Artivist & Performer Christine Ren

In episode seventeen, host Brett Stanley is joined by underwater Artivist and performer Christine Ren. Christine has a degree in Marine Affairs and Policy which give her a great insight in to how our water ways are being managed and also a strong desire to make some change in the world with her own conservation campaigns.

Christine chats about creating some of the campaigns she’s created, what worked and what didn’t, and how she’s now using water as a way to overcome trauma with her healing Watsu practice.

They also discuss techniques for a better breath hold, and how a lot of her inspiration comes from within.

Follow Christine: Website, Instagram, Facebook

Discuss the episode in our facebook group.

Visit our YouTube for livestreams

About Christine Ren – Underwater Artivist & Performer

Named 1 of 5 women in media changing the world by Matador Network, Christine is a filmmaker and underwater performer dedicated to advancing social and environmental causes.

She holds her Master’s degree in Marine Affairs & Policy from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS).

Her narrative underwater imagery campaigns have been featured to-date by Nat Geo, KQED, FStoppers, Petapixel, Phoblographer, and more.

Christine’s skill sets and work history are an eclectic mix of marine science, professional dance, and entrepreneurship, but at her core, she is an artist and passionate visual storyteller.

Her work embodies the idea that ocean conservation is a human issue.

Podcast Transcript

Ep 17 – Christine Ren

Brett Stanley: [00:00:00] Welcome back to the underwater podcast. And this week I’m joined by underwater artivist and performer. Christine Ren. Christine has a degree in Marine affairs and policy, which gave her a great insight into how our waterways are being managed and also a strong desire to make some change in the world with their own conservation campaigns. Some of which I’ve been involved with myself.

Christine chats about creating some of the campaigns, what worked and what didn’t and how she’s now using water as a way to overcome trauma. We also discuss techniques for a better breath hold and how a lot of her inspiration comes from within. Okay. Let’s dive in. 

Christine, welcome to the underwater podcast.

Christine Ren: [00:00:39] Thank you, Brett, for having me thrilled to be here.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:42] It’s good to have you. I mean, we’ve known each other for a few years. We’ve worked together over a bunch of projects. Um, but you’ve kind of, you’ve had a bit of a chameleon like career, like you’ve you started off as a, as a performer and then got into more into the activist kind of realm. How do you describe what your, what your role is?

Christine Ren: [00:01:03] Yeah, such a great question. And I think. I often will um, fall into the category of being referred to as a model, which I do do both of them above and underwater modeling, but coming from a dance performance background, as well as a science background, you know, I really went into my career in underwater, uh, content creation with, um, uh, a very specific focus and goal to bring to life.

And this is how I met you, which is so amazing and wonderful where like, Many years later now, full circle on this podcast. I’m with many of these campaigns brought to life and out there and having made an impact and circulated around the world and interwebs, but. Um, I really have worn and do wear a lot of hats, which I’m sure makes it more difficult for anyone to describe who I am and what I do.

And sort of put me in a bit of a box like, Oh, there she’s a doctor. He does that. You know, um, I definitely call myself an underwater artist and underwater creator. Um, I almost fall, I feel a little more predominantly in. Underwater like art director or choreographer, um, underwater performer is something I’ve used a lot.

Um, I just, I, I think, you know, the work that I’ve done related to ocean conservation and activism specifically, really was never about me. You know, it was about this message and a concept. So, um, I haven’t really cared very much what people called me or like the fact that like, I got lumped in, it’s just, just the model, you know, the person in the photos, like, well, it kind of fell by the wayside that I actually like carried these sketches of that specific concept around for years.

And I brought all the problems together and you know, the team. Um, so yeah, I, I you’re right. I have worn a lot of hats and, um, I guess you, it depends on the day what I wake up as in which, which title you would hang on on me. So.

Brett Stanley: [00:03:02] And that’s totally fine. Like having, having a few different, like, you know, kind of roles in your everyday life is totally fine. Like it’s and I think when we first met, um, and I don’t know, it was like three or four years ago and. You had, I think gone to maybe it was Benjamin Von Wong with some sort of concepts that you wanted to, to create.

And I think, uh, he pointed you in my direction. What was that? Where were you at that point? Was that the start of your kind of underwater kind of journey?

Christine Ren: [00:03:33] it was a little further along into it, but yeah, I remember that very vividly that, um, My friend Romy owns the kava bar in, over in Berkeley. And you know, it was living in San Francisco. The time we had met there and I was there with this, you know, notebook of these sketches. I’d been carrying around since, um, my master’s degree.

I did my masters at the university of Miami Rosenstiel school for Marine and atmospheric science sciences in Florida. And that was about the time when I was going through that program. You know, obviously I had been dive certified for a long time, but. But during that program, I often sat in my very, you know, interdisciplinary, um, classes related to ocean policy, communications, science, um, law, um, conservation communication, all of this, um, like listening, but.

Also visualizing, I was always sort of sketching and thinking, well, wow, this is how I might communicate this to the world. And emotionally evocative way that, um, might spread the message out, uh, at a bigger scale, best help. Um, a broad, broad swath of people understand this concept. So during those years, and my master’s degree, I.

I was not a content creator. I really had no film photo background. I had been a dance performer, um, and, and certainly always a love of the ocean, but that was probably when, you know, I started to intern at a local PBS affiliate and started learning film. Experimenting with like getting a GoPro and, you know, finagling myself in, in with people who had pools and just, I’m trying to start to like film and stage some of this stuff, which was like this.

Almost like three or four year absurd journey of like getting nowhere. Um, until I finally, like I said, that long story short, yes. Um, came across and assisted on a shoot with Ben Von Wong in San Francisco. Um, and at that point was starting to very nervously and shyly speak to some of these.

