Kate Hanley Interview


Kate_Hanley_headshotWe 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 : )

Jill Miller Interview


JM_Headshot_Seated_Crop1_largerI am thoroughly delighted and honored to introduce you all to one of my teachers, Jill Miller. Jill is the creator of Yoga Tune Up® and the co-founder (with her husband) of Tune Up Fitness Worldwide®. In our interview we talk about the origins of her work, her brilliant case study for The Fascia Research Congress, why she retires yoga poses, and much more.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all the good that her work has brought to my body and my life, and so naturally I highly recommend that you check it out for yourself. That said, no one talks about it better than Jill, so you can check out her interview below (with the transcript for skimming below that). And if you're curious what my favorite Yoga Tune Up goodies are, I covered that in last week's DIY Friday Ode to Yoga Tune Up. 


1:14 In her own words Jill describes Yoga Tune Up. It works to address the 3 P’s: pain, posture, and performance. No matter what your “thing” is it helps you to live better in your body.

2:12 A combination of conscious corrective exercise and self care tools (the therapy balls) help people to find and heal their body blind spots, which are the catalysts for injuries.

4:38 You have to disassemble your movement to see where you’re broken. It’s amazing to find out where you’ve gone blind, deaf, or dumb to yourself. It’s a wonderful journey. I [Jill] work with a lot of people who are in deep pain conditions.

5:45 Thank God for Western medicine, I [Jill] don’t hate doctors, but movement medicine is very potent and it works. More often than not people get the runaround and are not given the opportunity to first fix how they’re moving before they are putting bandaids on it with medications or with surgery.

6:10 Jill tells the story of her mother who spent 5 months being given the runaround. When she had nerve pain down her arm, she was first put on a cancer medication for a skin condition, and it took that long (5 months) for them to give her an MRI to find stenosis in her neck. In her first session of physical therapy she felt better

8:18 We can interrupt the movement patterns that lead to that kind of pain by making a better choice now in how we’re moving.

8:54 Jill tells the story of how and why she began practicing yoga at age 11 to cope with a very stressful childhood

9:58 How the Jane Fonda workout and the Raquel Welch yoga video were her way in to falling in love with movement, since she began as a very sedentary kid who was really out of touch with her body.

10:46 Fast forward to college where Jill was studying dance and movement and studying shiatsu on the side. She found her way to the Omega Institute and her teacher and mentor, Glenn Black at age 19.

11:31 Glenn Black specializes in human movement and does a hands on therapeutic modality called Body Tuning, which is a physical therapy approach created by Shmuel Tatz who is based in NYC.

12:08 Her early yoga training with Glenn Black involved a lot of hands on bodywork from him, to manipulate the tissues manually so that people’s movement could change.

13:00 Seeing how soft tissue work was intertwined with your physical practice from this early age influenced her development of Yoga Tune Up therapy balls and their various derivatives

14:11 Equinox fitness clubs is now rolling out her therapy ball program (heh heh pun intended) which she has created for them

14:40 I mention that I don’t know if I would be able to continue practicing at the volume that I do as a Rolfing practitioner without YTU and the therapy balls in my life.

16:03 There are techniques that change you neurologically. There are techniques that decohere soft tissues. This doesn’t have to be the domain just behind a clinicians door. These are things anyone can do for themselves to help themselves heal.

16:53 You are not off limits to yourself. It’s not their [the clinicians] right to touch you exclusively. This is true empowerment

17:44 Jill was the only yoga teacher ever to present at the Fascia Research Congress, which she did in 2012.

18:17 Jill tells the story of her amazing case study for the Fascia Research Congress. It detailed her work with a client who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease which is a nerve wasting disease in which one loses function in the hands, forearms, lower legs, feet, etc. Many people with this disease have multiple surgeries.

