed, Belize’s yoga students and practitioners alike have welcomed Yogi Charu home with open arms. Yogi Charu’s birth name is Charles Lewis. Before he left Belize at age 16, young Charu was living with his paternal relatives. He had dropped out of Belize Technical College where he was a top student excelling in a triple major of Biology, Chemistry, and Math. Charu lovingly recalls one of his high school teachers, Mrs. Andrewin, who tried to encourage him to stay in school. However, the young yogi knew that he had to travel abroad for proper training in the science of yoga. It was a rare chance for a youngster in Belize to come across books like “The Bhagavad Gita”, “The Science of Self Realization”, and “Chant and Be Happy”; and such books touched the core of his being and further spurred his interest in yoga; but he would need to go abroad for further studies. Determined, Charu worked for his air passage to Los Angeles, where he would take up residency with the Krishna Society in a work/study program.Young Charu recalls that he was so determined; even as a high school dropout with no ties to Los Angeles, he somehow managed to get a US visa by securing recommendations from national hero,Phillip S.W. Goldson, and Mrs. Kathy Esquivel (who had been his math teacher at Wesley College, but most notably, was married to then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Sir Manuel Esquivel).
Having pursued his passion, now a yoga master, Charu returned home in September of last year after his father (retired police officer Victor Lewis) suffered a stroke. Upon his return the Belizean yoga master was reminded of all the beauties and wonders of his motherland. Like a tourist in his own country, Charu marveled that in this one little country, we have so many beautiful beaches, mountains, rain forests, rivers, creeks, caves, cayes, and of course our beautiful barrier reef and the Caribbean Sea; not to mention the myriad of sites and activities that are as diverse as they are unique to our Jewel.
Likewise, upon his return home Charu reflected positively on the cultural diversity of Belize, as is evident in his own racial makeup, being a mixture of Garifuna, Creole and East Indian (or as we say in Creole, “Coolie”). Although he has traveled the world, Charu is truly in awe of the wonders and diversity of his homeland. Thus, he decided that in addition to offering yoga training to Belizeans; he will invite others to come to Belize to practice yoga and explore our beautiful country. Charu already conducts tours to India and Nepal through his company “Beautiful Moon Tours”, and he recently created a program for tours of Belize,which he intends to commence this year. In addition to the tours and his yoga teacher program, Yogi Charu hopes to open a yoga studio in Belize City and eventually expand to other parts of the country. He hopes that some of the new yoga teachers who come out of his teacher training program would teach at his studio. Charu envisions that yoga can be of great benefit to Belize. He hopes that through yoga, he can create an awareness of health and holistic well being to cure pervasive illnesses in our society such as diabetes and obesity. Likewise, Charu is certain that we can help to reverse the rampant crime and violence in Belize by teaching meditation to children in the affected inner city areas. Ultimately, Charu hopes to generate an interest in yoga that will span from the upper echelons of our society to the lowest levels, from the elderly down to the children, for Belizean, expats,and tourists alike.
Charu describes yoga as a “nonsectarian evolution of consciousness”; and explains that as spiritual beings, yoga can help us to raise our level of consciousness. Over the years his students have come from all demographic backgrounds, religious denominations, and socio-economic sectors. Charu lives In New York, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his wife, Yvonne Borree, a former prima ballerina with the world-renowned New York City Ballet. He teaches at Pure Yoga, which is New York’s most posh yoga school, where New York’s elite yoga practitioners pay premium membership fee. Charu also co-directs the yoga teacher training program and directs the meditation training program at Pure Yoga. He also teaches yoga at the “Savitri Yoga Shal” which he established; and Charu even offered free yoga class in Harlem once a week to benefit those who could not otherwise afford yoga.
Going forward, Yogi Charu plans to continue leading yoga retreats and tours to India and Nepal, and now to Belize. He will continue to teach private and group yoga lessons, and conduct yoga workshops and teacher training programs worldwide, and also here at home in our Jewel. Charu also plans to continue to train yoga teachers abroad and here in Belize, including specialized training in yoga for children and the elderly, and pre and post natal yoga. He hopes to open a chain of yoga studios here in Belize.
Yogi Charu’s next visit home is scheduled for August when he will conduct the second session of his teacher training program. I trust that our Belizean yoga master will receive an even warmer welcome upon his next return home. In the meantime, anyone interested in contacting Yogi Charu should write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or otherwise find him on facebook.
Yogi Charu is the real deal. At age 16 he left the rough streets of his native Belize for remote caves of the Himalayas, where he was inducted into the secrets of Hatha yoga and tantric meditation by teachers from the Savitri lineage.
He has become a sought-after teacher here and in Asia. But he is not teaching standard yoga, this is the yoga of Patanjali:more than just exercise, the aim is to raise our level of consciousness and transform our minds.
I had the privilege of talking with him at Pure West on a snowy January evening. He began meditation with a commentary on the competitive nature of Western culture, and encouraged us to get out of that mode. “Nothing is ours. We are only here temporarily.” He taught with a humble confidence, a warm sense of humor and an unassuming, joyful presence. I got the sense that he could relate to our very human struggles while still being able to transcend to higher realms of awareness.
After talking us into a seated posture he presented us with a series of brief exercises to help us develop sustained concentration through focusing on the natural breath – watching out breath as it comes and goes naturally without manipulation. “Your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy,” he told us. “But really the mind is neutral, and we can mutate it. Our culture today doesn’t cultivate the present focus of the mind, but we can change this through yoga practice.”
Then we chanted Shiva Shambo to the chords of the harmonium and moved into Salutations. I was challenged by his slow breath counts, and my muscles were pleasantly sore after class from the unaccustomed long holds in many of the postures.
“My mind tries to cheat me out of my practice,” he said, urging us to stay in each pose past the comfort point to build our strength and stamina.
After class I eagerly learned more about his epic journey from “plain sucker” (as he described his former life) to yoga guru.
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