Even though her actual journey into instruction began during the pandemic, meditation and yoga practitioner Christina Ionno seems like she’s been teaching forever. Her unique blend of high energy, steady confidence and calm presence draws clients in both online and in-person. In 2020, she founded her yogic collective company, Dakini Lounge, and now she’s busier than ever teaching through that platform, in-person at Three Jewels in downtown NYC, and more. Her obvious and genuine adoration for yoga, mediation and all things wellness ripples out into all she does, and her personal connection to grounding practices makes her work even more effective.
Originally from Toronto, Canada, Ionno was always active growing up, despite suffering bouts of shyness. She was discovered by a modeling scout at 11, and began working at just 14 years old, warming up to the more public aspect of the job. As a teen, she hit a wall, living an unhealthy lifestyle that led to weight gain, sluggish energy and even a wave of depression. Fortunately, her mentors encouraged Ionno to make some big changes, so workouts, mental health and proper nutrition quickly became priority.
13 years ago her journey as a model brought her to NYC, where she now lives. The hustle of the city required Ionno to seek additional options to stay centered and relaxed. It was then she finally found yoga, which turned out to be not only the remedy she had always sought, but also a profession she never knew would be so natural and inspirational for her.
Now, Ionno is intent on sharing her love of yoga and meditation with her clients and wider community. Below, hear what she finds most powerful about yoga and meditation, both on the mat and off.
SBS: What was your transition into teaching yoga like?
Christina Ionno: I was an avid student of yoga for about a decade before deciding to partake in a yoga teacher training. At the beginning of 2019 I was going through a very difficult period of my life and knew it was time for a big change. The opportunity to study with Three Jewels, NYC, fell into perfect alignment, and I jumped at the chance to take a deep dive into the world of yoga by signing up for their 200-hour yoga training. It was an incredibly transformative journey, not only studying asana, but the training also introduced me to the world of Tibetan Buddhist scripture, meditation, Sanskrit, daily personal practice and vows.
I didn't sign up for the training with the intention of becoming a teacher, but my 'a-ha' moment happened about halfway into the training that teaching was something I could actually pursue. It all came naturally to me, as though I'd rediscovered a gift from a past life.
I devoted myself completely to the practice and started teaching at every chance I got. I was eager to share these practices with people from all walks of life. I shared offerings via community outreach and free/by-donation classes both online and in-person. I worked as a karma yogi at a local studio.
My dedication to teaching did not go unnoticed and quickly I started booking gigs to teach for online platforms, special events, the studio I trained with, and even private clients started reaching out.
Throughout the pandemic in 2020 I really learned the ins and outs of running my business in the virtual world, and I started my own company called Dakini Lounge. My dream for the Dakini Lounge was to run pop-up yogic events and start a collective of like-minded individuals expressing themselves through multiple mediums in the world of wellbeing and yogic arts. I started leading socially-distanced outdoor events on rooftops and collaborating with other brands in alignment with my vision.
SBS: When and how did you add meditation to your roster?
CI: Come autumn of 2020 I decided to take the plunge into becoming a meditation teacher by signing up for the Three Jewels 200-hour meditation teacher training. I had already been leading meditation but wanted to really unveil the hidden gems found in Tibetan Buddhist practices and was ready to take my own practice deeper.
Yet again, I found myself in an incredible mind-blowing experience throughout the training and discovered my chops as a meditation teacher. This didn't come as naturally for me as teaching yoga: I really had to push past afflictions of imposter syndrome and extreme anxiety around public speaking. I wasn't going to let that stop me from sharing this precious wisdom to the world, though. I wanted to scream it from the top of my lungs but took baby steps to finding my authentic voice.
I ended up doing a six-month meditation mentorship program where I was required to teach weekly meditation classes and received personal guidance and assistance, which was incredibly helpful. Pretty much right after graduating from that I got hired to teach meditation on Journey Live and at Three Jewels.
Now I teach meditation as much as yoga, if not more so. The combination of the two is a way of life for me, and I am so damn fortunate to be able to call this my profession. I love it so much.
SBS: What are your current offerings?
CI: Currently I offer private, in-person and online yoga and meditation under Dakini Lounge, as well as weekly group yoga and meditation classes for Three Jewels, both in-person at their studio and online. I also teach meditation five days a week on the Journey Live platform, as well as private corporate workshops. Finally, I have plenty of pre-recorded content on Caravan Wellness and Yoga Studies Institute, including both classes and live programs.
SBS: How did the pandemic affect you and your teaching?
CI: My life as a yoga teacher truly began during COVID. The time away from usual tasks and work gave me the chance to really hone my skills and create something new for myself. I saw the silver lining, and I didn't waste any time. In that sense, I am grateful.
Personally, I have grown from the experience, and I have learned what is worth prioritizing and what’s important to me. Health is true wealth, as is time. I don’t want to spend time doing anything meaningless. I want every moment to be pregnant with meaning and fulfillment. COVID taught me that health and time can be ripped away from you, so do what you love while you can and help others do the same.
SBS: What's your style and approach as a teacher?
