Today in “Sources of Inspiration,” our guest is Natalie Kuhn, a founding teacher of The Class, a fitness experience like no other – a transformative workout for body and mind. The Class is focused on inviting students to witness their resistance to discomfort, working through it and feeling physically and mentally empowered.
Gabriela Serna: The class is a workout like no other. How do you explain the experience?
Natalie Kuhn: Oh, gosh! Well, the way that we internally have decided to talk about it is that The Class is a transformational workout for the body and the mind. The shorter way of saying that is that it’s spiritual fitness. So what do either of those things mean? It’s you’re using your body athletically. You’re going through strength training, cardio bursts, but it’s not just for the purpose of fitness. It also gives you the physical container to understand the mind and the spirit. So you’re doing leg lifts, jumping jacks, burpees, and this is all to get you to a place of challenge and intensity. And from that place, you start to understand what your reactions, your habits, your patterns, your negative self-talk are. And that’s when the teacher guides you through a journey, through self-study.
GS: So Natalie, let us know, how did you become a founding member and what has the experience of building this company along with founder Taryn brought to your life?
NK: Where do I begin? And how much time do you have? In 2013 I was an actor and I danced for rock bands and I had a couple of odd jobs to get me through my mid-twenties as many artists do. And one of them was working for the Lemon and Taryn Toomey would come in all the time and say hello to the crew and maybe pick up a new pair of pants and we just hit it off, like friendly strangers. Until she invited me to take this class that she was teaching to her friends in the basement of her apartment building. And that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Back in the day, in 2013, there were kettlebells involved. Five or six other friends of her that were there were just these incredibly strong women. And I just remember laughing the whole way through, thinking: What is going on here? And I went back again and again. What Taryn was beginning to create was what would later become known as The Class. This place where you’re in physical fatigue, meeting yourself at the edge of your own self. I met Taryn before there was a website and before there was a name for the company. And I dedicated myself to this thing that was still becoming.
And I think it’s because she saw something in me and I saw something in her and it was this spark that doesn’t come to your life that often, you know? So I set her up, I broke her down, I took copious notes on what I thought she was doing, and I taught for free to my friends. On Sundays, I invited my girlfriends to come and do it in the park, in basketball courts, at a dance studio where I could get cheap rents. And as soon as I felt like I had a semblance of what Taryn was doing, I invited her to come back through her mentorship. And she said: You know what? Yes, let’s do it. Let’s put you on the schedule. So that was just on the cusp of 2014. And now, six years later, I’m proud to say that The Class is in three cities. We’ve got over 40 people working for the company, including teachers. And my skillset in the realm of business has increased exponentially. My realm in the skillset of teaching has deepened so much. And I imagine, I’ll never stop learning.
GS: This is very inspirational. We would like to find out about who you get your inspiration from, who challenged you to go further?
NK: Aside from you, mamacita! Well, you know what, I ever since I was little, I have always had mentors for different times of my life. When I was in college, I met a woman who was a professor at NYU and took me under her wing, and I became a research assistant for six years. And then when I left college, I thought I wanted to be a pastry chef. So I connected with these chocolates here, no joke, and committed to myself to this kitchen. For a while. And then, as an actor I had mentors. And anyway, Taryn became that mentor for me at the end of my twenties. And then as I evolved in these two left brain and right brain worlds of the business organization and the psychological and spiritual worlds of the class, I saw and found other mentors to guide me along the way.
So in the spiritual world, I leaned in with authors. I’ve been a huge fan of the philosopher and poet David White. And in the business world and the spiritual world of course, Taryn has taught me so much, also my colleagues at The Class that I have really helped both me and my skillset. But it’s really through the relationship of mentor and mentee that I’ve evolved over the course of these years. I think it’s so important and I think if there’s anybody, any of your listeners out there who are wondering how to get to the next stage of their career or their self-development or whatever it is, the thing that’s helped me more than anything is to identify who you think is doing it really well and then ask them for help. Ask them for guidance. Ask them if they’ll take you under their wing, ask them if in this one particular project you’re working on, if they would mind looking over your shoulder and giving it a once over. I am such a huge proponent of asking for help.
And I think that there is, maybe not in every field, but there is a growing network of sisterhood just like your podcast is part of it, where just by virtue of being a woman who is conscious and awake and doing it. I have found women to be very open to lighting the path for somebody who’s younger or less experienced.
GS: I think one of the questions that we wish to ask you as a mentor, is how you approach fear? How do you counsel or work with The Class participants to face fear?
NK: Yeah. Yeah. Great question. Well, how we do it in a class is, we bring people really to their physical edge and at that physical edge, whether, you know, it’s 30 seconds of leg lifts or three minutes of jumping jacks. It doesn’t really matter how athletic you are. All I care about is that you are hitting this frontier where what’s comfortable for you is now pushing up against what’s not comfortable, and what’s not comfortable is gonna spark a reaction. And for many of us, that reaction includes fear. And when we get to that point, the thing that’s most important is to be able to stay with yourself when you’re experiencing fear and sit with it and turn toward it as opposed to turning away from it. Most of the time, when we experience fear, we’re either fighting our way out of it, fleeing from it, or freezing around it. And what we guide people to do in class is to breathe, to feel your feet ground down, to close your eyes, and then to try to have a dialogue with that fear.
