Love:Mindfulness – Interview with guest teacher Cindy Reed

On a rainy afternoon few weeks ago, I got to sit down (read: sprawl on bolsters on the floor) with Cindy Reed. Cindy is a powerful presence in the Central Kentucky yoga community, and we are delighted to welcome her to our faculty.

CS: Talk to me a little bit about your initial experience with yoga. What was your first class like? When? What kind of environment? How did you feel? Just anything that comes to mind.

CR: So my journey with yoga started because, when I was in grad school, I met my bff, who is still my bff, who is named Julanne, who already had a relationship with Amanda. So I’m gonna put that right over there. So we were in grad school, and she had moved here from Pittsburgh. She stumbled over to the Wellness Center, which was a thing at the time, and the person who owned the Wellness Center said, ”Hey! You should probably go over and meet my friend Amanda.”

So Julanne became my bff. We were in grad school for being therapists. We both had bachelor’s degrees, and when I met her, we were both in an advanced standing program to be therapists, so we were on a fast-track–a program that would usually take two years, we were in a one-year program. So within that, we ended up, just by luck, being in this training called DBT–Dialectical Behavior Therapy. The story I’m telling you takes place in about 1999. So in 1999, we went to this training, and the specific therapy was to help people who have borderline personality disorder, but the premise of the therapy was mindfulness. So back in the late nineties, this was a thing that no one else was really doing, except for this one therapy, but at the time, everyone was getting trained in it because insurance providers had found that it was super effective, and so they wanted people to get trained in it because it’s effective and it moves people out of treatment faster. So just by luck, this thing happened that I didn’t know would change my life, but it did. So Jule and I, we’re young, it’s 2000 now, and we start doing this mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy with trauma survivors in rural Appalachia. And it was revolutionary. From that, I started looking for ways to deepen my understanding of mindfulness. In the meantime, my bff is hanging out with Amanda all the time, so I end up over at Amanda’s early on. So my first yoga class ever was with my bff, because it was free, and I was with her, and it was at Amanda’s. And I also took a class in this very building [Dudley Square], in a room across the hall with Cindy Hutchison.

So my first experience with yoga was–how blessed–with Amanda and Cindy Hutchison. And that was all I knew about yoga for the first couple of years. How amazing is that?

CS: That’s pretty awesome.

CR: I hear people tell stories about yoga, about how they ended up in gym yoga, and I’m like, that wasn’t my journey. I went straight in.

CS: It sounds like your introduction was through mindfulness first, rather than through asana. Which is sort of the reverse of how most people come into yoga.

CR: That’s exactly right.

CS: Do you think that had an affect on the evolution of your practice? Or where you see yourself today with yoga–coming at it from mindfulness rather than through asana first?

CR: Absolutely. That is my niche, mindfulness. For me, asana is a way to practice mindfulness. Period. I get it, it’s good for your body…I like to do a handstand, that’s fun, but it’s all about presence, and a way to deliver the message of mindfulness to people. That’s how I started. Julanne already knew about yoga. It was just natural for me to start looking for ways to expand people’s ability to implement mindfulness in their lives, and yoga is a way to do that.

CS: What are your thoughts on classes where there may be no mention of mindfulness at all? Do you think that “magic” is still there?

CR: It’s hard…I know this might be weird, but I’ve never been to that kind of yoga class. As weird as it is…this all started for me in 1999. I feel like I’ve led a charmed yoga life in some ways. I’ve been with Angela Farmer, I’ve been with Judith Lasater, I’ve spent TONS of time with Amanda, and a lot of time with Cindy Hutchison. So I don’t really know how to evaluate that. I can tell you that gym owners definitely do approach me, and have approached me. And if you know me, you know I don’t have the “yoga body”. I have a bigger body, so I even think that it has not been my experience with people who own gyms, that they don’t want this message, because they do. They come to my classes and they ask me to teach at their gym, and I don’t look like I even go to the gym! So I get what you’re saying, and I know that it exists, but it’s asking me to speculate on something I’ve never experienced. And maybe I’ve just internalized it so much that everything feels like mindfulness to me. Does that make sense?

CS: Absolutely, it does. Would you say that is perhaps the essence of yoga?

