Episode 6 - From the Court to the Mat with The Grateful Yogini
Gretchen offers many specialized programs at her studio. One of these programs, and the meat of our show today, is using yoga to up the mental and physical game of elite athletes. Being a multiple sport athlete herself, Gretchen understands the nuanced variables that help athletes keep their edge.
Dan: Hello everybody, and welcome to the fitDEGREE podcast. My name is Dan Berger, and as always I am joined by my co-host, Nick Dennis. Today we have Gretchen Seeck, the owner of Grateful Yogini. Gretchen offers many specialized programs in her studio. One of these programs, and the meat of our show today is using yoga to up the mental and physical game of elite athletes. Being a high level athlete herself, Gretchen understands the nuanced variables that help athlete's keep their edge. Welcome to the show, Gretchen. So glad you could join us today.
Gretchen: Yeah, thanks guys.
Dan: So, now that you're here, you were an athlete for a long time. Tell us a little bit about your sports background, and maybe how, now that you own your own yoga studio, how those two have tied together?
Gretchen: Awesome, yeah. So I grew up in a small town. So basically, all you really did was play sports and go to school. So, I started young. Like, elementary school I started playing soccer and playing basketball, so I was super active. And then it just continued to carry over. I was really kind of freakishly small, but I figured out a way. And by high school-
Nick: That usually makes us tougher, you know. When we're the runts of the group.
Gretchen: Totally, tenacity. I had all the East Bay shirts that say like, "When a dunk is worth three points I'll start doing it." "It's not the size of the dog in a fight that decides the fight, it's the [crosstalk 00:01:40]."
Nick: That, yeah. I don't care how cheesy people say that is, I love that one. Because for us small people, it's true.
Gretchen: Yeah. And then I just started playing. I played in ... Ran cross country, played basketball, and then my heart was really soccer, and I was an All-state soccer player.
Nick: That's exciting. So what state was that? I know you're based out of Arizona right now. Was that always the case?
Gretchen: Nope. So I'm born and raised in Wyoming, and then my dad told me, "You have in-state tuition in Arizona or Wyoming." 'Cause he was in Arizona, mom's in Wyoming. So I picked Arizona 'cause I thought I was big city, and I'm not, at all. So once I came down to Arizona, that's when I first started getting into yoga for the physical side. Just, 100% just physical.
Nick: I like how you say that, how it's like, "I got into yoga for this specific reason, which means there's gonna be some story how we realize the other parts of yoga too."
Gretchen: Yeah, the good stuff. So, after that I just went all the way through ASU, graduated, I partied a lot. I drank and I pretty much abused anything that was in my way.
Nick: I only know you could blame that on you, though. I think ASU is top 10, top 5 for that.
Dan: They're whatever they think they are.
Gretchen: Long story short, I couldn't stop drinking. My drinking had gotten to the point where I was trying to get pregnant and I couldn't get pregnant. My body just hated me. My husband pretty much was over it. He was over everything that was going on. And he said, "Okay. You can continue to do whatever the heck you want, but you don't get Sawyer, and you don't get me." And I'm like, "Oh. I really like you guys, so I'm gonna try to keep you." And this is after detox's and day programs and blah blah blah. So finally I went inpatient, and struggled a few more times, but for the last time, got it. Find the mind, spirit part of yoga, and I was hooked. I figured out what my passion was, what my purpose on this earth is, and it's to give people that same peace that I got.
Dan: And that's fantastic. You know, in the intro we mentioned you have more than, you have a couple cool programs going on in your studio. Another one being, I understand you help other people who are recovering as well, correct?
Gretchen: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: Can you tell us a little bit about that program?
Gretchen: For sure. So we have two different types of classes. One, my buddy Jacob he teaches here. He started an addiction recovery class, and he does it at multiple studio's including mine. And that's just a donation based class. People can come. We really want to give people coming right out of treatment the opportunity to do yoga, to do meditation. 'Cause yoga's expensive. Like, there's a lot of studio's that charge a lot of money for yoga. And so you get this amazing thing in treatment. You get to do yoga multiple times a week, and then it's like, [scrch 00:04:47]. You get out of treatment, reality hits, you're freaking broke 'cause you're building up everything that was lost, and you don't get that gift anymore. So we created that class, or Jacob created that class that he brought in here.
Gretchen: And then my girlfriend and I, who is also in recovery and teaches here came up with the eleventh step meeting to add a little big book, a little meditation and a little yoga as part of a donation class as well, to honor the seventh tradition. Which is, I can't work through AA and get paid for it.
