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.

Beauty and The Yeast: Conquering Candida - How Former Fashion Model Amy Huebner Kicked Candida’s Ass

It’s so easy to look at a beautiful young woman, particularly a fashion model in her twenties and think – “wow, she’s really got it all going on” -- but for former fashion model, Amy Huebner, her strength and beauty just weren't enough to make a beautiful woman a healthy one, too.

Like many women in their twenties, Amy’s diet was the “Protest-Poverty-and-Pasta Diet” prevalent among college students and young professionals, who in protest choose not to eat meat but out of poverty are not able to find affordable, healthy substitutes and end up boiling pasta or suffering innumerable blind dates…a girl’s gotta’ eat, right? Wrong. It’s no way to live... and for Amy it was a sure way to die.

Amy’s diet was alarmingly unbalanced that despite eating whatever she could afford, she was still malnourished and starving…but how did things go so wrong for her? And how did she make herself well again?

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Answers to those questions paint a picture of how Amy was able to change her life around by learning how to make healthy choices and literally, saving her own life. 

First, she needed to work through to the diagnosis that she was suffering from an extreme candida overgrowth, the result of a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars, birth control pills and stress, lots of stress. From there, Amy needed to learn effective self-care and how to rid her system of toxic candida while simultaneously nourishing her mind, body, and spirit. Hers is an inspiring story of strength and courage even in her weakest moments, a story that holds something for all of us, but particularly so for parents and their 20-something daughters.

Downtown Amy

Downtown Amy

What is candida? Candida is a naturally occurring fungus, yeast that lives in our mouth and intestines. When balanced, it aids in digestion and nutrient absorption but when overproduced, it breaks down the wall of the intestine and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxic byproducts and causing leaky gut. 

The symptoms of candida overgrowth include skin and nail fungal infections; chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia; bloating, constipation, diarrhea; autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ulcerative Colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma, Multiple Sclerosis; difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD and brain fog; irritability, mood swings, depression and anxiety; vaginal and urinary tract infections; severe seasonal allergies; and strong cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Conquering candida takes nothing less than Herculean effort and requires constant discipline sticking to a strict no-carbohydrate and no-sugar diet. Sugar is what feeds the yeast so it is critical to eliminate it and not to slip even while undergoing the dreadful die-off stage as the body detoxes from the endotoxins released from dying yeast. 

As soon as she was diagnosed, Amy immediately jumped into the new diet but soon discovered that rushing it wasn't the best way to go about it. She suffered prolonged die-off for months but could have avoided it had she eased into her new yeast-busting diet. Otherwise, she worked closely with her doctor who recommended she cut out all carbs and sugars and begin taking an immune support supplement.

She then added anti-fungal supplements and foods. Amy’s deep commitment to her own healing required discipline and patience. There were no short-cuts or quick-fixes.  It was nearly 2 years before she first began to feel well again and 7 years until she was "feeling pretty awesome." Her healing also had a price: ALL of her money went into buying the right food and supplements, but in Amy’s mind, the cost of regaining her health was priceless.

For those of us never destined to hit the runway or grace the pages of a magazine, it’s odd to think of a gorgeous fashion model not being anything but healthy. For Amy “taking a good hard look at herself” was her first step towards wellness. She knew that her time as a model and nanny in NYC – long days, low pay, high rent, late nights, poor diet – needed to end in order for a healthier chapter in her life to begin. 

Amy and Dana swinging in a tree

Amy and Dana swinging in a tree

Amy needed to find a place of comfort and meaning and grounding. The next step on her path to wellness was a phone call to a former high school boyfriend, Dana who was a social worker and advocate for the homeless in Arizona. Before she knew it, she was on a plane to Phoenix and Dana was waiting there for her. They’ve been together ever since. Being in an affirming, loving relationship has been a key piece to Amy’s recovery but there is so much more to her story… 

While Amy’s heart could find comfort with Dana, she still needed to regain her physical and emotional strength and to do that, she needed to go back to her roots…back to a healthy childhood; back to loving parents and family; and back to her hometown to reconnect with her former self - a strong young woman who was grounded and blessed with beauty, innate physical strength and grace. 

It was only through Discipline [with a capital D] that Amy could reconnect with her former self.  For Amy, Discipline is just a part of her DNA - she is naturally a hard worker and not afraid of pushing herself to excel.

