Un­apolo­get­i­cally, Kathryn Budig

This beloved yo­galebrity re­flects on the con­tra­dic­tions she’s had to em­brace cre­at­ing a yoga brand, bat­tling in­juries, and mov­ing from asana icon to mind­ful chef.

Yoga Journal - - CONTENTS - By Kather­ine Ros­man

"That's me" Kathryn Budig says, al­most in a whis­per, nod­ding at a merch dis­play.

Budig, 36, takes a swig of wa­ter on the side­walk out­side Method 29403, a pi­lates-based stu­dio in Charleston, South Carolina, where she has just sweated, squat­ted, and lunged her way through a 40-minute class. The ad­ver­tise­ment adorn­ing the check-in counter is of Budig in an ad­vanced back-bend­ing yoga pose.

The other women in the class, most of them any­way, had been un­aware that they had just worked out with some­one who, to mil­lions of de­voted yo­gis, is fa­mous.

The surge in yoga’s pop­u­lar­ity in the United States over the past two decades—es­pe­cially on In­sta­gram—has re­sulted in the most Amer­i­can of con­coc­tions: the yo­galebrity. Among fa­mous yoga in­struc­tors, Budig’s star may be the bright­est.

She has be­come known to, and loved by, le­gions through al­most a decade’s worth of classes on Yo­gaGlo, the monthly sub­scrip­tion stream­ing plat­form; the books and mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles she has writ­ten; the so­cial me­dia pres­ence she has built; and the work­shops she teaches around the world. She is thought of as some­one who takes align­ment and mind­ful­ness se­ri­ously, but not her­self. Mak­ing silly faces as she demon­strates Bakasana (Crane Pose) or Navasana (Boat Pose) sit-ups with ease and hu­mor, she has en­deared her­self to yo­gis and mar­keters alike as an all-Amer­i­can-yoga-teache rnext-door, Deb­bie Reynolds meets dharma.

Some time ago, Budig may have wished to have been rec­og­nized in that pi­lates class, or al­most any­where. She stud­ied the­ater and lit­er­a­ture at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia and moved to Los An­ge­les af­ter col­lege, hop­ing to make it in Hol­ly­wood. But she ended up find­ing fame on a dif­fer­ent sort of stage— the world of West­ern yoga, which has be­come in­hab­ited by avid, even ra­bid, stu­dents who look upon fa­vored in­struc­tors as gu­rus and travel hun­dreds of miles to at­tend work­shops as if they are rock con­certs. As her renown grew, Budig also be­came a savvy en­trepreneur, forg­ing part­ner­ships with Un­der Ar­mour, cos­met­ics com­pa­nies, jew­elry de­sign­ers, and more, be­com­ing what is to­day known as an in­flu­encer. She had a per­sonal brand be­fore that was a thing for yo­gis.

It was tax­ing. At her busiest, Budig was trav­el­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally four times a year and was on a plane to some­where for a work­shop or other yoga event at least once a week. She filmed classes for Yo­gaGlo about once a month, which re­quired long days in front of the cam­era and hours of prep work with pro­duc­ers. She was writ­ing for the well­ness web­site Mind Body Green, con­tribut­ing to Yoga Jour­nal, and was an edi­tor for Women’s Health, for which she also wrote Big

Book of Yoga, pub­lished in 2012. Then there were the web­site and so­cial me­dia feeds that needed to be fed, with pho­tos, es­says, and healthy recipes.

Of course, this was all in ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal rig­ors of main­tain­ing a leg-be­hind-your-head prac­tice (that ul­ti­mately led to a shoul­der in­jury) and a “cam­era-ready” body. She ap­proached eat­ing with dis­ci­pline. Her curves were some­thing she bat­tled not cel­e­brated.

She came to strug­gle with the dis­so­nance be­tween the

yo­gic mes­sages of ac­cep­tance and non-at­tach­ment that she shared with stu­dents in her work and the mes­sages her physique con­veyed.

“You’re not do­ing the world a fa­vor be­cause you’re telling peo­ple, ‘Oh, this is what I al­ways look like be­cause I’m in such good shape.’ No, you just starved your­self and worked out all day long and prob­a­bly have been sit­ting in a hot tub or a sauna,” Budig says, rum­mag­ing through a cup­board in the kitchen of her bright, lofty home in Charleston. “I was guilty of do­ing that to a cer­tain ex­tent when I was younger. I mean, we all want to be per­ceived as beau­ti­ful. And I think, es­pe­cially when you’re in a ca­reer like this, peo­ple ex­pect you to be a cer­tain body type.” If any of this is dif­fi­cult for her to dis­cuss, Budig gives no in­di­ca­tion. She is re­laxed and calm in her kitchen.

