Next in our series of interviews with Greenbelt’s yoga and fitness instructors is Christine Romero, who teaches yoga classes at Greenbelt’s Community Center for the SAGE program of Prince George’s Community College.
Q: What types of yoga were you trained in?
My practice began in 1992 at St. Mark’s Yoga Center on Capitol Hill, where I now teach and am the Director. The Yoga taught there was classical Hatha Yoga via the lineage of Swami Sivananda.
Hatha Yoga consists of poses that are held with focus on the breath. It is considered today a gentle form of Yoga, because its movements are thoughtful and slow. However, it is also a practice that strengthens the body while making it more flexible, and allows the mind to become stronger and more peaceful as well. “Ha” means sun in Sanskrit, “tha” means moon – Hatha Yoga is called the union of opposites. If you consider that most of us lead lives full of stress and distraction, bringing in the opposite – slow thoughtful movement focused on deep breathing – helps to bring balance.
When deciding to retire from my career as a documentary filmmaker to teach Yoga full time, I chose certification in Integral Yoga via the Satchidananda Ashram/Yogaville, which is just an hour southwest of Charlottesville, VA.
Swami Satchidananda was a disciple of Swami Sivananda, so while there are subtle differences in the methodology, the principles are the same. Integral Yoga integrates the practices of Hatha (poses) with other forms of Yoga – Raja Yoga (philosophy), Bhakti Yoga (devotion or love), Karma Yoga (selfless service), Jnana Yoga (knowledge), and Jappa Yoga (mantra repetition).
My initial training in 2002 continued through the Ashram to Advanced Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga teaching certification. With a focus on wellness, I have also trained with leading Yoga Masters in Addiction Recovery; Osteoporosis; Anatomy and Alignment; Stress Release Acupressure; Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy; Thai Yoga (a form of body work); and Laughter Yoga.
Q: I’ve been told they’re all the same poses, just different ways of teaching; is that correct?
One of the brilliant things about Yoga poses is how effective they are in improving general health. We all have different ways of learning, different preferences and goals, so it is good to have a choice.
The guidebook to Yoga is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Sutra means thread – like suture – and this little book of 196 verses has only one which talks about poses. “Sthira Sukham Asanam,” meaning that a pose is steady and comfortable. When choosing a Yoga practice, whether Hatha or Vinyasa (flow), you may find one type or another resonates more easily with you. I read about your practice in an earlier blog article, Susan, and note it took you a few tries to find a practice that worked for you. But even if a physical practice isn’t available to someone due to injury or for other reasons, there are always options, such as Karma Yoga (selfless service) or Pranayama (breathing practices).
Q: Is there a source you recommend (preferably online) where people like me can read up on the type of yoga you teach and/or the individual pose names? What I’m curious about is what each pose or action is doing for/to our bodies, and the benefits. Text or an illustration or video of what’s happening to the muscles and other body parts would be helpful.
Laura Bonkosky gave some good references in her responseas to the physical poses in your Q&A with her.
“Living Yoga: The Life and Teachings of Swami Satchidananda” is an amazing documentary, directed by Joshua M. Greene, a leading scholar of the Bhagavad Gita. It can be streamed online for free here. In this hour-long documentary, there are many personal examples of how Yoga has changed people’s lives. I love the section, about eleven minutes in, where Dr. Amrita McLanahan describes the physiological benefits of an Integral Yoga Hatha class.
The Benefits of Hatha Yoga are explained in this article on the Satchidananda Ashram website.
There are other articles via that site that can give you explore for more information. I also frequently refer to sivananda.org.
Q: Is there a particular philosophy you follow and/or teach during your classes?
Swami Satchidananda felt that good health was not just the domain of the young or athletes alone, saying, “Health is your birthright, not disease; strength your heritage, not weakness; courage, not fear; bliss, not sorrow; peace, not restlessness; knowledge, not ignorance.”
Once, when asked the difference between illness and wellness, Swami Satchidananda wrote the two words down and then circled the ‘i’ and the ‘we’.
When we feel connected to the world around us, we are healthier for it. When we feel connected to our breath, we are calmer. When we feel the connection in our bodies to our breath, our thoughts, the food we eat… we become more aware. The more aware we are, the more vitality we have. With more vitality comes more awareness.
Q: Is there a Buddhist or Hindu teacher locally you recommend, in person or online? For example, the Insight Meditation talks by Tara Brach, etc, archived as podcasts).
