We continue our micro-series on looking at the foundational pieces that contribute to living more happily in our bodies. In this case, I speak with Kate Hanley about how mindfulness- specifically small, consistent acts of mindfulness- can help us to stay healthier both physically and mentally. Kate is the founder of Ms. Mindbody, a wellness journalist, yoga teacher, coach, and the author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide and The 28 Days Lighter Diet (which she co-authored with Ellen Barrett).
I can tell you from my heart that had I been introduced to a mindfulness practice when I was younger I would have headed off a whole lot of physical pain and dysfunction at the pass... here's Kate to talk about how to create your practice. (And you can also skim via the transcript below)
:58 On FFF we talk a lot about healing from and avoiding chronic pain through the “how does this thing we live in actually work?” lens, but there's a foundational piece about how do we notice this thing we live in? What role does mindfulness play in avoiding and healing from injury and aging well, etc?
2:17 I ask her to talk about what she means by “accessing the inner Yoda”.
2:36 [Kate from here forward unless noted] That’s how I like to talk about our intuition or wisdom. It’s easy to go straight into pan flute woo woo land from there- but talking about it as your inner Yoda keeps it light. We all have a wisdom that lives deep in our body. The problem with it is that it speaks in whispers and cryptically, kind of like Yoda, so if you’re running around all the time and doing 3 things at once you’re never going to hear it.
3:39 That’s why I’m an advocate of any kind of mind body practice, which I define as anything that gets your body and mind working on the same task. So it could be something like yoga or meditation, but Einstein said he did his best thinking when he was shaving and I would argue that that was his mind body practice.
4:13 Any time you are doing something physical that requires your mind’s concentration, it’s like giving a puppy a chew toy if your mind is a puppy in this scenario. The puppy is running around everywhere, and then you give it something to concentrate on and everything gets quieter. Then Yoda gets a megaphone.
4:56 [me] I ask about the theme of one of her recent Kate’s Yoga Playhouse events- “Space: The Final Frontier.” About making space in our lives.
5:23 I talk to busy people about simple yet profound ways to slow down and get quieter and one of the things I hear all the time is, “I just don’t have time”. When you do the thing that quiets you first, it makes space. It makes time. You make space before you do your 20 item to do list. But if you’ve done the most important thing first you get energized and it’s like, “What else is possible! Let’s go!”
6:43 But it does relate to the body as well. Our body is such a reflection of our mind. If we’re weighted down and closed off that’s how we feel in our mind too. That’s why I’m a fan of yoga- it does make space in the body. It does make you more flexible. Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough space and time.
7:32 [me] I talk about my birth injury and growing up with chronic pain and when you grow up that way you develop a practice of not noticing yourself because it’s too uncomfortable to tune into that. But had I been introduced to mindfulness practice back then, well it really does head a lot of things off at the pass. My path was rock bottom- not being able to open my mouth or eat solid food or turn my head, etc. So I offer this to people who are trying to live best in their own bodies- it’s better to avoid rock bottom. It’s easier to get out of holes if you don’t dig them for 20 years. and mindfulness creates the space to make changes earlier.
9:02 [Kate] It’s really about becoming more aware right now this moment. It’s literally what do I notice right now? And awareness is always the first step to changing a habit. You can’t know you have a habit if you don’t notice it. There’s a scientific principle that the simple act of observing a reaction changes the outcome. Allowing yourself to see automatically begins the process of change.
10:13 [me] I mention Grace Bell’s interview and how if you change the direction of your ship by a couple of degrees it winds up at a totally different place.
10:37 [Kate] And a big piece of it too is trusting that something as simple could have a massive benefit. And that’s why I incorporated coaching into my work. You can tell yourself that 2 minutes of mindfulness counts, but on a subconscious level you feel like you can’t really see how it is going to get you where you’re going.
12:35 One of my favorite quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh is: “When we take good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future.” All you need to do is take care of yourself right now. You don’t even need to think about the future, it takes care of itself.
13:32 [me] Tell us a little more about how you got into mindfulness, yoga, and coaching.
13:35 I was working at a stock broker firm in San Francisco through a temp agency and I was miserable. I felt like I was in jail everyday. I was watching TV and I ran across the movie Midnight Express which is about the young American man who smuggled drugs and got put into Turkish prison. Subconsciously I could identify with the feeling of being in prison. And there is one scene where they are doing yoga and I had never seen anyone move like that before. And the look on their faces was that they were totally free. So I had this moment where I thought if that can help them, it can probably help me.
