Meet Leah Kim - Mother, Yogi, Teacher, Writer, Mental Health Advocate, Truth Teller. Leah and I met while working for Nike in New York . She is one of the original Nike Master Trainers (which is no small feat), who has lived a taught all over the world (LA, Hong Kong, UK) and most recently transplanted to New York.
The first time I took her class I got to experience the depth of her practice and to her teaching. And the first time we really connected was after she reached out to me (out of the blue) while I was pregnant to see how I was holding up. That reach out meant a lot (read: I was not holding up so well!) and reminded me how important it is to have people in your life that support you and help you stay healthy along the way.
In this interview we focus on mental health, specifically postpartum mental health. It is something that is not talked about enough and is likely impacting someone you know. Please read, follow Leah, check out her writing, jump into one of her rare classes if you get so lucky and share with someone who might benefit.
What is your personal philosophy around fitness and health?
I think it all starts with listening and being kind to my body, which is often easier said than done. Health is everything, obviously. When you aren’t in good health, you don’t feel good and you’re not able to move through your life how you want to. I think it’s important to have a clear definition of what your health really means to you. Sometimes I confuse health with being skinny or having endless energy and never needing to rest. When I find myself caught up in this untrue mindset, I take a step back, consider how lucky I am to be healthy despite also forever working on self-improvement, and I remind myself not to take my body for granted.
Who has been your greatest influence in this area of your life?
I used to look outside myself to others who I thought had the answers. But then I realized, how can someone else know what is best for ME? Yoga reminds us that the teacher is within. A fitness or eating plan that works for one person may not be right for me. In the past, I’ve beaten myself up while trying to follow someone else’s pre-set plan. Now I work on listening to my own body’s cues. I am inspired by body-confident women of all sizes, shapes, and colors.
What has motherhood taught you about health?
Motherhood has challenged my physical and mental health unlike anything else in my life. It has quite literally brought me to my knees. It has also taught me that my body and my mind are strong and resilient AF. Being a mother is undoubtedly a physical sacrifice; even just all the repetitive movements a mother makes in caring for her child can and often do cause strain and tension on our bodies. As such, we mothers must take care of ourselves first and foremost. I used to feel selfish for taking time away from my family to take care of myself but, if we are not healthy and balanced, we cannot be there for anyone else.
You have become an advocate for mental health, particularly for women suffering from postpartum. What are some of the truths and myths around these issues that you would like to shed light on?
This is a really big question. The main thing I would like to say is that just because you’re not experiencing postpartum psychosis doesn’t mean you’re not suffering. There are many manifestations and degrees of postpartum illness and it doesn’t require you to want to harm your baby. Also, if someone tries to brush your feelings off by saying “it’s just baby blues, it’s normal”...and those words don’t feel right or true in your bones - listen to your body, not to that person. Find someone who will actually hear what you are saying. Finally, it is untrue that all postpartum illnesses resolve within the first year. Mental health - particularly maternal mental health - is not remotely so clear cut. If you feel “off,” no matter how many months or even years postpartum you are or whatever textbook definitions you may have heard about postpartum conditions, seek help. It is out there for you.
Are there any resources or action steps you recommend for people struggling with mental health issues?
This is also a big question and it’s important to get professional support if you’re struggling. As part of a professionally guided recovery plan, the following action steps might be helpful:
-When in active distress, find something to distract the mind and calm the body. I like to turn on a funny TV show that I find comforting. This can be a useful temporary solution to bring relief so I don’t start to spiral.
-Consider if your blood sugar might be low. When was your last meal? Feeling off or unsteady could be from low blood sugar and it can be grounding to eat something.
-Get off any social media that makes you feel shitty. Consider deleting the app off your phone. You can always add it back later.
-Look up support groups. There are many out there that you can reach out to via email or phone.
-Ask a trusted loved one for help. Do you need them to come keep you company? Or just have a conversation? Ask. You don’t need to figure this out on your own.
-Make sure you’re not holding your breath (literally). Big, full, steady exhales are important. Try exhaling through the mouth.
-Do some stream of consciousness journaling. It can be as basic as describing what you are feeling. It doesn’t have to make any sense and you don’t even have to read it again. Writing thoughts down helps to unstick them from relentlessly cycling in your mind.
How do you do it all - parent, work, teach, write, take care of yourself, etc? What is your secret?
The answer to this is that I definitely do not do it all perfectly. I don’t think it is possible. I do prioritize my various responsibilities and and non-negotiables. At the beginning of each week, I set my schedule. Instead of trying to do everything every single day, I look at my week as a whole. I used to do my practice of yoga and meditation every day for 2-3 hours. While I miss those days, I’ve accepted that it’s simply not achievable at this point in my life. Right now my biggest priority is taking care of my family - raising my son and making sure we are all getting enough healthy food, movement, and sleep. On Sunday, I plan our meals, do the grocery shopping, and schedule my workouts. I aim for 5 workouts a week but I know this may not always be possible and I don’t stress about it. I plan daily writing time, knowing that sometimes it might be a very short 20 minute block and other times it may be the entire 4 hours my son is in school. Because of the many things I need and want to do, I’ve taken a break from teaching public classes (something had to give!). This has enabled me to make considerable headway on two books I am writing and it has given me the freedom to explore new relationships with companies I love like Apple. I just taught at an incredible event at their headquarters in California. I guess the short answer to this question is - prioritize, be flexible, and be easy on yourself when things don’t go to plan.
What are your fitness/wellness essentials you can not live without?
My answer to this is going to be ridiculously simple: water, an un-encumbering outfit to do yoga in, and a hair tie for my ponytail. Over the years I have simplified my routines and my expectations. You really don’t NEED much STUFF to take care of yourself. Even for yoga, you don’t even need a mat. Less necessities, less potential for excuses.