19:12 When he began working with Jill he came to her in deep emotional duress, and was on the highest doses of narcotic painkillers, sleep medication, anti-anxiety medication, and urinary control medication, and was in absolute agony at age 40. Over the course of the next 4 years he decided to stop wearing his leg braces. He can now lace up his own shoes. He was told he would never be able to use his opposable thumb, but he can pick up pennies now, he can button up his shirt. And perhaps most astonishingly, he is off the narcotic painkillers.

22:08 This gentleman, the subject of her case study, now knows that he can help himself instead of having to take more medication. He knows how to quell his nervous system and to help his physical state so that he is no longer dependant on medication.

22:53 Movement medicine is free socialized medicine. It’s so easy to make change in your body! Jill gives her universal cues for everyone, in 4 seconds, no equipment required, to have a “quick fix” for themselves.

23:36 If my [Jill’s] clients, who are “crippled” for lack of a better word can get better, than Joe Schmoe and Jane Schmoe can do it. It’s never too late to regenerate your body, it’s built for change. You just have to give it some discipline and apply our best conscious will.

25:15 Jill discusses her practice of retiring yoga poses

25:42 I [Jill] used to think I was hypermobile. I was always the demo girl in classes showing how people could get their foot all the way up to their forehead. I am a fanatic and I am obsessive, and that is a deadly combo when you focus on improving joint range of motion, because I had blown past my sense mechanism, and that’s one of the reasons why I focus so much on proprioception. Because I had blown myself so wide open to the degree that I couldn’t sense myself. I couldn’t straighten my knees, I couldn’t get out of bed without extreme amounts of pain, and I had done it to myself. I didn’t realize the practice was hurting me.

27:51 There are many yoga poses I [Jill] simply don’t do anymore because I feel that they are full of jeopardy for the body. I also want to be an example to my students. There are a lot of poses that are creating massive structural damage, and I think that there is a cover up going on, because there are many teachers of a certain age, over age 50 or 60 or so, who are having many surgeries, hip replacements, spinal surgeries, and neck surgeries.

28:29 The myth is that if you are watching yourself breathe, you can’t possibly get hurt. Which is not true. Your ability to breathe in and out is not the only measurement of if you are doing damage to yourself. It’s a great concentration tool, but we need to help our students understand how they’re holding themselves all the time, to be able to better assess what is healthy for them.

29:13 Many poses blow past the safety zone without people realizing it. And whether you can take deep ujjayi breaths there is not going to tell you if that pose is precipitating thinning of the tissue in your joints which  5 years or 10 years down the road is going to cause trouble.

30:06 Doing these extreme poses doesn’t give me pleasure anymore. What gives me pleasure is to have my head over my rib cage and my rib cage over my pelvis and to be able to respect my body and how I respond. Give that a chance, to be as impeccable as possible, and see how that follows you into the rest of your movement.


It's a Dance, Not a Grind

4450506813_fa80eaaab7_oOne of my new favorite mantras is, “It’s a dance, not a grind.” I’m taking it out of Seth Godin’s most recent book, The Icarus Deception, and he uses it to describe a new way of looking at an overfull work life, the constant flow of emails, projects, etc. He proposes that instead of feeling exhausted and worn down, one can approach it differently and feel playful and excited by it. I use it to remind myself of both a new view on the inbox, but also how I feel about physical “rehabilitation” for lack of a better word. Because I got into this field after my own broken body had healed from the reverberations of a birth injury, people will often ask me if I’m “better” now. No doubt because they want some hope that they can “get better” too. And my answer is always, “Yes. And…” It’s a tricky thing to answer because besides wanting some hope, there is a, well I wouldn’t exactly call it a darker side to the “are you better now?” question, but I would say it reveals our weird cultural way of viewing the world. If I were to answer by saying, “Yes I feel much, much better but it’s always an unfolding process.” For many that will deflate them as they think, “Ugh! I’ll never be ‘done’!”

