Dance, Music, Mantra, Yoga

The first thing I noticed when interviewing Claudette Evans is a poster of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company in New York on the wall behind her. We were talking on Zoom and the poster was the only insight I had into Claudette’s life…But, it was enough to give me an idea of why she’s so attracted to Veda chanting. An understanding and appreciation of rhythm that comes with dance and music (Claudette is trained in vocals as well) make it easy to recognise the artistry of the Veda chanting and most people who love the arts, will love Veda.  Claudette’s journey to yoga started with dance, “One of my dance teachers in college recommended yoga to me. I was an athlete all through school and I came to dance later in life. I was around 12 when I started dancing so when I got to college, my teacher said I could work on my flexibility and yoga would help with that. It took me a while to get to yoga because in my head I was like, ‘I love dancing so what is yoga going to do for me.’ But her voice was in my head and still is today (laughs). I came across a yoga studio when I moved from New York to Seattle and  decided to take a yoga class and there was something about it that I enjoyed but yoga in the West is sort of expensive and I didn’t come back to it after a few in-person classes. When I did come back to it again, it was because there was this television show, a morning yoga programme that was on Monday through Friday at 6 am and I got up and did the practice, and that practice was not the Mysore practise (laughs) there was music and people dancing in the class and also doing asanas and that was what actually got me back into this practice. After doing that for a while, I decided I wanted to get back to a yoga studio and when I got back to the studio, the teacher there, Jennifer, said that I have a really good practice and I understand body and movement. She suggested that I sign up for this TTC that was coming up so I did that and fell in love with it.”

Her TTC involved philosophy and chanting and the sound of Sanskrit spoke to her and permeated a deep part of her psyche, “I knew I really wanted to study that further. So immediately after graduating from the TTC, I did a Devanagiri bootcamp and als an intro to Sanskrit and then I fell in love with Sanskrit (laughs). I just knew that it was important to me and I knew I had to learn this well and learn it in the correct way. So now I am just constantly learning and one teacher leads you to the next and eventually I found my way to Shantalaji and I finally feel I am exactly where I should be.”

She has been training with Veda Studies’ Shantala Sriramiahji and has recently completed the Indica Yoga and Veda Studies teacher Training Programme. “I have been chanting mantras since the beginning of my yoga studies and not necessarily correctly (laughs) but definitely passionately. As I said, each teacher has led me to my next stage of development. I studied Sanskrit because I felt a real personal passion and drive to understand just how to make the sounds correctly, that has been a primary part of my focus for a really long time. Working with Shantalaji I knew from the very first moment of being in her presence that this is my teacher and I felt that immediately. The way she shares is so generous. The offerings are so rich! I am overwhelmed and I hope that I can share even a third or a quarter of what she offers to each of us because it is a phenomenal programme and I feel fortunate and blessed to be part of this cohort. I know the difference it makes. At times, when I spend a long time chanting, my entire being feels the vibrations I feel sort of high (laughs) because there is so much energy generated. I am now designing a course based on Shantalaji’s teachings.”

Claudette also offers Yoga TTCs at her studio and her training offers an integrated approach of yoga that she designed keeping in mind the importance of practice and experience. “So the HOW of teaching is such a fascinating thing because there are so many different learners in the room. For me, as someone who has always used their body, I needed the embodied experience to really understand yoga. So part of our training is about that. We show how to teach asana safely but we also ensure other elements of the practice are highlighted. We include Yoga Sutras and encourage students to think about the philosophy and have conversations that enquire about the Self and ask the question, “Who are you?” At our deepest level, our true nature or the purest essence of who we are is ultimately the same. It is our conditioning that makes us feel different and one of the things yoga allows us to do is to see ourselves as pure from all this conditioning and come back to this place of clear seeing so we can experience the world without that colour of conditioning. So the HOW of teaching teachers is important….It is important to have bigger conversations about what it means to be a yoga teacher and think more critically about what we are trying to do,” advises Claudette. 

Yoga is a global practice and in the past few decades, it has reached almost every corner of the world and is therefore affected by every culture that practises it. It is yoga's universal applicability that makes it a practice for all of humanity but at the same time, there are narratives about inclusivity or the lack of it in the West. I asked Claudette what it was like to teach yoga in the states as an African American woman? “I have had the pleasure of studying with some great teachers in the social justice sphere Michelle Johnson is one, Diane Bondi is another and there are amazing people doing amazing work in that sphere. For me, in the past, when I first started as a yoga teacher, I was definitely more cautious about bringing my whole identity into the room. I was conscious of that and I had the experience of talking to one of my teachers and she gave me a painful truth that I still remember. One of the classes I taught wasn’t doing very well and  so she took that class away from me and offered it to another teacher and she told me, ‘you need to be more vulnerable with your students and you will see that they will be more responsive to you.’ She said that I hold my students at arm’s length and that I need to be more welcoming. And especially with what has been happening in the US over the last few years, you just can’t ignore the world. So I just slowly and incrementally started to bring more of my life and experience into the world and my classes and I think I am more political than some folks are comfortable with but the students who come to my class come there because they want to hear that and they want to know the truth of what is happening in the world and hear more of my perspective. So I definitely brought more of me into the room, more of my culture into the room and more of my experience as a person of colour living in this very privileged part of the world and I think my students appreciate that, they told me so and I am very grateful that they have given me the space to be myself. There’s no spiritual bypassing. It’s ok to have hard conversations in a yoga room and my job as a teacher is to figure out how much of that to bring in without overwhelming the practice.”

Lastly, I asked her what her advice would be to young yoga practitioners who want to become teachers Claudete says, “ I would say if you are interested in teaching, you have to practise, your teaching has to be informed by your own practice. So whatever you choose to teach, you have to have an established practice so start practising.”


For further information, visit Claudette Evans Yoga