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Aiming True with Kathryn Budig

July 2, 2014

Many may initially recognize Kathryn from the black and white nude photos she took years ago with famed photographer Jasper Johal, in which she posed in advanced asanas as a brand representative for ToeSox. Beyond the commotion it caused and the physical prowess it required to master such poses, these photos illuminate Kathryn’s courageous intention to always remain true to herself — no matter what anyone else might have to say. 

Kathryn’s learnings from her own practice of living on- and off-the-mat have inspired the creation of her unique Aim True programs to help every person discover their own personal path and passions. Her accolades continue to accumulate, as she’s not only been featured on the cover of numerous magazines, but also within them, sharing her own words as a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, Gaiam, and MindBodyGreen. She’s sponsored by Under Armour and ZICO Coconut Water, co-founded Poses for Paws (an organization dedicated to raising money for animal shelters through yoga), and continues to teach around the world in ways that are playfully challenging and irresistibly inviting.

BrightStar Live Events writer, Judy Tsuei, originally met Kathryn during a Maui retreat a couple of years ago and the two recently talked about Kathryn’s writing process, her current endeavors, and what it’s like to fly in the sky while inspiring others to do the same.

JT: It’s so great to speak with you again! I’ve missed you since Hawaii. 

KB: Me too! 

JT: Your Big Book of Yoga (Rodale) has become a popular manual for making yoga accessible to all types of women (and men!). Would you please share what it was like to write the book and your intention in creating it?

KB: Oh yeah. I had big goals for it, like “How can I make this spiritually accessible without being esoteric?” I wanted to keep my voice and what yoga is, but not dumb it down. I believe yoga is for everybody, from a person in a cave to that person in Idaho and we should all have an equal opportunity to practice yoga. 

I really tried to speak from my own experiences when writing, because I’ve found that the most success I have is sharing my experience of, “This is easy” or “This is hard.” I just try to talk about everything honestly, and I tried to put a lot of that honesty in the book.

It took roughly a year to make it all come together. There was this structure under Rodale’s Women’s Health brand, but since yoga is unlike anything out there, the structure took on a different form. It took a team of writers, creatives, photographers, outliners, and more. 

In the beginning, it was very daunting to wonder how I’d get these words onto my laptop. It was overwhelming to take on, and thrilling and humbling too. I put a lot of pressure on myself, like, “How on earth can I get everything I want to say about yoga into this book?? How can I do all this justice?”

Then, I decided I’m going to do the best that I can, and maybe there’ll be things left out that’ll upset people, but that’s okay. 

Ultimately, I wanted to provide a guide that’s accessible, thorough, useful, and inspiring. I love to read and I love to be educated, but I can also get into Charlie Brown’s teacher mode if too much is thrown at me, so I wanted to avoid the “wah wah wah,” especially with things like the yamas and niyamas. They’re amazing rules to live by, but how do you break this down over cocktails with someone in a way that makes sense? [laughs] 

JT: How did you end up choosing what to include and what to leave out?

KB: I used social media. I asked a lot of questions on my facebook and twitter pages, like basically, “Give me your biggest yoga questions!” One of my favorite parts of writing the book has been putting the questions out there and seeing how people react. I included things I’ve heard a lot from different people or misconceptions that I wanted to clarity, like “Am I still practicing yoga if I’m eating meat?” I chose questions that are very prevalent in our society. 

But, there are whole sections that didn’t make it into the book, like what to do in teacher trainings. I reached the page limit so fast and had to shave sections out — I had a lot of amazing testimonials about how yoga has changed people’s lives, these really powerful stories, but there just wasn’t room for them, so I’m hoping to have an unabridged version eventually and put a lot of that extra content in it. 

I’ve seen very dramatic spectrums of emotions in the yoga room, and with all these histories and stories, I just feel privileged to be a part of it. I’m lucky to be part of people’s emotional and spiritual journeys. It’s exciting to be a channel for something that’s been around for 5,000 years. I love stories, and I love telling and sharing them, so who knows? Maybe there’ll be a round two!

JT: One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about flipping through it is the diversity of models you used, from ethnicities to body shapes.

KB: Yeah, one of the most rewarding things since publishing the book was when I was in San Francisco recently at the Yoga Journal Conference and I was doing a book signing. Two young girls came up to me and said, “We love that all the girls look different!” 

