FLEX IN THE CITY: Being Bendi with Kristin McGee

Kristin McGee , celebrity fitness instructor

Kristin McGee, celebrity fitness instructor

September is a month of new starts. After a total summer reboot, I was re-energized and focused. I could not wait to get in to New York City for a series of private sessions with celebrity fitness instructor Kristin McGee. Some might ask why the heck would I need to go all the way to NYC for a work out when I have amazing yoga and Pilates coaches right here in Western Massachusetts? Why bother with the 3 hour journey to Grand Central Station when I live only 5 minutes away from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox?

The simple answer is that I wanted to learn how savvy New Yorkers define a work:life balance as part of a healthy urban lifestyle. What better way to sate my curiosity than to team up with Kristin McGee? Kristin has lived in New York City for over twenty years since first arriving to study acting at Tisch School of The Arts. Her dream of becoming an actress morphed when her love of yoga revealed an opportunity to move from teaching yoga at Crunch Gym to teaching it as MTV’s Bendi Girl in 2002. She has since produced over 100 videos, acted as yoga consultant for The Nanny Diaries, and appeared on 30 Rock as Floyd’s fiancé, Kaitlin, who as a ‘yogaerobics’ instructor and ab model, is remembered for saying “I don’t have a lot of girlfriends because, you know – my body.” Amusingly, Kristin’s abs were featured in every one of Kaitlin’s costume changes so Kristin needed abs of steel and a sense of humor for the role.

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Like many New Yorkers, Kristin knows her stuff. Manhattan is a land full of top-notch professionals, spread out over a grid of gutsy leadership, trendsetting, risk-taking and accomplishment. It’s not known as a place for ‘softies’ but make no mistake, Gotham has a soft side.

The New York City I revisited after actively avoiding it for nearly twenty years was a kinder, gentler Gotham than I ever knew when I lived and breathed it in my early thirties. Was this rekindled flame and regained fondness for The Big Apple down to the change in me, the change in the city, or being around Kristin every Thursday and Friday in September? The answer is: all of the above.

I met up with Kristin for a private Pilates session each Thursday in September. We spent time together afterward and would then meet up again the next day for her 10am yoga class at Equinox Gym [67th and Columbus]. I confess, I was anticipating a group yoga class modeled after a subway ride, something that when perfectly timed provided a quick entry, a bit of elbow room, as few stops as possible, and a well-positioned exit. It wasn’t like that at all. Each group session was an absolute pleasure. There was a quiet, friendly calm before class. Ladies chatted and stretched and put their phones away. Despite a full class room there was no jostling for space. There was room to breathe. There were no ‘loud New Yorkers,’ just one huge mea culpa on my part. I had got it all wrong and quickly ditched any remaining pre-judgments at the sound of our first shared om.

LeAnn Rimes courtesy of  People.com  where she says "I'm in the healthiest place of My Life." and it shows!

LeAnn Rimes courtesy of People.com where she says "I'm in the healthiest place of My Life." and it shows!

Kristin is an amazing teacher. It’s no wonder she has A-List clients like Steve Martin, Tina Fey and LeAnn Rimes but even great teachers need to learn from their students. I watched one morning as a student approached Kristin and together they walked outside the studio to talk. Minutes later, Kristin started the class on time and with a song. We joined her in something that felt and sounded so good, and beautiful, and filled with light. Kristin moved around the room adjusting us as needed, letting us know she was aware of each and every one of us.

After class, Kristin explained to me while in line at the Equinox salad bar that some of the students were disappointed that she was doing the class and not spotting them enough, adding “…and they’re right. I haven’t been doing my own practice in my own time. I’ve been combining it with my teaching to save time, and that’s not the way to do it. What a great wake up call.”

Now, this was a beautiful New York moment for me to witness. One person respectfully expressing her needs, another honoring those needs, no crazy body language or raised voices, and both of them pointed towards the same outcome. Kristin was grateful for the feedback and graciously admitted “I respect the students in my class. In the end, they are the ones who teach me.” This is the power of yoga. It teaches us to inhale-and-receive and then exhale-to-release so that we can let go of what holds us back and embrace the gifts that propel us forward, closer to what really matters.