CR: To me, the essence of yoga is presence. Straight up. I’ve been hanging out with Amanda for a long time. I’ve been down with her essence of yoga language for a long time. For me, the essence of yoga is presence. We are present. Mindfulness is a presence practice. Yoga is presence practice. So for me that’s it. How can we be present in our lives? I think that mindfulness and yoga offer us a way to do that.

CS: That resonates, for sure. How do you see that presence as a transformative force in people’s lives?

CR: Oh my, how much time do we have? So the question is how is presence a transformative force in people’s lives.

CS: Yes, or why is that important? If that’s it, then what does it do for us?

CR: If you go back to where I started my yoga journey: I’m young, I’m fresh out of college, and there are underserved communities. If you’re a healthcare professional, they incentivize you to get into underserved communities. So me and Jule got out there, and it was all trauma. They could come and say this is ADHD, this is depression, this is anxiety. Nine times out of ten there was trauma underneath that diagnosis. The way my career unfolded, I got this training in mindfulness. Trauma by definition has people not present. Why? Because if traumatic things happen, whether it’s in your body, or verbally, you learn a way to disconnect from that situation, or not be present with what’s going on because you’re trying to plan the next thing to say or do to keep your ass out of trouble. There’s a lot of ways in which that’s useful, and I could get on a soapbox about post-traumatic stress not being a disorder. It is the brain trying to heal itself. Post-traumatic stress can look like depression, it can look like ADHD, it can look like anxiety, but it’s really the brain trying to make sense of the experience, associating that experience with triggers. An example would be, I worked for a time as a counselor at Berea College. Predictably at midterms, there would be this influx of students, referred to me by mandate, and the problem would be that they’d been hiding in their rooms since the first or second week of class. Inevitably when I would get them in my office, it would come out that something had happened in which their survival was to hide and not be present. So in other words, they got into a situation in which they did not have the skills to meet the needs of the situation. And their survival so far in life had been that when this happens, when something’s coming at you that you don’t have the skills for, you disappear. So if I can help people have a practice in which they are present for what’s happening right now, there’s a really good chance that whatever skill they developed in the past to save their life, is not applicable in the situation they’re dealing with right now. And if you’re present with the situation you’re dealing with now, you can–we can–develop together skills through presence that are adaptive to the situation that you’re in right now. In the meantime–soapbox alert–post-traumatic stress is the brain trying to heal itself. We wouldn’t take someone who’s a veteran from Afghanistan or Vietnam who, when a helicopter flies overhead, they hide under a table. Well, when the helicopter flies overhead in Vietnam, you needed to hide or you would die. If you hide under a table in Lexington in 2018, you look like you have a disorder. But really, if we can teach the brain to be present in Lexington in 2018, and you have a way to practice presence, then you can unlearn that coping skill, and that association with that particular stimulus.  Asana allows us to be present in our bodies and to feel our bodies.

So, to me, the essence of yoga is presence, the practice of yoga is a mindfulness practice. It allows us through breathwork and asana to be present in our bodies and to feel our bodies.

CS: By the way, feel free to soapbox-away! This is your opportunity to get on a soapbox about your passion!

CR: Ha! It’s terrible! I could soapbox all day. It’s hard that so many people are pathologized or pathologize themselves. Knowledge is power, and when you learn how the brain works, and that the things that we do are patterned behaviors which have saved our asses in the past, we can then choose to practice mindfulness and presence, and to make a different choice in this moment. If you say to a traumatized person, you must be present all the time, it’s a little much, but if you offer it as a choice, that’s much more manageable. The yoga mat allows us to have a symbol of practicing presence. We roll out the mat and that is the signal to our brains that this is the time to practice. I had a student in class last week who said, “Hey, you probably don’t remember me but I took one class with you ten years ago, and in that class, you suggested that we practice presence in line at the grocery store, and to use that as a cue like the yoga mat. And every time I’ve been to the grocery store in the past ten years, I’ve practiced mindfulness in line.” And she continued, “As a matter of fact, everyone in my family practices presence in line at the grocery store, because I loved it so much, I told them about it.”

So the yoga mat is a cue that we’re practicing, but you can identify other situations in your life to use as cues, whether it’s a difficult conversation with someone, or standing in line, or whatever it is you’re doing.

CS: Those are great tips! Those are all opportunities to practice, for sure. So I feel like we’ve covered how do you define yoga. For you personally, not necessarily in your professional life, but may be more in your personal life, what role does yoga play for you?