But there really is no “done” until we die, and assuming that’s not what you’re hoping for, let’s instead clarify that maybe the goal isn’t to “get better” so that we can totally forget that we have bodies, resume being thoroughly inattentive to them,  and just go comfortably sit on the couch some more.  As long as we’re alive we have bodies, and those bodies are… did I mention, they’re alive!? Meaning, every microsecond of every day they are responding to your environment, the quality of your movement, alignment, food, everything? So we always need to be watching our input into these body things. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, right?

For me the process has been slow, ongoing and delightful (yes those three words can coexist). Even after my Rolfing® series, when I had resolved my pain and was studying to be a Rolfing practitioner, I was still practically allergic to most movement and in particular yoga classes. When at the Rolf Institute all of my supple and athletic classmates would ask me if I wanted to come along I would politely bow out, hiding my terror of reliving my brief time in ballet classes as a child where I was the girl with the weird body among my bendier youths.

Growing up I was a pretty non-physical person (with the hilarious exception of roller skating, it was the 80’s after all), and so even after the pain had resolved I was working through the shame I had about what I still perceived as my body’s limitations with movement. And so, little by little, I dared to move and fell in love with moving until it is now one of the most delicious and rewarding parts of my life.

But, even now that I’m a yoga teacher, I still suffer from a kind of “phantom broken girl syndrome”. Just this year as I began teaching group classes I had my brother and one of my best friends take my class, and after it was over I very nervously took them aside and asked them, “Do I look ok up there? I mean, do I look like the weird gimpy girl who shouldn’t be teaching yoga?” I was surprised by the force of my emotion in asking. I could even feel that old lump well up in my throat. They assured me that I am just dealing with some residual form of movement specific body dysmorphia. While I will never make the cover of Yoga journal for Cirque du Soleil like feats (which is just fine by me for a number of reasons), I at least looked like I should be standing at the front of the classroom. And that’s a pretty big evolution for me, just about at the 16 year mark of beginning this process of healing my body I had decided to take part in the “dance” enough that I was now teaching.

Don’t flinch at the “16 years” thing! These 16 years have been so much better than all the ones that preceded them. And to answer the original the question, “Are you better now?” Yes, about most of the time I am mostly pain free. Stuff still crops up, I admit often in relationship to my Rolfing client load (my C7 is not super thrilled with me lately, and years ago when I was a new Rolfer I had costochondritis show up due to my poor form- which I corrected), so considering that I started off a complete wreck and had 21 years of physical dysfunction under my belt (at age 21), I consider this is a big freaking deal. But the bigger (freaking) deal is that I woke up to having a body, and now get to delight in it in a myriad of ever-unfolding ways. And that brings us to the dance.

In an ideal world “getting better” wouldn’t mean just being relieved of pain or dysfunction, but would mean that a kind of awakening had occurred. That people could enjoy attending to their bodies in a nourishing way, and be excited to discover its new possibilities. It’s really not an, “Oh crap I’m going to be stuck doing these PT exercises forever.” Kind of feeling. It’s more like, “Hmm, why am I still unable to touch my toes? Maybe I could tinker with that in a few different ways and see what happens? That could be intriguing. And perhaps I’ll even get over my embarrassment and try yoga with my friends…” In other words, it’s a dance, not a grind.

Photo by Dinh Linh

Yes it IS All in Your Head: Deprogramming Chronic Pain Messages

5209489135_8ca516fd1e_b“My doctor couldn’t find anything on the MRI, so he suggested I try yoga. He’s heard it helps.” This has been a common refrain from new clients with old injuries who have come to work with me. They are in pain, lots of it, and have been for quite some time. And yet, these students, who have turned to yoga, desperately seeking relief, back away from the work when they start to get uncomfortable, saying, "I’m not doing that. It hurts. I’m just going to listen to my body." As a  yoga teacher, I can foster a safe haven for my students to deal with their pain, but to be effective, I must help them decode what their body is telling them—and if what their body is telling them is true! Understanding the science of how the brain processes pain can help.

