Find a teacher who you feel a deep connection to. We cannot live or thrive in a vacuum. We all need someone to learn from, and inspiration along the way. Finding a teacher or guide to help you along in your journey is vital. I didn’t know anything about yogic philosophy when I stumbled into my first yoga studio, but the Dharma talks those teachers gave changed my life. They also led me to learn more and more and continue to seek out more learning ever since. I have followed teachers over the years, and anytime I hit a stumbling block, I am back “in class” with them. A little inspirational hit when I am in a lull is everything I need and more.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Kristoffer.
Heidi Kristoffer is mom to: three tiny humans, her CrossFlow yoga app, and CrossFlowX™. She is co-host of “Off The Gram” podcast, creator and producer of Microsoft Bing Fitness Yoga & MSN Yoga, and wellness expert for, and contributor to, multiple publications and platforms. Her goal is to make yoga, inversions, health, strength, and whole, happy living accessible to everyone. Rated one of the Hottest Trainers in America by Shape Magazine, most inspiring yoga teachers in the world by DoYouYoga, and most popular instructors in NYC by RateYourBurn and ClassPass, Heidi can often be seen featured as an expert on television and in magazines worldwide. A former award-winning actress of stage, film and television, and graduate of Cornell University, Heidi makes it her mission to bring happiness to everyone through every medium.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you for interviewing me! I was a professional musical theater actor at the age of 13. I loved singing and the stage. I have two brothers and two sisters, and I grew up in Greenwich, CT. I went to public school, played sports, and went to as many as three show rehearsals a day in high school. Then, I went to Cornell University, and took a semester abroad at BADA in London before landing in NYC.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
In acting, you are never enough. Never: thin enough, fat enough, tall enough, short enough, ugly enough, cute enough. It doesn’t matter what the descriptor is, the encompassing message is that you are never enough. In yoga, we are taught that we ARE enough. Exactly the way we are. That idea changed my life. Also, I was in a terrible car accident when I was 18 that caused permanent damage to my spine. Without yoga, I would have steel rods in my back, and be in forever pain.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Such a great question! “I am by the grace of my teachers” is something I was taught to say in yoga every time someone complimented my practice. And it is true, way beyond the physical. Every yoga teacher I had has inspired me along my journey, so each and every one deserves my thanks (and has received it time and time again). The person who deserves credit for showing me that being a yoga teacher not only gives you the ability to help people but can also be a sustainable career is Tara Stiles. I was still acting when we met, and I constantly complained about how unhappy I was, texting her from sets, miserable. One day she said to me something to the effect of, “you know, it seems like this acting thing is the thing you think you SHOULD do, but it makes you unhappy. And, you seem to really love the yoga thing, and opportunities there are falling into your lap. Deepak once said to me (she was Deepak Chopra’s personal yoga instructor) that sometimes, we need to consider the easy path, and not always take the path riddled with challenges that we need to force”. I am completely butchering her beautiful words, but that was the essence of what I heard. It took some time to really sink in, but that conversation that we had on the corner of Broadway and Prince Street in Manhattan changed the trajectory of my life.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Woof. Thank goodness we have the ability to learn from our mistakes and wow have I done a lot of learning. I never offer headstands in my classes. I am a firm believer that it should be perceived as the most advanced inversion, as our necks are not meant to be weight bearing. (I have written about this a lot and have consulted multiple spinal surgeons to support that thesis.) In my early years of teaching, when I would instruct the forearm stand, inevitably someone in the class would decide it was too challenging and try to flail into a headstand instead. I cannot stress how dangerous that is. I walked over to the student on one particular day and asked her very quietly and politely to please stop and explained why it was so dangerous. She assured me she would not do it again, but would rest in the child’s pose, so I went to help another student. While I was supporting the other student, there was a giant thud from the first student’s direction. She had attempted to throw herself into headstand again, flipped over, and hurt her neck (as I had just told her could happen). She emailed the studio and said my class was dangerous and asked for her money back. What I learned from this is that if someone wants to hurt themselves, they will. So, as a teacher who is on the line for many students, it is prudent to make your group classes as risk free as possible. I always picture that student in my class, and make sure I choose my words accordingly. As someone whose mission it is to help people heal and get stronger, you can only imagine how devastating it was to have that student get hurt in my class. So, I have learned to read the room really well and figure out if there are any students hell bent on hurting themselves (I think people would be very surprised at how many of these appear in yoga classes), and do my very best to make sure they don’t get that opportunity.