Kristin leads a busy life, but I never once heard her say “I’m so busy.” She's been very busy indeed providing healthy tips and poses as a contributing fitness editor at Health magazine and as a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, Bliss, and YouBeauty. She recently travelled to Berlin, with her “baby on board” to make her latest video for an international market.

Subway Baby. We're heading downtown with Kristin McGee   

Subway Baby. We're heading downtown with Kristin McGee

 

Get out of town! Kristin travels frequently and so does her 15 month-old son, Timothy, who goes on every business trip with her. Kristin’s get-up-and-go attitude towards motherhood is admirable. Motherhood hasn’t slowed her down, but it has made her re-evaluate the way she spends her time. She WANTS to be with her son and she builds her private sessions and classes around his schedule. Travelling with her baby is just part of her job and she makes it all work by keeping her focus on what matters most.  When she and I were on the subway heading to a mother and baby casting, Timothy was hungry and without a second thought or a big fuss she nursed him on the C line and quietly got the job done. It just goes to show you that Kristin’s not just ‘bendi’ on the yoga mat; she’s ‘bendi’ in life, too.

Whether Kristin travels to her home town of Pocatello, Idaho or to Los Angeles or to Europe she always incorporates some healthy habits: She walks as much as she can. She tries a local activity for a new way to exercise and she doesn’t eat every meal out. Instead, Kristin brings in healthy, organic food from a local farmers’ market or a health food shop.


Are yoga instructors even permitted to freak out or have meltdowns? What does Kristin do when travelling, teaching, writing, producing videos, being a mother, a wife, and a friend start to add up? She stops. She focuses. She catches her breath, centers herself, and then continues on. She might also call her mom and dad in Idaho. Staying connected with her parents and hearing their voices always helps to remove her from the proverbial hamster wheel.

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Keeping calm and being able to steer clear of Meltdown Mode is a positive by-product of daily choices that are guided by Kristin’s yoga practice, which incidentally does not begin and end on the mat. Her practice remains a natural, continuous flow of checks and balances…invisible, unbreakable, ‘bendi’ threads woven throughout her daily life. For Kristin and countless others, this is the most profound gift of one’s own yoga practice, the ability to focus on what really matters by getting rid of what doesn’t matter.

Life will always be unwieldy at times no matter who you are or how much yoga you do. The regular practice of Yoga reduces stress build-up and can help to prevent meltdowns and system overloads. In this video Kristin shows us three stress-busting poses she uses to bring her back to center.

Kristin’s message as a teacher is less about getting “a perfect body.” It’s more about gaining inner strength, balance, flexibility and the ability to be present wherever you are, whatever you are doing. For as strong and impressively ‘bendi’ as she is, I suspect it is Kristin’s positive outlook that keeps her closest to center. If you ask about her childhood, her face lights up as she talks about her family, growing up in Idaho and their family troupe, K.C. and The Sunshine Kids.  Her memories of singing and dancing with them are as joyful and uplifting to her as they are grounding. The foundation her family provided early in life is easily mirrored by the yoga she discovered later in life as a young adult far away from home and family. Young students arriving in New York City can seek out many things for comfort. Kristin chose Yoga to be her guide and it has never left her side. 

When I finished up my last session with Kristin, I wished I didn’t live so far away. I wanted to take her class every week. As I walked away from class, away from the west side, through Central Park and down to Grand Central Station, I was in a gloriously good mood and for the first time in my life, New York was all warm and fuzzy.  I left town with a greater sense of how Yoga has the ability to gently wrap us up in its teachings much the same way a loving parent might guide a child to all that it might love - inside and out - and that the journey there is all very wonderful, and wonderfully ‘bendi’. 

