- Brit Hastings
A Smoothie Date with (West Coast) Instructor-Of-The-Moment, Natalie Kuhn
When Well+Good's article about the new fitness phenomenon, The Class by TT, caught my eye, I was immediately intrigued and eager to get to New York to try it out for myself. From what I could gather, The Class was an interdisciplinary approach to creating space and feeling lighter. As I started to read more, it was easy to see why yoga instructor and founder Taryn Toomey struggled to label the practice that she once taught to friends in a small basement room. The mat-based workout incorporates tried-and-true burpies, weaves in Kundalini-like Kriyas, invites release through breath work, and has been compared to a (very sweaty) therapy session. Given my love of movement and belief in self-inquiry, I was curious to experience The Class by TT for myself.
I attended The Class by TT in New York City with teacher Natalie Kuhn. She immediately welcomed me into the studio and assigned me to a mat next to a regular who assured me that I would "love it." I wondered how the next hour would be different from the yoga classes I am familiar with but before I had time to analyze or anticipate, Natalie was ON: Big smile, big voice, big presence and away we went on an hour long roller coaster of sound, emotion, and movement.
The Class by TT is designed to be demanding so inevitably, your critical inner voice gets loud. One song into the workout, I was already breathing very hard. As the tempo picked up, Kuhn brought out the tough love while calling for deep self-love, acting as both drill sergeant and compassionate counselor: "What do you say when the going gets tough? What old patterns arise? How can you shift the story? What do you need to create space!?" Struggling to complete what were supposed to be side-to-side dynamic lunges (the movement I was doing did not look very dynamic at this point), Natalie wasn't so much asking me to jump and lunge as she was asking me to step outside of my story and to shift the narrative, to let go of emotional habits and to recognize my own untapped strength. It was hard for me to determine the bigger ask – was it the physical or the mental demands of The Class by TT? The next song brought another change up: "...you shake, you pulse, you bounce, and you use sound to break open and activate stagnant "layers" in the body where stress, tension, and emotions are stored." A small self-conscious smile played on my lips when Natalie cued this release-portion of the class but it didn't take long for me to join in the drumbeat of quick feet and the chorus of yelling voices. And just as The Class rose to a crescendo, we sealed our time together with forward folding, a moment of meditation, and intention.
When I left the studio, I was soaked in sweat and euphoric on endorphins. Natalie's smile mirrored my own as she led me to her favorite smoothie spot at Sun in Bloom to refuel and to chat about her journey as an instructor.
YogaToday: So Natalie, how did you get involved with Taryn and The Class by Taryn Toomey?
Natalie Kuhn: I met Taryn through Lululemon in 2013 when she invited our team to take her class in her building’s gym. At that time, payment was a $20 donation (dropped into her daughter’s trick-or-treat bucket) to the Mama Kia Foundation in Peru. Taryn is one of the most magnetic people you will ever meet. She is truly a healer, an intuit, is whip smart, and damn funny. And what she was (and is!) creating is a masterful blend of physicality and catharsis. After taking my second class with her she asked if I had thought about teaching. Looking back on it now, that was a major turning point in my life. I worked with her to create a work/study program for myself and from there she took me under her wing. That relationship and friendship turned into a full time job and a complete career switch. I haven’t looked back since. Never underestimate the importance of a mentor.
YT: What is it about teaching The Class that keeps you coming back to the practice?
NK: For me, the highest calling in life is to serve others. When I walk into that room and feel the buzz of energy – whether it be dull and tired or wired and anxious, I know that the next 60 minutes will shift and shake this up. We leave sweat-drenched and feeling different, more clear and alive. Ultimately what I love about this work is that it helps others move through their heaviness and leave feeling lighter, and I don’t just mean physically.
YT: You’re responsible for the first expansion of The Class by TT to LA. How do you think the West Coast will respond to this work?
NK: First of all, LA is my hometown. So to be able to bring The Class by TT back to my roots is not just an honor, it is a dream come true. I’ve noticed that there are two significant styles of working out in LA: there’s the hard core fitness and the very spiritual. What I love about The Class by TT is that this work straddles that line and brings together a very challenging work out with an emotionally cathartic journey. The Los Angeles community has been so welcoming thus far and I look forward to continuing to bring this work to more neighborhoods.
YT: What do you expect the differences between NYC and LA will be in terms of the reaction to The Class by TT?
NK: After we did our pop-up about a year ago last spring, I joked about the difference between the East and West Coast (again, a radical oversimplification). In NYC, people come because they hear you get “shredded” and they leave surprised that they cried. In LA, people come because they hear you cry and they leave surprised that they are so sore. We’ll see if that theory really truly does ring true!
YT: Have you felt a major difference between the NYC and LA communities?
NK: We all have become accustomed to compressing our emotions, right? For the sake of work, our partner, our kids, the list goes on. Culturally, the big difference I see in the two cities is that the compression in New Yorkers seems to be expressed as anxiety and in Los Angeles it manifests as extreme politeness. Both responses need a little sweat, shake, and shedding.
YT: If someone cannot take The Class by TT at home, what do you suggest?
NK: Once upon a time, I would “leave” my body and watch The Food Network during a 30 minute run on the treadmill. Yep, running while watching how to bake a cake. But that won’t create the kind of day-changing shift. I would urge people to stay present to their inner dialogue during their other workouts. Staying aware of your thought patterns and what comes up for your emotionally will help you USE a workout to shift your energy and mental state, leaving you clearer the next time that trigger comes up when you are “off the mat” so to speak.
YT: What is your favorite pre-workout breakfast?
NK: I love to toast up a slice of GF Free Bread, and add almond butter, sliced banana or fresh berries, and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sea salt.
If I'm in a smoothie mood, I'll blend up a cup of frozen fruit (usually blueberries) with 2 tablespoons of Dana James’s “Beauti-fuel” protein powder, a massive handful of spinach, and a cup of coconut water. Simple, easy, satiating and hydrating.
I love to experiment in the kitchen; after 13 years of railing against the universe every time I went to cook on my hot plate in NYC, I'm going to be heaven graduating to a gas stove in LA. I am also an avid baker so I am going to share one of my go-to healthy cookie recipes with you guys!
YT: Thanks so much for your time (and the recipe!) Natalie. It has been a pleasure to learn more about your journey and we are so excited to try your cookies!
Makes about two dozen cookies
1 cup ground almonds, ground in blender
1 cup ground oats, ground in blender
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp cinnamon
Add 1/2 cup safflower oil
Add 1/2 cup of maple syrup
Big 'ole pinch (or two) of Maldon sea salt
Fruit juice sweetened jam of your choice
Mix dry ingredients. Then add liquid ingredients and mix all together. Form walnut sized balls, and place on an oiled baking sheet. Press thumb in center, creating space for filling. Fill each one with raspberry jam. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Photo by Catalina Kulczar