Ashtanga yoga—or, “eight-limbed” yoga, so called for its focus on eight different components—is renowned for its detoxifying effects, and focus on the unity of mind, body and soul. Australia-born Santina Giardina-Chard wasn’t looking for it when she stumbled into a class more than 15 years ago, but discovered it was everything she’d been searching for.
Now an Ashtanga yoga teacher herself, Santina studied under Mark Tongi for her primary, second and third series practice, and was certified in Mysore, India, with Level 2 Authorisation to teach Ashtanga Yoga in 2016 by her teacher of two years R. Sharath Jois, the grandson of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois who developed and founded the modern practice of Ashtanga yoga in 1927.
Compare Retreats expert Cristina Lopez McLauchlan caught up with Santina after an Ashtanga yoga session last month, as part of the Four Seasons Hong Kong’s Master of Wellness series, to chat about how Santina came to the mat and her daily wellness rituals.
How did you first come on to the mat? I was a heroin addict. One day when I was on the Gold Coast of Australia for a holiday where my parents had taken me. I went uptown looking for drugs, but there was no heroin to be found on the Gold Coast. My now-husband chased me uptown wanting me to ‘hang out’, but I didn’t want anything to do with him because he didn’t have the right drugs. One thing led to another and I ended up spending the day with him… long story short, he was the first person that I had ever met that didn’t want me for physical or drug relations.
I flew back home to Melbourne and he kept calling me and calling me and one day, he called my mother and told her that he had bought me a plane ticket to go back to the Gold Coast. In May 2001, I arrived at the Gold Coast and was still on and off the methadone programme.
Three months later, I joined the methadone programme full time and decided that I wanted to get fit. I started boxing and stumbled across a sign that said Ashtanga yoga and went in. I did a class and it literally blew my mind. I was taken by its ability to clean out my body, to clean out my psyche. At that point I had been clean for probably about 9 months and in that one hour, I walked in the front door and my husband thought I had taken something cause I was so wide open. And that was it, every day since then, I practice. This is my 14th year of practice. This practice is of utmost importance to me.
Tell us about your idea of a dream yoga retreat? A daily morning Ashtanga practice at 6am, followed by breakfast and then rest. In the afternoon we would do process work, sharing together, where you look at your inner workings and the dynamics of your mind so that you develop an intimacy with yourself. I would love to host a retreat in the mountains with ocean around, like Maui in Hawaii. Anywhere where there is spirit, which helps you unpack the psyche. The Ashtanga augments that and the Gestalt Therapy puts it all back together.
What does true balance look like? True balance for me is always about being able to translate my inner energy, moment to moment. If I don’t balance myself from moment to moment, then I have an emotional hangover.
What are your daily wellness rituals? The first thing I do in the morning is I lie in bed and wait for my spirit to get into the body and my soul to speak to me. Then I start to move—move the way my body wants to move, I move out any ‘stuckness’ (I am still in bed at this point). I use my two Franklin method balls to stretch out my psoas—its important to recondition that area as anything that has happened overnight will get locked in. I then use my TheraBand to move my legs.
Once I’m up, I do my tongue scrape, coconut oil pull, lymphatic drainage with a dry brush, some rolling and then if I am at home, I head to the beach to do a stretching routine and swim in the ocean, then swim in the pool back at home, followed by a black coffee while I write in my journal and do my morning pages. The final thing I do is meditate. This routine takes two or so hours… I start at 4.30am, and then at 6.30am I do my practice, eat breakfast which consists of hard boiled eggs and some veggies, and then I go to work.
What is the best advice you have ever been given? My Grandma Maria told me, “Always put yourself with people who are better than you: if you hang out with people who are stumbling or crooked you will walk crooked. If you hang out with people who have higher energy then yours, you will vibrate at that higher level. Listen to them and learn from them. Resonate at that energy.”
What are the keywords that describe your journey? My journey is a spiritual journey inside, to become a person of wholeness and integrity, of devotion, of sanctity, of passion. I want to be the person that I want to hang out with.