Kristin McGee, just being bendi

Kristin McGee, just being bendi

‘Bendi’ has new meaning for me now. It’s not just an MTV neologism and it’s not about whether or not we can transform ourselves to look like a New York pretzel. Being 'bendi" is about staying focused on what really matters. As human beings, we are all ‘bendi’ and ever capable of becoming even more ‘bendi’ if we strive to go with the flow on the mat and off. Yoga teaches us the ways to become more ‘bendi’ in our bodies, in our hearts and in our minds. The 'bendier' we are, the more we breathe and the better we breathe, the more room we have to navigate whatever Life throws our way.  

Gratitude from a bumpy train...

Gratitude from a bumpy train...

My time with Kristin showed me that where you live does not define who you are. A work:life balance whether it’s in the city or in the country boils down to the choices we make to keep ourselves focused on what matters most. The more ‘bendi’ we are, the more manageable, meaningful and joyfully balanced life can be. 

As I left Grand Central Station and pointed west towards home, the giant billboard that greeted me along the tracks spelled GRATITUDE in huge letters and I smiled to myself and said, “Yes, that’s exactly what this is.”  Thank you, BendiGirl. Namaste.

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To learn more about Kristin visit her website kristinmcgee.com. Kristin’s latest in a large collection of fitness DVDs is YogaSlim. Follow her on Twitter @KristinMcGee and like her page on Facebook.

Doin' A What Did Not Come Naturally...

Writing did not come naturally to me. It took years and loads of practice before I was any good at it. I lacked a key ingredient - the confidence to express myself, to let my words go and allow them to find their own way. Ironically, I would never be writing for myself were it not for some things I learned from work, not from school or my personal life. For the purposes of this blog hop, I’d like to share a few lessons I learned from some very clever bosses on a corporate playing field where writing is anything but personal.

The courtyard at The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 

The courtyard at The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 

I first started writing straight out of college at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where among other things I compiled the quarterly newsletter. I was technically skilled at formulaic writing but had ZERO knowledge of composing “a bigger picture.” In fact, it was the first time I had ever heard the expression as it was regularly summoned by the incoming media-savvy museum director, Anne Hawley. While she was all about “The Big Picture,” my editors were the incredibly brainy curators who taught me the micro. This was the first glimmer showing me that Writing is as much about the macro as it is about the micro.

All writers know that you can’t write unless you know what you are writing about. I learned this for myself when my career shifted from museum work to corporate public relations at Giorgio Armani in Boston. It was here I learned that in order to write well, you can’t sit around and expect words to come.  You’ve got to get up and get out there to find them.

I was expected to work five days at PR and an additional sixth day – every Saturday - on the selling floor assisting the sales staff. I resented the six day work week. It was agonizing. As a young twenty-something I was unable to grasp the importance of being in-sync with my colleagues and in touch with the business I was writing about and promoting. It took some time and significant growing pains for me to realize that my boss, Donna Montgomery, was doing me a huge favor, showing me that I was part of a bigger picture, that it was not about me. It was time to ditch my twenty-something ego and learn my place and my role in the business of public relations. THE BEST writing practice, whether PR or private, is to get out of the office and get in touch with the story and all its parts… the client, the product, and the trends. No PR Princess in an Ivory Tower will ever be good at writing unless she keeps up and gets out of her own way.

When I moved from Boston to work for Giorgio Armani in L.A., I did a proverbial “Linda Blair,” turned my head around in a complete circle, and threw up everything. Blaaaaghghgh. Once again, I ditched the ego and learned how to do things in a new way, a West Coast way. That was daunting, but I confess, it was thrilling. My boss in LA, Wanda McDaniel, was a gifted writer, but she was a brilliant strategist, too. She made certain that every word she chose supported the message she needed to convey. Every time I sat on the other side of her desk and scribbled down her messages to Mr. Armani, A-List celebs, and Hollywood’s Power Elite, I was learning the true meaning of crafting a message.

