‘Come As You Are’: Chi-Town Shakti Moves a Community Through Yoga

Chi-Town Shakti off Devon focuses on community and accessible spiritual practices, practices shared by Loyola professors and alum alike.

Fairy lights cast a warm glow into the studio and mismatched mugs wait to be filled with tea before the yoga class at Chi-Town Shakti Yoga + Meditation begins.

The yoga studio, located at 1343 W. Devon Ave., expands the yoga practice beyond movement. Chi-Town Shakti has spent 15 years opening its doors to the Rogers Park and Edgewater community, encouraging community members to share in the spiritual and physical aspects of yoga.

The studio was founded by Akaram and Bhakti White in 2008 and is currently owned by Aasha Elliott. Chi-Town Shakti bases their practice off of a “living teacher” — Sri Shambhavanand, the founder of ShambhavAnanda Yoga, a type of yoga revolving around meditation, body awareness and seva — or selfless service, according to their website

Tania Schusler, professor at Loyola’s school of environmental sustainability and Chi-Town Shakti instructor, began her yoga practice about 25 years ago when she was in graduate school. Schusler said her practice was “on-and-off” until she moved to Chicago 11 years ago, where she found Chi-Town Shakti.

Schusler attended classes as a student and later completed the teacher training course to become an instructor. However, being an instructor wasn’t in her original plan.

“I simply wanted to learn more that I could use in my own personal practice,” Schusler said. “As I learned more about yoga, as the opportunity arose to share what I was learning with other people, that’s why I chose to teach.”

Schusler said she is able to incorporate some of Chi-Town Shakti’s teachings into her daily life as a professor at Loyola, despite the overlap happening subconsciously. She said pranayama — one of the eight limbs of yoga — is focused on breath, and she occasionally takes the time to go through breathing techniques before teaching a Loyola class.

“I think that from practicing yoga, it’s helped me feel more grounded and centered in a way that I am able to fulfill my responsibilities at Loyola better,” Schusler said.

Most instructors at Chi-Town Shakti teach classes once a week. However, some have a variety of classes throughout the week.

Elliott, a 2009 Loyola graduate and co-owner of Chi-Town Shakti since 2016 and full owner since 2023, said the studio is set apart from other yoga studios because of its spiritual foundation and accessibility.

“There is a focus on breath and really diving into the moments of silence, taking moments to really feel your body rather than just quickly moving through postures,” Elliott said.

The studio approaches accessibility two ways — physically and financially.

Elliott said Chi-Town Shakti utilizes a variety of yoga props such as blocks, straps and bolsters to make poses available to a range of body types. She said there is also a focus on inclusive language to ensure each participant feels like they have options.

“We believe that every body can do yoga, there’s not a certain aesthetic,” Elliott said. 

Financial accessibility also plays a role in Chi-Town Shakti’s core beliefs. Elliott said the studio offers a “pay what you can” system for meditation classes and a sliding scale system for drop-in class rates. To make instructor training more available to the community, scholarships for people of color and transgender teachers are available.

Chi-Town Shakti, located at 1343 W. Devon Ave., has been operating for 15 years. (Eliza Thomas / The Phoenix)

Instructor Kirsten Safakas teaches a slow flow and restorative class — focusing on starting and ending with meditation while pausing in restful poses during the flow. She said the studio’s implementation of a sliding scale proves their commitment to sharing yoga with the community. Safakas said it’s important for yoga to be accessible because of what it offers the community.

“I really feel that everyone who practices yoga can gain something from it, whether it be gaining something from their physical form or gaining something spiritually or emotionally,” Safakas said. 

In her personal life, Safakas said she struggles with chronic health and mental health issues. She said she credits the spiritual style of yoga at Chi-Town Shakti as being “one of the most impactful things” in her life.

“I never thought that I could feel as at peace with myself as I do now,” Safakas said. “And that feels like such a gift to have been given from this practice.”

Safakas said her goal is to share that with the community by creating a safe space.

“So much of our life, we’re just running from ourselves and other things,” Safakas said. “Just taking the time to sit with yourself and allow yourself to be in your body is not easy.” 

From the pride flag hung in the window to the instructors’ familiarity with regular attendees, Chi-Town Shakti seeks to create a welcoming environment.

Chi-Town Shakti attendee Cara Maiatico said the community element is why she frequents the studio. She said while there were other yoga studios she tried, Chi-Town Shakti “felt like home.” Maiatico said she credits the studio’s inclusivity as the force that draws the community together.

“You are free to come as you are and not be judged in any way,” Maiatico said.

Chi-Town Shakti offers both in-person and online classes and each instructor prepares for class differently.

Safakas teaches a slow restorative class, centered on rest and plans based on world events. She said season changes, holidays and geopolitical crises influence the way she instructs her class. For Safakas, this determines if her class will have more movement poses or restorative poses. 

Movement poses provide more of a physical challenge, pushing the class to elevate their heart rate. Restorative poses encourage rest and relaxation.

Schusler prepares her class differently. She teaches a Hatha yoga class that focuses on traditional postures and breathing techniques. Schusler said having a theme for the class helps her plan the sequence throughout the week leading up to her instruction. Schusler also rotates her class so each week focuses on a different part of the body.
Chi-Town Shakti has classes available every day. Their class schedule can be found on their website.

Featured image courtesy of Eliza Thomas / The Phoenix

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