Christina Sell - a renowned international yoga teacher, writer, and one of our very own KG Global Ambassadors - has always inspired those that follow her to dive a little deeper not only in their yoga practice, but also into their self. She is known for the passion, clarity and creativity she brings to yoga, with a dynamic and challenging blend of inspiration, humor and hard work. Christina is the author of Yoga From the Inside Out: Making Peace with Your Body Through Yoga, My Body is a Temple: Yoga as a Path to Wholeness, and has just released her newest book: A Deeper Yoga: Moving Beyond Body Image to Wholeness and Freedom.
Part of Christina's philosophy lies on the idea that practicing yoga is a continuous journey of self-discovery rather than a quick-fix for a "better me." As a former gymnast who has dealt with eating disorders and addiction in her earlier years, she encourages all yoga students and teachers to free themselves from distorted body image stereotypes and go beyond to discover more freedom in their practice through her new book: A Deeper Yoga: Moving Beyond Body Image to Wholeness and Freedom. With rave reviews already rolling in, this book is the practical guide to self-discovery that you need in your life!
For today's blog, we were lucky enough to learn more from Christina herself about how A Deeper Yoga can benefit those who are struggling with their body image and want to move beyond this challenge to a more inward-focused yoga practice. Keep reading to find out more about what "wholeness" means to her, how practicing yoga can be used for healing, and much, much more!
KG – What inspired you to write A Deeper Yoga: Moving Beyond Body Image to Wholeness and Freedom?
CS – My first book on yoga and body image was published in 2003. Since then, the world of yoga has grown and changed considerably. With the advent of social media, the pressure to look a certain way or to conform to a certain body ideal has increased. I wanted to revisit the topics of body image, food addiction and perfectionism in light of the current changes and challenges in the yoga industry. Also, writing is a means by which I can reflect on how my own perspectives of yoga and helps me clarify how I have both shifted and remained the same.
KG – What’s the biggest takeaway you want your readers to gain from this book?
CS – One of the central themes of this book is that while it is important to have diverse images of beauty reflected to us in the outer world, yoga offers us a means by which we can know ourselves beyond how we look, how we feel about how we look and how we think others feel about how we look. I hope that readers feel a sense of validation for how hard the process of working with body image issues can be and will gain some practical tools for self-understanding. I want to remind people that the solution for these body-centered issues lives in shifting one’s reference point away from looks and towards the depth of being.
KG – Why is self-love and respect so important in a day and age where people don’t have as much time for themselves?
CS – Our culture bombards us with messages of “not enough”— not pretty enough, not thin enough, not rich enough, not young enough, etc. These messages distort our self-image and create unrealistic expectations for just about every facet of life. Often, without realizing it, we withhold our own love from ourselves waiting for some distant future day to come when we are finally enough. “I will love myself when I am thinner, more beautiful, when I get that raise, when I buy that car, when I have a partner,”etc. When we can see beneath the surface of these cultural imperatives and psychological tendencies, we can begin the process of loving ourselves here and now, as we are, rather than waiting for the future before giving ourselves our own respect and care.
KG – How can yoga be form of “healing technology” for someone struggling with self-love?
CS – Yoga is a practice of meeting ourselves where we are. For instance, when we practice asana, there are usually instructions that say things that are similar to, “If you can’t straighten your leg at this stage, then work on that before moving to the next stage.”The simple act of acknowledging the truth of the moment in our body through whether or not our leg is straight can be a doorway to self-acceptance.
The challenge comes when we see the person next to us with a straight leg and we begin to compare ourselves and make judgments about ourselves (or them)based on that comparison. Or maybe we compare how we actually are with an unrealistic expectation of how we think we should be in the pose. In these moments, we have to work to cultivate self-love in the face of our own self-criticism and that work is never easy.
I tell my students that there are days when the yoga practice will do a lot of the work for us. We move and breathe and feel a lot better when we are done. Some days the process of practice is very enjoyable. And there are other days when we have to do the work because the yoga seems to be making self-self-criticism worse and we spend the practice or the class feeling pretty miserable. Part of a mature relationship to practice is knowing there are both aspects to deal with.
KG – What does “wholeness” mean to you?
CS – For me, wholeness is about the whole of who I am, not just the parts of me that I like and am proud of. Considering wholeness is an invitation to live from a perspective of inclusivity and compassion, rather than critical perfectionism.
KG –How does practicing yoga contribute to this concept of wholeness?
