Interview with Cristi Christensen – Part One

I want people to feel connected to who they are, and comfortable and strong in their bodies. I want their spirit to soar. I want to help them, inspire them, to feel that.

Describe your personality in three words.

Fun, Fiery, and Fierce.

Where are you from and/or where do you live?

I am from Brooklyn, New York, but I’m now “based” in Los Angeles.  I am more of a resident of the world, right now, as I am traveling about 70% of the time! So, I have a very expensive storage unit, a.k.a., a studio apartment in Los Angeles that is empty most of the time. But it is still where I return to again, and again, and again–and what feels like home in my heart.

How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

I did my first yoga class around 2002.  I didn’t fall in love with yoga immediately.  What lead me to the practice was: I was an athlete, I was training for the 2004 Olympics in the sport of Platform Diving, and I broke my back.  That put a devastating end to my Olympic pursuit and throughout the healing process I was doing a lot of Pilates, a lot of physical therapy. And then, someone at that time was like, “I’ve been doing yoga, and I think you’ll really like it,” and I knew nothing, nothing, nothing about the practice, at the time.  The only thing I knew about it was that Madonna had been raving about it, and her body was amazing! So, I was like, “Sure, I’ll try yoga!” But I didn’t know it was anything more than exercise. I had no other context because it wasn’t in the mainstream like it is in any fashion, today.

I went to the first class and the one thing I really noticed was that the teacher instructed every single breath.  I didn’t even know what style of yoga I was practicing. I do know, now, that it was the primary series of Ashtanga, but it was led.  I thought that was the only kind of yoga there was, and there were a lot of things I still couldn’t do because of my injury. I remember this idea of being just aware of my breath movement by movement and moment by moment that I’d never had that quality of attention to before.  It really sparked a sense of my own curiosity. And I was like, “hmm, what is this?” And it was more based on the curiosity that I continued versus this whole notion of immediately falling in love with the practice. And then, fast forward, a couple of years I moved to New York City and I was working for a company called Exhale, Mind Body Spa.

Shiva Rea was coming to teach in New York for the first time in, I guess, a really long time. I had no idea who she was, I had no idea there were famous yoga teachers–still had very little context of this whole yoga thing.  People were talking about her like she was the Madonna of yoga. So, I was like, “Okay, I gotta find out what this is,” and at that point I had never even taken a yoga class that had music. It was after I actually took that class with her, something awoken in me.  I didn’t understand the energy-body before, what the energy-body was, or even what a spiritual-body was. I grew up religious, not spiritual, and didn’t even know there was a difference. And there was something that happened in that class that I was like, “Whoa, whatever this is…I want more of it.”  And then, I just kind of became ravenous in my exploration of this thing called yoga.

What is yoga to you?

Yoga is life.  Yoga is this unification, or maybe, the goal of life of how we bring absolute presence and consciousnesses and unification of all parts of who we are to any given moment, and in everything we do.  Whether it’s in a conversation we’re having, or showing up for our job. Or if it’s showing up for our partner, or our child. Or just showing up for ourselves. Yoga to me is really how I view life and the goal of bringing out whole self to participate and coming into unification of mind-body-heart-spirit-soul.

How did you feel after your first yoga class?

That feeling of curiosity and that feeling of attention with the breath.  I definitely was struggling a little bit at that time because my dream of what I’d been training for my whole life at that point had come down and I lost my identity. So, I was definitely having my own struggle in that capacity.

How do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

I want them to feel more connected to who they are. For me this is a practice of waking up to all the energy that you behold.  I want people to feel connected to who they are, and comfortable and strong in their bodies. I want their spirit to soar. I want to help them, inspire them to feel that.

What impact has yoga had on your life? 

I think yoga has affected every part of my life.  When I started practicing, even when I would say that switching point of falling in love and ravenously wanting to learn more about the practice, I never ever had the intention to teach.  It became something I was studying and became something I just wanted to know more about. Yoga has become my career. It’s more than my career. The definition of yoga is life, but really, yoga has become my life. Everything I do is related to this practice in some way.  Yoga has touched every aspect of my life. I would say the first thing is it has brought me back into my body.

