Lauren Chiarello is someone we could only describe as a triple threat: a fitness instructor specializing in functional movement, a marketing-savvy entrepreneur, and a cancer advocacy activist and two-time survivor herself. Emphasizing on her need to give back after her recovery, Lauren was bitten by the fitness bug and inspired to become a teacher herself, with the goal of helping others. We caught up with Lauren here in NYC, to hear how she realized her dreams and what keeps her going as an instructor.
How long has fitness been a part of your life?
Fitness has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I grew up playing sports – soccer, field hockey and basketball – I wasn’t amazing at any of them, but I played them and was pretty solid. My passion for fitness really escalated after I was recovering from cancer. I was looking for a way to regain my strength, and my fitness teachers in classes I would take had really helped me do that. That was really when I felt my passion elevate to a whole new level – it became different for me than just working out. It was more ingrained in my everyday life, and I knew I needed to move my body, to be able to lead my best life.
What sparked your passion for fitness?
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was 23, and going through that experience and that fight for life, was what sparked my passion for fitness. My teachers inspired me to become a teacher, and I always feel like it’s this circle of life, like how can we lift each other and support each other to get strong? I was a healthy person, I led a generally healthy and active life, and didn’t really see this coming. I went through six months chemotherapy, was in remission for six months, and actually trained to run my first half-marathon, fundraising for the Leukemia + Lymphoma Society’s athletic program, “Team and Training.” After I ran the race, that weekend was when I felt the lump along my collarbone come back, and started my second rounds of treatment – more chemotherapy, and then stem cell collection – I was able to treat myself with my own stem cells, which was great, two weeks of radiation, more chemotherapy and then a stem cell transplant. That was the treatment I underwent when I relapsed. Luckily, it will be 8 years since then this month. That was the pivotal moment of my life, when I realized I need to make a change and that fitness and moving our bodies is one of the best ways to live our best life.
How long have you been a fitness instructor?
I’ve been a fitness instructor for a little over two years, following a 200-hour training program at Exhale. Exhale is one of the places that really changed my life – I was a student there for five years before I started teaching. I took a class there about a year after my transplant, and slowly started getting my strength back. It took about a year to fully get there, and I remember going to class and looking around me thinking, this is crazy! It’s such a different way to move our bodies. I had played sports, so I was used to bigger movements, and I didn’t have as much knowledge on how the body can move in a functional way. My classes at Exhale really helped guide me, and I enrolled in the training program and then auditioned to become a teacher. Once I completed training, I was teaching Core Fusion Barre at Exhale, and then from there went on to train in Pilates mat and from there to TRX and finally Pilates machines.
What is your specialty as a fitness instructor?
My specialties are barre, TRX and pilates, and I also teach cardio and HIIT classes as well. If I’m doing a special corporate class or a special occasion there are different types of formats I draw from.
How would you describe your class?
When students come to my class, I want them to feel inspired, empowered, energetic and mindful. When bring your mind into your body – that is really when the change can happen. I want people to finish class feeling like they are leaving stronger than they came, and that as they keep coming, they keep getting stronger.
What is Chi Chi Life?
Chi Chi Life was started a little over two years ago, when I left my fulltime job in fundraising and event planning. I was at the time working at an experiential marketing agency, and was working on really incredible projects with amazing people, but I knew I wanted to really hone in on finishing my training and getting my teaching up and going, and working a fulltime job wasn’t really going to allow me to do that. I created Chi Chi Life, which melds three of my passions: teaching fitness, producing events and fundraising, and cancer advocacy. Within those three pieces, on the fitness front, I’m in the studios teaching, I train people one-on-one, and I also teach corporate wellness and movement classes at companies. In fundraising and event planning, I’m hired as a project manager on a freelance basis, so depending on the project I am working on, I work mainly with non-profit clients, but a few for-profit clients as well. Within the cancer advocacy portion, I work as a patient-to-patient advisor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the place that saved my life, where I work with patients and their families to guide them through anything they may need support on throughout their treatment. I speak at stem cell orientations and nurse orientations sharing my story as a young adult cancer survivor.
What’s the proudest moment/milestone in your career so far?
I adore traveling so combining fitness with travel is something I am super energized by! This July, I’m leading a retreat called “Heart, Soul + Barre” in Bali, Indonesia at Sharing Bali. Along with the Australian owner, Karen, I curated a unique week-long experience combining adventure, culture, community service and fitness. We are the first group to host a retreat from the United States. I can’t wait to explore and soak in the magic of this amazing country with other like-minded souls. There are actually a few spots left – send me a note at email@example.com to learn more.
How do you like to keep your classes fresh, new and fun?
I find ways to keep my classes fresh and new by attending classes myself and finding inspiration through others. That’s really my main source for getting new ideas: coming into different spaces, different studios – sometimes my own studio where I teach – and seeing what else is out there. I’m also always looking for new music and ways to mix in seamless transitions or change in the pace and flow of what we’re doing. Finding ways to change things up is definitely a big goal of mine, and is part of what I try to integrate into my classes.
What is one tip you’d give someone who’s just starting a career in the fitness industry?
If someone is looking to just start out their career in fitness, I’d say find what excites you. To be honest, I went into Exhale’s training not even knowing if I’d want to teach. I’d never taught anything before, I didn’t know if I would like it, I didn’t know if I’d be good at it, but I just wanted to try it. You know when you have that feeling deep down inside that you’re meant to do something? That’s what teaching was for me, and that’s really how I started out. I wasn’t very good – it takes practice, just like anything. One of my favorite phrases is: every expert was once a novice. You start as you are, and you keep coming back – consistency is so key. If you’re just starting out and looking to become a teacher, it’s about finding what excites you: what classes have you been taking? What are you passionate about? What methods or formats do you find exciting, or have been following, that keep you energized enough to inspire others? One of my goals as a teacher is to keep inspiring others through movement. I especially love group exercise because you get to gather the energy from your neighbors: you come together as one and so when maybe you feel like you’re slacking a bit, or your energy is getting depleted, you can find your inspiration through others, and that connection is so integral to fitness.
Who are some of your favorite fitness instructors? Someone you look up to or admire?
One instructor that I really look up to and admire is Linda Farrell, who trained me in Pilates mat. She’s been teaching for over 20 years, and she’s just such a phenomenal human being, and so brilliant. She really understands the anatomy of the body, and just has such a wonderful way of empowering her students through knowledge. She is definitely someone I look up to for those reasons, and she’s so sweet.
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