Like larger, um, like bigger name, name, a high, higher level creatives that I thought would be the ones who could best help me bring these visions to life. Cause obviously I couldn’t do it all on my own and yeah, we got connected at that point and, um, I was so happy to, I was so happy to have met you because you totally, you know, we’re, we’re onboard to try and bring, bring that vision to life.


Brett Stanley: [00:06:01] absolutely. Yeah.

Christine Ren: [00:06:02] first one we did. Blind spots is still, I think like the most popular campaign almost of all of them. I’ve done.

Brett Stanley: [00:06:09] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And  it is everywhere. Um, for something  that was done, um, so long ago, and it was a concept that you came up with, which is, and for people who don’t know, the blind spots is a picture of, um, Christine pushing a shopping cart through the water and all her. Yeah, plastic waste and non-risk and recyclables floating out behind her.

So it’s, it’s very, and she’s got a blind folder, so, you know, she’s unaware of what’s happening. And I think that message, I think, just resonated with people. Um, and I, I keep getting tagged in it and finding it all over the place. It’s great.

Christine Ren: [00:06:42] I know you know, when we talk about. You know, starting shorter feels like beginner’s luck almost, or that it was, it was so encouraging that I was very nervous and, um, it takes, I think a lot of vulnerability with any kind of art that you’re first creating. And just to have that initial concept that, um, we did together, be met with such a response and yeah.

Success, if you, if you, well, it was super encouraging and certainly fueled me to move further along and, and bring more, more concepts to life. So, yeah, I think I remember like my family and Ireland telling me, like, they just saw it on the tele, the TV and, um, yeah, similar I’ll open up Instagram at like almost every other day and still.

Three four years later, there’s people who are circulating or tagging that. So, um, yeah, it’s very, very, um, very powerful. It was powerful.

Brett Stanley: [00:07:33] Um, and for me, like, it was great that we ended up meeting cause we’ve done some, some really cool projects over the last few years, but watching you kind of go grow your conceptual, I don’t know. You’re you’re, you know, you have this project managing kind of, um, skills and then you’re also the performer in the ma in them.

Um, and your. You know, designing everything. How did that kind of evolve for you? I know you, after we shot with that, you ended up moving, going to New Zealand to shoot with Jose. Um, did you find that you got more skills and worked out kind of better workflows of getting these messages across

Christine Ren: [00:08:10] Yeah, absolutely. Um, It was interesting. Yeah. Jose Canno in New Zealand was, was the next campaign that we ended up doing. Um, he had seen, yeah, the work that we had done together. So that was just sorta like each, you know, Each each step along the journey, sort of teed up and informed the next, um, I think what I learned with blind spots, because we both, we both, we shot blind spots along with jellyfish soup.

So there was two different concepts, um, that we shot together first and they, they had a very different and narrow narrative approach to them. So, uh, was. I was always kind of gathering data and watching how and what, how and what resonated the most. And, you know, we had this huge success with blind spots and then jellyfish soup was, um, Not something you could probably understand in a single glance.

It, it, wasn’t almost simple enough for people to grasp. It was something. If you were in the Marine conservation world, you’d see that image and say, Oh, jellyfish soup. Like that’s a term in, in that, in those circles. And they would understand. So I think that began certainly moving forward just from a narrative standpoint, um, each campaign that went out.

Subsequently from that added almost like additional check boxes to my list of, Oh, if I want this to have this very specific impact or, um, reach, this is something I need to add as like a layer and a step in what I’m doing. Right. So when we went about silent, silent killers, it was. You know, boiling down to something simple, highly, emotionally evocative that can kind of be understood and, um, in a moment and certainly have a story and a message, but it just, it can’t be so steeped so deeply in metaphor.

Um, I have found when it comes to like trying to convey a very specific, uh, environmental or, or activism, um, concept, you know, it just doesn’t, it doesn’t have the stickability.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:08] I think that’s what I learned from that as well, because working with you on blind spots, I think was, that was my first real, you know, conservation campaign. And, you know, I, I approached it like, it was just a regular photograph. Like it was a regular session, not really thinking about. How it was going to get the message across and we shot jellyfish soup at the same time, which I love that image, but afterwards seeing how people reacted to them, both, um, and realizing that that, um, blind spots was just so instantly relatable, just seeing how there was no explanation needed, you know, visually you could see straightaway what the message was.

And I think for me, that kind of taught me that, um, That’s what you need to do with these images to get them in people’s minds, straight away. If there’s any kind of explanation needed, they don’t absorb it as, as fast.

Christine Ren: [00:10:58] Yes, a hundred percent. And those were interesting learning curves for me as well, going into this and just not. You know, just having almost like the seedling of the concept and the ideas, but just needing to, you know, actually make them, put them out there and then gauge and pivot based on what was readily taken up and how quickly it was spread and not.

So that, that, that communication feedback process, I, as a scientist found super fascinating, you know, even just, just from this. Not even really deeply quantitative, but loosely qualitative, um, you know, a review of looking at things. And, um, for me, I felt lucky in that, you know, not all of the campaigns were met with, you know, as, as much, um, understanding and spread and reach as blind spots.

But for me, that’s not really, and wasn’t discouraging. Um, I just was always really interested that, you know, I met everything with curiosity and play in the house. Oh, okay. Huh? That one did. And that one didn’t I wonder why, and it just informed the next step. So, um, I think it’s easy in this sort of digital ethos in age, if you’re a content creator of any kind to, um, Yeah, not have almost like your self worth or self esteem.

