Photo by Nicole Martin
By F. Josephine Arrowood
Christen Landry knows the importance of staying flexible. As a yoga practitioner, the Lake Leelanau woman brings mindfulness, training, and breathing techniques to physical poses that sometimes resemble the old party game Twister. As a teacher of yoga, she must also balance the schedules of fellow instructors, offer a variety of yoga traditions, products, and healing modalities, continue her professional education, and coordinate the numerous daily tasks of running a business. And as a longtime business leader in Leelanau County—she cofounded the legendary Lake Leelanau eatery Kejara’s Bridge and later, The Redheads line of food products [see the Sun’s article from August]—Christen has successfully negotiated through many challenges associated with Leelanau County’s seasonal, tourism-based economy.
Her journey as a yoga teacher took flight in the autumn of 2014 when she made a decision to step away from the Redheads and move to Salt Lake City, where a sister lives. She secured a job teaching at a large yoga studio, and a second job managing a restaurant. Back in Lake Leelanau, she loaded a rental car with everything she owned and made the long drive out West, visiting friends and family along the way.
When she arrived in Salt Lake City one evening, “I pulled into my sister’s, grabbed my backpack and purse, and went in. We had a glass of wine, ate dinner. We were all exhausted—they’d just had a baby—and I went to bed, thinking to unpack in the morning.
“The next day, my brother-in-law said, ‘Where’d you park?’ and I told him I was right out front. When he said he didn’t see my car, my heart just sank.”
Everything she had in the world was gone, including clothing, paddleboards, art supplies, art work, and other personal mementos: “All the stuff you can’t replace, like rings from my grandmothers.”
“I didn’t know what to think, what to do,” she says. “Looking back, I should have taken cues. There were weird little tragedies at all the places I’d stopped along the way. I ended up staying at my sister’s for a few weeks. During that time, the restaurant management job fell through, and the big yoga studio merged with another,” eliminating her teaching position.
It took authorities several months to find the stolen rental car—with 4,000 miles on it, with all traces of her possessions obliterated. But by then, Christen had already made a decision, one that was to alter her trajectory and have far-reaching consequences for her future.
“I was unwilling to go home [to Lake Leelanau]; it felt like a defeat,” she says. “I decided to go to Granada, Nicaragua, where I could teach yoga in exchange for food and rent. I was on my own; I had never traveled alone before,” to another country, much less one in Central America with a reputation for violence. After teaching for a month, she traveled around the country for a second month, joining a friend she’d known from her days at Leland High School, Kelly Sean Karcher. The two returned to Florida, and drove back to Michigan in the spring of 2015.
During the long drive, she had an epiphany: “I want to open my own yoga studio, bring teachers together from all over the county. No one was doing that. I only had $500 at this point; I thought ‘how am I going to do this?’ My mother lent me money, and the teachers were willing to gather.” More synchronicity happened when the former Union Yoga space on Meinrad St. suddenly became available, and by summer of 2015, Yoga4 was in business.
Although the Yoga4 teachers had come from different perspectives and life experiences, “We [teachers] all got our Level 500 education together,” certifying through the international organization Yoga Alliance. They include Sandra Carden, the former owner of Union Yoga; Kerry Satterwhite, Dorothy Sirrine, Michelle Bordeaux, Jeanine Ball, Julie Schwalm, and Emma Thomas.
“It was a year’s journey that we started [at Meinrad St.], and we graduated here [at Yoga4’s current location across from the post office on St. Joseph St.]. We each have our own flavor or niche. Some teachers focus on breath, or trauma and anxiety; gentle yin yoga; lunar vinyasa; ayurveda. I do Fitonic with full mind-body-spirit, and teach other classes. We have workshops almost every other weekend,” on special topics. The studio offers meditation, facials, and therapeutic massage, and there has even been a class for golfers. Students can buy pass cards or register for individual sessions.
Several weeks ago, Christen had made a painful decision to close the studio. “The overhead was too much, our spa wasn’t being utilized. I was motivated to pay teachers fairly, which a lot of studios don’t do. With our seasonal economy, I was trying to find things that would bring in more income, like the spa, boutique, paddleboards.
“We live in a unique area; we business owners all have the same challenges, even though our businesses are so very different. What’s the journey for businesses here? It’s not just staying alive, but thriving. I’ve tried and thought of so many things. I have a lot of grit; I’m not afraid to work really hard, put in a lot of work for little pay. I’m always looking out for the whole, but I was depleted. I finally had to tap into my yin side; I had to make a decision.”
To her surprise, the yoga community has responded with tremendous support and hope. “This resource is more valuable than I realized. The community is stepping forth to say, ‘How can we make this happen?’ I don’t have all the answers, but I’m pretty optimistic about this unfolding experience. I could see where . . . the point person could still be me, coordinating the studio, making those daily business decisions.” The studio could become a cooperatively owned resource, for instance.
Christen also sees possibilities for more focus on teaching continuing education and certification to other yoga teachers. She may focus as well on her partner Kelly Sean Karcher’s home building business, Hygge Supply, which offers zero-waste construction and energy-efficient, beautiful homes. (One example, on Lake St. across from McGough’s in Traverse City, draws frequent attention from passersby for its modern lines and compact design.)
Yoga4 remains open as of this writing, and will continue to offer classes and workshops as the community envisions its next steps on the journey. Christen is at peace with not knowing exactly what, or how, that future will unfold. “Spiritually, energetically, the universe is responding,” she says. “Looking back [to Salt Lake City], losing everything was freeing; not in the moment, of course. But when something happens, everybody has a choice. You can see it as a negative, or half-empty cup,” or as an opportunity for change and renewal of self.
“It’s all about remaining flexible,” she reiterates. “I don’t think I could have done any of this, or reconnected with a former love who is now my partner. It was a rebirth, a healing.”
Find classes and follow on the journey with Yoga 4 at Yoga4.net.