Monday 21 June 2021

WHEN IN DOUBT, DANCE IT OUT! Evan Kharrazi's Approach to Caring

Evan Kharrazi is a caregiver, a dancer, a wellness coach and an entrepreneur. Evan took his personal experience and built Chill Time TV - an app for caregivers seeking to embed dance, healthy eating, fitness and fun into their daily lives. Evan's motto inspires me: "When in doubt, dance it out!" Here's a bit of Evan's story followed by his answers to my questions. 

I was seventeen, amidst training for my Juilliard audition when my mom started receiving chemotherapy treatment on her path to being a breast cancer survivor. Taking care of someone else was just a way of life in my big family.

In my professional career, I battled the pressures of balancing work, personal life and health. I had no me time. Sleep eluded me. I barely had the energy to move outside of work, much less exercise and stretch before bed. I was stuck in a rut without the faintest idea of how to claw myself out.

I decided to put movement back into my life by returning to my favorite form of expression: dance. I started dancing to feel relief and recharge from all the demands life was throwing at me.

When we take care of ourselves, we're in a better position to serve as a pillar of support for people we love. We're able to lay a foundation of healthy practices to experience the joy in our life again.

So whatever you can do to build back your strength, know that a healthy life is within your reach and your possibilities are endless.


Q: Evan, you cared for your mother. Tell us about her. 

My mom is amazing. Not only was she incredibly supportive of me as a male dancer, but she was there for me in anything I set my heart to. My Mom taught me the discipline of giving 110% percent and to lead with respect, dignity and professionalism. Also, I learned from my parents to always give back. If I was to go away for college and enrich my life further in travels and education, I knew I had to come back and make my community better. "Always leave it better than you found it", was a common phrase I heard in my upbringing. My mom and my dad who are both survivors of cancer, and my brother who was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis from the age of three - are all an inspiration to me and each one of my siblings. Our family motto is about living with a zest for life and giving it your all in every moment - no matter what may hit you tomorrow. We are stronger together.

Q: As a caregiver, what grew in you? Also, are there aspects of yourself or some dreams you had once that died because of your choice to give care to your Mom? 

Connection - I have a deep sense of care and empathy for others, having been surrounded by so many raw experiences in my upbringing. The compassion I have for others is so high that I often find myself connecting with people before they even tell me their story.

When my mom was sick, I was auditioning for Juilliard to pursue my dream as a professional dancer in NYC. So while training intensively and caregiving at the same time, I really had to consider my next move and if I was going to decide to be home with my family for the next year or pursue my dance dream as an early graduate of high school. I felt I was constantly in a catch 22 in my life at that time. Should I be home or should I go and reach for the stars? Being in a big family, that personal guilt runs deep now no matter how far away from home I am.

Q: As caregiving transformed you, what did you learn about what is most important to you? 

Presence - to be fully present in my life because tomorrow is not guaranteed. There was so much going on in my big family and we were all raised to shoot for the stars in whatever we found a purpose in. But sometimes it takes us away from seeing everything around us and taking in all the beautiful moments right in front of our eyes. "Smell the roses" - yeah, there were many times when I was going so fast I didn't slow down to tap into all my senses.

Q: How do you help other caregivers by sharing what you've learned? 

I inspire caregivers to just move. Just move, moving, move forward, move your body, exercise your mind, just move. The power of movement can take your pain away and it can take the pain away of others. I lost sight of my true passion for dance when I was trying to balance caregiving and my professional career in the hotel industry. If only I had a way to put movement in my life, even for 10-mindful minutes a day - my day would have turned for the better and I could find the strength to collect myself and keep carrying on.

Q: What do you think are the main barriers to a joyful and healthy lifestyle while giving care? 

As caregivers, we selflessly put others first. It feeds our soul and especially for family caregivers who cannot walk away from their situation. I think another barrier is the conflicting noise we are surrounded by in this digital age and how this idea of health and nutrition is approached in so many ways - to the point of stalling what we need to do for ourselves (not copying someone else's approach, plus this idea that deprivation is the only way we can get the body we want). This is done through a behavior change approach which is not sustainable. We need to tap into habit-based intervention in a consistent way to ensure we get the daily self-care we need. This is why I want to focus on bringing self-care accessibility to caregivers who might not have sought it out themselves. Additionally, our society has this idea that you need to have time and money to truly practice self-care and a healthy lifestyle. Much of my research during Covid was influenced by the Okinawan/Japanese culture which is very much centered around a concept of "Ikigai" (reason for being) and how we can incorporate what we love to do into our daily lives. So, focus on what you love to do - what gives you that special energy and apply it everyday. Simplify your life, don't overcomplicate it.

Q: You incorporate movement and healthy food into your coaching - why are these so important to you? 

Well, I received my integrative nutrition health coaching certification during Covid, having really been interested in nutritional science and the impact of plant-based food on reversing cancer. Having been a caregiver to sick family members, I was on a mission to fight disease through diet. Most recently, I have battled kidney stones and have had to rethink the way I eat (again). Gut health is our connection to the outside world - and is so important that did you know that 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut and 70% of our immune system is impacted by the cells in the gut! We really are what we eat.

The power of movement is something I learned from a young age, not only coming to terms with dance being my most fluid form of expression but noticing it took other people's pain away when I performed for them. Movement is truly our universal language and allows us to tap into our own aesthetic. It only takes 10-minutes a day of movement to turn your day around.

Q: Finally, Tell us a Fun Fact About Yourself

I am Jewish and half Persian and half Eastern European. My hair and the way I move my body are very much a reflection of my mixed cultures. 

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