Dan: Right, you gotta work through it.
Nick: So now, let me ask you this, when did you start your studio?
Gretchen: The studio was totally divine as well. So it came to me a year ago-
Nick: Oh wow, so this is after this whole experience. Like you were just practicing yoga, and for the physical, and then like we just went over, you got into for more than just the physical. But this was all before you even thought about opening a studio?
Gretchen: All before. I was a mortgage banker when I was sick. So I was a mortgage banker. And then right after treatment went and got my certification, and started Grateful Yogini, just on a wing and a prayer. I made a logo and I just kept trucking along, doing action after action. Hustling, teaching anywhere that would let me. Doing events, anywhere that they would let me. Doing vendor booths. And through that, I got a referral to this basketball gym, Powerhouse Hoops. It's called the facility, and these guys say, "We were referred to you, we want you to come teach our kids yoga, and in the downtime you can have a studio." And I'm like-
Dan: That's a pretty nice deal.
Gretchen: Yeah, totally. And in my brain I'm like, "Way too good to be true. But, I kept in touch with them, they were amazing dudes. And at the very least I get to teach these athlete's like, collegiate bound athlete's yoga, and give them that gift. And time passed, building came up, they handed me keys and I'm like, "Oh god, this is really happening. This is my studio."
Dan: So did they install, like I know you need the proper flooring and the windows, everything like that. Did they install that in the facility for you?
Gretchen: We are such a work in progress, no. They looked at the plans, they saw that there was extra land, and they're like, "Okay, well we'll just throw another addition onto the gym." They had forward thinking enough they're like, "Okay let's do yoga," and they reached out to me. So, they're working really hard to make the studio a little bit more soundproof, because the gym is right there. You can hear the ball bouncing, you can hear people. Oh my gosh, and it's a concrete, steel building, so sound travels. And there's other businesses, so we just try and make it work. I have like big drapes that kind of help the sound. But it was not specially made with all the ins and outs of a normal studio. I just created it.
Gretchen: And it's so awesome. People come in here and they're like, "How in the heck did you create such a serene place in a basketball gym? In a place like this?" I'm like, "I just, my love and intention, and I guess that's the only thing I can come up with."
Nick: Yeah, I'm a big quote guy, and there's one quote that I really like that it's, "It seems like a lot of the obstacles get out of your way, or a lot of the opportunities find you once you get out of your own way." And it really sounds like, once you kind of, with your sickness got out of your own way. 'Cause a lot of that I'm sure was self-created, all of a sudden now all these opportunities are blossoming. And now that you're really focused on it, and you have the intention every day of growing yourself as well as helping others, this whole thing just comes together. And it's really amazing when you just show up to work every day and you just hack away a little bit every day, a year or two goes by, and now people walk into your studio and can't believe how serene it is.
Dan: Meanwhile, they didn't see everything you had to do to put it up. They didn't see that. They didn't hear the trash talk during shavasana or anything like that, that you had to deal with, while you're getting it set up.
Gretchen: Yeah, for sure. You guys just gave me goosebumps just saying that. I think about two and a half years ago and I'm like, God, if I would have written down in my journal, 100% my wildest dreams, I don't even know if a studio would have been on there. I think that it would have been so far-fetched for me, even to dream of having my own studio. It's such a miracle, and shows the power of freaking dreaming. Like, dream big, people. Because they happen.
Nick: You have to believe these things very naively. Like, you gotta be smart, and you gotta make good decisions. But a little part of you to be an entrepreneur or a dreamer in general is, you gotta be a little naïve. And you gotta just believe things are supposed to happen. There's no such thing as perfect timing, so you might as well just do it now. 'Cause everything's perfect timing.
Dan: How do you go about training these athlete's? Working with them? What's different? What's the same? What do you like? The floor is open for you to take it away.
Gretchen: Awesome, so. The first thing that always pops into anyone's head is yoga for injury prevention, flexibility, all of that. And that's a beautiful side of it. It is 100% effective and true, and works like a charm. And my bread and butter, the thing that I'm most passionate about is the mind part of the game. I think about, back in the day, I was a super emotional player. So, say something goes really, really well. Okay, I'm flying high and maybe make a mistake because of that. Say something goes really, really wrong, I just jack my head for the rest of the game. And being able to teach players how to be in the exact moment is such a gift.
