An interview with two of the most colorful yoga teachers in Chicago
By Danielle Zhu
Sarah Starnes and Stephanie Starnes light up a room. Their hair is streaked with multiple shades of blue and purple. Their eye makeup is as intricately applied as paint to canvas. Sanskrit mantras are inked around their arms and wrists.
Sarah and Stephanie are sisters and yoga teachers. Sarah teaches in the western and northwest suburbs, while Stephanie teaches in Chicago. They often co-teach workshops. They share a passion for yoga and art and have similar beliefs and lifestyles, but each has her own distinct personality.
On the surface, their unique fashion sense sets them apart from other local yoga teachers. They attribute much of their style to their mother, who influenced how they dressed and did their hair. Growing up, the Starnes sisters questioned their mother’s gypsy- and Native American-inspired clothing. Lo and behold, as they grew up, they adopted a similar style.
“We’d always be really embarrassed [by] what [our mother] wore, but now she’s just like, ‘Ha! Look at what you guys are wearing! You’re wearing the moccasins. And look at your gypsy clothes,’” Stephanie said.
Their mother not only influenced their style but also introduced them to yoga. She raised her daughters with an all-natural lifestyle, replete with herbal medicine, an organic garden, meditation and chanting.
“[When we were younger] we weren’t really practicing yoga regularly, but our mom taught us all the other things that make up yoga without calling it ‘yoga,’” Stephanie said.
Sarah, older than Stephanie by 5 1/2 years, began practicing yoga at 12 and by 18, had started teaching. When she was getting her associate degree, Sarah went to massage schools and yoga schools and decided to teach yoga as a career.
“I love art, music, dance — a lot of the right brain stuff. Yoga was the first thing that made sense and was easy,” Sarah said. She now offers classes in aerial yoga, where asana is done while hanging from silk hammocks, allowing movement that ground practice lacks.
Stephanie also began teaching yoga at 18, but unlike Sarah, she doesn’t see it becoming her life’s work. Stephanie’s passion is music. She hopes to transition into a career of making music; in the meantime, she incorporates music into her yoga. Both sisters are known for singing during Savasana. And if that isn’t enough, they also hold monthly sound healing sessions. Students lie down and meditate in a relaxing environment enhanced by singing, gongs, essential oils, singing bowls, harmoniums and flutes.
“The idea behind it is that the gongs and singing bowls are tuned to different chakras and planets,” Stephanie said. “The vibrations are healing on a physical, energetic and spiritual level.”
Sarah and Stephanie’s goal to heal and to teach comes naturally, a result of yoga always having been present in their lives in some form. According to Stephanie, it’s become a part of their identity, making it easier for them to teach others.
Although Sarah and Stephanie say that they don’t care about their eccentric style when teaching, their outward appearance does serve a purpose. Their personal style is a form of self-expression, which they hope to help others find through yoga.
“Yoga just means ‘connection.’ You can think about it as creating connections to the different parts of yourself. The practice can help you to really embody more of what you feel inside,” Sarah said. “[It’s about] feeling comfortable in the body that you’re in and being OK with expressing yourself — even if it’s not the norm or what’s fully accepted.”
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