CR: First thing that pops into my head is that yoga keeps me HONEST. Yoga keeps me from being the expert. Yoga keeps me from being the know it all that I sometimes tell myself that I am. My personal practice of yoga keeps me in the role of beginner, student. So sometimes, I say that being a yoga teacher at first was something that kept me contractually obligated to keep up my personal practice, but I kinda don’t feel that way anymore. I am glad that I did that in the beginning, but really, everything is yoga. The eight limbs are there to give us a way to be present with what we’re doing here on this earth.

CS: I think it’s really helpful to have those, on the one hand, things like contractual obligation, but on the other hand, those small opportunities, like the grocery store line. That’s lovely.

So, one of your focuses for the last few years has been the work of Brené Brown. Could you say just a little bit about that just in case people aren’t familiar, and also talk about what drew you to this work, and how it has influenced your yoga practice?

CR: So, Brené Brown’s work is…oh if Cindy Hutchison reads this [chuckling]…it’s a very elaborate cognitive behavioral therapy. So cognitive behavioral therapy is cognitive–the way you think, behavioral–the way you behave–and behavior can be an anxiety response, avoidance, whatever. So the idea is, that if you change the way you perceive something, you change the way you relate to that thing. So that’s, in a nutshell, what cognitive behavioral therapy is, and mindfulness is the space between perception and reaction, and trying to change reactions into responses. So that’s another way that yoga and mindfulness is a thing in my life

So it started out with Brené Brown in 2013…2014, when Cindy Hutchison, who owns The Massage Center, suggested that I start doing private practice work.

So Cindy is a person, like Amanda, who has been a really big part of my life and my development. So it wasn’t like somebody off the street going, “Hey you’d be really good at this thing.” It’s someone who has spent a lot of time, watched my whole practice develop, and said, “I think that you would be really good at this. And I want to offer you a way to deliver this, just the way I’ve offered you a way to deliver your yoga practice to students. These are my clients, these are our customers here at The Massage Center, and I feel like you have something that could benefit my clientele.” So, we decided that I needed some kind of certification. Clearly, I’m certified as a clinician, but she wanted me to do airquotes “life coaching”. So I just started looking. So up until that moment, I had no knowledge of Brené Brown, but what got me into her is that she has a clear focus on mindfulness. So that’s how that started segueing. Back in 2013/2014 is when she was all hooked up with Oprah. Oprah had picked her book and there was an ecourse, so it wasn’t that hard to find her. Like she popped up at the top of the google list when I started looking. So, because Cindy is not someone who messes around at all, she said that in February, and by April I was doing the training with Brené Brown. Within 6 months it was happening. That certification involved a training in Texas in which Brené Brown was the lead trainer. We would break up into small groups. The training lasted a week and you walked out with a certification. It was so intense, I cannot even tell you.

So, if you’re unfamiliar with Brené Brown, her certification work takes her research, which began with a research question on shame a long time ago. She wanted to know, why is that some people have hard things happen to them and they bounce back, and other people don’t? So way back when she developed this theory called the Shame Resilience Theory, which then operationalized what it is that people actually do. What practices do they have? Is it all just luck? Or do people actually do things that cause them to be resilient? So she was able to operationalize resilience, and she called it shame resilience. As a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator, I can deliver these strategies to clients in a way that really help them deal with shame and the hard things that come up, which have resulted in them maybe having behaviors that take them away from authenticity.

So, what drew me to Brené Brown’s work was mindfulness and luck. Total luck, like a lot of things in my life. It was a good fit because of the mindfulness and because of it being a very elaborate cognitive behavioral therapy, which is something I’ve been doing my whole career. So since then, we’ve done a lot of workshops, I was a featured presenter at the National Association of Social Workers Conference. People really resonate with Brené’s work. It’s very approachable. She has a really authentic way of delivering, which is not an accident, since one of her goals is authenticity. It’s not yoga, at all, but it’s mindfulness. It’s not asana, but it’s mindfulness. It’s not yoga, but it’s the yamas and niyamas and everything wrapped up in a way that allows us to recognize how hard times and hurtful things shape our responses. And mindfulness is the key to changing that response.

