Some would say she marches to the beat of her own drum, but really, she chants to the vibrations of her own harmonium. Steph Schwartz is no ordinary Boulder yogi and if you have ever rolled out your mat alongside hers you already knew that. The timeline of her life sounds fantastical, and it is.
Steph was born in D.C., celebrated her first year of life in Taiwan, learned her ABCs in Korea, 123s in Philippines, and how to chase boys in Indonesia. When it was time to fly, she left her Southeast Asian nest to study at University in the U.S. and spent a semester abroad in Paris- a place to shine her gypsy spirit brightly.
When she returned to the U.S. her spirit led her out West to be a mountain mama. While working as a sushi chef and accountant in Boulder, she translated her gypsy energy into ultra running. During trainings with her dog Disco she would put herself in situations such as running miles through the mountains in the middle of the night to create an experience that was more mentally challenging than that on actual race day. This helped her to run the Leadville 100 a whopping five times, including a second place podium finish. "I was trying to impress myself", was her yogi response.
Here is where the yoga piece enters the scene. Steph practiced yoga as injury prevention and as she realized she had no reason to impress herself over hundreds of miles any longer, yoga became the obvious transition. After attending a Bhakti-inspired yoga teacher training with Janet Stone she fell in love with Kirtan, especially the harmonium. She bought a harmonium, let it collect dust for a year, and when the stars aligned and her inner introvert was drowned out by the powerful sound of her chants, she began inviting her students to chant alongside her before and after her thoughtful practices.
While coming into her own as a yoga teacher, Steph was ready to fly once again, this time from the sky with a nylon lifeline attached to her back. Skydiving was her new ultra running and her desire came from "Free Fallin" by Tom Petty:
I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
Gonna free fall out into nothin'
Gonna leave this world for a while
Skydiving for her translates into the balance of life-the ground and the sky, yin and yang, Ganesha and Shiva- "it is a car wash for the soul", she adds. I am inspired by this amazing and strong woman in the way that she is humbled by her experiences and opportunities and yet, continues to push herself to break out of her shell. Her chants are a car wash for my soul.
A Brief Sun Q & A:
1. HOW does your upbringing influence your spirit?
I'm really appreciative of my upbringing, and have a very close to bond to SE Asia in my heart. I have a deeper appreciation for all we have here in Boulder - there are SO many options available to us, there is so much beauty surrounding us, and I feel gratitude every day. I was exposed to drastically different cultures with huge differentials in wealth to poverty levels, and this has allowed me to see through a wider lens in understanding different perspectives.
2. You mentioned something about the Enneagram, can you tell me how this plays a role in your interactions with others?
I've studied some of the enneagram (The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso/Hudson) and I find it incredibly useful for understanding personality types. Knowing that certain qualities pertain to certain types helps me especially with the one-on-one Kirtan lessons. It creates a deeper understanding from a psychological standpoint and allows me to create a more individual framework for the lessons.
3. Music-as a musician where do you find inspiration?
For my original chants, believe it or not, I find a lot of inspiration from hip hop and rap songs. I randomly come across a song that moves me in its chord structure, melody and beat, and usually can't stop listening to it for a few days, and by the end, I'm inspired to get creative. I also take music theory and composition lessons and I've been really inspired with the guidance of these lessons to create new and boost up the old chants.
4. Songs you likes to chant-do you pick based on season, moon cycle, student suggestions?
Mostly I wait for the Cosmic Download. I also theme around seasons, full moon and new moon cycles, the solstice, and if there's a permeating sense of something consistently going on with a larger number of students.
5. Does your harmonium have a name?
Nope - I've never been the kind to name objects, but I'm really good at naming my dogs!
6. The coolest place you have jumped?
I'm pretty new to skydiving with only 200+ jumps, so I've only jumped in Colorado and Arizona. I love jumping at my home DZ - we have great views of Longs Peak!
7. What is it like wearing a wing suit? Do you really feel like a bird?
Wearing the wing suit is much like wearing a straight-jacket (from what I imagine a SJ to feel like...). You're constricted in your range of motion in arms and legs. For flying, it's my dreams come true - REALLY. I've been flying in my dreams since I can remember, and the speed in the wing suit is around 80mph (like speeding on I-25). You have an actual perspective of the ground moving, of flying south along the front range, of cars moving underneath you. It feels very different from tracking or belly flying. And flying in proximity with other wing suiters is amazing - everything slows down and it feels incredible to flock close to others.
8. Future plans-What do you have in mind for the next year?
Simplify through refinement and mastery are my intentions. Deepen my practice, deepen my teaching, Kirtan events 1x/month, continue to write new chants, coach skydiving/get more wing suit jumps, and lead a great yoga retreat in the Dominican Republic. The purpose that motivates me is building community as I continue to bring people together through yoga and Kirtan events.
9. What are you reading right now?
From Suffering to Joy - The Path of the Heart by Prem Baba. I LOVE this book.
10. Anything else you want us to know about your wild side
I'll eat just about anything at least three times!