From Dance to Yoga & Beyond: A Conversation with Christina Emmerton
Copy by Shanti Devi Sanders
We agree to meet at her favourite organic fruit smoothie joint. I later learned that this Canadian yogini loves all the tropical fruits from rambutan to mangoes. Christina comes bouncing in, fresh from teaching her third yoga class (she later confides to me that teaching 5 classes in a row is something she is well-versed in). For someone who has been teaching all day, she looks bright and dandy. The first thing that strikes me when I meet Christina is her sunny nature, big laugh, bright eyes and bubbly personality. She's like sparkling water, this one.
She settles in with her fruit smoothie and proceeds to tell me about her very interesting life thus far. For one so youthful, Christina exudes a wisdom and maturity well beyond her years. I find her extremely engaging, vibrant and interesting. The hour and a half passes quickly and we could have spent the whole afternoon sampling exotic fruit smoothies and laughing at the rate we were going.
Having taken her classes as a student, I knew Christina was a wonderful teacher; now I know she is also a multi-layered young woman, with many facets and talents. Don't let that youth fool you; this yogini is going to make her mark in the yoga world. Below is a peek into Christina's World.
Tell me a little about your "love affair" with movement and the body. What was your first experience with "moving your body"? How old were you?
My "love affair" with movement all started when I was an infant, watching my older sister perform in dance recitals. At age two I would dance around the house endlessly, begging my mom to enrol me in lessons. I had to wait until I was three before any studios would take me but I remember that the first day of "baby ballet" was the best day of my very young life.
Once I started lessons I just couldn't get enough. As I got older I joined every style offered to my age group. By the time I turned 8 I was performing in ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop, tap, and interpretive. Dance allowed me to express myself in the purest form. I left my heart on the stage each and every time I was there.
Christina, aged 5, at her audition for the Royal Academy of Dance
Where did this journey into ballet take you?
My first year of high school I was accepted into a semi-professional company, the Visions Dance Company, where I performed and competed internationally. We would travel for a week at a time, stopping at elementary & high schools, using movement to educate young students on a wide variety of topics such as cloud formation, poetry interpretation, teen suicide, and environmental consciousness. Working with the Visions Dance Company was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences of my life, but it came with a lot of hard work; training 32 hours a week in a variety of styles on top of performances, competitions, school tours plus our academic requirements. Our brilliant Artistic Director, Sussie Green, was not only a dancer but also a yogini. She insisted that we practise yoga at least once a week to cope with the emotional, mental and physical strain that we endured. So at the end of a long evening of rehearsals, she would lead us through a gentle candle-lit hatha flow. I enjoyed the classes as a way to relax after a long day of school and dance practise. I am forever grateful to her for giving me my first taste of yoga.
How did yoga come into your life amidst all your dance work?
When I was sixteen, a good friend who was running the group fitness program at our local gym, was desperately short of a yoga instructor. She begged me to teach two classes a week. I agreed, but only until she could find a suitable teacher, because I wanted to help her out. In my head I was thinking that I didn't have the time and yoga "wasn't really my thing." However, a few weeks into teaching I told her to stop looking for a replacement. I had fallen in love with teaching! I realised that I could help people explore their bodies through movement and I was captivated by the experience.
Christina, 2nd from left, back row, with the Dance Visions Company Canada, Corps de Ballet
You were a dancer first; when did yoga become the main movement focus in your life?
As I began to pursue a deeper understanding of yoga I realised that many of the injuries my body had endured throughout my dance career, such as Achilles' tendonitis and chronic hip pain, were due to over-stretching and an imbalance of strength between muscle groups. So I started to focus my attention on rebuilding my body to be healthier and stronger through the more mindful practice of yoga asana.
How did yoga help you through these formative years?
During my teen years I struggled with a combination of breathing disorders. I am asthmatic, and also suffer from Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome. With both exercise and stress as triggers, I had irregular breathing episodes which would stop me from participating in whatever I was doing, be it class, dance or yoga. It wasn't until my first Yoga Teacher Training with Daniel Clement in 2009 that I discovered I could control my own breath. I realised these disorders did not have the power I thought they did, over my life. Through pranayama practices of breath control, retention and extension I have learned to make my breath work FOR me and have not had a breathing episode in over 4 years.
You are quite unusual; personally I know only one or two yoga teachers that started teaching at such a young age. Please share some highlights & challenges you faced, as well as the benefits, from this experience, that we could all learn from?
Having started teaching yoga as a teen, with no formal teacher training, I faced some interesting challenges. I remember when I prepared for my first class; I wrote out a sequence the night before and showed up confident because I had helped out at the studio with younger dancers' classes many times. But the moment I walked up to the front of the class and saw a room full of adults unrolling their mats, it dawned on me that I probably looked like a child to my students. That was the longest, scariest 60 minutes of my life. I felt like I had no business instructing this group of "obviously expert" yogis. Later that evening, agonising about how I was going to teach them again in 2 days, I finally realised that I just needed to show the students what I loved about yoga. I needed to let them enjoy moving their bodies, and to help them chill out and relax after a long day. I believe that it was through the struggle of feeling too young or too inexperienced to teach that I developed the skills and confidence required to teach anything to any group if individuals. If you teach from your heart in the way that you would want to be taught, then it doesn't matter who you are, how old you are or what background you come from.
