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The first time I took advanced class with Cynthia, somewhere around 2007, I had more fun than I’ve ever had in yoga classThere was nothing pretentious about this little teacher with the big energy, no holier-than-thou yogini syndrome, just a straight-up chick who laughed, self deprecated, gave great tips, and genuinely cared. I remember thinking how beautiful that was. Here are Cynthia’s thoughts on Peace, hotness, and how to stay light and happy.
(Dear readers, please excuse the formatting in this article as my paragraphs don’t seem to want to appear as they should) Cynthia has been teaching Bikram Yoga since 2003. A few weeks after graduation she competed in the first Yoga Championships ever. In 2005 she was USA Champion and 2nd in the world. In 2007 she won both US and World Yoga Championships, becoming international champion.
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Peace + Hotness Interviews Cynthia Wehr – International Yoga Champion
Cynthia, you may just be one of the most pleasant people I’ve ever met. There doesn’t seem to be a trace of attitude or judgement when you teach and coach. Is this something that’s just naturally ‘you’, or is this kind, exuberant nature something that you’ve consciously worked toward?
My mother taught me about being polite and kind since I can remember. Having lived overseas also made my family and I respectful of different cultures and lifestyles. Having begun my yoga practice at age 19 transformed my body, mind and spirit so young. Learning to love yourself and become your own best friend at a young age cultivates and plants seeds for a positive and honest outlook in life. I have no brothers or sisters so I always wanted to connect with people. I became an observer so young and that truly shaped a lot of who I am, as I saw what works for people and what doesn’t. My mother was always loving, hospitable and kind. My father a workaholic, go getter and determined. You could say I’m smack in the middle. I have been around a lot of people with attitude and its not pretty. It won’t nurture your soul. I always ask myself – Will this nurture my spirit? If I always ask that- my answers find me.
 
Can you tell us a bit about your history with yoga, why you started, and what brought you to the Bikram practice? 
I started yoga when I was 19. I went to Tisch at NYU and we had to take yoga warm up classes for actors. I took on a very dedicated yoga practice at the Jivamukti studio for 5 years before I did Bikram. I went to a Bikram class for convenience reasons rather than curiousity. I did not like it at all. I was very biased and loved my yoga flow rather than holding the postures. The one thing though that happened, unlike any other yoga class, was that I felt so good. Alive, vibrant.That feeling alone brought me back to Bikram Yoga and when I moved to LA in 2001 I moved right next to Bikram HQ by fluke. It now feels like Bikram Yoga was chasing me, rather than me searching for it.
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When did you really start to realize the benefits that yoga can have on your mind, and your peacefulness day to day? Can you tell us what really made the difference for you here, and how you maintain that as part of your practice? 
After I took my first “real” yoga class in NYC at Jivamukti, I immediately became a different person. What I mean was it was the first honest time that I connected my mind to my breath and felt it in my body. It was an “aha!” moment. It was a moment so profound that it basically lives IN my spirit. Yes, of course…that was just a tiny fragment of my journey towards cultivating peacefulness and self awareness. I never thought at age 19, heavily studying theatre/acting, that my yoga practice would become something I craved and desired. The Jivamukti yoga instructors from my time were incredible. I’m still connected to a few of them via fb, and its so wonderful to see them live their truth after 17 years. Yoga invited this idea into my life. Living your truth. What does that really mean? For me that embodies compassion and understanding in the present moment. I think of it like..multitasking the moment inside of yourself. For example, something happens- an interaction, a question, a laugh, a moment of anger- and being so conscious of it, you make up your mind in an instant to think about how is it serving you and others. What “kind” of energy should I place on this instant to maintain the peace within myself and others. So my practice is consciousness.
You mentioned that your Way With Food is basically lacking in any drama or struggle, and you call yourself an ‘everythingetarian’. Did you ever dabble in different ways of eating? Was food ever a struggle for you? 
I admit that in some phases in my life there may have been a little drama or struggle with food, but thankfully it was short lived. You see I am emotional NON eater. The second I’m sad, stressed or down food has no meaning for me. When I eat during times like these my body burns it super fast and I have tendency to lose weight. To this day I’m still a little like this. Yes. I eat everything. There are things I don’t like ie. tuna from a can which makes me queasy. As I got older my palate changed, as I was a very picky eater as child. I only liked a handful of things when I was small- salad, spaggetti, fish fingers, rice with soy sauce and cheese. It was only when I moved to the US at the age of 18 that I started to try all foods. In my late 20’s I got hooked on avocados, mushrooms and fish, which were my nemesis as a teen. I can say that I LOVE food now with a passion. And I truly eat everything in moderation.  I am a night eater too. Very much different than how society says we should eat. Basically I am not hungry during the day. Only hungry at night. This is how I have been for years and this is what works for me. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t starve myself in the day. It’s just I have very little.
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How do you feel ‘branding’ a way of eating, ie vegan, paleo etc, can impact one’s peace with food? Have you had any observations on this in the yoga community in particular?
 