Gretchen: So, you miss a shot. Instead of having your mind back on the missed shot, you're back here right in the present moment. If you have a turnover, okay, cool. You get out of that moment and you come right back here. And it's just like a constant progress, instead of living in the past, living in the future, you're right here.
Gretchen: And then it's just really tailoring the practice to the motions that you make in basketball. So like, the biomechanics of sprinting. The biomechanics of changing directions. The biomechanics of shooting a ball. What are you doing with your arms? What's happening with your legs? How can you strengthen those specific things?
Nick: I think that's one thing yoga really helping with as well. 'Cause Dan plays rugby, I just lift, not super competitively, but I'm constantly training, trying to hit a new goal. And yoga has helped both of us I think with being really kinesthetically aware of certain muscles we didn't know existed before.
Dan: I know they exist after class.
Nick: So like, whether I'm doing a lift or Dan is sprinting or something like that, no matter, we're gonna accomplish our goal of what we want to do. But the question is, do we use the right muscles, to do it the most effectively? And like Dan's got an injury right now in his knee, I've got a pulled groin right now, and both of those I think happened from overcompensating with the wrong muscles. Probably 'cause we got a little bit away from yoga. That's the idea, that you're making these athlete's a like more kinesthetically aware by making them more mindful of what their actions are.
Dan: And one thing you said that I thought was great. And it's a skill that athlete's probably don't think of. They think of speed, they think of agility, they think of my hand skills, if I'm a basketball player. My dribbling, my passing. They don't think of the mental checklist. How in control of my thoughts am I? And in a game, yeah, that mental game is everything. Like you said, when you're on a hot streak, you're pulling out moves you wouldn't normally try because you're feeling good. And they're working. And if you get in your own head, it's hard to get out, and you gotta learn how to cope.
Nick: So can you tell us about a case of a really stubborn athlete, someone that couldn't live in the moment. Someone that, they get too high, they get too low. I mean I noticed with my girlfriend the other day with lifting is that, she always gets so hyped up when she lifts that she can't humble herself that there's no way when she's down from missing lifts that she can actually bring herself back up. She has no control over that. She's working on it, but it's very difficult. So can you tell us about maybe a stubborn athlete you had that always got too high, always got too low, and how you got them to work through that?
Gretchen: That's such a good point, 'cause it's such a waste of energy. Whether you're up high or whether you're down low. You know, as far as a specific example, it's more getting them in the door. Because once I get them in the door, in the studio for one session, I have a 100% success rate of them looking in my face and being like, "That was amazing. That was unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life." And I go, "I know." And it always just gets better. Like there's never a plateau, there's never anything like. You're never gonna reach a peak, it just keeps getting better.
Nick: Well, that's exciting. Well, there's probably a lot of trust built up with the athlete's in particular, I mean for both programs. But with the athlete's because of, I would assume that you credential drop immediately that you were an athlete.
Nick: 'Cause that would make me feel comfortable. Like, for example, I was getting in my own head a lot over the summer, and I refused to talk to a therapist about it, or anyone like that. I would just kind of talk to friends. And I started getting acupuncture by a guy that was a former international weightlifter. I went there for four weeks and I was like, "Oh, I get acupuncture, I get acupuncture." And I actually like, came in my own head like, "I'm getting therapy. I'm legit getting therapy." 'Cause it's from someone I trust. This is a former competitive athlete that has a very similar personality to me. So it's like, I couldn't talk to a shrink that I don't feel like I can relate to. But I can talk to someone that I feel has already walked down my shoes, even if it's essentially the same result.
Dan: I had a question I wanted to ask. These athlete's they come in with their guard really up. Do you see, even after you credential drop, their eyes open. I'm sure you see it when they're going through their practice, and you're guiding them, and they're like, "I'm doing it 'cause you're telling me too." We've all seen it, you go through a walkthrough, and you're doing it 'cause your coach tells you to, not 'cause you want to do it the best you can at that speed. It means nothing. It's not ingraining in your head. Scientifically, the neurons in our brain our not being trained to do it properly, they're training to do it falsely, science has shown it. Do you see an ah-ha moment, when they're going from going through the motions 'cause you told them to move that way, to doing the movements because they want to get better? And with that ah-ha moment, have you found there's really a best way to reach that ah-ha moment, or a best path to try and get their guard down?
Gretchen: I find that through touch and shavasana.
Gretchen: You'll go through the practice, you'll do some warriors, you'll do some crescent, you'll take them wherever they want. Maybe even some balancing, 'cause balancing really is kind of an ego driven thing. And when you fall out, you have to drop your ego if you want to get back in.