Sadly, Grief was my next boss-Teacher. After my daughter died, I stopped writing. My light had gone out.  I could not articulate my struggle. For years, I had no voice and I mourned for its return so that I could express both the agony and the beauty I held inside. I eventually found "safety" in writing when I went back to work but beneath it all, I knew that if I truly wanted to write in order to express myself, I would need to jump beyond the corporate to the personal. To do this, I not only had to regain my confidence but I had to find it in the first place. It was a slow process but my voice did eventually return to me, and it was different. I was different, both had been forever changed in an instant and over the years. I like this voice better. It’s not always so frightened to say something wrong.

What am I working on/writing?

The process of writing every day is not at all new to me. I’ve been non-stop-writing for the past thirty years. What IS new to me is the JOY of writing for myself. I am working on keeping that joy flame going for as long as possible. Writing Good Girl Go stories offers me a chance to do just that.

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

What strikes me is that my subject matter is very similar to so many others. I guess I am not so very unique after all, but that doesn’t bother me one bit. I love that so many people out there are interested in health and wellness and are trying to improve lives, their own and others. I love that we are not trying to be perfect, that we are accepting of our flaws and searching for and finding ways to nourish our mind, body and spirit. We can all learn from one another and partake in a movement that can better ourselves and indeed, our world.

3) Why do I write what I do?

After banging out press releases, business proposals, fundraising pitches, press strategies, brochures, advertising jingles, anything in the name of corporate communications, I no longer wanted to spend my time writing about things that were not meaningful to me.  I now write about things that have inspired me to grow in ways I might not have otherwise. It took a long time for me to gain the courage to open up and write in this way. Another part of me wanted to write about the experience of losing my first child at birth but I did not want to focus on the sadness and trauma of it all. I wanted to focus on the other side of it, the part that is the Deep Peace and Fulfillment that eventually comes from Grief, the part that makes us Grateful to be alive and appreciative of what we do have in our lives and not hooked on what we have lost. At some point, we all get knocked for six. I like to write about what happens after we work through it. It makes being human, wonderful after all.

4) How does my writing process work?

I write all the time, but mostly in my head when I am dog walking, driving, preparing a meal. Only when I am ready to write do I sit down and type. Then it’s just flow and edits, flow and edits. Time flies for me when I write. It’s pure joy as I pull thoughts and words together.  The act of writing brings me to where I really want to be, a place where I am connected to my thoughts inwardly while expressing them outwardly. I am grateful to be here, finally, after all these years.

Participating in this blog hop has opened up a new dialogue for me and brought to my attention many fine and intelligent women who are sharing their words, their wisdom, and their humor. I am grateful to Laurie Luh at Mimosa Lotus for bringing me into the loop and am thrilled to introduce two very inspirational fellow blog hoppers - Katherine Miller of Kosmic-Kitchen and Keryn Means of  Walking On Travels . Like Laurie, they also know some inspiring ways to make your life awesome and healthy... 

Laurie Luh  is a career counselor, HR consultant and the co-founder of Mimosa Lotus, a lifestyle   website that inspires personal growth by providing tools to live a happier, more fulfilled life. Laurie   was the head of Human Resources at Participant Media since the company's inception in 2004 and   left in 2013 when she realized that it was time for her to jump into the next phase of her career   life. Now Laurie writes about the practicalities of “jumping” and dispenses overall career advice for    Mimosa Lotus  and  greenlightjobs . She will also be a featured blogger on a new online career center   that’s still in development. Laurie has been a guest lecturer at USC and has spoken on several panels.   Outside of writing and career counseling, Laurie lives by the beach in Los Angeles and is an active   runner and hiker hoping to add surfing to her list of activities very soon. She’s easy to find over at    Mimosa Lotus  or you can follow her on twitter @LaurieLuh, where she’s often tweeting photos of   favorite SoCal hotspots.