Um, even if even your, your joy and passion and ma in the, in the making to be dampened, if it’s not met with all the likes and the shares and the comments, um, I think that’s a hard piece these days.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:33] absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it’s, I think. These days everyone’s on show and waiting for that instant feedback. Whereas sometimes it’s not going to come. You know, there needs to be a bit of a bit of thinking time or a little bit of, um, examination before you get the feedback. So it’s not instant as, as much as people would like these days,

Christine Ren: [00:12:52] absolutely.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:53] so that the, the next campaign you did after the blind spots was the silent killers. Um, with Jose in New Zealand, do you feel like you went into that knowing more? Like, did you go into that with a, with a better concept to be able to get that message across.

Christine Ren: [00:13:09] I thought so definitely I. Knew at that point, that things that had a deep, emotional resonance behind them were, um, I felt almost like a permissive force for viewers. And I thought that was maybe a key piece around, um, why and how they might most be readily absorbed and. So silent killers was really about a ghost fishing and these ghost nets that get thrown overboard, you know, overused net nets that are discarded by Fisher and fishermen and fishing boats.

And they just sort of float through the sea for sometimes up to hundreds of years, killing indiscriminately ocean life. And we decided to do almost like a very dark moody campaign and just convey the emotional aspects of. What if we visualize humans tangled up in these gnats and let alone, like a couple where, you know, your family is trying to, you know, pull at you and get you out of this net and you’re chopped and caught, um, and silent killers.

Similarly, I would say next to blind spots was like the second most readily shared and, and popular of campaigns. You know, I did end up doing a, um, another concept called the 11th hour, which I was taking a stab at climate change. Um, I knew it was more of a metaphor and based off of what I’d seen with jellyfish soup probably, or might not be as a.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:36] As

Christine Ren: [00:14:36] Successful. Yeah, I knew it. Wasn’t going to be as obvious more explanation, but I wanted, I just, I really wanted to do it. Um, so that was, that was one that like, I just knew, knew going in. Wasn’t probably gonna get as close to the end, aim as silent killers, which, um, which is okay too, you know? Cause it was like that’s one is important for me to, to do regardless.


Brett Stanley: [00:14:59] Yeah, and I think not everything is going to be a hit, you know, it’s very, it’s very subjective. And whether people have the. I don’t know, like the background knowledge to be able to make the, you know, connect the dots in those images. Um, like the jellyfish soup. I think, you know, if you didn’t realize that, that, at the end of the day, the only thing that’s going to be left in the ocean, if we keep fishing, it is, a whole bunch of jellyfish.

Um, you wouldn’t join those dots. But I think with the

Christine Ren: [00:15:26] Right.

Brett Stanley: [00:15:27] killers, I think you definitely did.

Christine Ren: [00:15:29] Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I was, like I said, of really powerful, um, struck a deeper emotional chord. I think it was probably one of the most emotionally charged, um, campaigns that I’d put out. And that, that was yeah. Really powerful, resonated with people very deeply. Um, I think, you know, something I saw just in general, you’re talking about science communication, science education is that, um, It can, you know, data falls very far short of how and why humans take it.

Yeah. Action. On, on issues of science, you know, you’re not going to convince someone to really do any, anything necessarily. Um, oftentimes like just by throwing facts at them, which was sort of the whole impetus behind experimenting and trying to understand how visuals and art and emotion could play a role, um, you know, to this means.

Brett Stanley: [00:16:18] Yeah, for sure. Is there, um, Is there research that’s been done on how well, you know, uh, climate or ocean activism, imagery is absorbed by people and you know, is there, is there a formula that kind of works?

Christine Ren: [00:16:34] Yeah, I wish there, I wish there was more research out there. I’m sure if you delve really deep into. Um, like peer reviewed psychology published work, which is, you know, not really my background necessarily, but I’m sure that some of those studies related to, um, especially, I mean, advertising, there’s a lot of, you know, you look at like just advertising studies in general, and that’s probably where you draw a lot of your insights.

Um, But in terms of a formula, I mean, I certainly feel like I, I learn some of the pieces through what I’ve done with the campaigning and, you know, you know, bring up obviously Benjamin Von Wong as well. He’s done a lot of environmental campaigning with his photo work and content creation and you know, one of the.

The big pillars obviously is having something that is invokes emotions of all wonder splendor, joy, all these kinds of positive emotions tend to be much more highly shared than a doom and gloom type of approach, which a lot of at the time I went through my master’s program related to environmental science was a lot of the rhetoric which was out there.

So I saw pretty early on that. You know, needing to communicate in a way that was hopeful. That was solution centric that gave people, um, something in a, almost a titrated dose that wasn’t complete Wheatley overwhelming and flooded them. Um, you know, something small and actionable, actionable enough that they could uptake in a daily way in their lives.

So those, those were certainly the pieces along with just in general, emotional Ivanka ability. I’m packaging it the right way. It being simple and clear enough, not overwhelming. As I said, um, all of those are pieces and, you know, I think it’s harder now than ever to be totally honest. I don’t even think if we put blind spots out now, it might not have even, it might.

I’ve gotten more lost in the flood of all of the content that is out now. It’s very difficult without with the social media Titans and the police platforms and their algorithms too. And how much content is being put out constantly. Like they forget the stats so much every second of every minute, um, we are very saturated and that’s now a challenge, a huge challenge for these type of messages.

Brett Stanley: [00:18:57] Well, it’s not just getting through the, through the noise that’s out there it’s that the people are desensitized to a lot of it now because it’s. It’s everywhere, you know? Um, and, and every cause, uh, you know, is being amplified and it doesn’t, it isn’t whether it’s environmental or whether it’s religious or racial or whatever.

There is so much out there. I think people will tend to turn off a little bit more these days than they would have previously.

