Yoga Warrior's Logo as of 2007 

Clara teaching in her studio  So the beginning of how Yoga Warrior was born is a sad one for me.  My Mother died in 1999 and by March 2000 I was clinically depressed and in a scary place.  My Mother was my best friend, we spoke every day, and with her death, I was now parentless as my Father had previously died.  I felt hopeless and unable to cope, and couldn’t see as a single female how I’d have the strength to look after myself for the rest of time, I was so used to being looked after and that was the part I had taken for granted.   I wasn’t so far gone that I couldn’t do anything, though I had been signed off work and was struggling to get out of bed in the morning.  So in New York City in April 2000 when one of my friends told me that she thought yoga would really help my state of malaise, I thought fine.  I was scared of where I was going, I would try anything if someone said it would help. 

I went to a yoga class but I think before I went I didn’t even know what yoga was.  So I was surprised when we were on the floor, barefoot and trying out all these strange positions I’d never been in before.  The teacher was calm and spoke about breathing.  At the end of the class, it felt like the first time I had taken a full breath in two years since my Mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Stress encourages shallow breathing, and shallow breathing retains stress.  I came out of the class and as I walked down the streets of Manhattan, something had lifted.  It wasn’t much but I felt different, lighter and somewhere inside I was able to be with myself.  Being with myself was exactly what I had been unable to do for months, that meant accepting what had happened and facing reality.

And there it began in a little studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, this love affair with yoga.  I moved downtown and with that moved my practice in to Cyndi Lee’s OM Yoga studio off Union Square.  Over the next year or so I downdogged up the Yazoo, learning to be right there on my yoga mat, in the present moment.  Learning that lesson taught me to heal myself.  Healing myself was the most profound shift in who I knew myself to be because it meant I could cope, I could look after myself and I would be fine.  Everything was going to be fine.  Eventually I could be happy when the sun was shining, I was laughing again and my heart was smiling during savasana.

My journey wasn’t complete though.  Having emerged from this dark chapter, I found myself in a stressful career in New York City, still single and not really feeling at home within the American culture.  Home for me is England and home was the last place I had wanted to be because that had meant facing a country with no parents.  Living in the US had felt like it was providing some reprieve from that reality and around my personal angst, I was at least having an international career in the most dynamic city on earth.   So I’d gone from Theology at Oxford to a Vice President at a Wall Street investment bank, what the hell was I doing?

Then September 11th happened on my doorstep.  My office was right next to the World Trade Center and I found myself running from the falling towers back to my apartment, definitely lucky to be alive.  Before my very eyes something much much worse than my own personal tragedy had happened, something unnatural, ugly and unforgiveable.

 copyright Gavin Docherty
The tears for me dried up for good and I woke up, again, and considered what do I want to do with the rest of my life? One of the best things I think about a young exposure to mortality is that you get really loud and clear, I’m only coming here once so I better make it brilliant.  Up until then I’d done the right thing, followed the predictable path that easily followed my education but I wasn’t satisfied and I definitely wasn’t being myself in that financial services environment.  So a new enquiry began in downdog.  What do I really want to do?

It came to me in a class with my favourite teacher, Christie Clark, that this is it.  I’m never as happy as when I am in a yoga class.  I loved the community and the sincerity of the energy in the room.  I didn’t know the people in the room but I felt I shared their values, that was important to me and it felt like every time I went to yoga I was coming home.  I’m not saying the workout passed me by, yes I loved that but yoga was already much more than that for me.

So a few months later I was in the Caribbean on a retreat with Cyndi Lee and talking to her about becoming a yoga teacher.  I’d been doing yoga for two years but I knew I was still at the beginning and Cyndi said she didn’t think I was quite ready.  No problem, I went back to NYC and upped the ante with my practice.   By this point I was also training for the NYC Marathon and every day felt clearer and clearer about where I was heading.  It was a good time, I had decided to leave NYC the following year once I’d completed the teacher training and run the marathon and when Cyndi said it was time, I began the teacher training course.

I was packing up my life in the US the summer of 2003, everything felt complete.  I was now a fully fledged yoga teacher, a NYC marathon finisher, done with my career and the Sex and the City lifestyle of a single female in Manhattan.  I was going home and was really looking forward to rain, the BBC, fish and chips and a lovely little village in Wales where my parents lie.  Enter, my South African ex-boyfriend, Andrew.