She also grap­pled with yoga-world fame. On one hand, she sought it and rel­ished it. “I am a hu­man with an ego and I ap­pre­ci­ate ac­co­lades and be­ing ac­knowl­edged,” she says. But it ul­ti­mately be­came a source of un­hap­pi­ness.

In 2008, four years into her yoga ca­reer, she mod­eled for the pho­tog­ra­pher Jasper Jo­hal in a se­ries of pho­tos for a ToeSox ad cam­paign, in which she posed wear­ing noth­ing but socks. The pho­tos were care­fully shaded and dis­cretely an­gled so that you couldn’t see ev­ery­thing … but you still saw plenty. The ad cam­paign helped lead to her celebrity and to her be­com­ing a tar­get for de­ri­sion.

Some­time af­ter the ads ap­peared, they drew crit­i­cism in blog posts and news ar­ti­cles. In 2009, Way­lon Lewis wrote about it in Ele­phant Jour­nal, a pub­li­ca­tion he founded: “Sex ap­peal can be a turnoff when your mar­ket is 85 per­cent women—it can come off as cheap, sleazy, pa­tri­ar­chal, shal­low, frivolous—some­thing you don’t want to do with a de­mo­graphic that would never call it­self a de­mo­graphic, but prefers com­mu­nity, kula, sangha.”

Ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­u­al­iz­ing yoga and ob­jec­ti­fy­ing women stung Budig. “That is the op­po­site of what I’m about, and it was re­ally painful for me,” she says. “Fame is a capri­cious mon­ster. When you ac­quire fame, you are strip­ping your­self of hav­ing peo­ple re­ally know you. You be­come some­one else’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of who you are.”

Budig re­al­izes that by seek­ing at­ten­tion, as one does by post­ing to so­cial me­dia and en­gag­ing in other forms of pro­mo­tion, she opens her­self up to the nas­ti­ness and trolling that have be­come en­demic, even to plat­forms like In­sta­gram. “You put your­self out there and that’s what you set your­self up for,” she says.

Yoga in­struc­tors, par­tic­u­larly yo­galebri­ties, live amid di­chotomies that don’t ex­ist for most other pro­fes­sional ath­letes or en­ter­tain­ers. They are ex­pected to em­body yoga philoso­phies that the asana prac­tice is sup­posed to get us closer to per­fect­ing. This does not al­low for hav­ing ego, envy, or pro­fes­sional and fi­nan­cial am­bi­tion.

“Teach­ers aren’t ex­empt from the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Seane Corn, her­self a fa­mous yogi who has been a men­tor and friend to Budig for a decade. “It can be dif­fi­cult to make mis­takes in the public eye. Peo­ple have higher ex­pec­ta­tions than we can some­times live up to. We are com­mit­ted to the path of self-re­al­iza­tion. We are teach­ing non-at­tach­ment. We are teach­ing to put love be­fore fear. But we are in hu­man form, and there is ego to all of it.”

For all these rea­sons, and a few more, Budig is ac­cli­mat­ing to a new phase of her ca­reer—one that is less vis­i­ble.

She has set­tled in Charleston, a city she loves and where her par­ents now live. Af­ter a dif­fi­cult mar­riage and di­vorce, she plans to marry again this fall—to es­pnW and ESPN re­porter and com­men­ta­tor Kate Fa­gan. Budig is trav­el­ing far less—hit­ting the road once a month to teach and trav­el­ing to LA three to four times a year to film new Yo­gaGlo classes. When she is home, she spends much of her time ex­pand­ing her ca­reer fo­cus to cook­ing, an ac­tiv­ity that seems to both calm and an­i­mate her. She is ex­per­i­ment­ing with recipes, think­ing about writ­ing a cook­book, and film­ing elab­o­rate mini cook­ing

shows that she shares with her 220,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers.

“For a long time, I was look­ing for hap­pi­ness from suc­cess,” she says. “Now I am look­ing for suc­cess from hap­pi­ness.”

