Céline Cousteau is running late to her core yoga class, at the studio she frequents in Stone Ridge, New York - about a seven minute drive from her home. Arriving, she steps into the open space. The walls are burnished blue and floor-to-ceiling windows refract the sun’s rays throughout. She feels her breath start to deepen, becoming longer and calmer than the shallow intakes from her chest that come with rushing. Stepping onto her mat, she grounds herself, physically, through her feet and mentally into the present moment.
As an explorer and environmentalist, the 46-year-old ambassador for TreadRight (a sustainable travel not-for-profit) works in a field that is heavy with responsibility. Right now, her main project is Tribes On The Edge, a film and awareness campaign about an indigenous tribe in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Their lives are under siege, as a result of business people eager to mine their protected lands for resource, as well as from a spike in diseases brought in by outsiders.
“These people are dealing with a 50-to-80% hepatitis rate in their population, as well as illegal gold mining, logging, fishing and a government that wants to exploit for oil,” she told HuffPost UK. “They’re in survival mode. Part of my job is to tell that story. They’re not counting on me alone, but I do play a part and have a responsibility.”
As such, for Céline - granddaughter of famed French oceanic explorer Jacques Cousteau - avoiding burnout is crucial. Her group class, which she takes once or twice a week when she’s not on the road, is the self-care salve she uses to chill and, ultimately, keep fighting. “It’s my sacred time. No one is allowed to interrupt me. I refuse all calls during that hour.” The results are meaningful. “I walk out of that class so energised. I smile for hours afterwards.” And as to why she thinks that is? “It feels really good to have done something for myself and for my mental and physical wellbeing.”
Core is a flowing and active practice. Rooted in deep breath work and fast, vigorous poses focused on, yes, your core, it’s a physical workout, as well as a mental break from a chattering mind.
She credits her teacher with creating a purposeful environment. “At the beginning of the class, she asks us to set an intention,” Céline says. “Because I feel like I’m constantly on 10 projects, it’s good to say: ‘‘This is the only thing I’m doing right now.’”
As someone who’s mostly ‘on’, taking a more lackadaisical approach to what she can and can’t do is another lure of the class. She may not be able to pull herself up into a headstand without using a wall to get there, or to create a specific, pretzel-like shape. But she lets that stuff go, a welcome break from the self improvement treadmill.
Céline has been attending this specific class for around a year - something she’s proud of. “I’m terrible at habits,” she says. “Aside from making tea in the morning, this is the one I’ve been able to stick to.” With travel being an integral part of her schedule - she’s often away for a couple of weeks out of any given month - there are elements of the routine that she takes with her, on the road. “I value sleep, so I’m not going to get up at 5am to get a yoga class in, if I’ve got a packed schedule when I’m away,” she says. But she will take a few morning minutes for breathing and stretching, to get that touch of calm.
Céline hasn’t always sought out the time to centre herself, confessing that stillness doesn’t enter her life, much. She did yoga in her twenties, but that was more because it complemented her rock climbing, rather than to enter a more zen-like state. But, after the birth of her now six-and-a-half year old son, Félix, getting some quiet time in her life became more of an imperative. “I tried a couple of yoga centres around me,” she says. “But core yoga sounded like something I needed. I had a horseback accident when I was about 10, and a paragliding accident as an adult, so my neck and back have taken a few hits.” Effectively, creating a stronger centre felt like a good idea. “It’s not about creating a six pack. It’s about what’s at the core of your body and building strength around that, so that the rest of your body can withstand the tests of time.”
As to her advice on self care strategies to other people working in emotionally taxing jobs - whether that’s teaching, nursing or the humanitarian world? “I think it’s crucial to take time for yourself: maybe that’s yoga, a walk or weeding the garden. If you regenerate, you’re going to come back, better, for the people you serve.”
Céline is an ambassador for The TreadRight Foundation, a sustainable travel not-for-profit collaboration from The Travel Corporation’s brands. By providing grants to organisations that encourage sustainability in different destinations, they hope to maintain the natural attractions and unique heritages across the world that define each region.