  Andrew and I met in London in 1996, had an office romance and then in 1997 he moved back to South Africa.  No relationship had ever been quite the same once I’d met Andrew but he had not been ready for the seriousness of our connection when we’d met.  Over the years he’d tried to drift in and out of my life and then he called me on my birthday in 2003.  It was days after leaving the bank and I was feeling on top of the world, I had no time for his on the fence games.  I must have been different on that call, something I said told him the waiting time was over.  It was time to act.  Two months later he came to NYC, literally the week I was leaving.  Then he came to London a few months later and then I came to South Africa March 2004.  Andrew invited me to come and hang out in SA while we tried out “us” again.  He did a great sales job taking me to the bush, to the coast, to Cape Town and Mozambique, and of course Southern Africa is absolutely beautiful.  But he lived in Joburg, and the reality of that was a 1924 house with a 1950s bathroom and kitchen that was airy and freezing in the approaching winter.

So what to do?  I thought I’d spend my time just doing yoga, of course.  So I went on to Google and put in “yoga” and “joburg”….there was nothing….well next to nothing for someone used to the yoga scene of NYC.  What an opportunity for someone I told Andrew.  I was still punting for him to move to London at that stage, Joburg held no appeal, and after a few months in London, I felt good about my decision to settle back in England.  So at that point I was towing and froing between the continents.

During the time Andrew had been back in South Africa since his English chapter, he had become an accomplished photographer, particularly underwater.   The fairy tale ending I was predicting seemed a bit blurry when I thought of Andrew in an office in London in January in the middle of the day with the light on!  So with huge reluctance I told him I would move to Joburg but ONLY to have a go at teaching yoga.  Andrew was setting up his own business at the time, the prospect of me being able to support myself from yoga seemed slim, and I think he thought, we’ll see how long this lasts.

There’s one word that sums me up completely, tenacious.   It shines through every episode of my life, that’s how I’d crafted my international career, pulled through my crisis and that’s how I approached starting yoga teaching in Joburg.  You see I didn’t know ANYONE in Joburg.  I only knew Andrew’s friends and they weren’t biting on yoga.  So how to even start?  The first class I taught had 6 people in, Andrew, two foreign girls and then a South African girl I’d met who dragged two friends along.  The next week only two came, the next week none and so it went.  It was tough and lonely.  Everywhere I went I spoke to people about my yoga classes to the exclusion of everything else.  Yes I know people were thinking who is this yoga nut?  Because the appetite for yoga absolutely wasn’t there in 2004.  All people knew was that yoga was something their Mom’s did in somebody’s garage when they were growing up.  They didn’t know about the yoga revolution taking the US, Europe and Asia by storm.

Clara's First Business Card

 The Original Studio, 48B 5th Ave, Parktown North I was teaching in this lovely artist’s studio in Parktown North belonging to the Voigt family and slowly slowly the classes were growing.  I started going around the city teaching everywhere I could, looking for people who loved yoga.  I was teaching in Joburg Country Club, Virgin Melrose Arch and Old Eds, The Gym, Liberty Life, Virgin Mobile, Sasol and Coca Cola and in people’s homes privately, anywhere I was invited.  By 2005 Andrew thought I should have a name for my yoga so we started throwing names around.  I rather liked Yoga Flip Flop, yeah don’t ask, Andrew came up with Yoga Warrior.  Hmm Yoga Warrior, I really liked that.  My yoga wasn’t sleepy and Yoga Warrior conveyed that, in fact when I said it to people they thought it was a juxtaposition, perfect, I wanted to turn upside down what people in SA thought of yoga.

Yoga Warrior in Translation:

Warrior is used in two contexts: one to acknowledge the courageous people of this historic country that was my new home, and secondly because there are yoga poses that are borne out of the analogy of the warrior. A bit of detail on the poses.  Warrior I can be seen as the warrior holding its sword above its head, powerful, focused and brave but as the warrior unfolds into Warrior II  there is an expansiveness and ease. The warrior is not considered aggressive but rather fearless, brave enough to face its own fears. In Warrior II the front arm reaches into the future, the back arm reaches back into the past, seating the Warrior directly in the present. These poses have always felt good in my body, stretching and dynamic and the warrior code has provided guidance on my rocky path: courage to face reality equipped with the weapons of steadiness and awareness.

The first logo

Then Andrew, basically my business manager, said I needed a logo.  I loved my first logo designed by one of my students, Lisa Dallas.  I am a foreigner after all and two Massai warriors (one of course being female) doing yoga, I thought was totally cool.  The logo reflected the beauty, strength and simplicity I wanted people to understand by Yoga Warrior.  I mention simplicity, and do not want to fool you because yoga is a sophisticated philosophical system that has been studied for over 5000 years, and it is anything but easy; but on your yoga mat, if you manage to reduce this moment to you and your breath, you will glimpse if only momentarily a simplicity in life.