Kathryn’s kitchen

Dressed in taupe, shiny yoga pants that pull down over her heels, and with her hair piled atop her head in a small blond tor­nado, Budig is mak­ing break­fast af­ter “hella hard” pi­lates (as she rightly calls it) in her sun-strewn house. The kitchen is sleek and mod­ern, with a gray tile back­splash and dashes of color com­ing from her stacks of cook­books and well-or­ga­nized kitchen ac­ces­sories.

Budig is try­ing to recre­ate a yo­gurt par­fait that she tasted ear­lier in the week. She un­der­stands fla­vor and is an add-a-pinch-of-this kind of cook. “Let’s add a sprin­kle of black sesame seeds,” she says, driz­zling them over co­conut yo­gurt, blue­ber­ries, shred­ded coconuts, and ca­coa nibs.

Then she pulls out a black tray from a coun­ter­top food de­hy­dra­tor and starts ar­rang­ing per­fect tri­an­gles of shriv­eled up water­melon that she has dusted with Ta­jGn, a condi­ment of dried lime and chili-pep­per salt. The water­melon rinds were saved in a jar; she plans to pickle them later. “It’s a South­ern thing,” she says.

Budig was raised in Lawrence, Kansas, where her fa­ther served as chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Kansas be­fore the fam­ily moved to Prince­ton, New Jersey, when he took a job as pres­i­dent of Ma­jor League Base­ball’s Amer­i­can League. Her mom and dad didn’t cook much. “My mom would make us some queso with Velveeta cheese, which was de­li­cious, but I wasn’t re­ally get­ting

the culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence at home,” she says. But the par­ents of her high school boyfriend were food­ies, and she be­gan to take note of tech­niques and in­gre­di­ents. “I would watch them cook and think, ‘What is this magic?’” she says.

She con­tin­ued to spend time in the kitchen in col­lege and in LA, where she also be­gan to ex­plore farm­ers’ mar­kets and tiny shops sell­ing del­i­ca­cies. She cooked when­ever she was home and in­dulged in the res­tau­rant scenes of the cities she vis­ited.

By 2016, Budig was com­mit­ted to the ideals of nu­tri­tion and en­joy­ment of food as a com­po­nent of yo­gic well­ness. That year, she pub­lished her book Aim True: Love Your Body, Eat With­out Fear, Nour­ish Your Spirit, Dis­cover True

Bal­ance!, which brought to­gether asana, med­i­ta­tion, home­opa­thy, and recipes. She hoped it would help launch her as an in­flu­encer in the arena of food and cui­sine, but it didn’t sell as well as she’d wished. Dis­ap­pointed, Budig shelved her ca­reer as­pi­ra­tions around cook­ing and moved to Brook­lyn to be with Fa­gan be­fore they de­cided to re­lo­cate to­gether back to Charleston in 2017.

It was truly liv­ing in Charleston—rather than crash­ing there be­tween flights to yoga gigs—that made her ready to re-in­te­grate her love for food into her ca­reer. “I’m re­ally lucky be­cause Charleston has a huge food scene,” she says.

She hopes her yoga stu­dents will fol­low her into the kitchen. “This is just my happy place,” she says, stand­ing by her din­ing ta­ble. She looks at her kitchen like you can imag­ine she may have once looked at her yoga mat—as a blank can­vas for cre­ativ­ity and self-ex­pres­sion. “There’s some­thing cathar­tic for me, to cook at the end of the day, and I love ev­ery as­pect of food. I love eat­ing it, I love tast­ing it, I love smelling it, I like shop­ping for the pro­duce, I like the his­tory be­hind where things come from, I love feed­ing peo­ple, I love go­ing to restau­rants, I love drink­ing, I love pair­ing wine and food, and I love en­joy­ing it all.”

Yoga moves

Just as food moved from a pas­sion to a pro­fes­sional pur­suit, yoga, for Budig, be­gan as a side-hus­tle.

By her se­nior year in col­lege, she was at­tend­ing yoga classes twice a week. Upon mov­ing to LA, she knew she would need to find a job to sup­port her­self as she worked her way through au­di­tions, so she started a teacher train­ing at Yo­gaWorks. “I thought I would go in and it would be this fun work­shop. I had no clue that I had gone to the Mecca of yoga,” she says.

