#12 Chaska Potter: Athlete & PE Teacher Turned Touring Songbird

photo by Shervin Lainez

photo by Shervin Lainez

Chaska plays as we hike the himalayan foothills

Chaska plays as we hike the himalayan foothills

A walk through Rishikesh, India with Chaska Potter was almost always accompanied by the sweet hum of kirtan singing and the strum of her ukulele. A yogi-singer-songwriter from Santa Cruz, California, Chaska has been touring internationally with her band Raining Jane since 2003. The band has recorded 5 studio albums and collaborated with many artists, including a most recent effort with Jason Mraz, titled, ‘YES!’. In addition to international music success, since 2010 Chaska and Raining Jane have been working with Rock N’ Roll Camp For Girls, a non-profit whose mission is to “empower girls through music”.

Before Chaska’s 180, she worked in athletics at Brentwood School in California. One of the many things I love about Chaska’s story is how Chaska’s path from childhood to 180 follows like breadcrumbs preparing her for success in the creative life she lives today; from singing with her family before school as a child to the discipline she exercised playing three sports in high school.

In between songs, hiking the foothills of the Himalayas in India, I was fascinated to learn Chaska’s story. Chaska, a courageous and strong woman who shares of the solace she finds in crying and who shows her fierce side as a captain of yogaerobics and a facilitator of self defense classes. I think you’ll find Chaska is openly vulnerable, humble, full of spirit and truly an all around bad ass beauty. Read on to hear, in her own words, how 180 hit Chaska hard and her tips for a graceful transition.

Your background is in Music and Psychology. How did you end up teaching?

I was recruited to coach sports and teach PE at Brentwood School while I was still a student at UCLA, during the spring of my 4th year, when I had finished my eligibility playing on the volleyball team.  Although I didn’t have a teaching credential, I was a three-sport athlete in high school (volleyball, basketball and track) and was given a scholarship to play volleyball at UCLA.  Although I studied Psychology and Music History at UCLA, my specialty had been sports.

You faced a pretty big 180 from a job with a consistent paycheck to that of a traveling musician. Would you say you saw that coming or did it take you by surprise? What happened?

For six years I had been coaching three sports and teaching PE at Brentwood School. That was 2004 when I last had this “regular” job with a consistent schedule and consistent paycheck.  

I had been playing with my band Raining Jane around LA for about five years when we got the opportunity to go on a six-week tour around the Northwest. Brentwood School gave me their blessing and best wishes to explore my passion for music and assured me that they would welcome me back with open arms.  

When I returned to campus after our inaugural tour, I taught my morning classes and then went to check my mailbox at lunchtime. My name was nowhere to be found on the mail wall.  I actually asked out loud, “has anyone seen my mailbox?” as if it had been misplaced!  Turned out, I had been fired!  

I learned that a lot can change in six weeks and that the letter the school had sent to me, informing me that I no longer worked there, went to an old address.  HA!  This was the biggest surprise in my 180.  I had never been fired before.  However, this opened up my availability to continue touring and soon after, the other three members of Raining Jane quit their jobs so we could embark on a life on the road together!  We have now been independently running our business for 16 years and have toured in 18 countries!       

Now you're a musician touring the world constantly. Is there anything you might account for preparing you for this lifestyle? 

The 180 I made from athletics to music, was really going back to where I began; to my roots.  I grew up in a musical family, where singing and playing instruments was woven into the fabric of our DNA.  My grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of the family were musicians as well.  When I was young, my dad would get all of us kids up an hour earlier in the morning, so that we could jam in the music room before going to school.  (It was the garage, but we decked it out with tapestries, twinkle lights and posters of our favorite rockers.)  My earliest memories of our family gatherings during the holiday are of us all singing together.  It’s still my favorite part.  So, yes, this all prepared me for the musical aspect of being a musician.  

Raining Jane with Jason MrAZ and Willie Nelson

Raining Jane with Jason MrAZ and Willie Nelson

What parallels have you drawn between athlete and  musician?

I have discovered that the parallels between being an athlete and a musician are many.  Not only from the transient lifestyle and logistical viewpoint of traveling from city to city, venues to hotels; but also from the preparation and visualization that goes into honing the craft. during the game/show in order to execute a vision.  In both athletics and musical performances, it is crucial to stay present with your mind on the prize.  I have found that if I dwell on my mistakes, I will usually make more mistakes.  Conversely, the more I relax and stay present, focusing on the goal at hand; the more accurate, graceful and heartfelt my delivery will be.   

The only thing constant is change. How do you handle changes that sneak up on you? Is there anything you tell yourself or sing to yourself to help you get through a transition?

First, I usually cry.  Whether the change is seemingly “good” or “bad”, tears are my first response.  I’ve come to accept that this is just how I’m wired and that it’s actually a strength to feel so deeply!  (That’s what my mom tells me anyway!)  I also may need therapy.  When I’m amidst a change, I try to remind myself that life keeps getting better.  The changes that occur are a result of our growth and evolution.  Often times, as in the situation where I got fired from my 9-5, it actually helps pave the way for better things to come.  I may have been afraid to quit that job because I felt that I had some security there; knowing when and where my next paycheck would come from.  Change can bust down a door that we’ve been knocking on, but too afraid to open.  So, after that cry, I take a deep breath and dry my eyes so I can see what’s coming up around the bend.    

Any other tips to stay balanced during times of 180?

Self-care helps me keep my balanced all of the time, but especially during big changes.  The way that I am treating myself emotionally and physically, shapes my experience of each transition and really, every moment that I’m moving through. From what I put in my body, to what I put on it (non-toxic products and sassy outfits); to what messages I’m feeding my mind and also what I choose to do with it (exercise!).  I think yoga is one of the most helpful tools for me in staying balanced in body and mind.  When I do yoga, I naturally slow down and become gentler with myself.  It also reminds me to return to my intention; to my hearts desire.  When everything else feels uncertain, going within, to my deepest place of knowing, helps me to feel anchored and to trust the bigger plan.    

How can someone tell when its time for them to make a big change? Are there any telltale signs? What about if the feeling of wanting change is a subtle one? Is there a right time to listen to that feeling vs. ignore it?

Usually, I know when it’s time to make a big change because the doors to that path keep opening and “yes” is the answer, more than “no”.  The telltale sign for me, that it’s time to take action, is that the idea won’t leave me alone.  It keeps tapping me on the shoulder; whispering in my ear, and often during savasana!  At this point, ignoring it is no longer a reasonable option.  If the feeling is subtle, I take steps towards the idea to try it on; to see how it feels to say it out loud.  

If you could go back and give your former self words of wisdom, what age would you go back to and what would you say?

I would tell my 17-year-old self to TAKE IT EASY!  Every change seemed like a really big deal at that age.  As if each decision was the first step towards the rest of my life!  I suppose every step we take is either taking us in the direction of our dreams or it’s not, but I wish I wasn’t so dramatic about it!  We can always re-route, re-think and change our mind again.  A 180 is always just a decision away!

Connect with Chaska on Instagram

Learn more about Raining Jane and Listen! 

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