Christine Ren: [00:19:21] Yeah, absolutely. And there’s, there’s just so much that’s happening in the world and you know, that we’re bombarded with some news and it’s all I think can be very overwhelming and people, you know, we have a fast paced, overwhelming world, um, you know, in an, as it is, and, you know, finding those ways in which you, um, Yeah, you’re open and receptive enough, not at your max, constantly operating at your max bandwidth to be able to intake, like sit and watch a two hour documentary and really feel the sadness or the pain around whatever that issue is.

And then, you know, enact some of those solutions in your life. Like it’s. You know, it’s a lot, there’s a lot of work, I think people in and of themselves, um, or yeah, we need to be doing in terms of just make that room in that space to not be too busy, to not have been suppressing a bunch of other, um, things that haven’t been resolved in their life.

You know, I don’t think that we really, for these types of messages to take both then in a deep. Deep deep, um, individual level, as well as a collective change. Um, there’s a lot of like inner clearing and work that needs to be done, which is know part of where I’ve I’ve I’ve I see some, some pieces that related to what I started out this journey trying to do that are currently.

Blocked, you know, blocking me from that most maximal change that I wish wish to see in the world or wish people to have, you know, making the world.

Brett Stanley: [00:20:58] Yeah. I mean, you’re someone who’s, done a lot of, um, education, a lot of research into, self help for want of a better word. How does, the water for you work into that and how does the water create you as a, as a better person?

Christine Ren: [00:21:12] Yeah, such a beautiful question. And I think it was part of the most interesting aspect of this journey is that I went into it very soon. Specifically with, this is what I’m trying to create. And it was all about this end product and the, you know, as much as possible quantifiable impact it might have, and as happens along any journey, um, I started to uncover these deep ways in which the.

The water just, I felt like made me a more, whole better human being at water in general is feel like for me. And maybe I think I could speak from most potentially, um, for a lot of the water folk who work in them not to put assumptions, but what I’ve heard, right? There’s this magnetic quality about the water.

It taps you into this really deep calm States and, um, I think it’s, it’s a really powerful source for healing. And, you know, we even have a, you know, we’ve got a mammalian dive reflex that we’ve evolved, that you didn’t get those, those sensors in our face covered with water. You immediately drops. The heart rate makes you to calmer.

And for me, I started to really lean into learning about, um, and I do watch and lead currently Watsu therapy sessions and. I think that water is a huge antidote in remedy for at least it has been in my life for stress and anxiety and anything that I’m carrying or that I feel overwhelmed with about the world.

I can just kind of pour it out into the water. And I led over the past couple of years, some more. destination. Retreat workshops. And again, they’re very specifically related to underwater photography, consecration modeling, but the women primarily who attended these.

You know, after we had these deep immersive experiences for like a week began to come with me, come to me about these profound shifts that they had, that they were feeling and experiencing from doing such and traded deep dive into water work. And, you know, at those times it was like, I’m talking completely.

Not equipped to help you deal with, you know, or process or integrate any of this. Maybe I’ve been missing something, you know, it’s not just about this end. It’s about the means as well. There’s, there’s something in the process. That’s become almost as interesting if not more so than, than just the final end creation product in image.

Brett Stanley: [00:23:44] Yeah, it’s not, and I’m a big advocate of it. It’s the underwater shoot, whether it’s the dance video or it’s stills is it’s the experience. That is the most important thing. The end result, which is the images is just a, I don’t know, for me, it’s just kind of the proof of the experience you had.

Christine Ren: [00:24:01] Yeah. I couldn’t agree more definitely, but I can’t say I went into all of this with that mindset. It was something that I kind of uncovered along.

Brett Stanley: [00:24:12] Yeah. Yeah. Mean, that’s, that’s something that I’ve discovered over my career as, you know, shooting underwater. You know, when I first started in this, it was all about the images, but watching and guiding and teaching people through this and teaching them how to model. I see how, how much they get out of that experience.

Learning how to do something that they would never do in their normal lives, which is sit under the water and be calm. Usually they’re swimming somewhere or they’ve, you know, there’s a purpose for them being underwater. Whereas what I find with the, the creation process is, is that a lot of the times it’s just being, you know, it’s just letting whatever’s happening, come through you.

And it’s that, um, I don’t know that, that that’s stillness under there that has such a healing quality, which I think is what you’re kind of getting to

Christine Ren: [00:24:58] yeah. To have, I think there’s so rare and few opportunities that we truly have in our daily lives, too. Like completely let go to train what it is to like physically feel a sense of sensation of surrender and release and let go, and absolutely that stillness, um, and watching not only my own, but other people’s, like you’re saying through your career, their experience in like, kind of.

The friction, you know, of like kind of like learning and trying to work through and in that, and to come to the end, particularly the people, Oh my goodness. Who have like a big fear of water, had some trauma around water. Those, those folks are, you know, my heroes, whenever I get to work with them and they, um, you know, come out at the end, you know, um, just so victorious.

It’s amazing.

Brett Stanley: [00:25:48] Yeah. He’s seeing someone who’s overcome a fear that they

have. Just because they want to see what they can do, you know? Yeah. I mean, a lot of people will have, they just want the photos, but they have to get through that, run that gauntlet to be able to get to that, that, to that photo.

And that’s them overcoming their fears and their anxieties. And I think water, um, has a lot to do with it. Like for me, it is such a. Scary place. Like it is a place of my deepest fears, but it’s also the only place that I feel a hundred percent calm. So it’s a very confusing place. What did you end up doing so that you had these women coming to you at these, at these retreats?

Where did you then, was there somebody that you kind of worked out that you could, could kind of focus on in terms of going through the trauma?

