Karen Dubs is the founder of FlexibleWarrior.com, a fitness business with the intention of helping athletes stretch their potential and find a balance between the strength of a warrior and the peace of a yogi. She has trained a wide range of athletes from The Baltimore Ravens players and The U of MD Terps basketball team to recreational golfers, triathletes and marathon runners. Karen has also traveled to Rishikesh, India in Nov 2009 for a yoga intensive to deepen her practice and philosophy studies. From this brief bio alone you can see she’s a PERFECT match for ben’s TEN in its mission to help us evolve ourselves through health and spirituality. We felt privileged to chat with Karen about her experience and expertise. In particular, our goal was to get her insight on where body meets spirit.
b10: Karen, it’s such an honor to have this opportunity to get your insights on the body-mind connection and hopefully use that knowledge to develop, OK stretch, ourselves to new potential. In the course of your life, and especially through your work with flexiblewarrior.com, you seem to have achieved a very unique balance between what for now we’ll call the physical (high-performance, high-impact athletics) and the spiritual (yoga, breath work, meditation). Which came first for you? Were you an athlete who felt the inner call to a more contemplative side of yourself, or were you a meditative yogini who suddenly felt the urge to go run marathons? : )
Karen Dubs: Wow you start off with a doozy! I like how you’re getting me to think about my path. I have always been athletic and moderately competitive in sports so I’d have to say the physical came first for me. I’ve been teaching group fitness since I was 16 years old. But at young age I think I was also very grounded for some reason (I remember a high school friend telling me recently that I was always the ‘voice of reason’ – you know, that ‘boring’ friend who tries to talk everyone out of trouble). That made me laugh when he said it, but I think there is truth in it – I’ve always been drawn to things that bring me calm and peace. So I think I’ve always had that balance of opposites in me – the adventurer / athlete who craves thrills, new experiences and reaching high to challenge myself and be my best and the yogini / seeker who craves simplicity, flexibility, acceptance and stillness. But it wasn’t until I contracted Lyme’s disease and was physically incapacitated that I truly discovered yoga. And once I recovered from Lyme’s I took my first yoga certification and was on my path to a new career. As most things do, it evolved over time. I didn’t seek out to teach yoga for athletic minded people – its just who I am and so that’s what I attracted to me I think.
b10: With the next couple questions I would love for you to address both sides of the coin. First, say I’m an athlete very focused on my physical body and my performance in a results-oriented way, but I’m having that nagging feeling that I’m missing something important. What am I missing?
Karen Dubs: Athletes are often so focused on ‘more is more’ – more training, competing, and pushing. So often they are missing essential recovery and flexibility which is truly where your power and strength come from. Physiologically, the more flexible your muscles are, the more power and range of motion you’ll have. Also, stiffness and rigidity is not only physically uncomfortable, it can expose you to more injury. Where, flexible, pliable muscle is more resilient to bend without breaking and it bounces back and recovers faster. Mentally, many athletes can relate to the fearless warrior. But sometimes being overly aggressive or reactive can backfire. I like to teach about ‘survival of the calmest’ – because it’s often not the physically fittest, best athlete that wins the battle… calming, centering breathing techniques, recovery poses, flexibility that balance out all the exertion.
b10: On the flip side, let’s say I’m a very spiritually-grounded person with a yoga or meditation practice but my body feels neglected. I perceive I’m not realizing my full potential but I’m worried about hurting my spiritual identity by getting too engaged with “sports” or my body. How can developing a physical exercise practice enhance my spiritual practice?