What is it about? Is it the fear of being seen as inadequate? Is it the fear of failure? Is it the fear of not living up to your own expectations? Is it the fear of not actually knowing what to do about a certain situation? And then, once you can actually articulate the form or the shape of what the fear is, simply by articulating it, it loses a degree of its power over you. Because anything that’s left or relegated to the unconscious is creating unconscious behavior. You are powerless under that guise. But once you bring the light of awareness to it, once you’re able to say, wow, that’s because I don’t want to be seen as silly or stupid, or you know, inadequate, then you can say: Oh my gosh, okay, well if that’s what that is, then let me call upon my community or let me call upon my mentor, let me call upon my patients with myself or my higher self or my whatever it is, you start to self soothe. But if you don’t know what it is, if there’s no awareness, it’s going to continue to run your life.
GS: Is there a routine that you practice for yourself that keeps you in that awareness constantly about just working through your fears or your consciousness as you were describing? Could you tell us how to take care of ourselves?
NK: Sure. I’ll answer that in two different ways. One is within The Class, what we ask people to do when they’re feeling the feeling or becoming aware of the uncomfortable thoughts or trapped in the midst of a reaction is to become grounded and embodied again. So what does that mean tactically? That means, okay, something’s coming up that’s uncomfortable and it’s starting to send me out of my body into the realm of I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know if this is okay. I’m in a fight, flight, or freeze. So then, what we ask you to do is to stand tall, wiggle your toes, feel your feet. Place one hand on your heart. Place one hand on your belly, drop your breath into your system and slow everything down. Because the moment we start to get uncomfortable, our breath gets high and our nervous system gets triggered and we go straight into a sympathetic, parasympathetic nervous system, which is fight, flight, or freeze.
Right now if we can slow our breath down, which slows our thoughts down, it engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows for everything to remind ourselves that we’re okay, we’re here and what is the next right move from a place of center, when I’m not in the class, how that functions is if I’m on the subway, if I’m in the middle of a disagreement with a colleague or a family member, it’s just simply closing my eyes, reminding myself to breathe, and then asking myself: What’s really going on with you now? What’s going on with them now? What’s going on with the circumstance now? What’s going on with the things that are out of my control? What’s going on with you? What are you feeling? What are you thinking? What are you saying? And how much of that is coming from a place that’s of center and how much of that is coming from a place that’s out of alignment, or part of something old or historic.
It’s like a drinking game. You know? If I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say: Take a bath, I’m just so over it. But it’s not the bath. It’s that you are bringing the awareness to your bath. You are bringing consciousness to the fact that you are doing something. You are taking action around arresting your body, soothing your body and relaxing. So I always tell people: You don’t need $35 bath salts, although I will say the class bath salts are excellent. But what you really need is the ability to stay conscious in the middle of your struggle in order to come back to a place of normalcy.
GS: And what about you? What’s your next step? Would you like to share something that is going to take place soon?
NK: We’re doing so much in the next little month. Here we are. We’ve got a retreat, which is our multi-day, sort of vacation with a purpose. We bring people out into a unique environment and we do this work of self-study where they can release themselves from the responsibility of the everyday. So we’re doing that in upstate New York and then The Class is going on at the very first tour. I’m producing it and hosting it. And Taryn is teaching it. She’s going to be flanked by two live musicians, a guitarist and singer songwriter named Connor, young blood, and a drummer named Caleb Spaulding. And we’re going to New York, Austin, Philly, Chicago, D.C., Nashville and Atlanta. And that’s October 16th through October 24th. We’re so excited about it. It’s basically like The Class formed a band, and the band is going on tour, right?
So it’s going to be so fun. I really can’t wait. And I’ll be the Master of Ceremonies for that. And then shortly after, a few weeks later, we are doing something in New York called The Global Immersion. And what that is, I would just kill to have you there, Gaby, is when we identify two of the patterns that are wrecking the most havoc in our life, maybe it’s people pleasing, maybe it’s perfectionism, whatever it is. And we trace one of them through the mother line, and we trace the other through the father line. And we get to the seed of our lineage and how these patterns are passed down generationally. And we separate ourselves from what is not ours and what is ours so that we leave The Global Immersion in choice so that we start to live our lives the way we want to react, the way we want to move forward, the way we want to treat ourselves in the way we want to treat our loved ones. Not the way that mother did it or father did it, grandma or grandpa or what-have-you. Keep the things that are working, change the things that aren’t. And so we do that for four days. So that’s for the next couple of weeks.
If anybody wants to learn more about The Class, they can go to theclass.com or theclass on Instagram. And then the way you can find me, and where I’m traveling to, and some of the teachings that I’m sharing through class is on Instagram. I am, ThisisNatalie and I’d love to connect with anybody who’s interested in this kind of work.
GS: Thank you Natalie.
NK: Love you sister.
Gabriela Serna is the CEO and founder of The Source Summit, a motivational wellness brand recognized for its leading role in creating impactful conversations that connect and inspire people of different cultures.