Laurie Luh is a career counselor, HR consultant and the co-founder of Mimosa Lotus, a lifestyle website that inspires personal growth by providing tools to live a happier, more fulfilled life. Laurie was the head of Human Resources at Participant Media since the company's inception in 2004 and left in 2013 when she realized that it was time for her to jump into the next phase of her career life. Now Laurie writes about the practicalities of “jumping” and dispenses overall career advice for Mimosa Lotus and greenlightjobs. She will also be a featured blogger on a new online career center that’s still in development. Laurie has been a guest lecturer at USC and has spoken on several panels. Outside of writing and career counseling, Laurie lives by the beach in Los Angeles and is an active runner and hiker hoping to add surfing to her list of activities very soon. She’s easy to find over at Mimosa Lotus or you can follow her on twitter @LaurieLuh, where she’s often tweeting photos of favorite SoCal hotspots.

Katherine Miller   has spent most of her life exploring the question how do we create radiant health, in body, mind and spirit? To find the answer she studied macrobiotics and other dietary regimens, raised a family on whole-foods, became a yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher, and served as Executive Chef at a spiritual retreat center for 14 years. She also received certification as a health coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and as a Master Fermentologist to guide people to a better gut health. In 2010 she created   Kosmic-Kitchen   to teach people practical ways to shift their experience of healthy eating into a new dimension of possibility and pleasure. Recently she launched a new venture, Mbodied.com, dedicated to guiding women during their transition through menopause. Both businesses offer virtual and in-person programs designed to guide you in the discovery and practice of radiant health. 

Katherine Miller has spent most of her life exploring the question how do we create radiant health, in body, mind and spirit? To find the answer she studied macrobiotics and other dietary regimens, raised a family on whole-foods, became a yoga and meditation practitioner and teacher, and served as Executive Chef at a spiritual retreat center for 14 years. She also received certification as a health coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and as a Master Fermentologist to guide people to a better gut health. In 2010 she created Kosmic-Kitchen to teach people practical ways to shift their experience of healthy eating into a new dimension of possibility and pleasure. Recently she launched a new venture, Mbodied.com, dedicated to guiding women during their transition through menopause. Both businesses offer virtual and in-person programs designed to guide you in the discovery and practice of radiant health. 

Keryn Means  is a freelance writer and founder of   Walking on Travels , a site that gives hope to today’s active parent who doesn’t want to stop their lives; they simply bring their kids along for the ride. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around Seattle most days and across the globe several times a year. Follow her on  Facebook ,  Twitter ,  Google+ ,  Pinterest , and  Instagram . 

Keryn Means is a freelance writer and founder of Walking on Travels, a site that gives hope to today’s active parent who doesn’t want to stop their lives; they simply bring their kids along for the ride. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around Seattle most days and across the globe several times a year. Follow her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest, and Instagram

Signposts to Light and Wellness: Making Good Choices about your own Self-Care

By Carolann Patterson

My close friends know that I had been sick for many years and struggled to find the reason for my constant sorrow and never-ending physical pain.  Unraveling my symptoms was complicated: it could have been a million things, and I didn't know where to start...so I just had to start some where. It was a slow and agonizing process as I began to pick things apart. There were no start and finish lines and the check list was long, with each tick-box scarier than the last – Depression? Allergies? Adrenal? Thyroid? Neurological? Pre-Menopausal? Auto-immune - Lyme or Lupus? Cancer? You get the idea.

Self-Care isn't a fad or a trend. It's foreverrrr.  It takes a long time to work through it all.

It wasn’t until 2016 that I emerged from disease to wellness, from darkness to light.  I had been suffering from constant, un-diagnosed pain that was eventually "lumped" under the label of Fibromyalgia, and it was anyone's guess where to begin in terms of "the right" protocol to follow. I had to figure out what worked best for me. 

My condition was possibly triggered by a mysterious virus and extreme fever for which I was hospitalized in 2009, just prior to the Swine Flu pandemic reported in April 2009.  It is possible that the mysterious virus combined with my genetic profile and pre-existing viral exposure to bring me to my knees.  

Two years later in 2011 I received the diagnosis that I had an under-active thyroid and began treatment with Armour Thyroid.

