Nyonnaise and self-proclaimed introvert Charlie Stewart-Brown is the founder of Indiv Yoga Switzerland and has dedicated her life to bringing yoga and meditation to the world. Read more about Charlie in our interview below. We met at the local Portuguese Bakery Bessa. Fitting, as Charlie herself is half-Portuguese and a regular there.
She gave us some great insights into her own practices and some simple advice to those of us seeking balance within our busy lives and how to incorporate mindfulness and meditation. Charlie certifies yoga teachers at her teacher training courses as well as offering you the chance to disconnect from daily life, relax & re-balance at her yoga retreats in Switzerland and other locations. Thank you Charlie for sitting down with Living in Nyon.
How did you come to live in Nyon?
It was around 10 years ago and because of John, my husband’s work. He’s in finance and wanted to set up a company in Switzerland. We were going to live in Geneva but I really liked Nyon and its country nature feel. You have got farms and mountains and the lake but then it’s still a little city with everything you need.
How did your yoga journey begin?
I grew up in London and started suffering with anxiety around the age of 10. I tried non-medical therapies, reflexology, different diets and aromatherapy but none of it was working. I was about 13 or 14 and the doctor said there’s this thing that I’ve heard of called Yoga – it comes from India, there’s breathing and relaxation, maybe you should try it! I found a class and I really enjoyed it and after a school trip to a Buddhist monastery in London, the Eastern philosophy really resonated with me. Together with yoga it really helped me at the time.
I realised quite young that my calling was to help people. I didn’t know exactly how yet, but as I started to get into my yoga journey, I felt my dharma in life was to bring yoga and meditation to as many people as I could, because it had benefitted me so much. Even though it was in the 90s when yoga was still considered very esoteric – I believe that it is what I was put in this lifetime to do.
After university, working in the corporate world, I got to a point where I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t being true to myself. I no longer wanted to work because of other people’s expectations. In my late 20s, I went off on my own to Madeira Island for a 4 day silent retreat. During that time I decided that all I really wanted to do was dedicate myself to teaching yoga and meditation, and bring the same benefits I had experienced to others. Now in my 40s I’m so glad I made that decision and I hope to be able to still be teaching well into my 80s!
What did you do next?
I went off and did my first teacher training course and went back to India before I started working as a yoga teacher. I was living in Lisbon and I started teaching at the American Embassy and the International School. It was there I also became known for teaching yoga for Autistic Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. I started giving retreats, private and group classes and it just spiralled.
I then realised that not one style of yoga suited everyone, so over the next two years I did another six courses with some of the best teachers around the world, so that I could apply different types of yoga for different bodies and minds. This way I could tailor classes specifically for the limitations, objectives and health conditions of my different clients, and also train my teachers to do the same.
How do you start your day?
My alarm goes off, I lie in bed and check-in with my breathing and my body. I feel where I have got tension and do a bit of deep breathing and stretching where I feel the body needs it. Then I get up and do a meditation down in our little meditation room, say my Buddhist prayers, make a cup of chamomile tea and sit down at my desk to work.
What advice would you give to people on how to make time for their own well-being in their busy lives?
Well the very first thing and this is going to sound a bit silly, is you have to want to do it. I think a lot of people will hear yoga and meditation is really good for you and want to jump on the bandwagon because they know they should, but they don’t actually want to do it.
Second of all, there’s this misconception that you have to sit for meditation in silence and stillness for 15, 30, 45 minutes. That can be quite daunting and people get quite nervous about that. Nowadays we are never in silence and we are never in stillness. I really advocate for meditations with some sort of stimulus. Guided meditations on an app are absolutely brilliant. Repeating a mantra is a wonderful way to meditate. If I am feeling distracted, l will still use my meditation beads.
Deep breathing is the number one thing. Even before meditation because it brings so many physiological, psychological and emotional benefits. I think people really undervalue how important breathing is, even if you’re not ready to dedicate time to meditation.
I always say people who do not have time to meditate are the people who need it the most.
Just do one minute if that’s all you feel you have got. Set your alarm for 5 minutes earlier or take 5 minutes at lunchtime to listen to a guided meditation, or go out for a mindful walk. Just focus and say to yourself inhale, exhale, with each breath in your mind.
One thing I do with all my clients is give them small stickers to put somewhere where they are going to see it throughout the day. It’s a mindfulness sticker. So when you see the sticker you stop and you just check-in with yourself and your breath. What can you hear, see, feel, smell and perhaps taste in the mouth? Just be mindful of your senses and breath for a few minutes each time.
How did you go from teaching yoga to teaching teachers?
I had been teaching for a few years when we moved to Nyon and set up a small studio here. I had a lot of classes going on but there was only so many people I could teach a week. I felt like I was not reaching enough people and was getting exhausted. I asked myself how can I spread the benefits of yoga and meditation to more people? That’s when I realised that if I trained teachers, then they can go out into the world. I call my students my spiders and we are basically building a web around the globe!
So I’ve now trained over 400 teachers from all over the world and they are teaching, so my spread is wider. I have had students aged from 18 to 68, and during the courses it is like they’re the children I never had. I get to experience so much pride. They come on the course as yoga practitioners, and leave as certified yoga teachers. I get to be a part of their journey and progression and there’s not much else in life that makes me happier.
As well as teacher trainings you also hold retreats.
It’s a way to still keep teaching yoga to people without the pressure of them studying so hard to certify, without the role that I have to play as teacher. There is always this teacher/student dynamic in the teacher training courses whereas on a retreat it is a lot more equal. The dynamic with my clients is a nice change from my students.
You have done couple of meditation sessions here in Nyon. Have you had good response to that?
Very good, but more response from the expat community. I have held teacher training courses here in Nyon before with students from all over – Taiwan, Alaska, Canada and Hong Kong. But it’s quite expensive to rent a space and organise accommodation for students here in Swizerland. There is this notion that Swiss is expensive. In Portugal and Greece for instance, it’s a lot more attractive because of the weather and I can make the courses less expensive. I do love doing retreats here in Switzerland though because of the nature and scenery.
Favourite place to get coffee in Nyon?
Tête de Course for tea. I never got into coffee because of my past issues with anxiety. They also do amazing cookies, give me honey not just sugar for my tea, and the service is really nice.
Favourite place to meditate?
Either in our little meditation room at home or down by the lake somewhere.
Favourite thing to do in Nyon?
It might sound a bit boring but sitting on one of the green benches near the Roman ruins, snuggling in John’s arms looking out at the lake in silence. That’s my happy place. My other favourite thing to do in Nyon is paddle board on the lake. Also I love bowling!
Indiv Yoga’s last retreat was in October 2022, filled with yoga and meditation sessions throughout the weekend with meals included and set in the stunning backdrop of Schwarzsee, Switzerland.
Charlie’s next retreat will be held 9th – 12th March 2023 in Schwarzsee, Switzerland. This 4 day Yoga & Buddhist Meditation Retreat is a sure-fire way to recharge those batteries and learn about Buddhist meditation and philosophy, breathing and yoga techniques. You can find the full retreat schedule and can book here.
If you are interested in either Charlie’s teacher training courses or retreats visit the Indiv Yoga website or follow Charlie on Instagram for some more inspiration and mindfulness.