The first few days, there were hours-long asana prac­tices and dis­cus­sions of yoga phi­los­o­phy with Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller, two of Yo­gaWorks’s founders. “Ev­ery­thing was in San­skrit. It was dif­fi­cult for me, be­cause I just kind of felt like, Wow, I don’t even know what I’m do­ing. They ad­justed ev­ery lit­tle thing. Then af­ter that first week­end, I was hooked.”

As she prac­ticed and be­gan to teach, Budig con­tin­ued to work on her act­ing ca­reer as well. Nearly ev­ery­one she met told her she was tal­ented but that she needed to lose weight and get her teeth straight­ened. She met with a man­ager who said, “Well, at the weight that you’re at right now, you could be the funny best friend,” Budig re­calls. “And I was eas­ily 10 to 15 pounds lighter than I am now.”

She was teach­ing classes at both of Yo­gaWorks’s Santa Mon­ica stu­dios and quickly be­came an in-de­mand pri­vate in­struc­tor as well. About 18 months af­ter ar­riv­ing in LA, she de­cided to fo­cus en­tirely on yoga. It was a kin­der, though still com­pet­i­tive, pro­fes­sion that also re­lied on stage pres­ence and show­man­ship.

By the end of 2010, af­ter the ToeSox ads and the broad ex­po­sure her Yo­gaGlo classes and so­cial me­dia had pro­vided, she was one of the best-known yoga teach­ers in the coun­try. But the cul­ture of LA was get­ting to her. “It’s so va­pid,” she says. “It’s a self­ish city. Peo­ple go there to make it big—in the

Here are a few of Kathryn’s fa­vorite spots: Charleston’s His­tor­i­cal Bat­tery neigh­bor­hood, Pancito & Lefty Mex­i­can res­tau­rant, Hamp­ton Park, and Leon’s Oys­ter Shop (and soft serve). “Charleston is ev­ery­thing. I can take a class, walk our dogs in a his­toric park, work from home, hit the beach, see my par­ents, and eat at an award-win­ning res­tau­rant, all in the same day,” says Budig.

yoga world, in the act­ing world, ev­ery­thing. Then there is a phys­i­cal­ity to all of it, and ev­ery­one just tor­tur­ing them­selves to look beau­ti­ful and fit, and it’s very trig­ger­ing for me.”

She got out of LA in 2011, mov­ing to DeLand, Florida, to be with a man she fell for—lit­er­ally. They met when he was her sky-div­ing in­struc­tor. They moved to­gether to Charleston, where they were mar­ried, in 2014. But it was a dif­fi­cult mar­riage from the start.

Just be­fore the wed­ding, Budig trav­eled to Dana Point, Cal­i­for­nia, for an es­pnW Women + Sports Sum­mit. She met Fa­gan there, though they only in­ter­acted in the con­fer­ence sort of way. Budig sat in on a dis­cus­sion Fa­gan mod­er­ated; Fa­gan at­tended a yoga class Budig led.

Fa­gan, also 36, hadn’t prac­ticed much yoga be­fore the con­fer­ence, but it was her in­tro­duc­tion to a phys­i­cal pur­suit that is as much a cre­ative ex­pres­sion as an ath­letic one. “The cre­ativ­ity I as­pire to in writ­ing is what I see from her in her yoga classes,” says Fa­gan, who ap­pears fre­quently on ESPN’s Out­side the Lines and is the au­thor of the 2017 best-sell­ing book What Made Maddy Run: The Se­cret Strug­gles and

Tragic Death of an All-Amer­i­can Teen. “When Kathryn would demon­strate these poses and I still didn’t to­tally un­der­stand what to do, she would use metaphors, and lan­guage, and de­scrip­tions that I thought were ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

The next year, at the same es­pnW con­fer­ence, they re­con­nected. Budig was taken with the jour­nal­ist and for­mer col­lege bas­ket­ball player. “I got to hear her lead a panel, and she is just so smart. She re­ally stood out to me. We swapped num­bers and we ended up tex­ting each other ev­ery sin­gle day, and it was one of those things where I felt like, ‘Oh no, what if she doesn’t text me to­day?’ And I knew.”

It wasn’t long be­fore Budig and her hus­band de­cided to sep­a­rate. Part of a close-knit fam­ily, she has al­ways re­lied on her par­ents and two (much older) sib­lings for sup­port. First, she reached out to her mother. “I told her that I’d fallen in love with a woman and I didn’t know what to do,” Budig said. She wor­ried her mother would take is­sue with her be­ing with a woman. “My mom said, ‘Of course I don’t care, I just don’t un­der­stand the sex part.’ ” (“Fair enough!” her daugh­ter replied.)

