June 6, 2013

Occupy Gezi: Istanbul’s Yoga Warriors of Peace. ~ Chris Chavez

The other evening, a blog about the current protests happening in Istanbul caught my eye and my heart. The very next morning, as if by magic, my Facebook feed announced that the amazing and musical Chris Chavez was leading a practice in Gezi Park. And he’s been doing it every day for the past several. I wrote to ask Chris if he would share his experience with us and he said yes. This is what he shared with me (and ps: he is the sweetest, nicest person one could meet over the internet). ~ Bryonie


Hey love,

Just reading your questions and thinking about the answers brought tears to my eyes. It is such a powerful time here right now, a time of transformation! To see every part of society taking part in that is unbelievable.

BW: There is a blog making it’s way around FB that details the violence being used against the peaceful protests.

CC: Yes, she is one of our teachers and she is an amazing spirit! I saw the picture of the friend she mentions in the blog, who had been hit in the head with a tear-gas canister and I couldn’t sleep for two days. It was unbelievable.

BW: Can you put me in the middle and connect me to the heart of what is happening?

CC: The protests in some form or another have been going on for awhile now. I am one of the owners of Cihangir Yoga here in Istanbul, and some of our teachers have been camping out and doing yoga gatherings at Gezi park for weeks now.

To be honest, I travel so much that I didn’t really know what was going on there until last Friday (like most of the city and the country).

One of the many barricades around Taksim and the Park, put up to block police water cannon vehicles (they started dropping teargas from helicopters).

A brief background to this is that the “ruling” party had decided to demolish Gezi Park, which is the last green space in Taksim, in order to build a replica Ottoman military barracks that would also have a shopping mall in it. People were outraged, but only 2,000 people went out and did anything about it.

Early Friday morning, while the protestors were sleeping, the police entered the park and burned their tents, beat them with clubs, and violently pepper sprayed those who were standing around. When I say violently pepper sprayed people, the police were running through the crowd chasing people, spraying them and then kicking them. It was very disturbing to watch.

Within minutes, this abuse was up on Facebook and Tweets were going out all over the world; within hours, thousands had gathered in Taksim Square to voice their outrage about the abuse.

As people turned on their television to see what was going on, there was not a single channel covering it; CNN Turkey was doing a documentary on penguins, for example.

Now, the penguin has become the movement’s mascot—hilarious!

Soon after it started, one of the least viewed stations started covering it and I am sure it instantly became “the people’s channel.”

We got on Facebook to see what was going on and it was unreal. Taksim Square and Gezi Park looked like a war zone—I didn’t recognize it! One of our studios is only 200 meters from where all of this was happening—the situation immediately felt so close, so real, and so unbelievably impossible—all in one moment.

Yoga in Gezi Park

Resistance went on throughout the day and night on Friday. By early Saturday morning, hundreds of thousands from all over Istanbul and other cities were making their way to Taksim Square and Gezi Park.

At the same time, people all over the world were organizing solidarity gatherings; we saw photos from Berlin, Paris, Los Angeles, everywhere!

How did they hear about it? Facebook and Twitter!!!

By the end of the day on Saturday, it was noticeable that Facebook was operating at a faster speed—it had been slow all day Saturday from the insane traffic and all of the sudden it was instant! (Thank you Facebook and Twitter—side note: it was on the news last night that people had been arrested for Tweeting).

Each day since then, the numbers have grown, the protests have gotten louder and stronger!

During the day, the city is usually quiet with police resting, and protestors resting and cleaning the city and putting things back in order so that they can be destroyed later when the sun goes down.

At around 8pm sharp, the call goes out! People take to their balconies and windows banging pots and pans, blowing on whistles, making noise! This goes on for 20-30 minutes and then everyone takes to the streets!! The noise is almost deafening at times!!

Planting our feet and reaching for the sky!