While the Buddhist practices of non-violence and mindfulness are as one with Yoga philosophy, and many stories, prayers and mantram from the Hindu traditions have inspired me, I am neither a Buddhist nor a Hindu.
I have been inspired by the teachings of my Guru, Swami Satchidananda. Guru, by the way, means “remover of darkness” – a supreme teacher. Swami Satchidananda, upon being asked if he were a Hindu, famously replied, “I am an Undo.” His life’s work was in the Interfaith community, and his motto: “Truth is One, Paths are Many.” Yoga principles are the same as those behind all faiths, and regardless of one’s religious practice or none, offers a path toward peace.
Many of Swami Satchidananda’s satsang (gathering of seekers) talks were recorded and are available online. He was marvelously witty, and always seems to have a twinkle in his eyes.
I recommend that people visit the Ashram, which has wonderful Welcome Weekend packages. Click here for details about visting.
Q: Are you blending Pilates into your classes? Lots of great core work!
No, I teach classic Hatha Yoga, which also benefits the core.
Q: Any recommendations for weights or other work-out activities to supplement yoga?
Once immersed in a Yoga practice, everything becomes Yoga. It is all good.
A well-rounded Yoga practice increases cardio, flexibility, strength and balance, making other activities more accessible and joyful as well. And the Yogic principle of mindfulness increases the benefits during other activities.
Q: What do you recommend your students do at home, yoga-wise, between classes?
Between Yoga classes, if a student is not able to do a full practice at home, I recommend doing a head to toe joint-freeing series, particularly as developed by Yoga Therapist Mukunda Stiles, available as a .pdf here.
Most important are the breathing practices, taught in an Integral Yoga Hatha class, that should be done daily. These practices keep one calm, centered and energized. They can be done even if the body is out of commission due to injury or illness.
More advanced practices should be taught by a certified instructor before attempting on one’s own. Yet everyone can benefit from sitting comfortably and focusing on the breath. A full exhale, pushing the air out via the diaphragm; a deep inhalation; a pause. Repeat three times, or more if possible – gradually making the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation.
Q: Any recommendations about foods that complement your classes?
Certainly not during class! It is best to practice on an empty stomach, and wait a bit after class before eating.
As the body becomes cleaner through Yoga practices, there is often a natural shift away from toxic foods. First the junk foods fall away, then often the taste for animal-based products. The body begins to crave fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Fortunately, there are many great sources in the Greenbelt area for good food!
Q: Anything else you’d like people to know your classes or about yoga in Greenbelt?
I teach via the SAGE program at the Greenbelt Recreation Center, by registration via Prince George’s Community College. This is a program for those 60 and up, and my classes are designed for this age group. The students there are remarkable, having practiced together for over a decade. I have watched them over the past six years not only maintain their health, but become stronger and more flexible. It truly speaks to the benefits of a consistent Yoga Practice.
My Wednesday class had to be revised up to an Intermediate Class, because of the continuing advancement of the students and the number of new people wanting to join the classes.
The Friday class is taught as an extra gentle class, without a lot of getting up and down. I call this my ‘advanced’ class, because being more passive, the mind naturally wants to wander around, and it becomes more challenging to keep focused on the Yoga.
There is also a Monday class, taught by Kamla Gupta-Smith, who is also an Integral Yoga instructor. Her class is mixed level.
Q: Tell us about your film project in Albania!
I was a documentary filmmaker for 30 years before retiring to teach Yoga. A few years into my growing Yoga career, I received a call to edit a feature documentary, which became BESA: The Promise.
The film follows an Albanian man on a quest to fulfill a promise made to the Jewish family his Muslim father rescued during the Holocaust, thus revealing the nearly unknown story of how this small, majority-Muslim country rescued thousands of Jews. Even under brutal Nazi occupation, the good people of Albania – Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim, from high government officials to farmers, in the cities or the villages – all refused to collaborate. It is an amazing and uplifting story.
Swami Satchidananda’s interfaith work was my inspiration, his motto, “Truth is One, Paths are Many” my muse. It was as though my two callings in life had come together.
Making a film comes with many challenges, and eventually I was also tasked with producing the film. There were years when we had no funding, but my faith in the project kept me involved and my practice in Yoga kept me centered and unafraid. Ultimately, we received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the film was finished in 2012. It is now in a festival run while seeking a distributor, and has already brought in some Best Documentary awards. Jai Gurudev!