I didn’t realize I wasn’t fully in my body until I was very deep into my yoga journey.  It’s helped me become comfortable in my body, being comfortable and confident in my own skin.  So, on a very personal level, that is one of the huge benefits I’ve received. It’s helped me develop a relationship with spirit, and to connect me to what I’m calling, the infinite.  The infinite is many, many things.  My connection to nature, my connection to the cycles, and the rhythms of life.  The connection to the sun and the moon, and the connection to the God/Goddess. So, yoga has touched me very deeply and transformed my life in a huge way from that capacity alone because I had no former connection to those things.  I feel like the practice has also helped transform my body.

I was told at 24 when I had the massive injury that I would be walking with a cane by the time I was 30.  And now, I’m in my early 40’s. I can’t do some of the most fancy poses of yoga, I don’t have a practice as deep as Kino’s, and being able to do all these amazing back bends, and what-not, because of the injury.  But I am not limited in my life, in any way, because of it. It has definitely transformed my body, as well. I really think the effects of yoga, for me, have been very tangible mind, body, and spirit.

Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

I didn’t actually decide, it just happened. It got to a point where I could not, not share something that was transforming and awakening me in such a way that I could not, not share any longer. I was also in the yoga business, but I was in the business of managing other teachers. I was managing studios, I was managing retreat centers for this company, Exhale Mind Body Spa. I was also teaching other things. I was teaching Pilates and their proprietary class called Core Fusion, but yoga was still what I was keeping sacred to me.  There got to be a point where I could not, not share what became the guide post of my life.

What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? 

I practice yoga under the, I’m going to call it, the very wide umbrella of Vinyasa. Vinyasa only means to move in a special way, to move with intelligence. To move with consciousness, to move with awareness. It gives me a tremendous amount of freedom to explore.  To explore the body and the breath in many different ways so I can be stagnant, I can be flowing, I can be dynamic, I can be settled. I can incorporate into my practices all of what I have been doing my entire life. I was a dancer, I was an athlete. I recovered from all of these injuries.

The Vinyasa gives me freedom to bring together all the different modalities I’ve done up to now and infuse them into my yoga practice in a really beautiful way.  Sometimes it might look more like a dance. Sometimes it might have more of a core fiery focus, but it still goes back to why yoga is important to me. And that is to connect back to body, to connect back to the soul, and connect back to the heart. My practice looks very different all the time. It’s not the same everyday when I come to my mat.

Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

I don’t have a specific teacher in “my style” of yoga, but I have some amazing people that have influenced, of course, the way I teach. And of course taught me so much of the knowledge that I now have.  Ranging from Shiva Rea to Seane Corn, Sianna Sherman, Lorin Roche, Laura Amazzone, Saul David Raye. Annie Carpenter, to Maty Ezraty. I have had the really good fortune of being able to be blessed by a lot of really beautiful teachers when I ran a yoga studio Exhale Sacred Movement in Venice, California.  All of these teachers were resident teachers there. I really got to dive in deep with them in a really beautiful way, and they definitely have impacted, consciously and unconsciously, the way I teach now.

Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

I am pretty much working on the biggest project of my life, right now.  I’m in the process of writing a book called Chakra Rituals: Awakening the Wild Woman Within.  As the chakras and elements are my favorite thing to teach on and to share on because they’re so rich and so deep, and give us an incredible map and context in which we can look at our bodies and look at that connection to everything.  And all the different energies that we are. Coming Winter of 2021, I’ll have my first book coming out. I’m really excited. Something I thought I would do one day, and now I am doing it now.

Also, coming up, I have some really great retreats. I am going to Costa Rica this April 4th to the 11th, and I am teaming up with Toni Bergins, who is the creator of JourneyDance. It’s one of the most transformative dance experiences that I have ever witnessed.  We met and we completely fell in love with each other, and we’re like, we have to collaborate.  We are doing our first retreat together in Nosara at the Blue Spirit, an amazing retreat center in Nosara, Costa Rica this April.  I haven’t been this excited about a collaboration in a long time. This is going to be super cool.  And then in September of 2020 I’m doing a European retreat in Italy, right outside of Florence, right in between Florence and Tuscany with another dear sister from Vienna named, Alexia, and that is two of the big things I’m really looking forward to next year!

I’m really excited to be sharing this [Elemental Sol Flow] program with you. To have had Sol Rising, the amazing music producer and DJ doing all the original score.  He is actually DJ-ing on the set of the classes, it’s super special as we are friends and co-creators.  To share that with him, and bring these elements to life through the practices. Through the asana, through the music, and through my voice.

By Cristi Christensen