Profound wisdom flows from every word Kathy spoke in this interview. We discuss what Kundalini yoga has done for her, as well as her journey from ballerina to flight stewardess, pilates instructor, and yoga guru, including all the lessons she’s learnt along the way. Kathy provides easily implementable tools to help you in your journey and I hope this interview gives you the same sense of clarity and coming into the present moment that it did for me. Open honesty flows through Kathy’s insights and gaining them was more of an honour than I can say.
Disclaimer* all of Kathy’s amazing insights could not be put into a blog post word for word. Hence, some of her answers have been slightly condensed with her approval.
What has your career path been?
I grew up in Cairns and had a carefree, idyllic childhood. After school I played with a friend who happened to be learning ballet, I’d ask her to teach me all the ballet steps she was learning in her classes and I begged my parents to let me join classes myself, but being one of five children my parents were far too busy to add more to their life. After a few years they relented and I began dance training. In 1975 at 15 years of age, I flew to Melbourne to undertake a three-year diploma course at ABS in Melbourne. In the last half of my third year, I was invited to dance with The Australian Ballet. Still in my graduating year at the school, I was dancing four acts of Swan Lake every night in the Melbourne Palais Theatre and Sydney Opera House. This opportunity was a turning point in my life, because I never dreamed I was good enough to be a professional dancer in any company. In 1978 I was offered a contract with the Australian Ballet, where I danced for the next 11 years. Retiring just prior to my 30th birthday, I then taught for several summer schools, along with coaching full time dancers. In my next chapter I joined Ansett Australia as a flight attendant and spent the next 12 years flying for this wonderful company. This lifestyle appealed to me and it was a path that allowed me to raise a family with flexibility. We were able to travel to stay together as a family and to keep up with Steve’s busy touring schedule. After the collapse of Ansett Airlines, I began training to be a Pilates teacher. As luck would have it, the Australian Ballet needed an interim Pilates teacher for a year, a role which I stepped into along with relief teaching at the Australian Ballet School. It was here in these familiar studios that I found my greatest and most fulfilling path in life. I was observing a Pilates class that I hoped to teach in the coming months and for the first portion of this class, the students were moving rhythmically with specific and deliberate breath. Their eyes were closed and upon finishing the exercises I noticed their energy appeared to have shifted into a still calmness. It captivated and excited me, so I asked the instructor about this series of exercises and her answer was “Oh that was a Kundalini Yoga warm up.” My next words were “Where can I learn that Yoga?” By 2003, I flew to New Mexico for my certification in Kundalini Yoga. I am now into my eighteenth year of teaching.
You rise fairly early to complete your own Kriya and prepare for teaching. Do you have a specific morning routine?
On rising I’ll have a cup of tea, then I may go about everything in silence or if the mood takes me I’ll listen to a podcast. Once my practice begins I will either do 1 to 1.5 hours of Yoga and Meditation a day. Early in my Yoga journey, I would rise before 5am to practice and meditate until 7am. Discipline came easily because of my training as a dancer, but also because Yoga became my passion; I feel so alive and inspired once I do my practice. After my children left home, my routine changed considerably. I noticed I no longer needed to control everything and had time to quietly listen to my inner landscape. I began to understand what felt right for me was different from day to day. I’m now more gentle and kind to myself, allowing each moment to be conscious and aware.
Can you speak to the mental shifts you feel kundalini yoga facilitated for yourself?
There are too many to count. From my very first class I could feel an energetic shift, like a sense of calm, a pause that stilled within me. Initially I loved the physicality of Kundalini Yoga, but have come to recognise the integration of breathing and meditation is equally nurturing. In my first class after doing an exercise called ‘shoulder shrugs’ I noticed tears trickling down my face as a form of release, this was a surprise and came out of nowhere. No pilates, ballet or physical exercise had ever shifted blocked energy in me as that experience had. This moment was a turning point in my life. I felt expansive and knew I had found what I’d been searching for, in fact it was within me all along. In Yoga this is called ‘sat nam’ – true self. Soon after beginning kundalini, even friends mentioned I looked calm and appeared bright and clear. Once you experience the benefits of regular practice, it becomes your joy to share and support others in the larger community.
Do you feel you would have approached aspects of your dance career differently had you already been practicing Kundalini? If so how, and is that something you would like to see today’s artists find in themselves?
Absolutely, I’d be kinder to myself. As a dancer, my self-sabotaging patterns and mantras were, ‘you are so weak’, ‘you can’t turn’ and ‘I’m never going to be strong or good enough’. Looking back, my negative state of mind was blocking the path to my future time and time again, tipping me off balance and draining my energy, vitality and personal power. Thinking we can attain perfection is a trap. Why not pay attention to the small details step-by-step, breath-by-breath. Our ego can be positive because it motivates us, but allowing our ego to rule our life can be detrimental because it requires us to seek validation from others in order to feel accepted. Fatigue was an ever constant battle for most of my career in dance and also whilst flying. I couldn’t switch off and I didn’t have the tools at the time to manage stressful situations in my life, therefore my wellbeing was often compromised. Yoga strengthens commitment to your self by increasing glandular and nervous system strength, which is a powerful tool to have as a dancer or in any walk of life. Generally a dancer’s career will demand a lot from the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight response). Breathing techniques greatly enhance the parasympathetic nervous system, which restores and calms us. To love and accept ourselves doesn’t have a downside; it only inspires us to hold that reminder in every moment so you can locate the best YOU, anytime and anywhere. Nobody can be YOU better than YOU. Do YOU. Be YOU.