  I believe we all have our own peace with food. I love learning about all the different “branding” of eating. It’s fascinating to witness how each individual has their own peace with diet and food. Recently I’ve been learning about paleo as I also do crossfit and that kind of diet is beneficial for that of training. I see the changes in the athletes around me and find that with passion and dedication you can create whatever kind of body or lifestyle you so wish to have. AGAIN, I eat everything because this is what SERVES me. I have experimented over the years a little with vegetarianism and veganism and honestly I became so depressed because my mind started getting consumed with what I need to eat, what I need to avoid and prepare. The yoga community is very interesting, as there is this idea that if you practice yoga you must be vegetarian, or raw or juice or meatless. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that at all as clean eating does benefit the body if you do it right. Personally I simply LOVE food. ALL food in honest moderation. I’m also incredibly active so it’s OK for me to eat what I want. If I eat cheesecake one day that means I don’t the next. By having a certain branded diet that makes you feel alive and vibrant- then thats your peace. Whether it’s curry or green juice- if your body accepts it and digests it, then thats your path. 
You mentioned in your 20s, when you were pursuing an acting career, you felt pressure to be lean…but that was basically the only time you ever really struggled with your body image. Do you recall a particular moment that helped shift you to your current perspective?
The more yoga became my life rather than part of it, my internal peace and happiness started to serve me. The more I was concerned about being lean or a certain way, the unhappier I was. The more my body fought me. Nurturing my spirit became important. There was no particular moment that shifted my perspective. It was simply time, confidence and becoming comfortable in my skin with age. When I started competing in Championships, the platform to inspire is large! It has been my mission to always be me. With nothing to hide or not pretend to live/eat a certain way. I don’t go on a sugar free diet to become more flexible. I’m always me. 100%.
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You are obviously very trim, yet you eat intuitively and naturally. As a natural eater, do you have any suggestions for our readers who are looking to transform their bodies with food and yoga, yet still maintain their peace and balance? 
Health and happiness is key. My suggestion is feed your body what it tells you AND if you become sick in any manner- then that’s the time when you study what foods/diet will help take care of you. I really like the idea of eating right for your blood type. I am an O so even thought I eat everything, I am aware of foods that do NOT sit well with me like oranges and corn. I avoid those as much as possible. I never ever eat or drink anything orange. That makes my stomach nuts. My point is, that one must find food that you LIKE and serves your digestion. That in itself creates peace and balance for all systems in your body and ultimately that will calm your mind. Strengthens the connection for ALL systems in your body. My food becomes friends with all my body and MY HEART. When food becomes your fuel and energy giver – your body will transform with any physical activity you do. The more you stress about what you eat- immediately your body will feel it and hold onto it, which is why it is sometimes hard to transform- from the simple thought alone!
How do you feel about yoga being used as a tool to achieve a particular aesthetic rather than a connection between the mind and the body?
I’ve never thought about it that way. Yoga being used as a tool. The thing is everything is yoga. Yoga and yoga asana are beautiful, powerful and inspirational. It is in the eye of the beholder that would think it’s a tool. Any image of anyone doing yoga – no matter who, what age, what yoga costume you wear is super. Why not be mesmerized, inspired by the lovely images and demonstrations we see? With war, and fighting images everyday, using yoga in an aesthetic manner reminds us of this connection- between the mind and the body, not take away.
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What’s your favourite part of teaching the Bikram series, and why did you choose to teach Bikram and not other styles of yoga?
My favorite part is the beginning of class. There is a sense of excitement seeing old and new faces. I love the Bikram Yoga sequence more and more each day. I never get bored. As a wise teacher Emmy Cleaves once said,  “If you ever think this sequence is boring, then you have not even scratched the surface.” I love the fact that with a dialogue, everything happens therapuetically. I thought I was strong and flexible going from my Jivamukti/ Ashtanga practice, however Bikram yoga blew that idea right out of the water. As the Bikram practice takes you in so deep in a mental practice. To look into your own eyes in the mirror everyday and SEE you for 90 minutes is the most incredible period of time. We constantly search for answers when really its right in front of you, staring right back at you. 
In your experience, do you think students often equate ‘hotness’ with ‘peace’, for example they think that when they lose the weight or achieve certain goals they will feel more peaceful in their lives? What are your thoughts on flipping this around and seeking the peace before the hotness?
You know, it’s totally fine for a student to come to yoga and say ‘I want to lose weight.” I used to chuckle at this comment as I’d always think..wow…there is so much more to this yoga than losing weight. Having goals to achieve peace is wonderful, as this promotes self awareness; it promotes consciousness. If thinking that hotness comes before peace at first is fine, because inevitably, that student will, with frequent practice realize the peace lies within the hotness. Peace will start chasing your spirit rather than us chasing it. 
Yoga is a practice of presence. In fact, presence is basically the main teaching of most paths to happiness – eastern and western. How do you practice presence, and how has that practice affected your overall feeling of well being?