Christine Ren: [00:26:35] Yeah, I think that was really my initial impetus, you know, these last two years and last year in, in particular to very deep on a deeper sense, in a deeper sense. Explore the ways in which I could, you know, use water as a healing modality. So what too was something that I was introduced to, um, you know, type of aquatic therapy where you flow and hold someone and guide them through a series of very, um, almost like shot Zen shots based, but in water exercises or something, I was introduced to.

Probably five or six years ago and had been, you know, practicing just a little bit with people. Um, if they were on a shoot, um, coming in and I was adding them just to tap them into like a safer space and like, ha this is what it feels like to move with within, in water. So I’ve, you know, Watsu certified, I do lead Watsu therapy sessions now, which I feel like has a, um, Really one of the best modalities out there for restabilizing the nervous system, people who deal with PTSD, panic attacks, um, some it’s something that’s like, uh, really has changed the brain chemistry and the neural patterning Watsu is really powerful for that.


Brett Stanley: [00:27:54] So how does that work? What is, what are you actually doing when you’re, when you’re with a client in the water? Are you taking them under the water or is it just on the surface?

Christine Ren: [00:28:02] Yeah, it’s just on the surface. So there there’s a branch of this type of aquatic therapy called , which actually is you both float the client and take them under water. Um, I don’t do about Hara. I do what Sue, but I couple the Watsu therapy with, um, custom. Underwater played through underwater speakers, speakers, these under these custom sound journeys.

So we have sound as a impetus for furthering like healing or release, um, of, of anything that’s currently stuck in their system. And. Yeah. So I find that the sound in and of itself can be a catalyst for healing, but, um, most people that I work with through Watsu and again, if you can visualize it, you know, you are floating face up in the water and you have someone’s hand sort of around the shoulder, under the neck, and then also kind of under the low back and moving your lens through different patterns and sequencing in the water.

Uh, it feels very meditative. If anyone has ever done like a float tank experience, I find what suit would be very similar. And those float tank experience, experiment experiences are something, you know, the number one recommendation for people who have had concussions or any kind of brain injury or something that has really changed those deep grooves, um, of patterning in the brain.

So I find that, um, Like I said, for, for people having, having the support of another person there with you going through the journey is one of the biggest benefits for Watsu. But, um,

Brett Stanley: [00:29:42] So when, when you’re working with someone in the water, can you, can you feel that there’s a tension in there? Can you feel that you’re, what you’re doing is, is, is working or is it a, you just have to do what you do and then find out afterwards, is it like a massage where you can go, Oh, there’s a knot and I’ll work on that or is it, is it less intuitive?

Christine Ren: [00:30:00] No, it’s definitely very deeply intuitive. It’s not obviously like working when you’re completely underwater, right. Where like the communication is just so hard, you know, if they can see if the model could see you as a photographer, there’s like hand signals, but, um, you know, usually it’s like you have to come up and talk if you’re going to go through anything.

Um, I can always sense. In someone’s body. Obviously my hands are on them. I’m holding them and I’m looking at their face. Right. So a lot of times I’m just holding the space for them to, um, Experience anything that comes up for them, you know, lots of people cry or have an emotional experience. And I’m just sort of there there’s, I’m not, you know, actively needing muscles per se.

You are moving limbs almost as like someone might be like stretching you. Um, but if someone tenses up in an area that could either be. You know, they’re not ready for me to go to that part of the body yet, or, you know, there’s lots of ways in which the body that you’re holding speaks to you and certainly being intuitive about, um, what that is for them and what they need from you.

It’s not in a spoken conscious way, certainly at more of an unconscious level.

Brett Stanley: [00:31:11] Yeah. I mean, that sounds amazing. And I have seen Watsu in, in person, I did a shoot with him Watsu, uh, practitioner and it was the first time I’d seen it. And for me, seeing him, you know, guiding and basically almost dragging the client through the water looked amazing. And it was more of a. You go to the untrained eye.

It was, it was more of a, um, sensory experience than say

Christine Ren: [00:31:38] Not massage. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:31:40] well, yeah. And massage is it’s very physical, you know, you’re very much working out, uh, not in a muscle, whereas this seemed like it was, and along with the flotation tanks, it’s, it’s very much an internal.

Um, kind of therapy that is enhanced by the sensory of being pulled through water. Is that kind of accurate?

Christine Ren: [00:31:58] Yeah, I would say so, you know, um, for me, the way that I would say a diff a definition of trauma, if someone’s holding trauma in the body is anything that happens too much, too soon or too fast, too little too slowly for that, for the nervous system to handle, you know? And so others. You know, almost all of us moving through a human life and experience will have some degree of trauma that gets you kind of lodged in the somatic body and the nervous system.

Um, and it can be really difficult to make the time and the space to have that trauma in the nervous system. Like how meet a successful resolution. Right. Oh, and it’s very rare that if not ever, in my opinion, that trauma will be cleared by you. Talking with the conscious mind, not that talk therapies, aren’t wildly beneficial, but for me, what is this sematic practice that is highly emotionally permissive.

So yeah, as you’re saying, it’s a, a deep, yeah. Um, practitioner is holding space for this deep emotional integration and permissive process that the client is going through. Um, certainly highly sensory. Um, and yeah, I, like I said, I’ve seen it so many people just benefit from it so much. And, um, Yeah, I I’ve begun to also delve into somatic experiencing, which is similar, but outside of the water developed by Peter Levine.

And, um, I just have found.

Brett Stanley: [00:33:23] Somatic? What does somatic mean?

Christine Ren: [00:33:24] Yeah. So somatic really just means of the body in the body at the visceral felt physical level and the term actions derived from an ancient Greek word called Soma S O M a right. The Somas that prefix is involved in the word somatic as we use it now. Um, but the Greek ancient Greeks really used this to refer, not to the.