As a child, she faithfully and joyfully practiced gymnastics every.single.day after school in her basement. As a teenager, she watched White Squall only once and knew - without doubt - that she needed to do a semester at sea. As a college student, she worked to help her parents pay for her education while cleverly enrolling part-time at NYU and Hunter College yet attending full-time continuously for 3 years [folks, that means no summer vacations]. It was a grueling work load but with the support and encouragement of her parents, Amy made it through and was not later burdened with crippling school loans. Smart girl, our Amy. Hard worker, too. 

But that blessing – her discipline and ability to achieve – was also a curse. During her years biting The Big Apple, Amy had pushed herself too hard. It was time she learned something new…

Semester at Sea - Amy on mast

Semester at Sea - Amy on mast

Amy enrolled in The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world’s largest school of nutrition whose mission is to play a crucial role in improving health and happiness, and through that process, create a ripple effect that transforms the world.  She was deeply inspired by the school’s founder, Josh Rosenthal [also a Berkshire native] who taught her that each and every one of us is a catalyst for change.

 

The course was the perfect complement to Amy’s journey to wellness. Having already changed her diet and her life, and attended to her spirit and heart, she had to nourish her mind, too. 

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition was an eye-opener for Amy, who upon completing the course [and attending the historical last live session] knew that all she wanted to do in life was to take Josh Rosenthal’s advice and do her best to make the world a better place. Just like the time she watched White Squall and knew she needed a semester at sea, Amy knew exactly what she needed to do with her life... she needed to create something that was healthy and good and to build awareness about healthy choices while she was at it. Luckily for Amy, Dana wanted exactly the same thing, too. 

This is another point in Amy’s life when being in a strong and loving relationship with Dana is so deeply intertwined with her own healing.  Together in 2010, they created Shire City Herbal’s Fire Cider. It was a concoction that developed over many years beginning with a jar of honey, chopped onion and garlic soaking on Dana’s German grandmother’s window sill. 

Dana and Amy just after moving in to their new warehouse

Dana and Amy just after moving in to their new warehouse

Fire Cider evolved over many years and pays homage to Dana’s German Uncle Otto, who took spoonfuls of freshly grated horseradish during allergy season while haying down on the horse farm. The recipe also tips its hat to a wise family doctor from Becket, MA, who suggested that Dana eat raw LOCAL honey mixed with apple cider to help with his allergies…forever adorable, Dana admits he’s a “more is more” kind a guy so he added some treats of his own and soon Grandma, Uncle Otto, the good family doctor and Dana’s life lessons were all mixed together in one bottle of pure and awesome good.

Nothing short of a Super Hero, Fire Cider is based on a traditional New England cure-all but it’s spiced up with all sorts of kick-ass healthy, organic ingredients – apple cider vinegar, [local] honey, oranges, lemons, onions, horseradish root, ginger root, habanero pepper, garlic, and turmeric. All things combine to bring about a synergistic blend of immune-boosting, health enhancing, pathogen-fighting roots and fruits…Super Hero indeed: Fire Cider powers are mighty

What's so good about it? Fire Cider can act as a daily preventative to colds and flus or can be taken at the onset. It can be taken as an expectorant to break up congestion and to ward off respiratory ailments. It’s also a digestive aid for heartburn, gas and bloating as well as for sluggish digestion and candida overgrowth. Several of its ingredients support cardiovascular circulation, warm the body and have anti-inflammatory properties – I don’t go a day without it in winter as it helps to keep my fibromyalgia in check. 

As with all good things, Fire Cider makes no promises that it is the cure-all to end all. It is merely a healthy choice to be used as part of a healthy diet.  Go on, try a shot and feel the tingly goodness on your taste buds, in your salivary glands and right down your throat to your tummy where it really gets to work.

You are what you eat. Not what you wear. Amy is still a beautiful woman, but she is now a healthy one, too.  She’s a practicing Health Coach and has her own blog - The Candida Diaries. Together with her husband and brother, she runs Shire City Herbals and makes a wholesome and organic product called Fire Cider. The company’s mission is to make a quality organic product for the good of all, and they are committed to the effort needed to educate and build awareness of healthy choices for healthier communities and for a healthier world.

Josh Rosenthal was right – the ripple effect can change the world – and I am grateful for people like Amy Huebner who seek out and listen to wise teachers and have the strength and courage to commit to the challenges of running a business that helps our Berkshire community and others like it become healthier and happier places for all.  Ripple indeed. 

Source: Fire Cider