I don’t know if I actually practice presence. I think for me its about being conscious of being conscious. Through this understanding comes presence or being present. Bikram yoga has definitely taught me a lot about being my own best friend, making my mind serve me. Making my body serve me. When there is peace in that, then healthy wellbeing finds me. Again..I think that this search for peace, for well being, for happiness gets lost when we keep on trying to understand or find it, as then we will ALWAYS be looking for it. We are always looking for ways to find the peace within, the joy within. When in actuality you have to BECOME IT. One has to practice being WHAT you want to be in order to be present with WELLBEING being you.

Do you have a sitting meditation practice?
 I do not do sitting meditation, however I have different things I do besides yoga asana practice which I consider a form of deep meditation. I would like to have a sitting meditation, and I know that one day I’ll cultivate and create that.
One thing I’ve noticed about you – both in video and in person – is that you always seem to be about the fun…you are very light. This is so refreshing. How do you stay out of your head and keep that beautiful, genuine smile on your face when you are going through times of hardship or are just having an ‘off’ day?
Because being light, joyful and happy can only EVER serve you, never take away. I have hardships, sadness, heaviness. It is then then my yoga practice becomes my therapy, my medicine. I smile even in sadness and pain, because that is simply my spirit. I love to love, love to be happy. I love even my sadness, anger and rage. One thing that I read recently that made so much sense to me was that I don’t do what I love, I do what I am. I am Cynthia. I am a ball of energy and light that has hop scotched around the world and to this day let those experiences shine through my face and body. The journey so far has been so profound, AND it hasn’t even started yet.
Cynthia, thank you so much for doing this interview. Any last thoughts for our readers on creating a life full of Peace and Hotness?
Become your own understanding of peace and hotness. See it and be it. Let the words peace and hotness translate their meaning into your blood, cells and spirit. Let the beauty of peace and hotness shine from within and keep that understanding close to you always- like a pearl in an oyster never to be plucked, to be safe and precious forever.

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