You see people of all ages and professions in the streets. Last night, I saw an older woman, probably in her eighties, with very little energy, just standing on the side of the road swinging a flag. It brings tears to my eyes to remember the image.

A couple of nights ago, I saw an old man about the same age in a crowd of a few thousand people, he was blowing his whistle in rhythm with everyone around him. It was so inspiring, so moving.

Today, yogadork posted a piece (as you know) showing photos and talking about yoga in the park.

After days of thinking “What can I do?” I decided to just put it up on FB and get out and do it—“it” being yoga! I let people know that I wanted to practice and if anyone wanted to join me, I would be honored.

I didn’t sleep at all that night—it’s very interesting to be in a place where you know you can make a difference but it will require you to step beyond what is comfortable and possibly safe. I was freaking out!

Then I realized: just be who you are and share what you can, that will be enough. And, it was.

BW: How does yoga play into the protest and can you see an effect?

CC: The Prime Minister has referred to the protestors as “chapulcu” which literally translates as “worthless rag.” Side note: That word has become a slogan and it refers to one who is connected to their Truth and who is willing to express it!

Inside the Park, we are opening it up!

After teaching classes yesterday and today, I had many journalists asking me this same question. It is important to show that this is a peaceful movement that is made up of all sections of society. The people in the park are not terrorists, there is no political party slogans being chanted, there is only one sentiment, “We the People.”

When we practice, I know it brings a smile to the faces of those who are watching—and I know that pictures of us practicing have gone viral, and that those photos are being published on the front pages of newspapers all over the country. I hope that has an effect.

What I can say for certain is that yoga is the practice of gathering energy for the purpose of transformation. From my perspective, people here are doing just that! Yoga!

BW: Can we change the world with yoga, breath, stillness, love?

CC: I don’t know if we can change the world—but I do know that we have the power to change ourselves. And by changing ourselves, we may inspire change in others.

BW: Can it bring hope and peace?

Smoke rising from the park as we finished our practice on Day 1.

CC: Only if we let it.

You know, I have been practicing yoga for 20 years and teaching for close to 18 (I am losing count as I get older) and what I have learned is that the fastest way to connect someone to their own spirit is with a smile!

Today I met a guy who was probably in his 70’s; he didn’t speak a word of English and had probably never seen spandex!! He just stood and stared as we practiced—no expression, nothing.

As I walked past him when I was done, I smiled and felt compelled to walk over and connect with him—and we  ended up comparing beards. We took photos together and by the end he was smiling, I was smiling, the people around us were smiling—that is yoga!! It felt as good as being on the mat!

Yoga is everywhere!

As yogis, let’s make every moment count—let’s take our practice off the mat and let’s start to share with people who are not like us. That’s how we can make a difference. And, in fact, that is what this whole movement is about…realizing that everyone is part of the whole.

Trying to be yogic in my answers—the hardest yoga I did all day!

BW: And what can we do? We, as in yogis, humans…how can we help?

CC: You are doing it right now. Share what you read, stay positive, appreciate where you are and who you are. Find your truth and don’t be afraid to express it.

Thank you EJ so much for your time and your interest! Every single person who reads this will be contributing to this movement. Share! Share Share!


Leaving Gezi Park practice with mat on my back, a mask on my face, my braids still intact and love in my heart!



Chris Chavez first began the practice of Iyengar Yoga in Ireland, where he was touring as a professional musician in the mid 1990’s. While traversing the globe playing music and studying various methods of yoga, Chris imparted the knowledge and the gift of yoga upon everyone he met. He is considered one of the most sought after teachers in the world, training thousands of teachers and students a year in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Chris’ world travels and experiences have made him one of the most down to earth yoga teachers you will ever meet. His teachings are fun, challenging, and spiritually uplifting. Chris has found the power of practicing and teaching yoga to be an integral part of being a great artist as he continues to maintain a healthy music career and a rockin’ yoga practice!





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Ed: Bryonie Wise


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