They have different term for referring to the body, like a hunk of meat, right? Like just this machinery that moves around and the daily life Soma was the sentience living body and its whole subjective feeling, moving aware sense. So that’s what really what we mean when we say sematic.

Brett Stanley: [00:34:06] Right. Is there a way that, that people who are say getting into underwater modeling or, you know, wanting to be in the underwater realm, is there a way that they can use that modeling in conjunction with these kinds of Watsu theories to, work them selves through some trauma? Or is it, does it need to be guided.

Christine Ren: [00:34:23] You know, an answer to your question is both a yes and no. I’d definitely recommend for most people, people, not all people to have daily, proactive, trauma, integration strategies, and exercises that work for them. They’re unique to them and their situation for any more like minor level every day daily, um, exposures, frictions that come up intense emotions and experiences that patterns. Oh, I think physical activity and having practices in which you’re actually moving energy and particularly right after any kind of exposure to something that activates you, having some way that you don’t then just like. Go into complete sort of stillness or numb, but actually physically respond and move the body to move, move that energy out of the nervous system, which could be like, you need to go for a run or you do like punch pillows.

You need to rip up old clothes. If you’re angry, just really using your physical sentience, moving aware body to, um, You know, cycle that energy out. So it doesn’t just get kind of lodged somewhere and suppressed in the nervous system in the unconscious that’s. I would also say as a, on your own exercise, a big basic new embodiment exercise works really well.

I use this a lot in a very. Be sick. Uh, Phil, this would be a very basic filtered down version of some somatic experiencing and, um, interactive guided imagery stuff that I’m tapping into doing with some of my Watsu clients. Um, so do this process with any symptom, emotion, thought pattern or experience, if you can.

Take some deep breaths, fully relaxed, drop deep into your body and kind of a meditative state, and then begin to create this genuine connection. And. Communication almost with a, a symptom emotion experience, um, is, is really key. You can get in touch with the symptom that you’re experiencing, either the physical sensation, where does that live in your body and, or, um, with right?

Your eyes are closed. You can begin to see a visual wall, right? This might be like a tight, um, Nodded fist sensation in your gut, right? If you’re experienced that of anxiety or fear around something, and then maybe it shows itself to you and it’s mine, your minds. I have like a really just tight iron ball, right?

So at that point, you can really, if you give it your full attention, loving awareness, um, you can begin to actually have a conversation with it just as an inner dialogue, relate to this part of you, um, um, just let it evolve. Evolve from there.

Now the no part of the answer to your question obviously is, um, there’s only so much of you as an individual and so deeply tied to, um, really, really intense experiences of trauma or. Um, long lasting persistent shadows that, that you’ve had, especially from childhood. Um, Um, there’s, there’s only, I think so close that you can get to a lot of that without completely flooding your system being totally overwhelmed and almost retraumatizing yourself through the re-experiencing, which is part of the, why the reason I would just say, move with caution and, um, Intentional and conscious listening if you’re going to tap into any of this on your own.

Um, I think often, if not always, for any kind of larger traumas, you absolutely have to and should be. You’re working with a larger support network around you. In addition to highly skilled and trained professionals.

Brett Stanley: [00:38:10] Yeah.

what are the processes that you’re going through before you’re going to do an underwater performance or a photo shoot?

are there techniques that you’re using to get yourself into the right Headspace?

Christine Ren: [00:38:19] Yeah, absolutely. Um, my approach tends to look like.

Probably about an hour and a half or even two hours before any kind of shoot. Um, I’m certainly doing, trying to do everything in my day. Like. Beginning to slow, right. Just to be more present, to slow down, to sit. And I do a meditation. Um, that’s a huge component, you know, the days in which I’m going to get in the water, the.

Right. Cause the amount of the, the length at which I’m going to be able to hold my breath, the poses I’m going to be able to move into, um, all are really dictated by my mind. So the more I am really focused on, um, centering, calming, um, my mind. And being sure that my body feels safe. Uh Watsu. Like I said, uh, certainly before I get in the deep end, I’ll get in the shallow end and do like an in water meditation, breathing floating, if I’m able, or if there’s someone else there we can do a bit of a partner want to, um, before I hit the water, I definitely am doing above water movement as well.

So. Being sure that your, your body from a physical standpoint is stretched and is not going to cramp in the water. You know, very like a basic 15 to 20 minute yoga routine is often really great for both that, that breathing and the lung capacity, um, warming up the lungs. And then also just being sure that the body is open and receptive and grounded.

Brett Stanley: [00:39:55] And so once you’re in the water, you’re talking about doing it in water meditation. What does that look like? If you’re, if you’re on your own or you’re just floating on your back, are you, do you have some techniques, mental techniques going through?

Christine Ren: [00:40:07] Yeah. Uh, well, one I don’t float. I really wish that I floated because I envy the people who can flirt my I’m very, um, you know, kind of wirey of my, a lot of muscles, some pretty dense. And, uh, there’s like, Only a little bit of my head that floats everything else just immediately syncs. So,

Brett Stanley: [00:40:23] that’s perfect for modeling, so yeah.

Christine Ren: [00:40:25] okay. It is, it is, but for the, in water meditation, typically, if I’m on my own, I will just come into the shallow end of the pool and sort of, um, Have one of my hands on the side of the pool, lean back. Obviously my legs are touching the bottom of the shallow end, but my upper back and head are supported and sort of floating in the water and I’ll just hang there, you know, and breathe.

And maybe. Feel the sense of, okay. My lungs, the air is coming into my lungs, expanding that lifts me up and then they’re coming down. Maybe slowly lowering until my face is underwater. Bringing it up. I’ll typically do that at least for five to 10 minutes in the shallow end. If I, if I can. Yeah. And in the deep end, before we start shooting, um, I’m always like wanting to have a couple minutes to drop down, you know, cause the constraints of the pool you’re working in typically is going to vary.

