Lauren Chiarello is a true triple threat. She not only leads a healthy, active life as an athlete and fitness instructor at Exhale, Flex Studio and beyond. She also plans events surrounding wellness causes and companies, and she has a 360-degree perspective, considering she survived cancer—twice.
The Westchester native now works in three arenas—teaching, planning and advocating—and is also starting to combine them all. Somehow she has endless energy to do it all, all while keeping up her website, Chi Chi Life. She’s even up as one of the impressive candidates in Reebok’s Most Inspiring Trainer Competition (vote here: America's Most Inspiring Trainer), and she’s also partnering with us to benefit cancer patients through a charity class at Exhale in Chicago.
No wonder her nickname is energizer bunny! Want to know more about how the NYC-based Chiarello allows one area of her work to inform the others? Read on!
SBS: How did wellness play into your childhood?
Lauren Chiarello: I grew up an hour North of the city playing sports including soccer, basketball and field hockey. I loved being active. I became a vegetarian when I was 14 after learning about farming and the treatment of animals in the food industry. I didn't want to support it, so I stopped. That was a big piece in navigating how to fuel my body in the best way with greens, and protein. But it was tricky because I didn’t know that much about nutrition at the time.
SBS: How did that evolve into a career in fitness and event planning?
LC: I went to Villanova in Pennsylvania, and I interned at a public accounting firm. I soon realized I wasn’t meant to be an auditor. So, I looked at how I spent my time outside of the classroom, and I noticed it was in fundraising and planning. I liked to give back to different organizations. Recently, my mom found my business card from being on an executive board in college! It made me tear up. That’s where my love and passion for service and giving back started to flourish.
So, after I turned down the job in accounting, I went into fundraising and event planning for 11 years. I’ve worked at places including the Neighborhood House in NYC and Memorial Sloan Kettering.
SBS: When were you diagnosed with cancer?
LC: I was 23 when I diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I went through six months of chemo and was in remission for six months when I started working at Memorial Sloan Kettering. I interviewed for that job in my wig and never said anything about being sick because I wanted to be hired for just being me. I wanted to be normal. Three months into working, I relapsed. I had run my first half-marathon for cancer research, and that weekend I felt a lump on my collar bone. My treatment the first time was less rigorous, and I worked full time mostly. But the second time I couldn't. I had radiation, and I was in isolation for six weeks. My transplant was in April 2009. That’s really where my fitness journey began.
SBS: How did that fitness journey evolve?
LC: Being sick and healing gave me the drive and passion to live my best life. I wanted to do whatever I could in my power to be my healthiest in body in mind. Then, I was introduced to Core Fusion Barre after my transplant, and it was a different way to move my body. I fell in love with the method, but I was a student for five years before I thought about teaching. During that time to I trained for marathons. (I wanted to run past Memorial Sloan Kettering, which I did in 2013.) My love of fitness was growing. So, I went into my training for Exhale not knowing if I would teach; anyone can sign up. Then it was 200 hours of training to teach there, and I loved it because it fed my love of core strength, flexibility and mobility. I also trained in Pilates mat and TRX.
I realized: The reason I was in fundraising and event planning was because I wanted to be of service. But I knew I couldn’t be a social worker; I’d go home and cry every day! For me, teaching allows me to help people in a more direct way. I can see lives transformed. That’s such a true gift.
SBS: Where do you teach now?
LC: I teach largely at Flex Studio, and there are two locations in NYC. We have a hybrid machine that combines a traditional reformer and chair from Pilates, and it’s unique to Flex. That’s core strength and targeted movement, plus flexibility and mobility. Core strength is the star of the show in all Flex formats, but our barre class differs in how we structure class. There’s more holding, but with a similar spirit to more traditional barre classes.
SBS: How do event planning and fundraising fit in?
LC: I work as a contractor and project manager, and I’m hired on a freelance basis. That kind of depends on the time of the year, and it ebbs and flows. There are several clients I work with throughout the year. I’m also in corporate wellness and corporate wellness event planning.