A tip – our breath is our willing, constant companion that we can use and work with any time, any place, to support positive change whenever we choose.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, so if you could scribe one word to use as your weapon in life what would it be?
Within you is your very own seed that holds your potential to love, live, and show compassion to others as a channel of peace. Every decision I’ve made in my life has come from my intuition. A capacity to see and know instantly whether something sits right with me, or doesn’t.
What perceived ‘failure’ has turned into your most helpful lesson on your journey thus far?
In early years of motherhood I felt I had lost any perceived control I had in my life. Our beautiful son had colic for 6 months followed by months of reflux, so most of the first year of parenting felt as if I had somehow failed as a mother. With sleep deprivation, I was in a constant state of worry and upset. Looking through a magazine one day I came across a survey about Post Natal Depression in which I ticked six out of ten boxes. It was not surprising that I was also suffering adrenal exhaustion. Through yoga practice you come to understand the nature of the mind, and that it is only you that has created any ‘perceived failure’. This experience taught me to have a great deal of compassion for others, you never know what someone is going through.
From what I understand, you decided quite succinctly and rapidly to follow kundalini all the way to the USA to gain your teaching qualification. This would have meant some sacrifices. What drove you to make this decision, and which of your qualities did you call on to see this passion realised?
I knew this was my path. I was nervous about going to the US but had no doubt it was the right decision, I also had amazing support from Steve and family to make the most of this opportunity. Without phone coverage or internet at teacher training, I felt quite alone and missed my children terribly. That said, it was an opportunity to immerse myself deeper into my spiritual practice for growth, to develop wisdom, strength and find my truth. If there were qualities that helped me through this period, I would say they were my discipline and determination along with my absolute belief that this was the right path for me.
Many may view ballerina to a flight stewardess as a drastic shift in gears. Did you find any ways to bring the creativity nurtured in ballet into flight attending? Or for you was it a purposeful shift away from an artistic lifestyle? If it was purposeful, what pulled you back to art and movement?
To many, shifting careers from dancer to flight attendant could seem like polar opposites, but both professions had similarities. I was still in a public domain and in a way under scrutiny every day. The focus on grooming and presentation was not dissimilar to ballet. The biggest difference was as a flight attendant you could leave the job behind once you signed off and not take it home with you. A Ballet career mostly consumes us 24/7, and we sacrificed a lot to stay in the creative bubble and produce the best outcome. A dancer’s life is mostly consumed with how you eat for your energy levels, sleep, play, socialising etc. I didn’t see my career change as radical, just as another meeting point in life where you create new opportunities.
COVID has truly demonstrated the lack of control we have over what the future brings. Would you agree, that a foundation of kundalini is the ability to stay present and not feel the need to control/ predict the future?
If we allow the mind to run off into a future that hasn’t yet occurred or a past that we can’t rewrite, then we rob ourselves of the present moment. If we don’t catch ourselves and stay present in order to still the monkey mind, we stay in a perpetual downward cycle and our life can be run by our past story or a future projection. Ultimately the only thing I have control over is my breath. Breath is our constant companion. Breath is the game changer for a positive, happier life. All life breathes together and everything is energy.
Is there a specific kundalini meditation you feel would benefit the broader arts community to practice?
I would recommend doing the Shabad Kriya before bed. Feel free to start by practicing this mediation for 3-5 minutes and then increase the time as you feel comfortable.
Here are some instructions/info on the shibad kriya from https://www.3ho.org/articles/shabad-kriya-deep-sleep-and-radiance
It is said that if Shabad Kriya is practiced regularly, sleep will be deep and relaxed, and the nerves will regenerate.
Posture: Sit in any comfortable posture with the spine straight. Place the hands in the lap, palms up with the right hand over the left. The thumbs are together and point forward.
Eyes: Focus the eyes on the tip of the nose, the eyelids 9/10 closed.
Breath and Mantra: Inhale in 4 equal parts, mentally vibrating the mantra Sa-Ta-Na-Ma. Hold the breath, vibrating the mantra 4 times for a total of 16 beats. Exhale in 2 equal strokes projecting mentally Wahe Guru. Continue for 15 to 62 minutes.
This meditation was practiced for 31 minutes in a successful pilot sleep trial for chronic insomnia conducted by Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School. For 20 participants completing the protocol, statistically significant improvements in sleep were observed.
There are multiple follow along videos for this kriya on youtube
In what ways would you like to see readers’ minds expand with this interview?
I hope they open the door to love themselves for who they are. May they love their uniquenesses that they carry within. May they be how they want to be, not how I want them to be. I would love to see readers expand, to understand that they can only start where they’re at, right now. Your life is a journey and your courage and commitment to life is what matters.
You can find Kathy on IG @yogini_kh or reach her at email@example.com