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Inhale, Exhale: Growth Comes Naturally for Charm City Yoga

Kim Manfredi - Photo by Bill Tipper
Kim Manfredi - Photo by Bill Tipper
For many, a severe fall at the age of 18 would be life-defining, and not in a good way. For Kim Manfredi, however, the resulting seven fused vertebrae and a partially paralyzed right leg led her to a path that would sustain and improve not only her life, but also the lives of many others.

In 1988, Manfredi, the founder of Baltimore's Charm City Yoga, tried yoga and meditation in Arizona as a way to heal from her injuries, and she says she immediately felt a connection to her body that she hadn't felt before.

From that point on, yoga became a prominent part of her life.

"It kind of moved away from solely being about overcoming my injuries, and I began to recognize yoga as a tool to live a radically alive life, or maybe be grounded in the spiritual principles of those who kind of came before me," Manfredi says. "It's always been a balance between physical embodiment and spiritual connection."

When she returned to Baltimore, Manfredi noticed a lack of classes offering the styles of yoga she had been exposed to in the west. She decided to train as a teacher in 1996, and began offering classes at Hampden's Meadow Mill Athletic Club and the YMCA.

Shortly after, Manfredi, who is also a painter, opened the Midtown Yoga Studio on the second floor of a space she owned on East Preston Street for her decorative painting company.

There, she offered two classes a week, introducing Baltimore to hot yoga in the vinyasa, or flow, style of the practice.

Manfredi's desire to immerse herself in yoga took her all over the world, as she traveled to ashrams in India and on silent meditation retreats. Her studies with some of the world's most well-known yoga teachers have given her an eclectic style that makes Charm City unique.

"I feel like all of the teachers have a little piece of the puzzle, and that's why yoga is so fantastic," Manfredi says. "Because the teachers offer what they're experiencing in the practice, and it's only part of the answer. It's up to the practitioner to cultivate their own understanding of what being awake means in their body."

When Manfredi wanted to go to India, she needed someone to cover her two weekly classes, so she trained a student. The following year, she trained three more, and the growth of her Midtown Yoga Studio took off.

The demand for Manfredi's yoga led to the opening of a Fells Point studio, and the Midtown Yoga Studio became Charm City Yoga. Shortly after, locations in Federal Hill and in Towson popped up.

In 2002, Manfredi began offering teacher training, following in the tradition of her own teachers before her. Manfredi's 200-hour and 500-hour training programs are registered with yoga's governing body, the Yoga Alliance.

According to Manfredi, no matter what goal a student comes in with, from easing back pain to carving out six-pack abs, yoga makes it attainable. But more importantly, Manfredi says the positive effects of regular practice extend beyond the mat and that's what makes her job rewarding.

"You go for stress relief and then you find it," Manfredi says, as an example. "So all of a sudden, you have more capacity to just do a better job at work. And then in doing a better job at work, you begin to excel in your profession. You begin to bring this idea of consciousness and awareness to your profession and it begins to ripple out.

"I've seen people leave their professions as mortgage brokers and become yoga teachers or leave their professions as yoga teachers and become nurses or physicians, but it's always with this kind of consciousness which I think is the biggest benefit that we all get from the practice. It's wild."

And for Manfredi, Baltimore has been the ideal home for a blossoming chain of yoga studios.

"Baltimore, first of all, is an awesome city," she says. "It's just gritty enough. It's full of students. It's full of healthcare professionals. It's somewhat alternative in its nature. It's somewhat liberal. And so it's a very receptive community for yoga and the yoga practice and the ideas surrounding yoga, which include just living a better life."

Additionally, Manfredi says Baltimoreans love their neighborhoods and she is often getting requests to open new studios in different areas.

With the help of her recently retired husband Chris Blades, Manfredi is about to open a location in Severna Park. But expansion was never the end goal; Manfredi says the growth has been completely organic.

"We never had a business plan where we were like, in five years we're going to open 15 studios," she says. "It's just like we expand a little on the inhale, and then we exhale and see how it feels. Then we inhale again, and maybe we don't go deeper into the pose, maybe we just stay where we are for a few breaths, and then see if we want to go deeper. I'm using that as a metaphor, because we never want to push ourselves to the point where we injure or where we're getting greedy. We're just really trying to facilitate the community and meet the needs of the students and the teachers. It's been unbelievable."

Born from pain, and later passion, Charm City Yoga has, at its core, become a true labor of love for Manfredi.

"It's important that it doesn't turn into work for us," she says. "Believe it or not, thus far, it hasn't. We work at it, and we're very dedicated to it, but it's not a drag. It's not painful at all.

"I used to have a decorative painting company, and dollar-wise, it was the same amount of money that we earn from Charm City, and it was so painful. It was just so painful. With the yoga, the students are so happy to come in and pay their $15 or their $6 or whatever they're paying. They get their class, they enjoy their class, and they're happy at the end. It's not like that in every business."

Staci Wolfson is a Baltimore-born, NYU-educated writer and editor based in Charm City. In addition to BmoreMedia, you can read her writing on Patch.com and her Just for Kicks & Giggles soccer blog.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple

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