Mindfulness Lessons From a Recovery Asana Junkie (Part 1): Inner stillness is the key to outer strength

“Inner stillness is the key to outer strength”

13 years ago I would have (internally) rolled my eyes at that quote. I was a devout “Yogini,” or rather, “Asana Junkie,” hitting the mat 4-6 days a week and sometimes taking 2 classes in a row (3 hours!). To me, outer strength was outer strength and Yoga was just another workout for me. Westernized Yoga can be very competitive; I never competed with anyone else in the room, but I did compete with myself. My Drishti (focus) was 100% on me. Drishti is a technique of focusing one’s mind on a specific point so as to eventually see our own truth and sense our connection to everything and everyone around us. We are all one. We are all Divine – and THAT is actually what Yoga is supposed to be about.

FYI, the word Yoga, literally means Unity.

I can’t say that my Drishti back then was bringing me closer to anyone other than maybe my chiropractor. Like many yogis-in-training, I mistook the technique for the goal. I could stare down a point on my mat for my 3 hour classes no problem because I was there to sweat… and nothing could get between me and my workout.

Flash forward 13 years and I realize my Drishti HAS actually taught me a lot about connection. Through practicing inner stillness (AKA meditation) I am able to observe my opinions, and even prejudices that prevent me from seeing and feeling unified with others.

I am by nature an introvert and get my batteries recharged from solo time, but I also LOVE spending time with strong women. Women with their own ideas and a different perspective about our world (hence the creation of SPL retreats ;)
Sometimes our personalities mesh and sometimes they don’t. It is when they don’t (mesh) that it helps to get quiet. And what I mean by get quiet, is meditate.

My favorite description of Drishti is: To see past our outer differences to finally see our inner essence or truth.

Where does your mind go when you do not agree with someone’s opinions or actions? Do you think ugly things or believe that you are better than that person? What is your current truth?

Are you even aware of that little voice in your head?

As a psychology and sociology major I geek out on discovering why people are who they are, and do what they do. Through my own journey of self-discovery, my greatest lessons have been found not by analyzing others, but by becoming aware of my own emotions and reactions (or non-reactions) to people and situations.

So here are two simple steps towards Unity.

1. Awareness
Awareness of our own thoughts.

2. Acceptance.
Acceptance of our differences.

Both can be attained through getting quiet. Focusing on one point (Drishti) whether that be a candle light, or just your breath. The actual point of meditation is not clear your mind but to notice when you get distracted and bring yourself back to your Drishti. Start with 5 minutes and work up from there. You may find that you actually start to crave meditation time!

I now see that inner stillness IS actually the key to outer strength. Not necessarily physical strength, but more importantly STRENGTH OF CHARACTER. Humility, compassion, and patience can bring us together. Because we ARE actually all one.

Be Your Own Guru: What I learned from spending 3 days with Laird Hamilton, Gabby Reece, and Brian Mackenzie.

Laird Hamilton, Gabby Reece and Brian Mackenzie are legends in the extreme sport biz. They recently combined forces and created XPTlife, a complete fitness-lifestyle program that includes bodyweight, gym and water workouts, combined with breathing and active recovery methods. By the way, XPT stands for Extreme Performance Training and these three walk their talk. Laird is most known for surfing giant waves (think 50 to 100 foot monsters), but is also an innovator of many board sports – if you have ever been on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) you can thank Laird for that. His wife Gabby is a former professional beach volleyball player and an incredible role model for healthy living. Brian is the head program director for XPT and a world-renowned strength and conditioning coach.

Last week I had the the pleasure of helping out Laird, Gabby and Brian, and the entire XPTlife team during their inaugural XPT Experience Retreat here in Punta Mita, Mexico! Three days immersed in outdoor fitness, and body and mind wellness techniques – You can bet that I was a kid in a candy store. I soaked up every moment and have already incorporated some of their training principles into my routine.
Here are my 5 big takeaways from the experience:

1. Change is the only constant – The XPT Experience days are full. No moment is the same as the last. You begin with breathing, then pool workouts, strength class, ice plunge, hot saunas, and my beach bootcamp thrown in just for fun! When I began my fitness career, I taught 12 Taebo classes a week for 2 years straight. Every kick, every punch. I did not know how to talk and teach, I could only show (talk) and teach. My body broke and at 24 was over-trained and had constant sciatic nerve shocks running down both legs, chronic back pain, and insomnia. Not awesome. It wasn’t until I started strength training, mountain biking and trail running that I actually began to feel stronger in my body. Today, I am always throwing “out of the box” drills at my students and encouraging my clients to keep mixing up their movements and their workouts. You do not necessarily need to jump in an ice bath (although you may like it – see #2), but try using your less dominant hand to unload the groceries or brush your teeth! Just constantly mix it up!

2. Shock your system – Our society is conditioned for comfort. We get hot and we put on the AC. Two hours post-lunch and we are hangry for a snack. I joke that the reason my husband moved us down to Mexico was so he wouldn’t have to listen to me complain about how ‘cold’ I was all the time. Guest speaker, Dr. Andy Galpin explained that because we are always seeking (and finding) comfort our bodies have actually lost the ability to adapt. You know those people who obesessively shun carbs and now get sick after eating one chip? That is what he is talking about. XPT’s way of shocking the system is the infamous ice bath followed by the not-so-infamous hot sauna. There are physiological benefits to thermal contrast therapy such as blood and lymph circulation, but what we actually got to experience was overcoming something really, really, really uncomfortable. period. During my stage-racing days I had some painful and desperate moments (imagine 10+ hours on a bike saddle) but three minutes being a human slushy was infinitely harder. But I did survive.

