Yoga is for Everyone: An Interview with Cristian Blanch
Cristian Blanch is the newest member of the Starseeds Team. He's a traditional hatha yoga teacher, enjoying an active and adventurous life in beautiful Bali. But it was only a few years ago that Cris was diagnosed with two chronic conditions that challenged his health and his perspective on wellbeing, leading to a complete change in lifestyle. To celebrate Men's Health Week, we caught up with Cris to discover how yoga has improved his health despite his conditions, and why yoga is for everyone.
You have both chronic osteoarthritis and scoliosis. Tell us about these conditions; how do they impact your health and every day life?
Aesthetically my scoliosis makes one hip and shoulder higher than the other. That also means that one side of my back gets more stress and accumulates more tension. My chronic osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease which causes a loss of cartilage. In my everyday life, it causes me makes me chronic joint pain and stiffness.
How has yoga challenged your perspective of your health and improved life with your conditions?
As a very athletic person, I wasn’t ready to be told that I had this condition when I was only in my thirties!
Doctors told me that the stronger I became, the better for my joint as it would take the pressure off them. I went all the way and discovered that hard-core gym exercises and high impact wasn’t good for me at all. When you have to stay in bed for a week because of back spasms, you realise you need to make some changes. It took me a while to understand that I would have to adapt to another practice.
The movements or postures in yoga help keep the muscles around the joints strong and flexible. You also learn proper alignment of the skeleton, which helps alleviate joint pain caused by misalignment. I also believe that regular exercise may help to potentially stimulate cartilage growth.
As an example, just a simple sitting cross-legged position was once painful for me, and after taking up yoga, that pain has disappeared. I haven’t had a back injury in two years, and I used to have one every two months! There’s still pain if I’m kneeling, but I just have to be on a blanket or something with more cushions.
One thing you learn in yoga is to live and see pain in a different way. It’s okay to not be able to do all the poses, it’s not about ego, it’s about listening to your body and finding the sweet spot between the edge of discomfort and the beginning of pain, and knowing when back off. Discomfort is not the same as pain, and pain is not the same as suffering.
What lifestyle changes did you make to look after your health and wellbeing, especially given the health challenges you live with?
EVERYTHING starts with food. I’m studying Ayurveda because in the tradition that’s how you start balancing yourself. If the food is not the right for you and your constitution, it doesn’t matter what your practice is, you won’t heal properly.
I started eating basically organic food two years ago, and since I’m in Bali, most of my diet is plant based. It’s been a natural process, I didn’t force anything. You know when you eat healthy, you then feel like exercising and then you feel like eating healthier and so on. The better you eat, the better you digest, and so the easier you practice.
The more I get into yoga and meditation, the more vegetarian my diet becomes. In Spain that was a challenge, but in Bali there are plenty of yummy options, and also being around vegetarian people all the time makes this transition easier.
I still enjoy a beer and a glass of wine now and then!
Sleep is another big one. When I lived in Spain and Dubai I would go to bed past midnight and sleep poorly. I wake up between 5am and 6am, so I now go to bed earlier. Both my body and mind are loving it. Have you ever gone on vacation to the countryside and felt like going to bed earlier and waking up with the sunrise? When you live away from big cities you go back to this natural flow, and you eat your meals around the same logic.
What advice would you give to those who put limits on their abilities within yoga, whether it’s because of self-doubt or a physical issue?
Yoga is for EVERYBODY. Yoga is not just about poses, it’s a way of life. Show me a symptom of any imbalance and I will show you a way to work on it.
I always use my example of health when people say they don’t do yoga because they are not bendy. First of all yoga is not about flexibility, and that’s the problem of our society. That was never the goal. Of course you will become more flexible and strong, but more importantly you will become calmer and more stable, you’ll be able to deal with your daily life better. You will see things the way they are, not the way you are. You will be able to work on yourself. And that’s real health, both physical and mental.
How has trading a corporate life for a life of adventure improved your wellbeing?
Dramatically and drastically. I needed to slow down. Corporate life brought me joy for a period of my life, but it no longer serves me now. I’m on a journey to become a better human being, to choose a profession that ignites my passion and where I can also give something back to the world. Taking this leap when I had all the comforts you can imagine is an adventure, but I also discovered how attached I was to things I didn’t need. The craziest part is that some of those things (and people) stop us from manifesting the greatest experiences in our lives. Until we let go and surrender, magic won’t happen.
I’m not saying everyone has to quit their jobs to become happy. We just need to slow down and learn to watch and listen to everything that is happening inside us. It’s about being able to ask ourselves questions and not being afraid of the answers.
Images by Daniel Taylor