When we get injured, our tissues often require stillness to heal. Our muscles instinctively immobilize tissues by tensing around them, and we also impose stillness with slings, casts and braces. Over some period of time (a doctor can tell you how long given the specific injury) tissues mend. However, a period of no movement means no circulation. No circulation means  chemical waste builds up around the injury and inflames the tissues. Inflammation triggers nociception (the body’s warning system of imminent injury)—and the brain senses pain.

Nociceptors possess an interesting behavioral trait. Immediately following an injury, their sphere of influence spreads beyond the injury site and they respond with greater amplitude every time they are stimulated. So, with time, nociceptors need less stimulation to scream louder from father away. The brain gets bombarded with pain warnings long after the tissues have healed, and now can’t figure out how to break the cycle.

Here’s where yoga comes in: get your students relaxing then moving. Relaxation encourages muscles to stop holding, which allows circulation to increase. Increased circulation clears inflammation; less inflammation means less nociception.

As nociception decreases, you can approach tissues with pressure (I use the Yoga Tune Up® therapy ball program). Have you ever noticed that when we get hurt, we intuitively hold or rub the injury? Pressure sends proprioceptive information (location, pressure) to the brain. Like a Royal Flush beats Four of a Kind in poker, proprioceptive input to the brain trumps nociceptive input, which overrides the pain response. Looked at another way, our bodies love compression—that’s why hugs and massages feel so good—they soothe. When we are soothed, our breath deepens, circulation improves and muscles relax, all of which facilitate healing.

Now for movement—yes, when tissues begin moving again after a long time of stillness, the brain will perceive discomfort. Encouraging students to stick with a movement program is not an attempt to deny their pain, but to turn the pain mechanism off and train the brain to stop protecting tissues that no longer need protection.

My first step in working with clients overly familiar with pain is to get them breathing, then onto the therapy balls, then into movement. I always start with the Belly Breath Primer (shown below and on the 5 Minute Quick Fix Stress Relief video). Once they start breathing they start unwinding the chronic pain state their brain perceives, then they really can start listening to their body.

Re-posted from the original Yes it IS All in Your Client's Head with permission from Yoga Tune Up

Photo by gavinrobinson                                                                                                

About the Author

Christine Jablonski

christine_head_shot4aI believe most people who end up in the fitness profession are trying to heal themselves. Fifteen years ago I sought out SPIN to rehabilitate a full knee reconstruction. Ten years ago I started Pilates to help me recover from a horseback riding accident. More recently, as still-young age and old injuries caught up with me, I began a restorative and Kripalu yoga practice. In every instance, with every discipline, I've experienced a moment of “ahhh....I want to make everyone feel this good.” And so began my path toward fitness studio ownership where I could keep my classes small and focused on my client's journeys from injury, through healing, and on to strength. In addition to figuring out how my clients and I could feel even better (as well as look better in our jeans), curiosity about human biomechanics led me to study with Helena Collins of Life in Synergy, Sadie Nardini of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, and of course, Jill Miller. Combing the knowledge from these tremendous teachers with my strong Pilates background has enabled me to create exceptionally effective programs for my clients, who range from joint replacement patients needing post-physical therapy help to the “uninjured” wanting stronger, better aligned bodies so they can experience life to the fullest. I teach at Quiet Corner Body Studio in Connecticut.


About Yoga Tune Up®

avatarYoga Tune Up® is a therapeutic conscious corrective exercise format that strikes a balance between the worlds of yoga, fitness, and myofascial self-care, attracting students of all ages and body types. It breaks down the nuts and bolts of human movement and provides therapeutic strategies that create balance and flexibility in the body, while helping to relieve painful injuries, improve coordination, and reduce stress. It interweaves precise anatomy with a yogic lens of awareness, conscious relaxation, and self massage to help every student live better in their body – no matter what form of movement you practice. The study of Yoga Tune Up® delves you deeply into integrated anatomy and body mechanics while helping you discover a fresh approach to asana.