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Jack Kornfield’s “A Path with Heart”. He teaches so many ways into meditation in a manner that was more accessible to me than any other I had experienced. He also tells stories about each one and gives practical examples. He takes the concept of meditation, which can be so esoteric and difficult to grasp, and makes it tangible.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“You yourself are your own obstacle. Rise above yourself.” Hafiz. I have the worst imposter syndrome of anyone I know. Even after I wrote the encyclopedia of yoga for Microsoft, when someone would ask me to be the yoga expert for something, my immediate reaction would be: why me? It wasn’t until a year and half ago (and a hard conversation with my friend Aly Teich) that I was able to own and value my knowledge and experience. The biggest obstacles we have are within ourselves. If we can overcome those, we can overcome anything.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My CrossFlow Yoga app and online program is the culmination of everything I have learned over my lifetime.It has Yoga-based workout routines for every mood, energy level, and need (including doctor approved routines for specific conditions) and is suitable for every level of fitness, all time constraints, and every stage of life. For over a decade, I’ve been fusing yoga with other disciplines from fitness magazines features and NYC classes to workshops around the world and even with private celebrity clients. After healing from a car accident that left me with injuries up and down my spine, I experienced first-hand how effective it was to weave my physical therapy into my yoga practice. Later in life, I was able to lose the 65+ pounds I had gained in my twin pregnancy in mere months with HIIT / yoga mash-ups. It is my hope and fervent wish that by bringing my methods into homes (and phones), crossing (yoga) flow with other modalities will enhance my student’s overall well-being, allowing them to feel their very best in body and mind, and maximize their time.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Remember to BREATHE! I know this sounds silly since we need to breathe to live, but so many of us walk around with super shallow breaths most of the time. Whether those breaths stem from anxiety or too tight clothing, they are not good for us! Taking three deep breaths will change your mood instantly because deep breaths signal our brain that we can RELAX, leave fight or flight mode, and move into rest and restore mode (which is where we need to live to be healthy). If that’s not enough, try 4–7–8 breath (also referred to as “relaxing breath”). Inhale for four counts, hold and retain for seven counts, exhale out of your mouth for eight counts. Studies have shown that as little as one minute of this breathwork yields tangible (very positive!) results. Recently, preparing for my youngest’s massive surgery, dealing with my twin five year olds being virtual (aka home schooled), and juggling four businesses from home with my children, I was prepping for a massive video shoot, and anxiety really started to hit. While I was getting camera-ready, I did the 4–7–8 breath for a couple of minutes, and I could feel my heart rate drop, and my system exiting panic mode gracefully. It is one thing to read that these breath practices are studied and effective, but to experience the benefits firsthand is magical.
- Sweat every day! Getting your heart rate up and releasing endorphins is critical for a healthy, happy life. Obviously, I am partial to yoga, and CrossFlowX™ (Yoga / HIIT method) in particular, but move any which way you like until you break a sweat, and keep moving! If I don’t sweat, I get blue. After a solid CrossFlowX™ workout on CrossFlow Yoga, I get happy and feel great — 100% of the time!
- Sleep. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t get 7–8 hours of sleep I feel heavy, my body aches, I have brain fog, and I feel generally unwell (similar to having the flu). I am not good at napping, so I always have to stick it out and wait until it’s time for bed that night. I turn my phone to airplane mode, turn off all screens and bright lights at least an hour ahead of when I want to sleep, I do a meditation (Japa mala, or a guided one), and I get to sleep. Every time, I wake up refreshed, renewed, and with a deeper appreciation for what it feels like to feel well.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
CrossFlowX™ is my favorite style of yoga! CrossFlowX™ is a fast-paced blending of strength, core, inversion and arm-balance-focused flows, high-intensity cardio intervals, traditional yoga kriyas, and a little bit of “Xtra”. These routines are designed to maximize your time while you laugh and sweat and see measurable results in just a few short weeks. I get all the benefits of a sweaty, challenging 90-minute vinyasa flow in as little as 15 minutes! It’s a busy multi-tasker’s dream come true, and builds the best, healthiest, most balanced body I know.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Core work. It is only because of the core strengthening that I did every single day for years and years that I didn’t have to have a steel rod put in my back. I integrated core strengthening exercises to my yoga-based core work (with the approval of my spinal surgeon and PT) and healed multiple spinal injuries. A healthy spine is a healthy body, which is a healthy life.
- Flexibility training. We must bend so we don’t break. The more flexible you are (balanced with strength, of course), the less likely you are to injure yourself.
- Balance work. Balancing moves like those sprinkled throughout a yoga sequence activate the stabilizing muscles in our bodies, which help us balance. The older we get, the more prone we are to break bones or seriously injure ourselves in a fall. When your balance is better overall, which is most easily attained by practicing yoga, you are far less likely to fall and get injured.
