Chelsea Roff: Transformation Begins with Connection

We’re very excited to announce the start of a new interview series here at Intent in partnership with our friends at Manduka. The YOU Series will feature in-depth interviews with yoga practitioners and teachers from around the country. The goal of the series to chronicle stories of how people came to yoga and how the practice is transforming lives and communities. Read inspiring stories from yogis we meet at this year’s Wanderlust Festivals, and see the bottom of this post for how you can share your story as well!

First up, meet Kristin Adair.

Hi Kristin. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. I’d like to start out just by asking you about what you might call your “yoga origin story.” What brought you to the mat? Why did you start practicing yoga? 

To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I took my first yoga class. It was early on during college, I was on a competitive dance team and had some injuries, and I just found my way into a class at the campus gym (where I sometimes also took aerobics and other types of fitness classes). I think I went to yoga sporadically during that time, mostly for the benefits of stretching my body. But several years later during graduate school, I had a yoga teacher in a different gym who helped me begin to understand that yoga was something much deeper than just stretching and strengthening. She ended every class with a short message, something like this:

“Walk gently and sweetly with yourself, and remember to love who you are.”

Those simple words burrowed deep inside of me at a time when I was going through some challenges in my life, and I believe they set me onto the path of yoga where I find myself now.

Can you tell me about one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had on the mat in the time since?

One of the most memorable experiences in yoga was for me the point when I think I truly understood the power of this practice. I had been practicing for many years, at least a decade since the college gym days, and had become a yoga teacher not long before. I was in the Off the Mat, Into the World intensive, practicing for the first time with my now teacher Seane Corn. She talked about the connection between body, mind and spirit and how we can integrate both the light and the shadow in our practice. I think this is the first time I really felt this connection in my body and understood it on a cellular level. It was also the first time I cried on my yoga mat.

What keeps you coming back to your yoga practice, even when getting on the mat feels like trudging through mud?

The feeling of strength and peace and wholeness that I experience when I step off of the mat.

What about yoga scares you? What about it gives you hope?

It scares me to think that there might be a time in my life when I can no longer practice asana the way I do now. I understand that there is much more to yoga, but I also love the physical practice and how it feels in my body.

What gives me hope is seeing groups of people, small and large, in so many different settings — from homeless shelters and juvenile detention facilities, schools, gyms, yoga studios, city streets and parks, at Occupy Wall Street, in an orphanage in Haiti — moving and breathing and adapting this practice to their lives and unique circumstances. I believe that we are truly on the precipice of global transformation as more and more people connect with their bodies and their breath and thereby become more conscious of how their actions impact others.

Do you consider yoga a transformational practice? 

Yes.

In what way?

For me, yoga was a strictly physical practice for many years. And on a physical level, it transformed my body — not just allowing me to become stronger and more flexible, but also teaching me how to calm my nervous system using movement and breath. I have suffered from anxiety and depression, and yoga has given me tools to ground myself and work through emotions, both good and bad, rather than just stuffing them back inside.

Yoga has also been transformational in my life more broadly. Taking this practice off the mat has helped me to connect more deeply with other people, to really begin to understand what it means to serve from a place of love and compassion and deep connection. I truly see the world around me a different way.

How do you share the benefits you’ve gained from your practice with others?

After more than a decade of practicing yoga on and off, I felt compelled to enroll in a yoga teacher training. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to teach, but it just seemed to be calling me and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Teaching asana came relatively easily to me — I had been practicing these poses for so long, I just felt them in my body. But the introvert in me was seriously challenged by standing up in front of a room full of people, with eyes on me and bodies following my every word, and weaving together a yoga class.

So I started as a volunteer, teaching classes in a psychiatric hospital women’s ward and at a program for he homeless in Washington, DC, thinking that somehow this would be easier because the students didn’t know anything about yoga so they wouldn’t know the difference. What I realized was that if I could help students in these settings breathe and move their bodies into yoga poses (or some approximation of the classic poses), I could teach anyone.

Is there a cause or movement you stand for? Does yoga support you in activating around that cause at all, and if so how?

I stand for freedom and compassion for all beings. This translates into so many different causes and movements that I support, from human rights in many contexts to animal rights and environmental protection. I have a difficult time picking one cause over another because in my mind, they all connect back to the same root. I have always been an advocate and an activist, but yoga — and in particular my involvement with Off the Mat, Into the World – has given me tools to connect more deeply with those I am serving while also keeping myself more grounded and resourced.

What is your intent in practicing yoga?

My intent is connection, within and without.

How did you come to yoga? How is yoga transforming your life? How are you sharing the benefits of your practice with your community? Whether you’re on your mat, living your life, or loving those around you, Manduka wants to hear from you! Fill out this short questionnaire about how you’re living YOUR yoga to receive 10% off Manduka gear and a chance to be featured on their website, blog, or next Yoga Journal Ad.

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About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is Managing Editor for Intent Blog. She is an author, speaker, and researcher writing about science, spirituality, women's health, and humanitarian issues. Visit her website to read past writings, watch video interviews, and see her teaching schedule. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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