The secret extremist

Secret extremist seeks personal revolution

An addiction to tea means that Perth-based yoga teacher and physiotherapist Christiane Steinward feels she can hardly judge people for their lifestyle choices.

I’ve known Christiane for about seven years, since we met in the lobby of the New Woodlands Hotel in Chennai, India. We’ve been friends ever since.

Our paths have diverged since then. She was yet to finish her yoga teacher training; I was already teaching. I gave up teaching because I was bored with the sound of my own voice; she was so serious about yoga, she took on a physiotherapy degree so she could better understand the dynamics of the human body in order to be a better teacher. That’s dedication. That’s kind of … extreme.

Originally from Manchester – a city known for its club scene and drinking culture – in the United Kingdom, Christiane used to party hard.

“I used to take a lot of drugs; drink a lot,” she says, in a voice that suggests a lot really does mean a LOT.

She felt she really pushed the boundaries with that lifestyle and has come to see herself as an “extremist”.

I am surprised by this – I would never have described her as such. Rather, she has a breezy and easy-going nature that seems to me totally different what you would expect a serious and full-on yogi to be.

“I’m a secret extremist,” she says.

Party-hard lifestyle loses its appeal

After discovering yoga after moving to Sydney, the appeal of her former lifestyle slowly started to wane.

“At some point, it became just not appealing anymore.”who am i?

“It seemed particularly unappealing, like it was taking me in the wrong direction.”

As she progressed in her understanding and experience of yoga, she found herself questioning who she was after a night out on the tiles.

She felt a discord – who am I? Is this really me?

Personal revolution

The direction she, along with her husband, is increasingly taking is more of a “personal revolution”. She wants to reach her potential from a spiritual perspective rather than a material or social one. This, for her, is living with integrity.happiness

She has given up the booze, and doesn’t eat meat. Her “vices” now are tea and… well, just tea. About 20 cups a day. She is English after all, and there’s that secret extremist coming out again. The whole vegan thing though, is not going to happen, what with all the milk that goes into all that tea.

“I can’t give up dairy. How can I preach to anyone when I’m sooo addicted to tea!”

I asked Christiane whether she thought you could live a life of integrity without this total dedication.

“Totally! 100% I think you can. We all have our own path and there are so many different ways it can unfold for different people.”

You can practice yoga to make your body feel better or to calm your mind, but it needn’t be your whole path.

There are many different paths to reaching the goal of any discipline and yoga is no different. You can completely immerse yourself in it, as Christiane has done, or it can be an addition that complements and enhances your life.

Photo: Michelle Newton


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Yoga – a (very brief) definition

In the definitive explanation of yoga, the Yoga Sutras, written more than 2000 years ago, the sage Patanjali says: “Yogas citta vritti nirodhah”, which can be loosely translated as “yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind”.

When you’re in a state of yoga, all misconceptions that can exist in your mind disappear.

This, though, is its ultimate expression. There are many paths that lead to that goal, which may never be attained in this lifetime. It’s a multi-dimensional, transformational guide to living a fuller, more expansive life.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means union, and this union can come in many forms – the union of the body and the breath, the union of the body and the mind, and ultimately, the union of oneself with God, the universe, all-that-is – whatever you like to call that unchanging, eternal force that underlies all of life.

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Coming soon…

I’ll be talking to the creators of The Future Sound of Yoga, and going to an event – can’t wait!

I’ll be talking to a yoga teacher who has just completed a physio degree and how she integrates yoga into physio and vice versa. She’s pretty pure – vegetarian, teetotal but used to be a party girl. How did she get to where she is now?

I’ll also be chatting to Katie Manitsas from Jivamukti Yoga in Newtown. We’ll probably have an almond milk chai latte from Sadhana Kitchen, the vegan cafe onsite too. Love vegan/vegetarian food and that’s often how I eat, but I also love a steak and think life’s not worth loving without cheese, so I’m interested in her take on that.

And at some stage I’ll be travelling to the Margaret River region, mainly, let’s face it, to drink wine, but I’ll also be checking out the yoga school in beautiful Dunsborough.

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Champagne n yoga

Now we're on holiday

Years ago, I had a profile on a dating site. My call sign was “champagnenyoga” which pretty much summed me up at the time.

In fact, it pretty much sums me up now. Still. AND, I’m still single. Go figure.

Anyway. The thing about that name was that I was always trying to find the balance between the rampant party girl in me – the one in the heels leaning over the bar trying to get the bartender’s attention to order another (yes, another) bottle (yes, a bottle) of champagne, or wine, or more cosmopolitans, or whatever, and the girl chanting ‘om’ three times a week in yoga class.

That girl, and the one who decided she wanted to be a yoga teacher, because maybe by learning to be a yoga teacher, and deepening her knowledge and practice of yoga, she would leave that girl at the bar behind. Or if not leave her behind, find a better version of her.

Have I succeeded? Well, I’m me, and that’s the only person I can be. I still love a bottle or two of champagne, and I still love yoga, and I’ve come to believe that (for me anyway) to force yourself into being someone you’re not is just as damaging as forcing yourself into a yoga pose that you’re either not ready for, or your body is just not cut out for.

I thought that I was probably not alone. I mean hundreds of thousands of people attend yoga classes every week around the world – it’s one of the fastest growing “sports” around.

In Australia, 3.3% of the (female) population said they participated in yoga, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Sports and Physical Recreation: A Statistical Overview, Australia, published in 2012. In the United States, 8.7% of the adults – that’s more than 20 million people – say they practice yoga.

Now, I’m thinking they can’t all be shunning alcohol and meat and late nights.

How do you balance being a serious yogi* or yogini** and modern life?

Is it necessary to shun the “naughty” things – and are they even naughty?

Is it essential to live a life of complete purity?

I’ll attempt to answer these questions and more in this series of posts by talking to yoga teachers and yoga students, people who practice a lot and people who practice a little. Maybe even nutritionists or Ayurvedic practitioners to gauge how to find that balance.

Let me know what you think.

*A person who is proficient in yoga

** The corresponding feminine yoga proficient

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