So having as the model, the performer, having some time to. Get to know, what is this depth, how does this water feel like on my eyes? What is different about this? You know, how much air do I need to have in my lungs for this specific pool and location? Um, I love to have that time to sort of tether before we start, you know, before those kinds start firing.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:47] exactly. So you’re calibrating to that, to that location

Christine Ren: [00:41:50] Yes. Yes.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:52] and speaking of location. So you’ve kind of done a lot of stuff. You’ve traveled quite a lot with your workshops and with your work. Are there some places in the world that you’ve, that you’ve just loved, um, shooting in and, and performing it?

Christine Ren: [00:42:04] Yeah, that’s such a good question. Um, have been a lot of places, really anything that is. Open water, open ocean water that is and toasty, like super warm is my go to, so they’ve been out to Kotel Thailand a couple of times. It seems to have quite a special, um, draw for me, got out to the Maldives. Um, With Kiarra, Salamoni an underwater photographer contact based on Hawaii a couple of years ago.

And that was just super magical. Blue water, the color blues and shades of blues. I just had never, could it ever been imagined in my dreams? Um,


Brett Stanley: [00:42:43] sure. And

then Kiarra is amazing too. And I know you’ve done some amazing work with her.

Christine Ren: [00:42:48] She has amazing the way she lights is. Um, you know, so like, you know, Renaissance, Italian painting type of light, you know, she makes you a theorial and glow, which is really fun.

Brett Stanley: [00:42:58] she does. Somehow. She makes her models glow from the inside. It’s amazing.

Christine Ren: [00:43:02] It’s really cool. Um, yeah, but those, those, those certainly strike me for highlights. Um, I remember we did, I did a trip in this notation this a year and a half ago.

All the dates run together for me, but,


that was, uh, That water is both amazing and challenging. Um, just the, the cold of that, you know, was, uh, super, super rough for me. That’s my Achilles heel. You know, I could survive in the desert, you know, probably out survive everyone in the desert or the, the, the highest heat, but you throw me in cold water and I’m,

Brett Stanley: [00:43:34] and you’re done.

Christine Ren: [00:43:35] I’m pretty done.

I last, only a couple of minutes.

Brett Stanley: [00:43:39] And that, I think that is a challenge for a lot of underwater models. Is, is that a lot of places that we, we would be shooting? Uh, it, not that warm. You know, like the, a ties at like 70 something degrees, um, which is like below 20 Celsius. Um, whereas, you know, somewhere like Thailand or, um, hot Springs, you know, they’re the only places are you going to get the warm, the warmer waters, which make you more relaxed?

Christine Ren: [00:44:04] Yeah, totally. And I think as for me, it’s interesting, you know, because coming from a, like a, you know, this was many years ago now at this point, but a ballet background in a dance performance background, you know, um, There’s very specific constraints in which the performer in that capacity will be asked to ask an expected to perform, right?

Like if you asked a ballerina with her Pointe shoes to get like on concrete, she, you know, they look at you like you’re crazy. No. Um, but, um, yeah, I, I would love to see moving forward, you know, It’s interesting to me that we haven’t yet fully, I think, developed in an underwater performance as an, as an art form at the level yet of, of some other art forms, performance art forms to be like, well, cold water.

That means you’re going to need, you know, some kind of insulation, you know, or, or heat, or if you’re out in the open ocean. Um, you know, we, we need to be adding weights, you know, have a weight, integrated something, just, just things that as I moved through various, um, shoots and locations, I began to sort of earmark for myself as, Oh, that’d be really cool if I could, I could make that.

And you know, I carry around all of these designs. I don’t, um, Always have the ability to make them myself, but you know, which is why I’m always in partnership with the makers and the shakers that actually can. So,

Brett Stanley: [00:45:29] Yeah. I mean, that’s an interesting point is there’s the, the outfits and the, you know, the costumes that are being designed that, you know, a lot of times, if we’re dealing with, uh, open water and you’re dealing with salt water, you’re more buoyant because of that salt water, which means you need more weight to get you down.

But if you’re wearing a skimpy outfit, Where’s that weight. Can it go, you know, like it’s, it’s not as simple as it might seem. And so I guess what you’re saying is, you know, having to pivot and having to kind of almost engineer your own solutions for these things

Christine Ren: [00:46:01] Yeah. Yeah, to be able to design for them. The specific constraints. Right. I hate to say it, like I said, I’ve hit places like, like points like that, where I’m like, Hey, we’re, , it’s literally like high sixties and I’m in this time and expected to be in this like really thin little thing. And, um, you know, obviously the image has always turned out great.

But, um, like I said, coming from a performance world in a very different vein where things like that were just be a complete, no fly, and then not. Expected. Um, yeah, certainly leads me into thinking of the ways in which I can best moving forward, you know, engineer, um, use my ingenuity to find, you know, work around solutions.

But yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, I, I hope in the world we’re moving into and towards that, I will even still be able to get around the world and to beautiful locations and places like that. But, um, yeah, it’s interesting and uncertain times for sure.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:00] Oh, absolutely. And so, how was the recent times affected you as a, has it changed the way you’ve been working? Have you been able to work, um, during the lockdown.

Christine Ren: [00:47:08] Yeah. I mean, certainly if you’re not, I’m not living, I’m not living in a place like Hawaii or somewhere where I have direct access to. A very large warm, you know, body of water ocean, and that you can’t really close. Um, you know, working primarily out of pools, even if those are private homeowner pools or public pools and, you know, locked down, hidden those closed.

