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Yogi and stretching expert Kelly Stackhouse has been teaching yoga for a decade and a half. Her primarily private instruction combines aspects of Vinyasa, Hatha, and Restorative Yoga to create a unique blend that supports any level of personal practice. Zeel Co-Founder Alison Harmelin talks with Kelly about her go-to wellness strategies, daily rituals, and why stretching is so essential to whole-person health.
Alison Harmelin: Kelly, we first met when I saw you on my favorite show, Showtime’s “Billions.” You played the glamorous stretch pro keeping Axe, and later his on-screen nemesis, flexible enough to continue warring with one another. At that time, “assisted stretch” seemed like an activity more targeted towards the one percent, but since then has just exploded. Can you give us some thoughts on why so many of us are embracing stretch and why it’s such a key component to maintaining our overall wellness?
Kelly Stackhouse: I’ve been doing these types of sessions for over a decade because I noticed that a lot of my clients were running big businesses, raising families, training for marathons—driven, type A, “go getters.” I needed to give these folks something to calm their nervous systems and get them back to their centers. I’m very happy to see stretch become more normalized because I think, like yoga, meditation, massage, etc, stretch sessions get you back in touch with your body and help eliminate the aches and pains from daily life.
I think there’s a lot of guilt around the idea of taking time for yourself. To take care of YOU. The truth is, if we take good care of ourselves, we are only better and more fully available for those we love.
AH: You have been practicing yoga for many years and are the private instructor to a whole bunch of bold-faced names, A list celebrities, and even me (over Zoom). What are your three go-to poses and how do they benefit your body and mind?
KS: Oh I love this question, because it changes for me as I change. It would have been different 5 years ago, 10 years ago.
“I love a good forward fold from standing.”
Standing with your feet hip with or slightly wider apart and grabbing opposite elbows with your hands. Swaying even. They say forward folds help us let go of what’s behind us, what’s in the past. Being upside down is playful and gives us a new perspective. And we could all use a good hamstring stretch.
Image courtesy of Health.com
“My second pose would be pigeon.”
Reclined pigeon on your back, upright pigeon, king pigeon, pigeon with your leg up on the back of your couch, or up on your kitchen counter—any variation. I feel very strongly that the hips need attention and have seen this pose do powerful things for my students, as well as myself, over the years. Try and relax into it, eyes closed, and count 10 breaths, letting go more and more with each breath.
“My third would be child’s pose.”
It’s nurturing, comforting, helps to bring us into ourselves. It puts you on your forehead, right where your third eye can be stimulated—your “higher self.” It feels devotional. Sacred. It’s a reset, and an opportunity to come back home to yourself.
AH: These have been unusually stressful times for so many people. How do you utilize yoga breathing to de-stress and decompress and is there anything we can do while working from home, in that midday crunch, to breathe ourselves back into a better place?
KS: I am an asthmatic so breath work has been invaluable to me throughout my life. I’m in such close relationship to my breathing, because I have had to be. I remember a quote that has always stuck with me: “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your breath.” That really rings true to me. Another thing that has stuck with me is that if your inhale is longer than your exhale, you will bring more heat, more energy, to the body. And if your exhale is longer than your inhale, you will bring more cooling, feeling much calmer and grounded. It’s always in my tool kit.
Start by just laying or sitting. Close your eyes, and take your hands on your heart. Take 10 breaths, as big as you possibly can, and exhale as slow as you possibly can. Taking just 2 minutes of your day to close your eyes, connect, and breathe consciously, can completely turn your day around and get you singing an even better tune.
AH: You take care of your mind and your body in a way that is really remarkable. Can you share a few wellness hacks, especially things we can do at-home, to stay mind/body fit in these challenging times?
KS: First and foremost, this is a roller coaster ride, so know it’s okay to have bad days. To not feel motivated or like picking up the phone or like exercising or washing the dishes. We need to know that we don’t always have to be “on” and productive.
For me, one of the most important things to do daily is to check in with myself. I read my temperature, and check my gauge—what do I want my day to look like, and how can I move through it with ease?
I think movement is highest on my list right now. It can be stretching, yoga, biking, walking, swimming, dancing, anything that you gravitate towards. Moving 5-6 days a week recharges me and shakes up my energy.
Lastly, because it’s summer and the farmer’s markets are open, I am also trying to get lots of good fruits and vegetables in my diet. I pay attention to how I digest things and find what’s best for my body type. But I still love a good bagel and cream cheese or pizza any time of day—I’m always about finding the middle ground and enjoying all the things that life has to offer.
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