We don’t want to look like the same person. We want to be unique individuals. I tried to show all different types of people, because I don’t have one of those super ripped bodies. I’m curvy. I don’t think that everyone has that “yoga body look,” and I’d love to break that apart as much as possible to show that all different bodies do yoga, and all different bodies do mellow to advanced yoga. You don’t have to have a lean cheetah-like body to do something advanced!

It’s really about putting your mind to it, and that’s the biggest lesson I try to teach in intensive trainings. Don’t ever let the aesthetic of the pose be your goal. It’s about how you react, and really, it’s about how you react to everything in life — that’s the yoga practice. It’s not, “Can you put both feet behind your head?” but “How are you going to react if you can or can’t? Are you going to decide if you’re a bad person?” I wanted to infuse that into the lessons in this book. 

JT: Your book is really unconventional in the topics it covers. And, it’s not just for women, is it?

KB: The misconception of this is that it’s a “big book of yoga for women.” Even though it’s under the Women’s Health brand, it’s not just for women’s health. The majority of book is unisex (except for the PMS and menopause parts). There’s yoga for sex and a special section on yoga for men and yoga for athletes. 

I hear it all the time: “All I want is do is get my boyfriend or husband into yoga.” We’re not helping this trend in the media by portraying yoga as predominantly female sport. I think that also, the more women and men put it out there that we all struggle, the more we can embrace what we have and how amazing we are. 

JT: During the time we spent together in Maui, you talked about how you got a lot of flak for posing nude for ToeSox and you debated for a long time how to respond to people’s criticisms. You ultimately chose not to respond at all. Being that you’re such a public figure in the yoga world, where it’s especially body-focused, how have you dealt with that?

KB: There’s this quote from Abraham Hicks that I love, “My happiness depends on me, so you’re off the hook.” It’s an interesting role I’m in, especially being a yoga teacher and a writer, because people feel they can say what they want. Sometimes, people have really mean and nasty things to say, and it’s easier for me to lash out than to own my insecurity. 

Why can’t we just look at someone and say, “That’s awesome!” We’re so hard on each other, no wonder we have such screwed up notions of what we should look like while we’re tearing each other apart. The thoughts we have and the words we speak, well, how you think is just as destructive as speaking a certain way. 

I try to do five minutes a day of a gratitude meditation, and I focus on parts of my body and my life I’m grateful for to wash out what can be sometimes be the louder, negative side. 

JT: You’ve been busy planning for your upcoming wedding — congratulations! What’s up next for you?

KB: Thank you! I’m excited to offer yoga and sky diving retreats with my fiancé, Bob, in the future. It’s such a cool thing for us to share. He was my first sky dive, my tandem instructor. It’s a very unlikely love story, because I certainly wasn’t expecting to a) skydive, or b) fall in love with the person I was attached to!

Yoga is how we react or don’t react, not how well we do it, and with skydiving, as most people can imagine, the only thing that matters is the present moment. It brings you to what really matters in life. I’m not going to make a dive and worry about my taxes or being in a fight with someone. 

Both yoga and skydiving have an amazing power to clear the plate, to wipe the lens to see what’s really going on. You can’t muscle your way through a pose, just like you can’t muscle your way through a sky dive. You’ve got to surrender and breathe, both of which are spiritually profound. It’s difficult to leave the yoga room unhappy, and it’s difficult to leave a sky dive feeling pissy. You don’t lie on the ground after soaring and flying or after savasana like, “Blah.” 

These workshops we’ll be offering are designed to help people get over their fears, emotions and limits, things like, “I’m not young enough,” or “I’m not flexible enough.” A lot of people, when they hear I sky dive, say, “I wish I weren’t such a chicken, because that’s something I want to do.” So many people want to be doing so much more, but they’re limiting themselves. After making a sky dive, you feel limitless and powerful, which is the same as when you conquer poses in yoga. By compiling the two together, it’s really, really powerful.

The fact that Bob and I both sky dive, and we have lots of friends who sky dive, we’ve seen people come and go. You become hyperaware of your mortality, and it’s a really amazing thing, because people come and go in your life and you can either focus on how unfair things are or see that it’s just life. Can you live in a way where you’ll never just have to say that things are unfair? 

Skydiving is just so spiritual for me… it’s all about how you just don’t know.

Kathryn Budig will be teaching her popular Aim True workshop during the upcoming Yoga Journal Live event in San Diego. For other opportunities to catch Kathryn in person, visit her website for her teaching schedule. She regularly films classes for YogaGlo.com and has DVDs available, including “Aim True Yoga.” Her book is available on Amazon.com.

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