How long have you been practicing yoga?
I started with Hot-style yoga about 11 years ago now. Hard to believe it’s taken me this long to get to where I’m at!
What’s the first studio you went to?
The Hot studio in Kailua where Bella Kai Yoga was located. I still go there.
What made you start practicing yoga?
It was a Groupon. I saw it and thought, “You know, I’m having problems with my shoulder. I should just try it and see.” And, I did… and it was the worst experience of my life. I was the worst person in the class. I literally I couldn’t even stand on one leg. I couldn’t bend over and touch my toes. I couldn’t do anything.
At the time, when I first started Bikram yoga, I was 51-years-old and having physical therapy on my shoulder. I told my physical therapist, “I just wanted to let you know I started yoga.” She looked at me and said, “You must be the Worst one in your class.” And I said, “Yeah I pretty much am.” I was so inflexible. I literally couldn’t even put my hands back and could hardly raise my arms, and it’s because of working out. It’s because of all the stress you have on your muscles, and as you get older you have to have the flexibility and balance to outweigh that other stuff.
My first class was a very humbling experience. But I decided at that point it was not going to beat me. I was going to do this if it killed me… and I’m still trying.
After your first class did you go back right away?
Yes. I did. I used up all my Groupon and then I joined. I did the unlimited thing. I just kept coming and kept being really bad at it, but eventually I got the flexibility. I’m still working on the balance! It took a while.
Do you practice other style of yoga other than the Hot style?
Yes. I do vinyasa at CorePower Yoga. I started there about three or four years ago. When I first started, I couldn’t do!
What about before CorePower and before Hot yoga? Had you ever done any yoga before?
If someone told me when I was younger that I was going to do yoga, I’d be like yeah that’s never going to happen. I was more into running, you know…you gotta do all the active stuff! Yoga’s like, seriously you just stand there for 90 minutes and do… what? Now I understand there’s a lot that you do!
What other types of activities do you do, and how often?
Four days a week I lift, three days a week I spin, three days a week I jog (I wouldn’t call it running anymore!). Bootcamp-style [workouts] I do usually about four days a week. I do yoga six days a week.
When do you find time to do yoga?
First thing in the morning. You do it first thing in the morning, or it’s not going to get done.
Have you found yoga has helped with your other physical activities?
It has. I’ve even noticed it helps with everyday stuff like walking up and down the stairs. Before when I’d walk up and down stairs, I’d need to hold on to the handrail. I just didn’t feel like I was steady enough to go up and down stairs and now it doesn’t bother me at all. For lifting, it’s helped me a lot as far as the flexibility because lifting gives you muscles but you lose your flexibility too. It’s made a difference as much in my workouts as it has in my everyday life.
You do all your other workouts at home. Why do you go to yoga in a studio?
I’ve tried doing yoga at home and when I travel. I have the app, but the heat isn’t there and I just don’t get the same out of it. Going to a studio forces me to be there and not have the distractions. I have three dogs and a cat, and every time I lie down to do savasana or do the seated postures I get licked, or stepped on, or they’re eating my hair. So, it’s more distracting. At the studio, you can “zen” out.
When you go to a yoga class, do you have any anonymity?
No, even though I go in my corner and I do my thing. You know, when people go to yoga, they’re always worried other people are going to laugh at them — and I tell them, “People! When that yoga class gets started, no one’s gonna care what you look like! You could probably be naked next to someone, and they wouldn’t even notice because they’re so busy concentrating on what they’re doing.” That’s me. I’m just concentrating on what I’m doing. But then after class, someone will whisper, “Hey I saw you on TV,” or “Hey Chief,” or whatever, and it’s like oh, they do know who I am. I try to pretend, but they get me.
What do you like to see in instructors?
For the Hot style… I’ve had some instructors yell and then come back down and I’m like, “Don’t do that! I’m in my zen!” For vinyasa, at CorePower, I like it when the instructors say, “Hey, it’s okay to do what you want. If it’s right for you, do that. If you don’t want to do it, then that’s fine too.” It’s letting the class know they can be as creative as they want or do as little as they want.
What are your favorite postures? The most challenging for you?
For the Hot style, my favorite is one-leg stretching (janusirsasana). The one that vexes me the most is standing head to knee (dandayamana janusirsasana). For vinyasa, my favorites are handstands, headstands, and any arm balances. I’m always looking for a new one to try. I want to be able to do go from handstand to crow, and then shoot back to chaturanga. I’m not sure that’s going to happen without me crushing my nose on the mat. The hardest is anything balancing on one foot. On my left side, I’m good. Right side, I wibble and wobble.
Do you think doing yoga has prevented injuries for you?
It’s hard to say for sure, but I would think so. You never know, but you hear so many stories of people just bending down and hurting their back. I can’t say for sure but my back used to kill me — standing up with a belt and everything else for a long period of time. Now with yoga my back hardly bothers me at all anymore. I’m sure it probably has prevented injuries.
Aside from the physical benefits, how else has yoga affected your life?
The Hot style — the 90 minutes of having to be very patient, of having to hold the postures and not moving quickly from one to another — has helped me concentrate. It helps me focus. It also helps me calm down. I’ve noticed from taking yoga things that would make me mad or irritate me before, especially at work, now it’s just not a big deal. If there’s a problem that comes up at work, no matter how big, it’s like, “Okay, well, let’s just try and figure out what to do and how to work it out.” It’s helped me as far as just keeping me, well, getting my “zen” on.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned in yoga that you can apply to leadership?
Patience. Don’t try and jump into something. Sometimes you just have to sit back and listen to everything going on and then make a decision from there. Don’t be in such a hurry to get to where you’re going. You can get there, but make sure you hear all the pieces of the puzzle before you put the puzzle together.
You’re Honolulu’s first female Chief of Police, so I’m sure you’ve dealt with a lot of stigmas in your life. Tell me about the stigma around yoga — about it being “easy” and “for girls.”
When I ask the guys, even some of the officers here that take it — the Hot Yoga — they say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done and they quit. Because it is! It is hard. Usually, men aren’t flexible and other stuff too, and I tell them, “That’s exactly what you do need.” I think there’s a correlation in the stigmas “yoga is lame and only for only for chicks” and “policing is tough and for only guys.” What’s up with that? That’s what you always hear— for both sides. I tell the guys, “You know what, there are just as many guys in yoga as there are girls. It’s not just a girl thing anymore.” The same thing for policing — we’re trying to get the point across in policing for our hiring and retention, because we need more officers — policing isn’t just for the athletic strong man or woman. It’s for anybody. That’s why we have the training academy, so anyone can do it. It’s trying to break those misconceptions because they’ve been around for a long time. That change probably isn’t going to happen overnight.
How did your perception of yoga change once you started practicing?
It isn’t for wimps. It really takes a lot of strength, concentration, flexibility – everything – to do yoga. It’s all mixed into one.
What types of people do you think would benefit most from yoga?
Everybody will benefit. I think those who would get the most benefit are people who are older, 50-plus, man or woman. At that point, you really start losing your balance, your flexibility, and those are the things you need to make sure you continue living a mobile life so you’re not stuck in a wheelchair. I think those people would probably benefit the most. I think if you start younger and continue all the way through to make it lifetime benefit, that’s even better. But if you had to start somewhere, start when you get older. Start yoga. I was 51 when I started.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just try yoga. It’ll be one of the best things you do. Don’t give up. It ain’t easy. It took me five years to be able to do Fixed Firm Pose so don’t give up. It comes. It took me 50 years to get my body the way it was, so taking another 10 years to get more flexibility than I’veever had is well worth the journey.