“I LOVE YOU, BODY! I AM A BAZILLIONAIRE! I AM A SMOKING HOT! PIECE OF ASS!”
When you have a yoga experience with Cheri Rae Russell in her amazing Peace Yoga/Gallery, you can expect to begin and end class with those phrases. Cradling my knees and lifting my forehead to meet them, I lovingly shouted the affirmations to myself along with the rest of the class, smiling at the silliness of the message and resonating with the more profound intention behind the brash words.
And that’s what yoga is like with Cheri. It is loud, it is challenging, but it is always by your own breath, and it is to the extent you can handle, balancing on that edge between “effort and effortless”. Cheri supports the class to find our most authentic expression with her ability to modify any pose tempered by a relentless perfectionism that demands correct alignment. She has a very direct style, charmingly cussing her way through the instructions, and yet she offers a spiritual message that is instantly attainable and completely genuine.
Over the course of the three hours we spent together, Cheri took us through a long, delicious warmup, an all-levels warrior flow, quick abdominals section, a couple of easy inversions and rounded us out with a leisurely savasana. Will Marsh, one of Los Angeles’ premier sitar players accompanied the class, grounding us with the organic, meditational tones of his instrument.
The most memorable moment of the class came at the very end, when we sang OM together… as you may know, I am a fan of the healing power of sound, and group toning is one of my absolute favorite things to do. Encouraged by Cheri to once again take our OM into our own pace and personal meaning, our voices rang out gently in perfectly complex harmonies, with the sounds cascading and escalating in waves as we took our breath as individuals and sang as a family. Each person’s voice lent a unique flavor and note to the collective sound, but we all resonated as one, filling the room with our healing vibrations and sound.
Cheri closed the class with a beautiful talk about happiness and truth, stating wisely that the path to happiness is through service. She shared the following quote from Martin Luther King Jr who said,
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
This struck me deeply because I am coming to embrace my calling to serve both the people that I write about and you, the person I write to. I don’t have a degree in writing or any kind of real qualifications to do this besides the love I feel in my heart, so hearing those words lifted my spirit and I was moved to tears. It was an ‘aha’ moment, a sign from higher intelligence that I am smack dab on my path and it fills me with joy to recall it even now. Thank you Cheri for co-creating such a beautiful moment in my experience.
After all that I was completely elated and satisfied, but Cheri wasn’t done with us just yet, and it is the after-class experience that really brings home why Peace Yoga/Gallery and Cheri are truly special. After she is finished teaching, Cheri heads upstairs and jumps behind the counter of her raw, organic commercial kitchen to prepare a meal for everyone that wants to stay. EDM comes on over the sound system, there is dancing, great conversation and a lot of refreshing human connection. Cheri prepares an abundance of food and gives generously, filling up bellies while poking fun at those who scoff at a plant based diet. She’s usually got some raw desserts in the freezer waiting for the plates to clear. Everything tastes fresh, delicious and alive and everyone eats until they can’t.
Now don’t tell anyone, but I saw Cheri’s secret ingredient. She has it stashed away on the counter but anyone with a keen eye can spot it. Once you see it, it’s completely obvious that the ingredient is LOVE. She pours the Love liberally into everything that passes through her hands, whether that be a raw carrot cake or an adjustment in class. I am awed and inspired by this woman who is so clearly following her purpose, her bliss.