I discovered later that this diagnosis was only scratching the surface, but still, it was a starting point so I embraced it as one stepping stone of many. The diagnosis allowed me to progress to the next step, to move beyond the prior diagnosis that my condition was a “mental” thing, most likely post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] that was causing my depression, physical pain and brain fog. It was a huge relief to receive a diagnosis that allowed the dialogue of healing to open up beyond the limited view that all I needed was an anti-depressant pill. 

There was no way I was going to pop pills and wish my symptoms away. No matter what Science had to say about the benefits, I wanted to work through each and every one of my symptoms in order to understand my overall condition, how it all "fit" together, and how to work through to The Cause.

I wasn't looking for a Quick-Fix and I sure didn't get one. I cleared the decks to allow time [nearly 2 years before I started to see real results] for new life practices and the process of trial and elimination that would allow me to arrive at the source of my anxiety, sleepless nights, depression, inflammation, weight gain and debilitating pain. As I write this, I am still tracking my symptoms, behavior and stress levels as well as shifts in weather and will continue to do so for the rest of my life as part of effective self-care.

In a way, I am a bit like a farmer tending his crops - you can watch and learn and figure out the best practice of prevention but no matter what, no year is ever the same: there are many unknowns and variables. Part of healing is being able to surrender and trust the process of healing, to embrace the good days and to allow for the bad ones.  

I readily acknowledged that there was a vicious cycle going on inside me, but I never believed that the “most likely” sequence was the correct sequential order of things. I accepted that trauma was part of the problem, in so much as it could have weakened me and my immune system, but it didn’t sit right that trauma was “The Cause” because I had processed the grief over losing my first child at birth; I had worked through it all – the rage and despair; I had surrendered and was blessed to find serenity; and I had accepted the great sadness as though it were a gift, a key to a deeper level of compassion that I had not previously known.

...and so my journey towards a diagnosis began with the question: If I've truly processed my grief and accepted my loss, why then am I still so sad and why does everything in my body hurt so much? The short answer: the sequence had, in fact, been wrong… the 2011 diagnosis of previously undetected hypothyroidism was earth-shattering for me, in a good way - it gave me "the cause" [or one possible cause] as well as the momentum to move forward with the relief that my baby was not to blame, nor I.

Knowing that hypothyroidism was causing my troubles, there was no one to blame. I finally had a starting line.  and I could live with that. And I could begin to heal and with that, change my life for the better and revive my spirit….and so I did.

Change is GOOD. Taking Armour Thyroid daily was a huge help in boosting my energy and abilities, but simply popping a pill and hoping things would "just go away" wasn't enough. I needed to change.

I needed to reinterpret my life and the way I approached my health. For every symptom I suffered, I had to find another way to make it better and for that, I had to change everything: my diet, my exercise routine and my stress levels. I stopped working and cleared the decks so I could focus on regaining my health. I slowed down to enjoy my life and subsequently stumbled upon a greater sense of purpose and confidence, gratitude and ease.

I stopped drinking except on special occasions. I embraced a new fully organic, low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory, gluten-free diet. Now food not only tastes good, it IS Good. Soon I slept through the night and gradually my symptoms disappeared as a result of the changes I had made. My health was so much improved that despite occasional flare ups of fibromyalgia, I am able to enjoy regular pilates, gentle yoga, dog walking and snowshoeing without suffering for it.  

An additional and essential key to my recovery is that I could never have made all these changes to my life were it not for the many enlightened women and men who guided me...

Over the years following the traumatic loss of my child at birth, I've encountered many wise women and men whose love and wisdom and ability to share their stories helped me find my own. My healing is wrapped up in the love and guidance I received from them – This blog is dedicated to those fine spirits whose signposts have marked my journey from the beginning until now, where I am full of gratitude for the life that has been restored to me.

Sometimes, you just have to slow down and read the signposts to move forward on the right track…and then it’s all there right before your very eyes: Go on, Good Girl, Go!