SBS: How do you handle that large variety of tasks?
LC: I still really struggle with this. My days start early, and they may end late. Sometimes there are breaks in them, and sometimes not. I've worked 14-plus hours with commuting. One of the things I've incorporated is getting therapeutic massages. When I’m demoing and not warming up properly, I start having SI joint issues. So, self-care is where my energy is. Also taking class is key for me. If you’re teaching five-plus hours a day, it can be hard to fit in. But it’s my way of life. I take barre at Exhale and then Pilates. I try to take the modalities I teach. I also love spinning, running and taking classes at Uplift.
SBS: What are your thoughts on cross-training?
LC: I think it’s important, and I believe in strength and cardio. Cardio is important for our hearts. It doesn't have to be a crazy HIIT class or bootcamp. It’s whatever works for you. Then strength: I love using your own body weight to create strength. It's amazing how much can be done with no equipment, like Pilates mat and barre. Those two snuggle nicely together.
Part of my mission is to encourage people to try new things, while also being consistent with what you're doing. Otherwise you won't see results. So, with barre for example, it’s a method and you need to be coming in a few times a week to see progress. Consistency is key, but what that looks like depends on you!
SBS: What’s your advice for creating successful fundraising events?
LC: Right now, I’m talking about the monthly gathering from April to September all about community and connection. I partner with fellow teachers for hybrid workouts. I have my teachers select a charity that's important for them, and I set up registration and complete marketing the event.
Events are successful when there is meaning behind them. That’s not just doing something to do it or because it sounds nice. For me, finding the meaning in it is why I have the teachers I partner with select a charity. They are so connected to it. I also love integrating movement and fitness with fundraising.
Next, I think it’s important people take something away from the event. We want to leave an impression. When people can leave feeling they gained knowledge or had a connection with other people, that’s when the events work.
Finally, when you speak from your heart and are passionate it shines through. There are people out there that are sort of just looking to be Instagram famous. Instead, I use social media to connect and help promote my events. I use it as an outlet to help spread the word.
SBS: How is corporate wellness factoring in to your work?
LC: Corporate wellness will be a big focus in 2018. I hope to do more retreats. I led my first one in Indonesia. It was such a special, once in a lifetime experience. It was a blend of fitness and adventuring in an intimate, unique setting.
SBS: Why are retreats worthwhile?
LC: Attending a retreat or anything with travel expands your mind. Anytime we can learn about different cultures makes you realize how small you are and how big our world is, how much there is to learn and do and experience. You see how many different ways there are to live. I really wanted to create that more immersive experience. We were in the middle of a jungle. That offers another level of connection and community for the time you are with these people in the retreat. It adds on to the studio experience.
Lauren’s SBS Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: ABCV
Splurge Restaurant: Candle 79
Fun Activity: Checking out a pop-up concert with SoFar Sounds
Calming Activity: A therapeutic massage with Eddie Rodriguez
Yoga Studio: Earth Yoga
Fitness Studio: Uplift Studios
Nightlife Spot: A Broadway show like Dear Evan Hansen, Hello Dolly, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Book: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Online Resources: TRX Moves of the Week and LindaFit Pilates (my teacher trainer). Feed Me Phoebe and Domesticate Me are a few of my favorite places to find recipes online.
Lauren’s SBS Mantra: This is a tough one! When I read each mantra, my heart lights up. I’ll land on “Be Grateful.” Every day we are alive is a gift, and I never take it for granted that I was given a second chance at life. Abundance is all around us. When we take a pause during our day to acknowledge what were grateful for, it can shift our mindset into a positive state.
The best, zaniest part of being Lauren: Some people call me the energizer bunny! I have a tremendous amount of energy. I truly believe the energy is generated by my mission and purpose of helping others. It propels me to squeeze the juice out of life every darn day.