Even the private homeowners and friends that I know with pools was, you know, not no longer really interested at open for having me come by and chain or do a shoot. Um, So it’s been really difficult in that regard, you know, and everything just had to be put on pause and you had to step back and even from the Watsu therapy, which was so sad and frustrating for me, because I felt it was probably one of the most profound.

Li beneficial and like things and gift that I could give to people in community at this time. But, um, yeah, everything really just closed and shut down. Uh, now we’re beginning to open up. Obviously I’m able to at least access some, some private pools and begin to chain and doing some shoots actually this week.

Uh, and, and next weekend around, you know, campaign around the emotional processing and aspects of quarantine, um, which will be cool.

Yeah. It’s timely, a different, thing than the ocean conservation stuff, but just sort of, um, the direction I’ll be moving. I hope with the work, I don’t know, moving forward, um, um, that we’ll really be highly actively pursuing and, and marketing, you know, more.

Destination retreats and things like that. I don’t know how possible travel and location, um, shoots on location shoots will, will be there’s a lot yet to be determined in that regard. But for me, at least I feel confident enough that you know, this next deeper layer of what I want to do with Mendota content creation and imagery, you know, just exploring in general deeper themes of.

human psychology and grief, fluffs love the vision of humanity that instills hope and how we come together and care and support. Um, I believe I’ll still be able to, um, have access to what I need to create in that vein. So for me, that’s yeah. That’s there’s positives for sure.

Brett Stanley: [00:49:27] Yeah. And I think the underwater medium, you know, it lends itself to such, emotional issues as well. It it’s such a, I think people. Relate to it in, in ways that you can’t, uh, outside of water, I think it gives everything, um, uh, sort of, uh, a surreal bent, which means that people can kind of grasp it a little easier, I think, but that’s

Christine Ren: [00:49:48] Yeah, no, I agree completely. I think art in general can be a really powerful and actually often underestimated healing catalyst, right? This, this way in which it, it allows individuals to experience and feel, um, And, you know, our unconscious, unconscious part of our mind really speaks visuals. It, that part of us evolved, pre-language, before, you know, conscious, conscious mind and faculty’s evolved, and we began to speak and use logic, um, So I, yeah, I think, and there’s something about water for your a hundred percent, right?

Something about underwater that, um, just really adds that added emotional fluid, a cereal primal. That’s such a good word. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:50:32] And are there places that you get inspiration from, like, where are you, where are you looking for inspiration in terms of your, of your content and your direction?

Christine Ren: [00:50:43] Yeah. Um, you know, for me right now, if you’d asked me this years ago, I would have probably pointed to like dark beauty magazine and, you know, Brett Stanley’s Instagram and show Walsh’s Instagram and, you know, lots of outside sources. Right. And also obviously reading through science, ocean conservation, um, You know, journals that are out there, science literature, that’s where a lot of my inspiration came from.

And right now the majority of my inspiration is coming from inside. Right. That’s what, the impetus around this, um, underwater series related to quarantine, right? Feelings of isolation, loss, um, restriction, constriction, longing, um, and, and really just actually like close if you close your eyes and call up.

That emotion. Um, you can tie these, these feelings to a part of the body. Even it’s like sensations in the body and there’s usually tied to the emotion and the sensation or location in the body that, that lives for me, there’s usually an image. There’s usually a visual wall that will come up. Right.

There’s that part of your mind? That’s saying this is how I would say. Speak to you. This is how I communicate to you. So a lot of my inspiration right now is coming from that. And just in general, how do I use art for healing and to just show humans? You know, I think that we’re, at the end of the day, we are wired for love and empathy and to care and to.

Hold each other and come together and I just want my next stages of whatever I’m making to convey that. So, yeah. Long story short, I guess my inspiration is coming from inside right now. So

Brett Stanley: [00:52:27] Yeah, just no, that’s great. Yeah. I mean, I don’t think a lot of people would, would say that initially. I think a lot of people in myself included, you know, we take inspiration from what we see and the influences that we have in the world, but taking it from me eternally, I think is, you know, there’s a well of things in there to inspire you.

So yeah,

Christine Ren: [00:52:46] Yeah, well, there’s a lot to see inside. Like really, if you actually close your close your eyes and tap in deeply enough, there’s, there’s this language of visuals that, you know, part parts of you are wired to speak. And so, yeah, like I said, I’m, I’m kind of looking at those it’s interesting.

Brett Stanley: [00:53:05] Yeah. Well, I mean, that, that to me is, is great because that’s what I tend to teach my clients is that once you are under the water, it’s all about you. It’s all about what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking. You know, I cannot control you once you’re under there. I can’t direct you. It’s what’s inside of you.

It’s going to come out through these images. And so, you know, give in to these things, let go of stuff, you know, let those visual images inside you drive the poses that you do because where else are you going to get that inspiration from?

Christine Ren: [00:53:39] yeah, a hundred percent. Absolutely. Well, that’s big part of why I’ve always loved working with you. So a hundred percent, not everyone works that way, which is okay. You know, but it’s nice to find collaborators to create with. That, you know, um, kind of share a similar process. I think sometimes that makes it a little, a little more seamless.

Brett Stanley: [00:53:58] Absolutely. Yeah. And I love have loved working with you too. It’s been great. Christine. It’s been awesome. Having a chat with you. It’s been great to get an idea of what your processes are and how you, how you work into creating this amazing content. So thanks very much for sharing.

Christine Ren: [00:54:13] Thank you so much for having me. It was beautiful.

Brett Stanley: [00:54:15] Great. We’ll speak to you soon.

Christine Ren: [00:54:17] All right. Thanks man.

Support The Podcast


Buy The Underwater Podcast merchandise and 25% of profits will go to keeping our oceans clean with Project AWARE.

Subscribe for Updates

* indicates required