15:12 I was in this limited mentality where I didn’t think I could go to the one yoga time slot at my gym. And so, oh, poor me, I can’t go to yoga class.
15:49 One day I loaned my car to a friend and it got rear-ended. Nobody got hurt but the car was totaled and got a check for $11,000 for my car and I quit my job! And the first thing I did was go to yoga. It was a huge awakening for me and that was in 1995.
16:20 I used to use yoga as an antidote to work for years- work with a little bit of yoga. But gradually the scale shifted so I was doing more and more yoga and I ended up doing my teacher training and quit my job because I thought I wanted to be a yoga teacher, but the training gave me the courage to do what I always wanted to do which was write, so I created Ms. Mind Body and became a journalist.
16:50 And then I had 2 kids in 2 years. After my first child I pretty much kept it up, and then I had my second and I was completely overwhelmed and was like, “I can’t do anything that isn’t related to keeping these kids alive!” and I quit everything I did- yoga, mindfulness- cold turkey and then the shit really hit the fan. Things got so much worse.
17:45 It showed up in every part of my life- my weight, my work, my relationship, everything. And the way I found my way back in was to meditate while I was nursing my son. And it was simple. I would count my breath to 10 and then start again at 1. It was maybe 10 minutes a night and I couldn’t believe how much it started to change things. I’ve always been an advocate for simple practices, I wrote my first book The Anywhere Anytime Chill Guide when I was pregnant with my daughter. Oh my how we teach what we need to learn!
18:36 I really believe it doesn’t matter what your practice looks like as long as it’s consistent. Do not discount the power of tiny things.
19:31 [me] I have clients ask me when I give them self-care stuff to do, “what do I have to do? 40 minutes a day?” and I tell them if they can do this for 90 seconds a day, most days, you are going to notice a radical difference. And we have trouble building in new habits which is why I love what you did- you combined it with something you already do. You knew you were going to put your son to bed, and so you combined it with that. And we live in a culture that loves rapid, radical results, which is the whole reason the show The Biggest Loser exists which is my nemesis- let’s just watch extreme, inhuman measures get people to this extreme, really fast change. When tiny, kind, gradual, but consistent measures can make radical differences. It’s not going to happen overnight, but also, it’s kind of going to happen overnight!
20:47 [Kate] Yes. It’s going to feel like that at some point. One day you’re going to wake up and be like, “Wow! When did that happen!” And it’s really hard to grasp how ingrained that “gotta go for it big time!” Thing is in our culture. It’s just going to set you up to not do it. Who is going to spend 40 minutes a day? And it comes back to- do you really believe you can do something simple consistently for yourself and have it pay off? That’s what’s behind the whole “totally revamp yourself, go workout til you puke!” stuff comes from. We think we need to do that to have change.
22:30 So when you do start to do that stuff not only do you benefit, but you model it for other people in a really subtle energetic day. You awaken the possibility in their mind.
23:00 [me] Maybe I don’t need to add more suffering to the suffering equation!
23:04 So it becomes important to do for yourself, because we’re not intended to be walking around feeling like crap all the time. But it is also important for the people you come into contact with. I work with a lot of moms and they ask is it selfish that they start doing the things they want to do and I ask them, “Is it selfish to teach by example to your kids that they can do things to take care of themselves?”
23:30 [me] Yeah I have a friend who is having her first baby in spring and so she’s asking me for advice and I had to remember back 7 years... but what I ultimately said is that her self-care is the most important thing. Our kids learn from watching how we live and experience our lives and so we can model self-care.
24:00 I talk about Kate’s projects: her wonderful blog Ms. Mindbody, her one day Kate’s Yoga Playhouse events which combine yoga and coaching work, and her newest book which has just been released, the 28 Days Lighter Diet with Ellen Barrett.
27:32 [Kate] It’s about syncing your activities- your fitness, your eating, lifestyle, wellness pursuits, etc to your cycle. As women we are not the same from week to week, we have different requirements. So it’s good to know when to go for it and when to rest. And we weave in a lot of mindfulness and yoga and wisdom from Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. We also advocate for tracking your cycle so I’ve been doing that and it’s really fascinating how predictable it can be. I know when I tell my kids it’s time to brush their teeth and go to bed and they scream and run away and I start shooting white hot rage daggers at them that I’m within hours of starting my next cycle.
29:42 Kate says some nice things about her Rolfing series that she did with me many years ago : )