CS – As much as yoga can help us make better choices and improve our lives and our relationships, yoga isn’t simply another self-improvement strategy. Yoga is a technology for self-knowledge and self-understanding. Sometimes we come to know our anger or jealousy more fully and sometimes we come to know our beauty and dignity more clearly. As tempting as it can be to think that yoga is about eradicating the “bad stuff” and amplifying the “good stuff” I see yoga as a pathway to seeing the dark and the light within a context that is large enough to hold it all. Many times, the long-forgotten aspects of ourselves such as hurt feelings, insecurities and anger hold tremendous keys to our self-love and our capacity to be compassionate with others.
KG – For someone who wants to start writing for themselves - what are your top recommendations for good notebooks and pens to start out with that will encourage people to want to write?
CS – I like all kinds of journals and right now I am enjoying writing with a fountain pen. The most important thing is to have materials that you enjoy using and and make you excited to sit down and write. For years, I used lined journals but now I use a blank page and include drawings, mind maps, and poems in my journal writing.Time with a journal is a personal gift to ourselves and there is no wrong or right way to do it.
KG – Where is your favorite place that you’ve traveled so far?
CS – The strange thing about traveling to teach yoga is that I go to a lot of different places but my view is usually from inside a yoga studio! I loved seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom in Tokyo.I love the food and people in Singapore. I hiked the Dolomite mountains in Italy and had a great time exploring the food and wine of Southern France. I think Australia has some of the best coffee anywhere. I live in Buena Vista, Colorado which I think is one of the most beautiful places I have been so I consider myself very lucky to live somewhere so awesome.Everywhere I go I am hosted by generous, loving and sincere yoga practitioners so no matter where I travel, I almost always have a great time.
KG – If you could travel anywhere next, where would it be?
CS – I have always wanted to go to Scotland.
KG – If you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
CS – Well, no matter how good the advice, my younger self would not listen to me! I am a person needs to experience things directly in order to grow and learn. The process of understanding myself, loving myself, and trusting myself has taken a long time to live into and continues to unfold. I suppose I would tell my younger self to “relax” since I remember being worried about everything, but honestly, if self-love was as easy as good advice, we’d all be doing it!
KG – What would be your advice to someone who’s never tried yoga but wants to start?
CS – Find the most experienced teacher you can find in your area and look for their most basic or beginning-level class. Give the same teacher’s class a few tries before deciding whether or not you like their teaching style and whether or not yoga is for you. There are a lot of styles and a lot of teachers so, if, after three classes with the same person, you decide you don’t like the offering, try someone else’s class. Remember to be patient with yourself— yoga is a lifelong relationship and learning will take some time.
KG – What are some other ways you like to de-stress besides practicing yoga?
CS – I like to hike in the mountains, go mountain biking, and I love snowboarding. I love playing with my dog and sometimes I just sit and stare at her, which makes me feel better no matter what is going on in my life. I have a regular meditation practice which is very helpful with stress-management. I write in my journal every morning and am a big fan of psychotherapy to sort through the various external and internal factors that contribute to stress. I also enjoy movies, dinner with friends and reading.
KG – What is one of your favorite moments from teaching yoga?
CS – Any time someone experiences a breakthrough of some kind— new understanding, a new pose, a personal insight— is always awesome to witness. And, watching my students live through the ups and downs of their lives over a long period time and maintain a practice is deeply rewarding to me. Some of the first people I ever taught to started yoga after they were 55 and many are still practicing twenty years later.Teaching yoga is an interesting blend of very ordinary moments along with high and low times for everyone. When it goes well we learn and grow together through it all.
KG – What direction do you see yoga moving into in the next five years?
CS – Well, if it isn’t moving inward, it isn’t yoga. In terms of asana practice, I think we can expect to see a greater emphasis on functional movement, on integrated strength, and a continued presence of new varieties of styles and approaches. In terms of the industry, I see some good trends with power structures falling apart, students feeling more empowered to speak up regarding abuse, and issues of inclusivity and diversity being addressed.
KG – How can practicing seva help someone on their journey towards wholeness and self-love?
CS –The great paradox of selfless service is that it often makes us feel good when we do it! So while we may begin service work as a way to help others, quickly we find that we are being served as well. One of the obstacles on the path to wholeness and self-love is self-centeredness, where we are too focused on ourselves, our shortcomings and our unique perspectives. Seva is a way to get out of that self-centered trap and experience a greater connection to the source of generosity and healing.
Pick up a copy of A Deeper Yoga: Moving Beyond Body Image to Wholeness and Freedom for yourself to read more about her inspiring story. We feel so incredibly lucky to help spread Christina's message!