2016-06-30
Christy Turlington Those on whom the hot klieg lights of celebrity fall longer than Warhol's 15 minutes often burn out in scandalous or embarrassing ways. Not so for 32-year-old Christy Turlington, whose transition from international supermodel--working and partying with the likes of Naomi Campbell, Elle McPherson, Linda Evangelista, and Claudia Schiffer--to businesswoman and anti-smoking advocate is earning high praise from the press. As "W" wrote, she has "put the fabulousness of modeling behind her with grace, power, and intelligence."

Turlington, who began her modeling career at 13 and gave up the catwalk 11 years later in 1994, credits much of her centeredness to her yoga practice. The ancient spiritual practice, she says, not only nourishes her personally but has also opened up business opportunities. In the past two years, she launched Sundari (which means "beautiful woman" in Hindi), a natural skin-care line based on Ayurvedic principles, and created, in partnership with Puma, a line of "contemplative sport/lifestyle wear." She is also currently writing a book on yoga as a lifestyle.

Turlington spoke with Beliefnet about growing up Catholic, taking up yoga, attending New York University at 29 to earn a BA in comparative religions and philosophy, and working to educate young men and women about the dangers of smoking.


Growing up Catholic Discovering Yoga Selling Ayurveda Battling Cigarette Addiction
Returning to religious roots
Growing Up Catholic

When did you first become interested in spiritual matters?
I think I've always been interested in spiritual things. As a child, the conversations that I liked to have with my friends--or with anyone, for that matter--were always about religion. Other people's interpretations of where they would go after they died, what their real values were, or what the principles they believed in were, always fascinated me--you know, the big questions.

Did you have a strong religious background or upbringing?
I grew up Catholic. My mother is from El Salvador, so my family on her side is Roman Catholic. My father is Protestant, and while he was spiritual, he wasn't much of a churchgoing person. I think it's fairly common for families to be brought up in the mother's religion. We were all--my sisters and I--baptized Catholic, went to catechism classes, received Communion, and went to church fairly regularly until we were 12-ish.

When I lived in Miami, a lot of my friends were either Jewish or Baptist. I would often accompany them to temple or to church. The more I saw, the more fascinated I became. I always looked to the common threads among belief systems rather than to the things that separated them.

Growing up Catholic Discovering Yoga Selling Ayurveda Battling Cigarette Addiction
Returning to religious roots
Discovering Yoga

You mentioned a personal yoga practice. When and how did you start?
I started practicing Yoga at about 18. I had a friend who was doing it and was incredibly disciplined and meditated all the time. I found it really intriguing. I think Yoga was the thing that attracted me to this friend in the first place. It was sort of like, wow, the discipline and the respect and the quietude.

That's what I wanted. I started to do Kundalini Yoga, which is not the Yoga I do now but it's a Yoga that I believe originated with the Sikhs, who combined Islamic and Hindu practices. It's based a little on meditation but there is a physical aspect to the practice, too.


I did it quite regularly. I had a daily meditation practice, and started to go to retreats from time to time. But at the time I was traveling and working a lot as a model. I used some of the tools that I learned through meditation and Yoga to keep me calm and sane through my career. I didn't always have an asana practice but I continued to use things such as meditation, mantra repetition, and breathing exercises to keep me balanced and centered.

Could you briefly describe the type of Yoga that you do?

The Yoga that I do now is Ashtanga Yoga. It means "Eight-Limbed Yoga." It's almost like meditation in motion in that you use Hatha Yoga postures done in a specific sequence. It's all very strategic in the way that it's been created and set up.

You really have to have a teacher, and you can't rush it at all. You have to get into the postures and be there as you are, as opposed to trying to reach some specific goal. It's very much a metaphor for living in that you have to give yourself a bit of a break. It forces you to be very much in the moment. It's always the same sequence, [and] you find that there is a tremendous amount of freedom through very strict routine.

Do you approach Yoga as a fitness regimen or a spiritual practice?
Yoga is a spiritual practice that has incredible physical benefits. I look at it as a lifestyle, a way of living that connects me to me. You know, the word "Yoga" means union. It's like everything in Yoga yokes or unites you to something higher, the highest part of yourself.

What I did for a living for so many years separated who I was from what I did, and Yoga has brought back all the parts of me. Yoga puts me in a place that is a little bit less about doing and more about being, which enables me, in fact, to do more.

Growing up Catholic Discovering Yoga Selling Ayurveda Battling Cigarette Addiction
Returning to religious roots
Selling Ayurveda

One of your business endeavors involves a natural cosmetic line based on Ayurvedic principles. Do you think that people understand enough about Ayurveda to be attracted to the products?
No, it's a process. Ayurveda, a sister philosophy to Yoga, is getting a lot more attention in that alternative medicine is so much more widely accepted now than it ever was. We are doing a lot of educating with this line.

