Carling Harps doesn't just teach yoga—she embodies it in every way. Whether it's opening up about her practice on Instagram or opening her very own L.A. yoga studio in with boyfriend Patrick Beach (check out Commune Yoga—it's a must-visit!), the yogi builds communities by lifting up the people within them and approaches everything with genuine honesty and curiosity. She recognizes that to be a good teacher means to be a good student, forever learning, exploring and growing. Carling opened up about what her students have taught her, why she and Patrick decided to open Commune and what advice she would give to her younger self. Plus, she put together a yoga playlist for us, and it's really, really good.
How did you get into yoga?
I first found yoga when I was in college at the University of Washington. After years and years of endless hours on the treadmill or lifting weights, and with much persuasion from both my dad and one of my best friends, I finally tried a Bikram yoga class. It was hot (SO HOT) and intense, but I quickly fell in love with the practice. Eventually I found my way into a vinyasa class, and that's when yoga stopped being just a way to sweat and work out, and when I discovered that my body and mind deserved better.
How has yoga impacted your day-to-day life?
Yoga is one of the few things in my life that I’ve been able to stick to. As a historical quitter, I’m prone to a cycle of excitement, research, obsession and then, undoubtedly, a fizzle. Yoga and meditation have been steadfast components of my life that, for the first time, in adulthood, I find myself always coming back to—not because I think I should or to counter some other aspect of my life, but because I want to. I want to practice. I want to sit. And one of the the most beautiful aspects of yoga lies in its diversity, so even when I don’t think I want to practice, there is always a way to stay dedicated no matter what it looks like.
You and Patrick started your own yoga studio, Commune, in Highland Park! What made you want to open a studio and what were your goals in creating this communal space?
We did! Patrick and I have spent the last seven or so years traveling and teaching workshops, trainings and retreats nearly full-time, so opening a rooted, community-centric studio like Commune has been such a wonderful balance for us. The travel will never stop, but having a strong, open, committed environment like we do in Northeast Los Angeles has been such a fun and expansive change.
I love actually knowing people’s names. And their last names. And their dogs names. Seeing them more than once a year. Really knowing their practices, seeing them grow and being able to walk into the studio and feel right at home. Our goal with Commune has always been to create the supportive studio environment we wished we had had earlier in our practices, so when the opportunity finally presented itself, as it serendipitously did, we knew we had to make it happen.
What have you learned from your students?
Oh man, what have I not learned from my students?! Honestly, it's humbling (and sometimes really hard) to try and carry the energy of the room or of a group of people. But beyond the physical practice of teaching, it's humbling (and also hard) to have people trust you, as much as many students do in this practice. I’m constantly being reminded how resilient humans are, what dedication really looks and feels like and how to sniff out the bullshit that often clouds our minds. Students help me a lot with that. The good ones really don’t let you get away with much B.S., and they question you just as much or more than you do yourself, which means there's no hiding. It's hard but oh-so necessary.
At the end of the day, we are all sort of fumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch, but I’ll never stop being amazed at the way each person handles the shadows. Not everything has to do with yoga, but in my experience, most everything shows up in your yoga at some point. I’m just so honored that students keep showing up and allowing me to be part of their search.
At the end of the day, we are all sort of fumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch, but I’ll never stop being amazed at the way each person handles the shadows.
In addition to teaching yoga, you're also a doula. Tell us how that came about!
Becoming a doula was something I never saw coming, but when I found it, I knew I had found IT. I discovered the vastness of the birthing world during my Prenatal Teacher Training, which I originally stumbled into when one of my regular students shared with me that she was having twins, and I realized I didn’t have the right tools to support her practice through pregnancy. So I trained, studied. obsessed, fell in love and never fell out of love. There are a lot of parallels between the birthing world and the yoga world, and I’ve found that the support and advocating that doula work requires is a natural complement to the support of a yoga practice.
You have such a magnetic presence online, in part because you're so open about your personal journey and discoveries. Does this come naturally to you or is it something you've learned over time?
I’ve always loved to write. My dad is a natural writer, and I spent most of my college education writing and researching for a Human Rights degree. While the medium is pretty natural for me, I never foresaw how much I would end up sharing with heaps of strangers across the world! I think what I’ve realized the most from social media is that deep down, it's just about connection. It's about feeling heard, seen or just reminded that, for goodness sakes, you’re not alone. Because it's not-so-shockingly very easy to feel alone, even with all the notifications, or all the students in class, and without that sense of deep personal connection, our nervous systems don’t seem to register it.
Years ago when Patrick was traveling many weeks at a time, it was all I could do to keep from spilling my guts all over the Interweb. This was when I discovered just how much it could mean to find people you could see yourself in online. But when we are yearning for belonging or human comfort, it can be easy to overshare, to grasp at reactions and likes. Of course, it's all a process, but I think I’ve finally landed in a place where I can see more clearly how my own journey might bridge the gap for someone else and where I should keep a little truth for myself.
What advice would you give to your younger self who's just dipping her feet into yoga?
That there truly is no full expression. There is no “peak pose.” There are just shapes, asanas, inquisitive bodies and necessary breathwork. That there's bound to be lots of chitta vritti chitter chatter, and hopefully some very special moments of quiet along the way. But it's ALL the practice. Every bit as worthy as the ones before it and the ones to come.
What are your hopes for the next year?
I’m looking forward to soaking up some vitamin D in L.A. After a lifetime of Seattle gray (beautiful gray, but gray nonetheless), I feel like I’ve got 30 years of sun to catch up on.