When asked how he got into yoga and movement, Nam Chanterwynn is characteristically straightforward. “In 2012, I was living a fairly sedentary life and had just gotten out of a toxic relationship over the holidays,” he says. “For the new year I resolved to get back into a healthier lifestyle, and thought yoga might be a good start. So I signed up for a two-week trial membership at a nearby studio. I took my first class, and I hated it! I was confused the entire time and felt out of place and inadequate. But I told myself to ride out—suffer through, really—those two weeks since I had already paid for them.
“Then during my third class, the teacher lead us into wheel pose, and I knew that I was going to quit and never come back. Luckily, she came over to me and said something that has stuck with me ever since. Without a hint of judgment or pity, she said, ‘Don’t worry, you're doing great. I know this is hard, but think of where you'll be a month from now. A year from now.’
“In that moment, I understood that yoga is a lifelong practice—that it doesn't matter where you are on any given day. It doesn't even matter if you ever get to bind your hand behind you or get your hips open enough to do lotus pose, or ever achieve a great state of enlightenment. What matters is your commitment to yoga and the consistency of your practice. Needless to say, I signed up for a full membership directly after that class.”
Two years later, Nam was laid off from his sales job in the biotech industry. With time on his hands, he signed up for a 30-classes-in-30-days challenge at the studio where he was practicing.
He did the 30 classes in the first 15 days and decided to challenge himself further. “I dove in and completed 60 classes in 25 days,” he says. “I then calculated that doing 80 classes would total 100 hours, so my new goal was to do the last 20 classes in the 5 days I had left. I ended January with a total of 81 classes.
“At that point, the owner of the studio said, ‘Dude, you might as well just come back in February and do the teacher training.’ I signed up then and there for the 200-hour yoga teacher training. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t going into it with the goal of eventually teaching. I just wanted a new challenge and to dive deeper into the philosophy and practices of yoga. But as the weeks went by, I discovered my love for the teaching side and I started teaching a weekly class as soon as I graduated from training.”
Nam eventually went on to train under Jason Crandell and Jules Mitchell and expanded his teaching repertoire to include biomechanics and functional movement. He is now an E-RYT 500, Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) movement specialist, and YACEP (Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider).
Nam has worked with professional athletes in the NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball in myriad ways—aiding them in recovery from injuries and helping them to maintain strength and flexibility pre/postseason and improve range of motion/increase strength at their end range of motion. He’s considered by his community as a "teacher’s teacher," one who enjoys helping students as well as other teachers further their study and understanding of yoga and movement.
In addition to his classes and programs on Yoga International, Nam leads yoga teacher trainings and teaches workshops and group classes where he lives in San Diego, California. He also hosts yoga retreats worldwide.
We interviewed Nam, asking him the questions we ask all of our featured teachers, so that you can get to know him and learn more about what to expect from his classes on YI.
What yoga style, tradition, and/or lineage are you a part of (if any)?
I’m not a part of any particular tradition. My teacher Jason Crandell is a vinyasa teacher, so that [vinyasa] is the style I am closest to.
He and Jules Mitchell were the first teachers who really influenced me. I met Jason at a yoga conference where I randomly took one of his workshops. He offered really insightful yet simple foundational principles that continue to resonate with me as a teacher to this day.
I met Jules in Bulgaria where I was a student in some yoga videos she was filming there. While observing her I quickly began to appreciate her approach to teaching. She has the great skill of truly seeing her students and teaching to their individual needs, as opposed to teaching strict alignment of yoga poses.
Eventually I felt ready for further study, and I signed up for Jason's 300-hour yoga teacher training in 2016. I’ve trained with Jules via her online content and when she teaches near San Diego.
I also took the FRC certification training in 2016 when I felt my teaching was becoming rote and uninteresting—at least to me. Every year, I try to do at least one training to stay inspired and expose myself to new points of view. FRC was a great choice for me as it was outside the realm of yoga at the time, and it definitely put a lot into perspective—I started to see deep stretching and passive range of motion in a new light.
I changed my approach from glorifying the quest for more range of motion to valuing and subsequently teaching my students to develop skillful, mindful control over the movements within their capacity. FRC has helped me make my classes accessible to more students.
What can I expect from your classes on YI?
My style draws primarily on biomechanics and anatomy. You'll find that my classes are less focused on alignment and more on mobility and joint articulation.
What’s on your mind these days yoga-wise?
I'm always seeking to learn and evolve my understanding of yoga and movement and apply it to how and what I teach. I've been diving deeply into functional range conditioning and resistance stretching lately. Both systems focus on developing increased functional (active) range of motion. In a lot of ways, we have glorified extreme ranges of motion and extreme flexibility in yoga. This is part of the reason why many potential students are intimidated by the practice. I find that incorporating these newer modalities levels the field for everyone and makes yoga a lot more accessible, while keeping it challenging.
What do you like to do outside of yoga?
I used to be an avid sailor, and have been on a racing crew for several years. Before that I spent a couple of decades studying martial arts (Aikido). However, due to shoulder injury and a subsequent surgery, I've had to back away from the two for a bit. I plan to get back to them both very soon.
My other passion outside of yoga is motorcycles. I've been riding for over 20 years, and have ridden and built everything from cruisers to café racers. One of the best vacations I've ever taken was a seven-day motorcycle tour around Ecuador that I did with a group of friends.
There's just something special about experiencing the world from a motorcycle. You notice every shift of temperature and weather, and you get to feel every curve and contour of the landscape around you. I often find it easier to experience that state of chitta vritti nirodha [Patanjali's definition of yoga, often translated as “Yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.”] on my motorcycle than I do on my yoga mat.
What has been an ongoing source of inspiration for you?
It may sound cheesy or cliché, but my wife and my one-and-a-half-year-old son are my greatest inspirations. They drive me to do good in the world and be better every day. I hope my son grows up to know that it’s not about how much money he makes or how much status he gains, but about how many people he can help and how fulfilling his choices in life are.
Photography: Andrea Killam