Ayurveda is about nature; it's about seeing that we are connected to nature and that we have natural elements in ourselves. The less chemicals, preservatives, and artificial additives that you put on and inside your body, the healthier you're going to be and the less risk you have for getting sick. So Ayurveda, in its essence, is about living purely and healthily and trying to achieve balance.



Battling Cigarette Addiction

Talking about being natural, I understand that you were once addicted to cigarettes. Did Yoga helped you overcome that?
Definitely. I started smoking at 13, and smoked on and off for a little over ten years. When I first started doing Yoga, I quit smoking for two years.

But at 19, I realized I was addicted and began a very long process of quitting. It took me seven years. I tried many different cessation methods but ultimately quit cold turkey and re-commited myself to my Yoga practice and to changing my lifestyle. It helped me then to be able to take that strength and that feeling of empowerment and share my story with other people, hopefully helping people struggling with the same thing.

Why did you quit cold turkey?
It was a general frustration from quitting and starting, quitting and starting. Everyone who smokes thinks that they'll just be able to decide it's not what they want to do any more. It's only when you stop that you see how difficult it actually is. Then when you go back, you feel so badly about yourself because you are hurting yourself by smoking.

So stopping and starting and telling people I started again--I just got fed up. I couldn't stick by what I said or what I promised to myself. I wanted to take better care of my body.

Then [once I quit] I felt that every day my lungs had more capacity. I felt good about having done something for myself, and I felt that I could be a strong example for other people who were trying to stop, to let them know it is possible.

Growing up Catholic Discovering Yoga Selling Ayurveda Battling Cigarette Addiction
Returning to religious roots Did you use any particular tricks or supports like certain vitamins or supplements?
I stopped drinking alcohol and coffee. I knew that the times when I had been more likely to smoke was when I had a glass of wine or if I was socializing when drinking coffee. The things you would do in conjunction with smoking are the things that you should try to avoid when you quit.

Then there was Yoga and exercise. I always exercised--even as a smoker--but you find when you exercise after quitting smoking that you can really tell you're cleaning out your lungs. It makes you really excited to exercise because with each hour, each mile that you run, you are adding years to your life.

You've done a bit of volunteer work on antismoking campaigns, particularly where young folks are involved.
About four years ago, I lost my father to lung cancer. I had already quit, but my father's death inspired me to go out and tell my story--not just my own struggles with addiction and the process of quitting, but what I learned about lung cancer and smoking-related diseases during my father's illness. I thought, maybe there was a way to use my personality as a model to make a difference. So I called the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and offered my services.

Six months after my father passed away, a public service announcement came together. It was very much a personal story, a testimonial, and it's very emotional. Just the other night I was at the theater and someone came up to me and said, "I quit when I saw that commercial." I hear that a lot. It is a tribute to my father and to his life and I feel really proud of it.

I've continued to tweak the message to reach young women in particular.

Growing up Catholic Discovering Yoga Selling Ayurveda Battling Cigarette Addiction
Returning to religious roots
Returning to Religious Roots

Switching gears, we've had some inquiries on the site about whether Christians can practice Yoga without losing or damaging their faith. What's been your experience?
I think a lot of people [wonder if] there's a conflict. Hinduism, one of the very first religions, adopted it much earlier than anybody else but Yoga transcends Hinduism. Yoga is a yoking with something higher, and it transcends religion and those kinds of classification.

But how much of the religious part of Yoga do practitioners have to accept?
The priest at my Catholic church practices Yoga. He was a Carthusian monk (Carthusians are a hermit sect of the Catholic church.) Meditation and contemplation are practices in all faiths.


A lot of people today practice mindfulness meditation and some believe that it is being taken out of its religious context and emasculated...
Made less powerful.

Yes. What do you think of that argument in terms of Yoga?
To me, I find things are definitely most powerful in their purest form--like with language. Religious texts in Sanskrit or Latin or Greek or Aramaic are more powerful when they have not been translated, when so much of the meaning is lost in translation.

But I think that some things are so powerful that even when they are filtered, they are still powerful. You would lose so many people if you said that you had to do something this way or that way.

I wonder if, by doing Yoga or mindfulness meditation, people get back in touch with their own religious roots?

That's what happened to me. Yoga reveals to you things that you believe but didn't realize you believed or forgot you believed. It reaffirms and solidifies your belief system.

It could make your belief system more open, or it could bring focus to your spiritual life. It depends on the individual. Then it's a matter of finding the right place. There are so many choices even within your own faith. For me, a big part was finding the right church and finding the right priest, somebody that could speak to me in a language I could understand within the context of my faith.

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