So, basically: 1. Yoga, 2. Yoga, and 3. Yoga!
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
I have a lot of thoughts about healthy eating!
As humans, we attach far too much emotion to eating. We use it to comfort and numb ourselves. And, we don’t actually think through our choices with our brains. We do much too much mindless chewing (or worse — swallowing / inhaling), and as a result consume chemicals and far too much food and sugar. This all leads to inflammation, which is at the root of most diseases.
What we need to do is pay more attention to how each thing we ingest makes us FEEL. If we consciously register how sugary desserts make us feel — right after, an hour later, and the next morning, we are far less likely to eat them regularly.
As an actress for many years, I ate far too little. I was a walking skeleton when I started my yoga journey. My yoga practice made me want to fuel my body with all of the right things to feel strong on my mat, so that I could feel strong in my life. What a gift.
I don’t pretend to know what the right “diet” for anyone is other than for me (and my children while they are young enough). Only you know what works for you If you can connect to that, you will be your healthiest, strongest, most vibrant you.
Of course, eliminating or mitigating common inflammatory food categories like: meat, dairy, sugar, etc is a great place to start. But, remember that gluten isn’t bad for EVERYONE, and neither are other food groups. Know what is right for you. Only you can figure that out.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Meditation. Cultivating a daily meditation practice gives us space in our minds. My fuse is much longer when I am keeping up with my daily meditations. If I am not listening to a guided meditation, I love Japa Mala meditation. By the time I get back to the guru bead of my mala, my head is CLEAR.
- Sweating! Again!! It’s all about the endorphins. CrossFlowX™ is my favorite because it gives me that yoga high and endorphins!
- Yoga! Again!! A yoga practice is practice for life. How we are on our mats is how we are in life. If we can practice breathing and moving with ease through crazy challenging pretzel positions and upside down, we can breathe and move with ease through every situation in life — mental and physical. Yoga teaches us to approach and move through difficult situations with ease and grace. I had a very quick temper before my practice. With each year more on my mat, the longer my fuse becomes. Yoga gives us emotional fortitude and resilience.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Oh, YES! In fact, I don’t believe in doing anything I cannot smile through. Life is short: smile. I was told repeatedly as a child that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. I never fact checked it, but I always believed it. One of my favorite cues teaching yoga is “turn the corners of your mouth up!” It will make everything easier, make you lighter, and change your life. Smiling cues your whole body to feel better. It is the most important alignment cue I can share.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Journal. Get your feelings and thoughts out of your body and onto some paper. Putting pen to paper is powerful, and releasing your negative energy is imperative for spiritual and overall wellness.
- Find a teacher who you feel a deep connection to. We cannot live or thrive in a vacuum. We all need someone to learn from, and inspiration along the way. Finding a teacher or guide to help you along in your journey is vital. I didn’t know anything about yogic philosophy when I stumbled into my first yoga studio, but the Dharma talks those teachers gave changed my life. They also led me to learn more and more and continue to seek out more learning ever since. I have followed teachers over the years, and anytime I hit a stumbling block, I am back “in class” with them. A little inspirational hit when I am in a lull is everything I need and more.
- Affirmations. I learned about affirmations from some of my wellness friends. One in particular, Jessica Ortner (The Tapping Solution), introduced me to the magic that was / is Louise Hay. She taught me all about affirmations, and I have been writing them in my journals (after my gratitude alphabet) ever since. Writing and saying what we desire brings it closer to us every moment. What we focus on grows, so we must focus on what we want and how we want to feel.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
Oh, yes! Don’t you feel like you can breathe deeper when you finally get off concrete and onto grass or sand? The water has always been my calming force but earth is by definition grounding. Taking some time to put your feet onto the earth and ground is vital to wellness overall.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Spread love. Be love. When people feel loved, they feel empowered to do great things. Then, those people share love, and a cascade begins. If we all could keep our hearts open, and spread love every opportunity we get, the world would be an infinitely better place. It’s one of the reasons I love teaching backbends aka heart openers. Opening the physical heart helps open the emotional heart. You cannot receive love if your heart’s not open. Open your heart so you can get all of that love that is out there waiting for you in the universe!
If hurt people hurt people, loved people love people!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Bethenny Frankel. She is so smart, funny, and honest. I feel like if anyone would tell another woman how to amplify her message, without any fruity, frilly nonsense, it would be Bethenny. Also, she would love CrossFlowX™!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Take advantage of the free 2-week trial of CrossFlow Yoga! And, if you want daily empowering and inspiring messages, connect with me on Instagram @heidikristoffer ! You can also listen in to the conversations on Off the Gram Podcast.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.