CS: Clearly you enjoyed the training with Brené Brown, and I know you’ve had a lot of teachers–Amanda, Angela Farmer, Judith Lasater, Cindy Hutchison–of all of those teachers, and I’m sure many I haven’t mentioned, think about someone you really enjoy. What is their teaching like, and how does that inform your own teaching practice and personal practice?

CR: Ooh, hard.

CS It’s tough! It’s a tough question.

CR: Well, it’s Amanda all the time, and Cindy Hutchison. It’s Amanda all the time, because even with Judith and Angela, who I spent a lot of time in training with, I got to both of those people because of Amanda. Especially with Angela. Again, I’ve been around other teachers…it’s like the gym yoga question…like, I know that other teachers exist, but at almost 50 years old, and practicing since 1999, I can’t…I don’t even know how to answer the question, because Amanda and Cindy. I just…I’ll get emotional…they’re part of who I am. This isn’t me being dramatic, it might sound like it, but it isn’t. Everything I am, everything I deliver…there are days I teach 4 or 5 classes a day. It doesn’t matter if I teach 4 or 5 classes every day. Every class is a little bit of Amanda and a little bit of Cindy. Without a doubt. Obviously, if I’m teaching a restorative class, there’s a lot of Judith Lasater, and a lot of blanket tucking and whatever.

How does that influence who I am?…It’s so hard for me to know anymore, because it’s like it’s so close. It’s who I am as a person, and Amanda will tell you that this is true–I will randomly on a Tuesday afternoon, send her a text that’s like, I know this might be too much, but I love you and everything I have is because of you. Now, I get it, it’s my work, and it’s my thing, but if it had not been Amanda in the beginning, I don’t know what would have happened. And if it hadn’t been for Cindy, the first time I ever MET Cindy. I can remember the first moment that she came over and looked at me. I think I was in Parsvakonasana, because she like, bent over, and looked me in the face, and she was like, “I can tell you’re working really hard in your practice, would you be willing to move your block?” [laughing] You know…something like that. I don’t know, it’s just so much choice, and presence in the body, inner body work. Like inner body work as opposed to what the asana looks like. I could get really emotional about how blessed I am that I got to spend as much time with the two of them at the very beginning of my career. There’s hardly anything that comes out of my mouth on a day to day basis or working with clients that doesn’t come from them. I work with clients at the Rape Crisis Center a couple of days a week, and even there, Amanda is with me, even there, Cindy is with me. There’s so much. They are my teachers, and I can’t pick one of them.

CS We’re not asking you too, don’t worry!

CR: Haha, don’t make me pick one! It’s a tie. There’s not enough gratitude in the world. It wells up in me often, and I let them know all the time, because how they influenced me has now influenced LOTS of other people, including people they may never ever meet or know about. So, I’m passionate about both of their work and their influences on my life.

CS: What I hear you saying is that their teaching has influenced you in many ways. Is there one characteristic of their teaching that really comes forward for you as paramount?

CR: Trust yourself. Listen to your voice. Practice presence. Love yourself. And that’s exactly what I needed to hear at the moment I met them both.

CS: What I have experienced in the couple of classes I’ve taken from you, and what I hear from other students of yours is that your teaching is so very heart centered. And that so strongly resonates with people. And I think, from an outside perspective, I think those two influences kind of combined to really bring that out.

CR: Thank you!

CS: So you’re coming into our training programs, and we’re so excited to have you. Is there anything you’d like prospective students to know about you? Anything about you, your teaching, or the world at large?

CR: So I think what I bring or what I have to offer that is unique, which I hope to bring to your students, would be the trauma-informed piece. How big and little trauma’s in our lives, all of these things influence us in ways that we might not have thought of. It’s really easy to say, “oh other people have it worse, or other people have had harder things happen.” My work now brings a perspective on yoga to give your students an understanding of how the brain works and how that relates to emotions and mindfulness. And how mindfulness works as the space between perception and reaction, and how we might change reactions into responses. So I think I want to be clear that if students have an interest in that that I’m really passionate about that, and I want to get the word out to them so that they can carry that forward in their lives. Brené Brown will be the curriculum, and what I use to deliver this message, but ultimately, it’s about mindfulness and presence.

CS: That is the heart of the work, for sure.

CR: Yeah…asana is a way to deliver it, but that is it. Love you Amanda!

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