I know you teach a variety of yoga styles; tell us a bit more about this, your training and your background.
I trained in a wide variety of styles because similar to my exploration of dance, once I saw the potential in yoga, I felt the desire to keep learning and improving myself. I attended teacher training programs in the summers between my years of studying Psychology at University. I started with a fabulous foundation in the basics of Hatha yoga with Daniel Clement, at Live Yoga in White Rock, Canada. Here I established my knowledge of the principles of alignment, yoga asana anatomy and functional movement (Anusara lineage). I then studied Advanced Vinyasa training at Semperviva in Vancouver where I had the privilege of training with the inspirational Clara Roberts. I connected deeply with her style and most importantly, established my unique sequencing method through her expert training. Her teaching resonated with me because we both view yoga as a dance around your mat which heals your body, mind and soul. To balance out the Yang in my yoga practise, I went to train with Gloria Latham in Advanced Restorative Yoga. She has the most blissful energy, teaching how to slow the mind, release unwanted tension, allowing the brain to return to the natural resting state.
It sounds like you were busy honing your craft in Canada; how did you end up on the other side of the world, in Asia?
After exploring what Canada had to offer, I wanted to attain a more global perspective. So I travelled to Koh Samui, Thailand to take yet another 200 hour teacher training in Hot Yoga at the Absolute Yoga Sanctuary. As you can see, I can go a bit crazy when it comes to learning. You never stop learning in life.
Upon completion of the course, Absolute Yoga Bangkok offered me a full-time teaching position in Bangkok. The opportunity to spend everyday at the studio teaching and growing as an instructor and yogini was far too appealing to pass up! What followed was an amazing year of learning, growth and experience.
Christina's home practise.
It's been a year; how has Bangkok, the City of Angels, treated you?
I have grown to love this country very much! The people are extremely sweet, the food is delicious, Bangkok is a fun, fast paced city and it's easy to get out of town for a few days and lay on a beautiful beach or dive with amazing aquatic life! I have enjoyed experiencing the culture and feel as though I have learned as much from my students here as I ever could hope to have taught them.
I understand that you became a Teacher Trainer during your time here! Seems to be a trend emerging of you over-achieving from a young age. Tell us a bit more about that experience.
Definitely, one of the highlights of my time here was being hired to teach on the Hot Yoga teacher training team at the Absolute Yoga Academy in Koh Samui. The month I spent training 40 new teachers was so fulfilling; helping to ignite their passion for teaching, sharing my knowledge, will always be one of my most memorable experiences. I am so grateful for the opportunity to live and share my love of yoga on the other side of the world
Your next stop is to teach a series of workshops in the Philippines - first at Options Studio, Manila then at Love Yoga World, Cebu. What are some of the exciting things workshop attendees can look forward to in your upcoming workshop series?
I am excited to share in the development of the growing yoga community in the Philippines. I will be leading a series of master classes at Love Yoga World Studio in Cebu and Options Studios in Manila; here we will explore a wide variety of styles, helping students to learn the basics of alignment, developing a safe, strong and graceful practice. We will flow and grow together, exploring the body, mind and soul through the teachings of hatha, vinyasa, yin and even hot yoga. So join me in Manila and Cebu for a fun and functional week of moving meditation! I can't wait to get there in just a couple of weeks; it is going to be a super fun and yoga-action-packed time! Plus, I hear they have some absolutely stunning beaches in the Philippines!
What do you envision for Christina Emmerton in 10 years time?
In 10 years time I hope to be the owner/operator of a yoga resort, offering a wide variety of packages ranging from yoga holidays, to teacher trainings courses, to corporate team building retreats and more. I dream of the opportunity to share my passion for yoga in a place were I can let my creativity run wild.
Any advise you'd like to share with yogis and aspiring yoga teachers?
My journey into yoga began as a search for a better understanding of my body but as I delved deeper into the practise I found so much more. I believe that most of the younger yogis I have practiced with initially, try yoga for the physical benefits but end up loving it because of how if changes every aspect of their life. An asana practice is not about being bendy, it's not about which poses you have mastered, or getting that perfect Facebook profile picture. It's about the journey, the way you feel as you flow between poses, learning that with dedication to your practice you can achieve anything, listening to your body and watching your strength grow with consistency when you show up to your mat everyday. The most important thing yoga has taught me is to love myself. When you come from a place of love your opportunities are endless.
Photo credit: Absolute Yoga Academy
Contact: email@example.com www.yogawithchristinaemmerton.webs.com * www.facebook.com/pages/Yoga-With-Christina-Emmerton
Christina Emmerton will be teaching a series of Yoga Masterclasses in the Philippines at:
Love Yoga World Studio, Cebu, on 22, 23, 24 November 2013. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org * +63 918 888 8907 * www.facebook.com/pages/Love-YOGA-WORLD
Options Studios, Manila, on 27, 28, 29, 30 November 2013. Contact: coursesPH@options-studio.com * +632 553 3314 * www.options-studio.com