So Yoga Warrior evolved as did my life in South Africa.  Andrew and I got married in Cape Town in February 2006 and it was beautiful. Photos here.

Yoga Warrior seemed established and I built a website myself except the photographs of course.  Andrew had evolved in to a yoga photographer with my critical alignment eye and I think you’ll agree a very good one.

I started branching out from just offering yoga classes.  I began leading yoga retreats.  When I was in NYC that was how I chose to spend my holidays, now I’d found people who loved yoga why wouldn’t they want to spend their time off doing yoga?  Southern Africa has some of the most beautiful scenery as the backdrop for the yoga, it seemed obvious.  So I started at a day spa, and then weekends in the Waterberg, then the Drakensberg and subsequently started taking yogis to Mozambique, to the South to swim with the resident dolphins and up centrally to dreamy Tofinho.  In 2007 I had a week long retreat at one of the leading eco-lodges in the world in Tanzania.

Back in Joburg, Carpe Diem, the wellness drinks company, approached me and asked me to be involved in relaunching their drink in South Africa following on from Europe.  I was in London for the relaunch on the London Eye, in Joburg they wanted to lay on free yoga classes at the Michelangelo Towers accompanied with free Carpe Diem.

That got me thinking about outdoors yoga, it seemed a great new offering in Joburg.  I approached Vida and put it to them about teaching on their perfect yoga deck before the café opened.  Summer Friday mornings in Sandton doing yoga outside Vida became the rage.  Then from my, still 1950s, kitchen in Forest Town, I look up at The Westcliff Hotel.  I approached them about Sunrise Yoga on Saturdays followed by breakfast in the restaurant.  The Westcliff has the best view in Joburg, it was a sell out success.

Finally Yoga Warrior seemed to have momentum.   I had been teaching in the artist’s studio for 3 years, sometimes the studio was totally packed, sometimes it still wasn’t but it finally felt like the right moment to take the leap to our own dedicated studio.

 New studio under construction I wasn’t sure about doing this leap on my own, I felt I needed a partner to share the risk and provide emotional support.  Running your own business is beyond challenging, I thought a business partner would make it easier.  In true Clara style however, I eventually did it all on my own.  Let me not disregard in any way Andrew right behind me every step of the way.  If you talk to him, he can speak about Yoga Warrior with as much passion as I do, sometimes more, and sometimes too much….!

My original clients, now my friends, told me I needed to reinvent my logo before the official opening.  After living in SA for 3 years I realised that South Africans, no matter what colour, identify more with Europe and the US than they do with the Massai Warriors.  My original logo was off the mark.  But the good news was that everybody thought the name, Yoga Warrior, was strong, and already recognisable that my logo only needed to have the name of the business.  Kerry Irish, another student reinvented the look of Yoga Warrior and painted her hand all over the windows of the new studio.

The studio opened in Rosebank in the location I’d spent a year eyeing up, the Design District Building.  Even the building was so Yoga Warrior.  A lovely wooden floor, Andrew’s signature pictures all over one of the walls and John Vlismas, the comedian, a Yoga Warrior himself came to open the studio on the launch night that Carpe Diem sponsored.  I invited some of the best teachers in Joburg to come and teach with me, the studio started filling and a new chapter of Yoga Warrior began.  I approached the magazines and Yoga Warrior has been featured in Maverick, Longevity, Elle, Essentials, The Sunday Times, The Times, Financial Mail, Heat, Woman & Home, Joburg Style, O, Your Pregnancy and Complete Yoga.

And so it is, the story of how Yoga Warrior, the warm vibey space that has become so many people’s sanctuary in Jozi, was born.  Looking back my life’s independent episodes seem seamless occurring in a perfect order.  Meeting Andrew in 1996 but he wasn’t ready for me to come to SA then, my Mother dying and my crawling out of that darkness with yoga, living in NYC to witness September 11th, Andrew recontacting me just as I was leaving NYC and reinventing myself from corporate career girl to a yoga teacher and then arriving in Joburg to a blank yoga canvas.  Life so often seems puzzling, full of whys, certainly I have had my fill, yoga teaches us that our practice is a never ending journey and through that teaches us commitment to our life and our communities.  The story has such a happy ending, she got the man, she’s living her dream but sometimes I still have to ask why South Africa?  Often I don’t know why, I know in this still raw transition period, Joburg needs a yoga sanctuary more than ever before, and I have to trust in the glorious plan of the Universe.  I still feel as if I’ve come home whenever I practice yoga wherever I am, and so the lessons on our mat never cease, acceptance and trust in what just is, goes on and on…..Namaste.

Clara, August 31, 2008

Jozi's Yoga Warrior with the night crowd