Nick: You're totally right, I can picture so many [crosstalk 00:16:32].
Dan: What do you mean I can't stand on one foot?
Gretchen: Yeah. So after that you go into, if they're in child's pose they'll come and walk on their feet, I'll push down on their back just to say like, "Okay feel me, I'm here. And I'm not scary. And I'm just trying to help and be here for you." And so after that, they get into their shavasana. I'll come around with oil, I do like a little thing with their arms. Once again, I'll open up their stance, because when they're closed up in their stance, they're closed up in their body. So, by opening them up when they have to lay down, quote on quote, when they can't get out of it, they can't run out of the room. They're forced to sit with that. They're forced to sit with exactly where they're at. And they're able to. They feel their authentic self at the end. We honor their heart. And then once they get up, they pause. Like we sit up, lift our heart to the sky, bow our chin to our chest, and I thank them for coming in. Like say, "Thank you so much for allowing me to share this with you." And I feel like the ah-ha moment comes right there, when they just sit and pause. Like, they don't jump up. They don't try and race out of the room. They'll just sit there with me, and I'll just let them. Like, I won't get up until they get up.
Dan: Now that to me almost seems a little, paradoxical is the right word. But, you wouldn't expect for these athlete's these high movers, more intensity. Who's faster, quicker that they have to go through something that's challenging for them to the technically, physically least challenging part, then be done to go, "Oh wait, now I have to do it again and I'll do it right." Normally it's, you know while you're doing something if you're doing it right, if you're doing it properly. You catch the ball or you don't, you make the shot or you don't. But now, they have to actually finish and be still to realize they now need to do it again, but do it properly.
Nick: Well, I would say two things on that. And Gretchen, you might have better insight on this. But one, a lot of people will, like the reason. Well, not maybe the reason shavasana's at the end. But like, meditation stuff is that, most of us, if not all of us can't focus until we're exhausted. You're so tense all the time, you're so worked up all the time that I mean, I consider like lifting my practice, that's how I relax. And it's not until the end of the workout where everything's out of my body, I feel relaxed 'cause my workout's over, the intensity's over, that now I'm clear. 'Cause I'm too exhausted to think about that anymore, and I've worked it all out of me. So I would say that's one reason why they realize it at the end.
Nick: And the other thing would be, by the time you've had them for an hour, right? So they can't think about their Instagram, they can't think about what happened at school that day, they can't think about practice. Everything's clear. The only thing they know is this room at this point. You've stripped them down, so they're essentially naked, mindfully. They're just like, "This is all I know right now, is this room, this practice, this lady. Who keeps telling me to relax and I finally did it." I would think for those two reasons, one their physically exhausted, two they're mindfully naked that now they're like, "Oh, okay. I should bring the focus next time I'm here." And like Dan said, do it right.
Gretchen: So true, great points. And I think that stuff may come into their head. The Instagram, the girlfriend, the homework, all of that stuff. Or you know, the next big game. But that's my job, to constantly remind them to bring back to their breath. Come back to their grounding. Come back to their intention. Like, that's part of being an effective teacher, is right when they're saying, "I can't do this." I whip around and I'm like, "I know you can, and this is how you get there."
Nick: So is there anything, as we wrap this up, is there anything that you want to leave your two cents with, or any piece of advice that you feel like you didn't get out yet, that you'd like to share with the listeners?
Gretchen: I think it's just all knowledge. One of my passions is getting to suburbia and sharing, being an alcoholic being a drug addict, it's a real thing. And it's not dirty, and it's not weak, and we're not bad people, we're just sick people. It's like, we need to find what our medicine is. And the more that we talk about it, and the more we get rid of that negative stigma, the more people we can help and the less the tragedy and the drama drags on.
Gretchen: And then, the last thing just pertains to athlete's, it pertains to the person next door, the obese person that thinks that they can't. I'm living, breathing, walking proof, because I said like, "I can't meditate because I can't shut my brain off." And now I can. So, all you have to do is try. It's not gonna happen overnight, but you just put one foot in front of the other, and all the sudden, you have a beautiful mind that loves yourself like the authentic you, and you get to shine that light for other people.
Dan: Well, Gretchen, thank you so much. I have to say that has to be one of the realest and most conversational podcasts we've recorded to date. We went where that took us, and I think this is gonna be, anyone who has the privilege of listening to this will walk away a calmer and more confident person as well.
Gretchen: Thank you guys so much for having me on here, and doing what you guys do, it's awesome.