Q & A with Kristin McGee: Yoga & Pilates Trainer to the Stars
When Kristin moved to New York City from Pocatello, Idaho, in 1994 to pursue a career in acting, she never imagined she'd end up a fitness celebrity.
While attending New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, she discovered yoga, which was taught at school for breath control and proper alignment. After studying yoga with some of the world's most renowned instructors, Kristin created her own style of yoga that was an instant hit for its upbeat, refreshingly hip approach.
In 2003, Kristin was asked to choreograph and instruct the first MTV Yoga video, which she followed up with three additional fitness titles for the music video channel: MTV Power Yoga, MTV Pilates and MTV Pilates Mix. Kristin has appeared on Good Morning America, CNN Headline News, Fox's Good Day New York, Tyra Banks Show and NBC's Today Show as a fitness consultant and has been on the covers of Pilates Style and Fit Yoga magazines. She has also been in Self, InStyle, Shape, Fitness and Women's Health as a contributing editor and/or fitness model, and some of her celebrity clients include LeAnn Rimes, Soledad O'Brien, and Steve Martin.
MindBodyGreen: How do you start your day? Do you have a morning routine? What do you have for breakfast?
Kristin McGee: I always like to do a downward dog stretch first thing in the morning and then walk my feet up to my hands and take a forward hang before slowly rolling up to stand and starting my day. I love coffee so next I start my coffee brewing and take in the aroma as I shower and get dressed and ready. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I'll make eggs and a whole wheat English muffin with either peanut butter or cheese on it or I'll have Greek yogurt with some Kashi go lean or any fiber one and flax seeds and berries.
MBG: How do you end your day?
KM: I like to end my day either reading a good book or doing the New York Magazine crossword puzzle and having a cup of hot cocoa or tea. Even in the summertime, I love to have a warm cup of something before I fall asleep. I often do some light stretching as well or listen to music. I have so many emails to return when I get home from a long day of teaching but I try to get off the computer at least an hour before I go to sleep. When my fiancé and I are together (he is finishing his MBA at Carnegie Mellon so we are long distance right now), he is my warm cup or something! I love to snuggle with him and just talk about our days and our future together.
MBG: How did you go from pursuing acting at NYU to choreographing, instructing, and starring in MTV's Yoga and Pilates videos?
KM: I discovered yoga when I was at NYU and I fell in love with it. When I graduated, I got my certifications to teach group fitness, yoga, and Pilates. I had classes at Crunch gym and various other gyms and studios in Manhattan. One day, I was teaching an awesome yoga class at the Crunch on 38th and Broadway and an MTV producer happened to be taking it. She asked me for a headshot and we set up an audition. I was cast to host and choreograph the first ever MTV Yoga DVD, which did so well, we went on to make 3 more titles. I have since made 4 more DVDS, 2 of my own titles, and two brand new Pilates titles for Acacia Media. I love combining my acting skills and fitness expertise.
MBG: When did you start practicing yoga and Pilates? Were you always athletic? Did you play sports?
KM: I have always been active and athletic. I the am the only girl in my family sandwiched between two very brothers; and we all grew up skiing, playing tennis, hiking, swimming, biking and going on many camping trips. I also loved to dance and I studied jazz, tap and ballet from the age of 3 through my college years. I played on tennis on my High school team and competed at our State tournament ever y year of school. I was introduced to yoga in my acting classes at New York University and then soon discovered Pilates upon graduating. I love what they have done for all my activities and I find I'm more relaxed and fit when I go home to Idaho and hit the slopes or play a competitive tennis match. I recently began doing some rock climbing and having core strength and flexibility make a huge difference.
MBG: Are there any foods you try to consume more of? Any foods you try to avoid?
KM: Oh I love all foods and I really don't try and avoid anything but it comes naturally to me to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I love all fish and if I could eat salmon every day I would. I even eat sardines right out of a can! I like spicy food and Mexican food and Indian food and Italian and I like to explore and be open to new things. I am not a huge meat eater but often times do find myself craving a delicious filet mignon (Raoul's restaurant in Soho has the best steak frites!) or elk medallions or bison burgers. I eat a ton of yogurt especially the Greek kind and I love almonds, walnuts and pistachios. I have to have a square of really good dark chocolate most evenings and it pairs really nicely with a glass of red wine. Whole grain English muffins, brown rice, quinoa, egg whites, turkey breast, avocado, chicken, tofu, hummus, black beans, whole grain pasta are really good staples to keep on hand.
MBG: You're a red meat-eating gal from Idaho - what's your diet like, and what's your take on different diets?
KM: I definitely think diets are like yoga and Pilates practices where it's never a one-size-fits-all approach. I like to tailor each session to each individual and what works for some doesn't work for others. I can't do the vegan thing or the raw food or macrobiotic or Atkins or anything that says you have to eliminate something from your diet. Life is too short. If you don't like something, don't eat it -- and if you do like something eat it when you want to in the right amount so you'll continue to enjoy it. Some foods are like sex and should be eaten on a regular basis some foods are like vacations and should be incorporated when you just really need to take a break from your routine. Just find out what your body likes best and don't be afraid to explore -- it's just food after all. I really think we've all gotten so angst about something that is just meant to nourish us and make us happy and help us be strong and healthy so we can do the things we want to in life. No judgments on anyone else's food choices, sexual preferences, or vacation spots.
MBG: If you could only do one Pilates exercise, what would it be?
KM: I think it would have to be the roll up it works all the abdominal muscles and especially the deep transverses while also stretching out the spine and hips and hamstrings and head and neck. It's like taking a warm bath and toning the abs at the same time.
MBG: How has yoga and/or Pilates changed your perspective on life?
KM: They have kept me strong in so many ways. The best thing about yoga and Pilates is how they have helped me stay curious about my own body and mind, and how I relate to myself and others and the world. Both disciplines will stay with me for life and because life is unexpected I think my perspective is much more open now to taking each day at a time and trusting that I can handle everything that comes my way. I am more joyous and appreciative of all the little things now. I take my time and I listen more to my self and others. I hope I can continue to keep growing this way forever.
MBG: Any tips to help us manage stress?
KM: Stress is such a tough subject matter and I find we just keep adding more and more things to our schedule and our lives. If you can find one thing to maybe let go of each day and replace it with something quiet, or still, or good for yourself, it can really make a difference. Let one email go or one dish stay in the sink -- you can get them done tomorrow. Stop and take a deep breath in and see if you can just be in the moment by watching one inhale and one exhale. Just watching and feeling one breath will quiet the mind like you can't even imagine.
MBG: What about tips to "quiet our minds" before bed?
KM: If you can't sleep, place your hands on your belly, close your eyes and feel the breath come in and go out. Start with one breath and soon it becomes two and eventually you can find 5 minute breaks to stop and just breath. Without our breath, we aren't alive so when we get more aware of each living breathing moment, we really just feel better and relaxed. Also find an inner smile lift your soft palate and curl the corners of your mouth up and it will light up your whole being.
MBG: What's your favorite quote?
KM: I always say at the end of each class, "Everything you could possibly ever want, have or need, is right here inside of you."
James Taylor says, "B S U R / S U C / S I M I M," which stands for: "BE AS YOU ARE / AS YOU SEE / AS I AM I AM." And I love those acronyms!
MBG: What's next for you?
KM: I'm getting married December 19th 2009 and soo excited to start a family of my own. I want to have children and I'll make some prenatal and postnatal yoga and Pilates DVDs along the way!
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Photo courtesy of the author