When Budig told her dad about the end of her mar­riage and about Kate, she was vis­i­bly ner­vous. “When I fi­nally told my dad, there was just a lot of buildup for me, and I was re­ally scared.” Her fa­ther said to her, “Kathryn, if you think this would up­set me, then you don’t even know who I am.”

Kathryn set­tles in

On Satur­day morn­ing, a day af­ter a chilled-out Fri­day spent at pi­lates, in the kitchen, and on the front porch, Budig wakes up early for a pho­to­shoot for Asha Pa­tel De­signs, a jew­elry maker. Then Budig and Fa­gan head, in their Mercedes SUV, to the Daily, a hip­ster-ish mar­ket and cof­fee shop. Budig drives, Fa­gan nav­i­gates. At a ta­ble lit­tered with green juices and chia bowls, they sit on the same side, hold­ing hands. Budig is wear­ing a white jumper and sneak­ers and some makeup from the pho­to­shoot.

They are try­ing to fo­cus on a bunch of projects that will root them home in Charleston to­gether. Af­ter work­ing with es­pnW for the past year on Free Cook­ies, their Pod­cast about sports and well­ness, they are now pro­duc­ing it them­selves in Charleston with more of a fo­cus on food and pop cul­ture. They are also plan­ning their au­tumn wed­ding at a fa­vorite res­tau­rant in town, with Budig’s men­tor Corn pre­sid­ing over the cer­e­mony. And they are think­ing about hav­ing a baby.

All of this means less travel for Budig and far fewer work­shops and classes. She knows it’s jar­ring for some stu­dents, but she hopes they see that just as they grow and change through yoga, so too does she.

“I think in this day and age, a lot of peo­ple who’ve been suc­cess­ful at a young age are ask­ing, ‘What do I do now?’ And giv­ing peo­ple per­mis­sion to fol­low what lights them up for the next stage of their life is im­por­tant,” she says. “You know, you don’t have to keep do­ing the same thing just be­cause you did it well. I think that’s how peo­ple be­come numb.”

To that point, she is tak­ing a lot of pi­lates and barre classes to help ad­dress her in­juries. When she does go to yoga, she looks for a spot in the back cor­ner of the room where no one will no­tice or rec­og­nize her and she can do her own thing.

Fa­gan is help­ing Budig make the pro­fes­sional shift to­ward food. “I would be hon­est with her if I didn’t think this was a good idea. But I have seen her acu­ity in the kitchen. She has a unique set of skills,” Fa­gan says, “It’s a tough tran­si­tion. It can be dif­fi­cult when you want to be one thing in the world and you’ve been some­thing else. The world gets re­ally sticky.”

Corn is en­cour­ag­ing her to take the risk, too. “Kathryn’s role in well-be­ing seems to me more broad than teach­ing asana,” Corn says. “I never thought that yoga would be the only way she would sup­port peo­ple in their own trans­for­ma­tional growth. She is a cre­ative per­son and no one who is an artist should be rel­e­gated to one form of ex­pres­sion.”

It’s not just that Budig wishes to spend more time build­ing her culi­nary ca­reer. She is also ques­tion­ing the safety of a very reg­u­lar, very rig­or­ous asana prac­tice.

“As some­one who used to put her feet be­hind her head all the time and just go into these re­ally ab­surd poses, I have a lot of ques­tions about what I even think is OK for the body and how far we should be tak­ing it. How do those poses get me any closer to en­light­en­ment or do­ing some­thing good for my body?” Budig says.

She re­mains fo­cused on the philoso­phies of yoga— non-at­tach­ment and be­ing in the mo­ment—and how they con­nect to her love of food.

Budig’s sis­ter, Mary Frances Budig, says she has wit­nessed Kathryn build her ca­reer with de­ter­mi­na­tion and now sees her go­ing through a process of re-eval­u­a­tion. “In your 20s and 30s, you are learn­ing who you are,” says Mary Frances, who is 16 years older than Kathryn. “When you have con­fi­dence in your­self as a pro­fes­sional, as Kathryn rightly does, you can nar­row in on what you re­ally want to do with your life. Kathryn loves food, and she loves yoga. But she also loves hav­ing a home and hav­ing Kate in her life. She is in a place where I think she is most au­then­ti­cally her­self.”

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