Chicago’s Gold Coast a Hot Spot for Yogis

Charlotte Brecht Munn rises before dawn to teach yoga in Chicago

Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of stories about what happens in Chicago overnight.

By Ashley Kohler

It is still dark outside, but the yellow lights on Division Street illuminate the studio windows. It is 5:15 a.m. on a Tuesday and 26 year-old Charlotte Brecht Munn is preparing for a 6 a.m. Hot Power Fusion Yoga class at the Corepower Yoga on 12 W. Maple St. in the Gold Coast.

The tall blond, wearing a black zip up hoodie with white polka dots, prepares the room and gets ready to check-in her students before class.

“I want people to know they don’t have to feel crappy anymore,” Munn said when asked how yoga can change an average person’s life. “Yoga is not a routine, it is a way of life. Yoga is a way for people to stop feeling pain, regain energy, and feel good about themselves.”

Munn arrives at the studio at least 30 minutes prior to class to allow the room to heat up to 103 degrees with 40 percent humidity.

Chicago has played an important role in the history of yoga. While the roots of yoga trace back at least 5,000 years, Chicago is credited with being the birthplace of modern yoga in 1893.

During the Parliament of Religions event, which was held at the Art Institute of Chicago, Swami Vivekananda introduced Americans to the concept of yoga for the first time. The crowd was memorized with the young Swami’s spirituality, and with that speech yoga began to spread across the country. In the United States today, more than 30 million people practice yoga on a regular basis, and the number continues to grow.

The average class size at 6 a.m. is 12 people, and normally contains a mix of regulars and first-timers. Some students are just early risers, but most are people working full days at companies or stores at in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

Munn sits at the front desk and checks students into her class on the computer. Her students then neatly place their shoes on the shoe cubby in the front lobby and proceed with their mat and towel down the hallway to the locker rooms. One by one, the students enter the studio to find a space to lay down their mat and lie down before Munn enters the room for the 60-minute session.

The Hot Power Fusion class format takes the 26 hot yoga postures found in the Bikram yoga series created by Bikram Choudhury and fuses them together with “vinyasa” (flow-linking breath with movement) and core strengthening exercises. The heat and humidity promotes detoxification in the body by sweating as well as letting the body easily open and move from one posture to another.

“The body is stiffer if the morning but the mind is clear,” Munn said. “Our brain is still quiet from deep sleep the night before. The heat helps open the body and be energized throughout the day.”

To prepare herself for the early morning classes, Munn must be well prepared.

“It only takes me 10 minutes in the morning to get up and be out the door,” said Munn. She lays out her clothes for the day the night before and make sure all her food and snacks are pre-made and ready for her to grab from the refrigerator.

“I have to be careful what I eat for dinner the night before a hot 6 a.m. class,” Munn said. “If you have alcohol, salt, or anything greasy, you will feel the effects once you get into the hot room.”

Munn currently teaches 17 classes per a week including Corepower Yoga studios (there are three locations in Chicago) as well as other gyms around the Chicago area and suburbs. She also leads numerous lifestyle programs for Corepower including Sculpt teacher trainings (yoga with weights), Bootcamps, and a Live Lean (nutrition) program. Munn works 60 hours per week on yoga and programming.

“Charlotte is a great yoga teacher,” said CorePower Yoga student Jim Langer. “Yoga can be an intimidating practice but Charlotte makes all of the students feel comfortable and that yoga is accessible to them.”

Munn may seem like a hard-core yogi now, but she wasn’t always. Born in New Jersey, Charlotte grew up in Middleburg, Virginia, and then moved Georgia to receive her B.F.A. in Performing Arts and Directing at the Savannah College or Arts and Design. She soon moved to Boulder, Colorado, for a summer job, which then turned into a three-year stay.

Munn gained weight in her college years — she wasn’t eating foods that were good for her body and always felt a loss of energy. It was in Boulder that Munn chose to start making healthy choices for her life. Munn began attending a gym in Boulder near her home. It was in that gym where she took her first yoga class.

“I was drawn to the challenge of yoga,” Munn said.

She soon found a Corepower Yoga studio in Boulder. She took a two-month Power Yoga teacher training program in February of 2009 and then immediately took on the Hot Yoga teacher training and Sculpt teacher training.

Her favorite mantra is “Om Namah Shivaya,” which she remembers chanting in teacher training. The mantra translates in English to “I bow to Shiva. Shiva is the name of your true identity.” “I feel connected to the vibrational energy when I say it,” she said.

Munn left Boulder for Chicago in 2009 fed up and burnt out from the theater world and over-working. Charlotte came to Chicago and immediately changed her career to full-time yoga instructor.

“I hoped to bring peace and truth to others’ lives through yoga,” Munn said.

After the early morning hour has passed, the studio door clicks open and Munn emerges from the room. A gust of hot air follows. Her blond hair is matted to her face from the heat.

Her students soon follow behind her and head back into the locker rooms. It is now 7:15 a.m. and before exiting the studio. Munn’s students thank her for guiding them through the practice and head out to embark on their day.

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