CI: I am incredibly attentive, nurturing and playful, and I think I bring a very fresh perspective to ancient wisdom practices. My style is approachable and accessible, but I can be direct and turn up the intensity where I see it is appropriate to do so.
My group classes are very fun, and I have the best playlists. My private sessions offer an intimate look at how to incorporate yoga and meditation into your lifestyle, not just one hour of moving your body into the postures. The dharma is infused into every word I speak and every action I do as a teacher. Intention is everything, and I want all of my students to feel uplifted and enlightened after every class and take that with them into all hours of the day, off the mat or cushion.
SBS: What does yoga bring to your life? What do you hope it brings to your clients?
CI: Yoga is my entire life. I move through the world viewing through the lens of the eight limbs of yoga, and I apply that into every action I make in body, speech and mind. Yoga makes me want to be the best version of myself I could possibly be for the sake of all those around me. I hope that my dedication and devotion to this practice rubs off on my clients and inspires them to reach their ultimate potential as well. This practice can help us tap into our true nature for love, compassion, joy and equanimity, and I have no doubt whatsoever that it's the key to unlocking our innate bliss, happiness and deep wisdom.
SBS: How did you come up with the name for Dakini Lounge? What does it mean?
CI: A dakini is a sky-dancing, tantric deity/angel that represents the embodiment of feminine energy. I am massively inspired by the various dakinis of ancient wisdom, and to me they represent the ultimate empowerment for not only females, but act as perfected muses for everyone to reach enlightenment.
When I was stuck at home teaching throughout the height of the pandemic, I joked around that this was my new yoga lounge, and I'd heard a DJ remix an album by Prem Joshua with the same name. Then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, that would be pretty awesome, actually.’
Many of my pop-up events are on rooftops high in the sky, and I allude to us all being sky-walking yogic angels. The dharma is infused into everything I do, and I want everyone who practices with me to feel like they can touch the sky and beyond.
SBS: Who was your main mentor for meditation?
CI: My meditation mentor at Three Jewels was Miriam Parker, and I couldn't have asked for a better match. Over the six-month course of the meditation mentorship program, there was a very 'no bullshit' approach. I respond well with those that are direct with me, and I absorb my teachers’ energy like a sponge.
Miriam is the perfect fusion of artist, dreamer, yogini and serious spiritual practitioner. Her personal practice and ability to speak the words of wisdom with such ease, humor, modernity and great charm was very inspiring to me. She held me accountable to teach and hone my craft, and she really showed up for all of our meetings. It was the push I needed! As I mentioned, at first, I dealt with more resistance leading meditation than yoga.
SBS: What are your tips for new yoga practitioners, both in person and online?
CI: Open-level or beginner yoga classes are an excellent place to begin. That's how I got into yoga! I would watch how the more advanced practitioners flowed and really focus on the verbal cues being given. Don't worry about doing all the crazy poses. There are so many different forms of yoga and styles that you just have to sample different classes and teachers to find which works best for you.
And, if the means are available to you, hiring a private instructor is quite helpful to make sure your alignment is correct, which keeps you safe.
SBS: What are your tips for students new to yoga, both in person and online?
CI: Show yourself compassion and infuse joyful effort into the practice. It should be fun, not competitive!
SBS: What is the biggest misconception about yoga? What about meditation?
CI: In regards to yoga, there’s the misconception that it's ‘just stretching.’ That always irks me. And, about meditation, it’s that you can't do it if you have a busy mind. That's exactly why you should meditate: to train your mind to focus. Of course, there are numerous other benefits to meditation, as well!
SBS: What are your top tips for centering practices like yoga and meditation?
CI: First, a little goes a long way. Start with shorter periods of time and grow the length of time from there.
Second, create a habit of it by doing your practice around the same time each day. Also, signing up for classes in advance really helps to hold us accountable. Extra points if you have a buddy to do it with!
And finally, don't forget to rejoice in your efforts. Acknowledge that you’re doing something awesome for your body and mind, and celebrate that.
SBS: What's your own wellness routine? How has it changed since Covid?
CI: I am very big on self-care practices, and my morning routine is essential to having an awesome day. I love warm lemon water in the morning and journaling, to-do lists, daily meditation (20 minutes to one hour, broken up throughout the day), yoga or some form of exercise/movement, saying no to what doesn't excite me, spending quality time with a smaller quantity of people, spending time alone, luxuriating and grooming with DIY mani/pedis and spa-like rituals from home, etc. The list goes on!
The best, zaniest part of being Christina: I am an intuitive and delightfully impulsive individual that lives in the present moment and transmutes the mundane into a personal wonderland of joy. I'd say my energy is infectious and is imbued with playfulness and depth.
Christina’s SBS Mantra: Be Mindful. Our attention is like a gift. We can appreciate everything around us so much more when we are mindful. We live in alignment with who we want to become when we are mindful.
Christina’s NY Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Jungle Cafe, Ovenly, Early, 99 Franklin
Splurge Restaurant: Lilia, Milos
Fun Activity: Going to concerts or live music
Calming Activity: Yoga Nidra, Pranayama
Fitness Studio: Hit House, Pure Barre
Athleticwear: Alo, Lululemon
Athletic Shoes: Adidas
Books: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Online Resources: Asian Classics Institute