A Moment with Christie Roe
Awakening: Your intention and as I suppose your understanding of yoga is to make yoga enjoyable and useful for everyone. What does it mean?
Christie: I borrowed these words from Desikachar, my teacher’s teacher, who passed away last year. These words ‘enjoyable’ and ‘useful’ are very open to individual interpretation, and they aren’t often found together. A lot of people don’t typically go to most of the yoga classes out there for enjoyment — it’s too much hard work, or they feel like they aren’t flexible enough to enjoy the process of it. But yoga is also something that you are, not what you do. It’s about enjoying your natural state, and practicing with breath in a way that is useful for the whole body, and that starts with enjoying the process.
Awakening: Useful for your body, your being?
Christie: It is very much about your whole being – physical, spiritual, emotional. And what is enjoyable to body, becomes useful to mind and what is enjoyable to mind is useful to body. You can play with these words back and forth together. And in doing so you can find self-guidance in your practice.
Awakening: To understand what we are talking about … yoga is a way of being.
Christie: Yes. There is yoga for everyone, whoever is practicing. Desikachar always said, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
Awakening: The idea to become yoga practice than do it let’s say every Wednesday sounds exciting and enjoyable.
Christie: This enjoyable aspect is so important, because if you don’t enjoy it you won’t do it every day. The consistency gained from enjoyment then becomes very useful.
Awakening: And your teachers… you mentioned – Sri Krishnamacharya and Desikachar – was it your beginning with yoga?
Christie: Yes. All of my teachers go back to them. They are my roots, and began a quite radical tradition of teaching breath-centered yoga as it could be made appropriate to everyone, at a time when access to yoga was very limited in many ways. Krishnamacharya is an interesting character. His mission was to liberate yoga, make it a householder tradition. It became all about adapting practice to individuals, which most often meant teaching one to one. For example, Krishnamacharya offered a very rigorous vinyasa practice to the children of royalty because he saw it was very appropriate to their sedentary lifestyle. Both he and his son Desikachar never branded themselves, and never tried to create any prescribed yoga system, as two of Krishnamacharya’s famous students BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois ended up doing. But thanks to those teachers, this lineage is everywhere, and everyone can share it – it’s very open because it is not a school. Desikachar taught with the prerogative of friendship with his students. He recognized that as a teacher he could only grow by knowing his students, and in that knowing he was able to empower students to be their own teachers.
Awakening: That we are contributing to each other and there is no separation like student and teacher.
Christie: It was not about being an authority in any way, but instead guiding everyone to their own appropriate practice.
Awakening: You also say that yoga is what you are, as you are, in any given breath. It sounds so true because really if you breathe you are, you are alive. You focus a lot on breathing. In June, you and Birdie Lawson will be doing a workshop Wind Ceremony + Restorative Breathwork. Tell us more about this.
Christie: Breath is everything. In this workshop, we will focus on working with breath, but also letting our breath work with us, and settle into the idea that there is nothing to control. Breath, prana, is a tool to access your own self-guidance, knowing, what is inside of you. Birdie will guide a ceremony and meditations focused on the element air, and I then will be teaching pranayama or yoga breathing techniques. And we will emphasize the enjoyable aspects of these useful rituals, and and open the space for everyone to do their own inner work.
Awakening: So, is it for anybody who is willing to breathe deeper and to feel more connected with yourself?
Christie: The great sage Ramana Maharshi said that the breath is the gross (physical, bodily) form of mind. In yoga there is no difference between the mind and the body. I’m always learning that I have much more power than I think in the so-called connection between the mind and body, because it’s in the breath, pure consciousness. By breathing, in an enjoyable way, we can all use the mind to help the mind, simply by becoming aware, the first step to learning how to clarify and calm ourselves. Air is also all about change and movement. Throughout, we will work with an intention to make inner change that we want to see out in the world.
Awakening: Can we also bring our individual intentions, issues, things what we would like to let go of with the breath?
Christie: Yes! Breath practice is especially liberating in terms of patterns and habits that we hold in both body and mind, which again are the same. And so by practicing in a way that is enjoyable and useful, to say it again, we start to feel better right away.
Awakening: We were never taught how to breathe, and there are so many people so limited in their awareness of the ways that they breath. It is so important to realize how much breathwork can help us in everyday life.
Christie: Yes, and energetically your whole body loves the breath. To me, breath is a very personal expression. I teach in very loosely guided way — we never count breaths or anything like that. There are so many kinds of breathing techniques out there that can get very mechanical. Sri Krishnamacharya was always insisting, “yoga is not mechanical.” When you are really paying attention to your breath, you can see and explore and become aware of your habits, needs, and preferences. It’s the perfect way to start from learning from yourself. And it can be challenging! I focus on breath throughout my all classes. And in finding a full breath, whatever a full breath feels like in the moment, breath anchors us in the present. I encourage everyone to let the breath be their first teacher. I always ask, can you enjoy that you have nothing else to focus on beyond your breath? Meanwhile the breath takes us everywhere …
Awakening: It is enjoyable that we will be having this workshop at Awakening and hopefully it will be useful for all participants. Back to yoga … on our schedule, we have two classes with you: Hatha Vinyasa on Mondays and Reiki Restorative Yoga on Fridays. What is the difference and to whom would you recommend these classes?
Christie: Monday morning is all about mindful movement and it starts with breathing. We do standing postures, more strengthening, stretching. It’s a great way to start a week. Then on Friday, the restorative class is more about energy, and letting go of whatever we need to, with the same focus on breathing and finding ease and support through held postures and some gentle movement. For me as a teacher, it’s a wonderful way to open and to end the week at Awakening.
Awakening: To end on any share or guidance…?
Christie: I would share again and again all of the things I’ve said about breathing so far, and one more note: when we really tune in to our breath, after a while the breath starts to guide our practice rather than the other way around. It’s about active participation, making choices based on the guidance we receive from within. When we can let breath guide our practice, and soon enough that same force, that prana, guides us through life. It’s so useful, and such a joy!
Awakening: So, breathing deeply… thank you very much for your time and sharing beautiful guidance. And see you at your classes and workshop.