Photo credit: Daniela Leinenweber Photgraphy
Cristina is originally from Portugal and now lives in Amsterdam, Holland. I met Cristina during my three month stay in Anjuna where we practiced together in the same yoga shala. We talk about her experience with yoga, which ultimately led to her leaving her life and job in Amsterdam to come and deepen her yoga practice and spend time in the wonderful India.
What brought you to yoga?
I did martial arts since I was a kid up until my early twenties when I lived in Lisbon, Portugal. When I moved to Amsterdam in my twenties I was looking for something with a non-violence aspect- that’s how I come to yoga. I find a lot of similarities between yoga and martial arts, both seek to connect the mind and body, improve flexibility and strength and both make you move through the breathing and both come from lineages.
What was your idea of yoga before you began to practice?
I thought of yoga as being this mystical and spiritual thing that was not accessible for most people. I used to say, “I want to do the kind of yoga that is only physical” – I now understand there is no such thing, but I guess it comes with time. I think a lot of people seek yoga as physical exercise, but then this change starts to happen in you and you start to seek answers and wanting to know more about the philosophy part of it.
How did your idea change?
Well I started with Bikram yoga because it was very physical and I didn’t want to do the spiritual part . I never thought of my self as a spiritual person and I was always ‘afraid’ of that part of yoga. I think after I started to realize there is no such thing as only physical yoga and I realized that only physical yoga doesn’t work, you get tired of just doing this everyday.
What is your background in yoga?
I did bikram yoga for a couple of years and then this style just wasn’t for me anymore so I started trying other styles like hatha and vinyasa. I tried these other styles, nothing too serious.
I was thinking that I really liked yoga but I hadn’t found the style that was for me and then 3 years ago I started with ashtanga and I got hooked. I think also because I came from martial arts and in martial arts you do something called ‘kata’, which is a set of movements you do against an imaginary opponent and its always the same set of movements. The more experienced you are you get different katas, a bit like Ashtanga and the different series’ and asanas. So, I think I identified more with ashtanga because of that.
Did you find your lifestyle changed?
Yeah, a lot.
I started eating healthier and actually knowing about the food I buy. It was the same thing for many other products, like cosmetic and cleaning products. I now, most of the time, make my own. I guess I started to be more aware and wanting to know more about how could I maximize my health and minimize my footprint on the planet.
It just naturally happened – for me it started as a physical thing no doubt but then I think once you start doing yoga with time you start changing and you don’t even realize. Something starts changing in you and I think you become more aware of everything. Its like realizing you are more your own voice and not the noise around you and what society expects of you, then you start having questions and you start looking for answers – and once you get there you can’t rewind it anymore, once you have the knowledge.
Did you find you attitude change?
Like I was saying I think I just became more aware of everything- my relationship with others and the world in general, my own voice and just finding myself being in touch more with who I am than what people expected of me. My attitude definitely changed and that’s why I am here in India actually.
Is that what inspired this big lifestyle change?
Yes it was. It was just me realizing – ‘What am I doing?’ and that I didn’t really like what I was doing and I wasn’t happy with my job and that was reflecting on my life.. I then thought, “I’m the one responsible for living it and for doing what makes me happy. Money isn’t everything and I don’t need that much to live.” So realizing all that and then going for it – it took me two years because as soon as I started ashtanga I knew after one year that I really liked it and that I wanted to go to India and find my teacher. It took me two years to realize my plan (saving money, etc.) but I already knew what I wanted to do. So, last Summer I quit my job and here I am now.
How do you find practicing yoga in India compared to Europe?
I think here in India you feel more relaxed with your practice, probably because you don’t have a job to go to before or after your practice. In the west people tend to work hard and play hard and so they do yoga hard, but here you are just doing your practice with no expectations. I think that’s the best thing here – no expectations about my practice.
Did you find a spiritual aspect develop?
I think the spiritual side for me was reconnecting to myself. When I started practicing yoga I started feeling healthier and in sync with changing my habits, my diet and that my relationship with the world started changing and with nature. I started finding happiness in the small things – so I think that’s spiritual for me, that’s the way I see it.
Anything else you want to say about yoga?
I think there are some misconceptions about yoga, I often had them. Some people say that they won’t go to yoga because they think they don’t have the flexibility or they think they aren’t spiritual- but I think yoga is for everyone. If you start it as a physical practice it’s fine but just go and be open-minded.
Have fun with it, that is very important – don’t be all about expectations and what others think about what you do, just keep the moment to yourself and enjoy it.
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