3. Learn to breathe – You can live a month or more without food. A week without water, but only a few minutes without air. XPT’s Brian Mackenzie lead us through breath work every morning, either before or after our group workouts. Breath work is something I have toyed with since college, when my (slightly evolved) boyfriend introduced me to Qi Gong breathing techniques. Later I was inspired to start the practice of nasal breathing by performance breath coach Ed Harrold, and spent hours nasal breathing while training for MTB stage races. Brian too has taken different techniques and incorporated them into his classes. What I love is that he gives you different tools and encourages you to find your own practice. One morning, Laird said – “breathe until you see yourself.” I love that. We spend so much of our days looking outside of ourselves. Breath work, at the very least, will help you to get mentally present.       Bottom line – if you think you know how to breathe, you are wrong. Check out some of their breathing videos at:

4. Narrow your focus – So what do you do when you are swimming across a pool with weights while holding your breath? You find calm anywhere you can. Playing in the water holding dumbbells can be very scary for some. The uncertainty causes your breath and heart rate to speed up, and as a result you feel stressed. Gabby’s tip was to ‘narrow your focus’ – literally squint your eyes, because even the energy of looking around uses up valuable oxygen. Seriously. I like this tip and think this can be applied to our day to day life. If you have too many thoughts running around in your head and start to feel a little stressed, just narrow your focus. Pick one thing, knock it out and move on. Calm will follow.

5. Be your own guru – Gabby, Laird, and Brian are constantly researching and learning from the best in the business and openly share what they know. Each incorporates optimal wellness practices into their lives but are flexible and do not obsess about it (amen). They are continually evolving and admit that what they might be teaching in five years may be totally different than today. They also stressed that not every technique is going to work for every person. My advice? Instead of trying your BBF’s new diet or following your gym’s cookie cutter program, try waking up every day and tuning into how you FEEL. What does your body need today in terms of nutrition, movement and rest? Use your intuition. Wellness is not set in stone. Experiment with what makes you feel good, strong, energetic. Be your own guru.

The experience ultimately validated my own training/life principles and gave me more confidence in practices I always hope to inspire in others: Be open to learning new concepts, mix it up, get outdoors and play outside your comfort zone.

Laird told us a saying that they have in Hawaii, “It’s not who you are, but how are you.” I can tell you that besides being uber athletes, these three are kind, passionate and the real deal. If you get a chance to attend one of their workshops or one of their XPTlife Experiences, you will not be disappointed!

Fighting Fear ~ Building Confidence with Passion and Action!

New Year’s 1996, I moved up to Marin to be a Taebo instructor. I was thrilled that I was to be one of only 3 Taebo instructors outside of Billy Blank’s studio in Hollywood. I was mentored by Will Yun Lee.. yeah that guy from Wolverine. I had only been doing Taebo for 3 months and I immediately knew I didn’t want to be just another aerobics instructor. I wanted to really know the punches and kicks that I would be teaching. I wanted to be like Will. He was incredibly confident, super skilled, and just looked bad ass… who wouldn’t want to be like him? I trained in a garage-turned-gym for 3 months straight. Hours and hours everyday – kicking, kicking, kicking, and punching. I had a goal and knew I was going to be introducing Taebo to the Bay Area. Oh, did I mention, I had never done martial arts, taught anything in my life, and was PAINFULLY shy. Like, barely-look-you-in-the-eye, shy?

I rehearsed that first class probably 30-40 times and was still a nervous wreck. I had to throw up twice before even entering the group exercise room. I stumble up to the front of the class and looked out at the 60+ people and could barely introduce myself. I was shaking so much that when I got in to my fighting stance to begin demonstrating the punches, my back ankle was shaking uncontrollably. I was terrified, and to make matters worse when I began to explain the stance and punching techniques, my voice would crack. Did I want to run and hide and never be seen in that gym again? – For sure I did. But instead, I raised my voice, because I noticed that when I raised my voice it would not crack. I also started demonstrating the movements with much more emphasis – crazy big and powerful, to hide the fact that I was shaking. After that, it was like an out of body experience. I shouted like a drill sergeant, ran around the room getting in people’s faces. Kicked higher than I ever thought possible and punched so hard I probably could have knocked someone out. I am sure I made mistakes, but nobody noticed and after class people just raved about my teaching and how it was the best class they had ever taken! I was on a high – I wish I could say for days, but I had to teach my second class the next morning, 14 hours later. And the throwing up/voice cracking/body shaking-to-drill sergeant routine started all over again. And that routine lasted 12 classes a week for 6 months until I finally wasn’t panic-stricken. So what kept me coming back day after day, class after class? Passion. Passion for exercise and sharing with others.
20 years later, I have taught over 10,000 classes – from cardio kickbox to pilates. I have trained clients in their homes, offices and abroad, and lead fitness retreats through my company SweatPlayLive. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had decided, way back then, that teaching that first class was just too scary. It is one of those “sliding door” moments. I chose to face my fear and it has brought me here to you, with Sweat Play Live and also Move Your Asana®. On Saturday, that decision is taking me Rancho La Puerta, the #1 Fitness Spa in the world, to guest instruct for the week; and then to Portugal to train on a road cycling trip.
You have heard it before – “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” YOUR desire HAS to be stronger than your fear. My desire to be a Taebo instructor outweighed my fear of failure, even if just barely. It was enough for me to train and endure that first class. Nobody is born with confidence. Everyone you see exuding mass confidence in every situation practiced it until it became a habit. Until that habit became part of who they are. So fake it until you become it! Even Beyonce says she has to turn into Sasha Fierce to get herself onstage. When you feel fear – TAKE ACTION! It is the first step towards building confidence – “Action kills Fear.” Maybe at first you too will need to “pretend” to be confident, strong, and sure of yourself.

By practicing confidence you make it a habit and as we all know, practice makes permanent!