Karen Dubs: Interesting question. I’m not used to addressing that side. For me, it’s the balance of opposites. And that balance is different for everyone. I personally don’t want to be too hard or too soft. I find that individual sports are easier to gauge competition, but you’re competing / challenging yourself for yourself (like you’re racing with thousands, but you’re racing just yourself). So maybe that’s a good place to start (swimming, running, cycling, triathlon). I love raising money for a good cause and then participating in a race, for example. That balances the yogi in me and the warrior. Its exhilarating training and crossing a finish line, challenging your mind and body and knowing you’re raising money for a good cause. I’m slightly addicted to it actually and would race and do charity / volunteer events even more if I could. The group energy you feel when participating in a race day is indescribable. Team sports are thrilling on a whole different level but are much more competitive for obvious reasons. As long as you’re doing a sport you love with people that encourage you in a way that makes you feel good, then it’s all good. It’s like finding the yoga teacher and class that fits you though – it often takes a little trial and error to make a match.
b10: Can you talk about an experience you’ve had—a special moment—in which the physical and the spiritual seemed to completely unite for you?
Karen Dubs: Yes, I feel that connection often. One magical moment was Irongirl Triathlon 2008. I had to learn to swim in open water for that race and for non-swimmers it’s a scary and humbling experience. But water is amazing, and when I learned to stop trying to muscle through it and instead go with the flow, like we do in yoga, that’s when I felt myself really swim. Going from the swim to the bike to the run while maintaining my calm, zen mind, taking it all in, crossing the finish line…But the truly special moment from that race came weeks later when I ran into a race spectator who told me I was the one racer that was smiling the biggest and thanking everyone the most… the energy that these volunteers, friends and family were giving overwhelmed me. I’m used to giving my energy, but I felt like I was on the receiving end, and it was amazing. We race as individuals, but there are numerous people before, after and during the race that get us to where we are. The gratitude I felt that day for my body, the journey and all the supporters was truly a special moment and memory for me. We are blessed with these amazing bodies and it’s just so fun to surprise yourself and do something out of your comfort zone.
b10: Do you have any advice on juggling time and schedules to accommodate an exercise routine AND a spiritual practice. Or is there an alternative?
Karen Dubs: Yes, time is the number one reason athletes don’t do yoga, and probably why yogis can’t find time to do anything more than yoga. We find one thing that we’re good at or love and we dive completely into that and don’t make time for anything else. But little chunks of time – I’m talking 10 – 15 minutes can make a difference. So for the athlete, 15 minutes of yoga when they wake up before their sports practice or at the end of the day to help with recovery – for the yogi, 15 minutes of strength or cardio three days a week. I actually incorporate weights with my yoga practice some times. And I do yoga before and after I run. Heck, when I’m watching sports on TV, I am sitting on the floor in my living room doing yoga usually (which is actually how I came up with the name “Flexible Warrior”! I was watching a Ravens vs Steelers football game and doing yoga at the moment that name came to me). People think they have to do an hour or more of yoga or cardio 4 -5 x a week to benefit… Not true. You can benefit from 2 – 3 x a week of 10- – 15 minutes. And if you can build from there, great. But more is not always MORE.
b10: Thank you so much for your time! For those readers who really feel a connection to what you’re saying, where can they find you online? Also, what types of consulting, training or coaching do you offer? Aren’t there even some DVDs available?
Karen Dubs: My pleasure! A class setting is always best (group yoga classes or a private session with a teacher or personal trainer in your area). If you are self motivated there are lots of DVD’s, free Podcasts on Itunes, etc. I have free mini sessions on Youtube at www.youtube.com/flexiblewarrioryoga (for runners and athletes). My web site is www.flexiblewarrior.com and I have DVD’s for sale there (readers can use the coupon code “triathlete” for $5 off and free shipping on any Flexible Warrior DVD). Yes, I do private sessions and small group training sessions as well in the Baltimore area.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat. Was fun. Namaste
Readers—There is another way you can get involved and support Karen and the vision of FlexibleWarrior.com. She is currently raising funds for the Marine Corps 10k–a charitable race she’s running this fall–and has initiated an enticing promotion: anyone who donates $20 to the Knights of Heroes to sponsor her in that race will receive a Flexible Warrior DVD (volume 1, 2 or 3)
Consider supporting Karen’s effort and benefitting yourself in the process!