050: Christine Schwan: Improving Professional Sports Performance With Yoga
Christine Schwan holds state and national championships in fitness. Christine began practicing yoga as a way to find more balance after life changes brought her to the sacred space of single motherhood with two small boys. She fell in love with the practice of yoga then went on to receive her yoga teaching certification in 2008. Christine is currently an adjunct professor of Anatomy and Physiology, certified life mastery coach, breath and meditation instructor and yoga coach and instructor. Her extensive knowledge in breathing and meditation, as well as kinesiology and the biomechanics of the muscular system, enables her to bring a depth of knowledge of the human body to her clients. Christine specializes in corrective alignment, rehabilitation and improving sports performance for numerous professional athletes.
We have Christine Schwan. Christine seems like she’s had everything possible happening to her in her life. Bad divorce, she’s lost everything, her money. She had to raise two boys by herself. She had spinal meningitis when she was 36 weeks pregnant. She’s been near death. She had eating disorder. She had all kinds of stuff and yet through all these, she comes back with the most glorious attitude about life, about the positivity, about things that you can overcome, about waking up every day. This girl would get out of bed and she feels happy, which is awesome. Sometimes it takes 30 minutes to do that, but she’s not going to wake up with a negative attitude and that’s the way she goes about life. She’s taken her passion into purpose in what she does. She works with the Cubs and others in terms of trying to be in that mindful place of living a very healthy and positive lifestyle. As always, we love the ratings and reviews. Go to iTunes, share it with your friends, and spread the love. On that note, let’s get on to Christine.
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Christine Schwan: Improving Professional Sports Performance With Yoga
I am very excited to talk to Christine because Christine came to me via hearing one of my podcasts. Something spoke to her about overcoming adversity and finding your way with one of the peeps. This lady has had everything happen to her. This list is long, and I almost feel bad going through all this with Christine. Talk about somebody who’s overcome so much adversity and found their way in life. It’s a great story. The first thing I want to do is let everybody know that I’m in Hermosa Beach, my world HQ, and we will go to Chicago, Illinois, the windy city. Christine, how are you doing?
I’m doing awesome. Thank you, Mark. How are you?
I’m fantastic. I always get inspired by people, like yourself, who have gone to the wall. I’ve had my share of issues and I’ve been faced with a lot of hardcore decisions, but I haven’t experienced the type of things that you have gone through. I want to go through some of these different things, but let’s start off with going back to where you grew up.
I was born in Chicago but grew up and raised in Phoenix, Arizona.
How much time did you go back and forth and why were you going back and forth?
I haven’t been back and forth, so I’m in Chicago. I’ve been here since I’ve been doing the yoga coaching and mental skills with some of the players of the Chicago Cubs. I’ve been here 2016 and 2017, but I’ll end up back in Arizona. I was raised around the Phoenix, Arizona area.
I’m going to list a bunch of these things that you’ve been through and then we’ll figure out which ones we want to go after and figure out what you did about it. I’m glad it sounds like you’ve got a sense of humor about this because they’re amazing. You had a bad divorce, you lost everything, all your money, you ended up having to raise these two boys, who are three and five, on your own, no help, you were working two jobs, you contracted spinal meningitis. I don’t even know what that is. You were new near death, you had an eating disorder. Where did this stuff start and where did it end?
During the divorce, it was pretty traumatic, I got into a bad eating disorder. To me, it was the only thing I could control. By choosing not to eat, pretty much that was what I was doing because gave me control over something is what I felt. I ended up losing quite a bit of weight as well as getting sick. I want to jump back on that because the spinal meningitis was when I was 36 weeks’ pregnant with my second son. I ended up contracting with spinal meningitis. They didn’t know what it was.
What is spinal meningitis?
Spinal meningitis is an infection of the lining of the spine and the brain caused either from a virus or bacteria. If it’s from a virus, they can’t treat it and there’s about 50% fatality rate. If it’s bacterial, then they can treat it with antibiotics and still with that, there’s 25% to 30% fatality rate. If you survive then, there could be neurological damage. Here I was, 36 weeks’ pregnant, could not open my eyes, could not move, excruciating migraine, and they took me to the hospital and they didn’t know what it was. They thought it was spinal meningitis. One spinal tap came out not positive, not negative, so they ended up putting me on antibiotics, but because I was pregnant, they put me in isolation in the neurological ward. I don’t remember anything for ten days. During that time though, I do remember once they brought me into the hospital, there was a point where the pain got so excruciating and at that point I couldn’t see or move. I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of peace and all of a sudden, no pain. That was my near-death experience. One of the things on that list that for me, I went to this amazing place that was peace. It was dark, there was a light there, and it was incredible, Mark.
[Tweet “I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of peace and all of a sudden, no pain. That was my near-death experience.”]
Are you talking about a physical place? Are you talking about more like a spiritual place?
Absolutely a spiritual place. I don’t know where it was. All I knew was it was all dark with a light somewhere, and I was not in pain. It was a feeling and I want to stay there. Then there was a memory that came up of my 22-month-old son and the memory that I’m pregnant and who’s going to take care of my baby. I can’t be here in this conscious awareness. In the moment that I said, “I can’t be here. I need to be with my baby.” The pain came back again. I’m still not able to see, but I remember the intense excruciating pain that you don’t want to be around with. From that point on, I don’t remember much. It was ten days later, my gynecologist said the baby’s heart rate is dropping, “We have to take this baby. We cannot give you an epidural. We cannot do a C‑section because you can’t do anything with the spine or that infection will go throughout the entire body, so you have to give birth to this baby normally. We’re going to try one little gel to keep it going, see if it happens, see if it kicks you into labor.”
By that point, I was 37 weeks. It worked. I did go into labor naturally. I could not see. I remember hearing the words ‘push’ and you have two children, so you understand. I was hearing commotion and then I heard a cry. That’s how I remember for another three days and then I remember coming out of whatever I was in and having eyesight and being able to open my eyes and move a little bit. It was three days later that I got to see him, and he was healthy. That was the one thing. They never had almost full-term pregnant woman give birth while she has spinal meningitis, let alone what’s the baby going to do. He is perfectly normal. He’s amazing. Both my boys are, but that took a toll. My hearing was off for quite a while, but I retained that, and I ended up gaining my strength back. He was eight and a half pounds. To carry this after that spinal meningitis, I could barely hold him. I had no strength left, so I worked myself back into physical health as best I could to be able to take care of the two kids at that point.
Were you still married?
I was, yes.
You at least have support at that point in time in the game, right?
Yes, I did have support at that time.
How do you pull out of this meningitis that you have?
I had been an aerobic instructor when I was eighteen, when I was in college. I had been an aerobic instructor up until that time, as well as a speech therapist. I got to school, did my speech therapy was working, my first son was born and then I stayed home with him. I wasn’t teaching but I was working out, so I got back to doing Jane Fonda videos on the floor with the boys, trying to get back and gain strength. Every day, I would do a little bit more to be able to even fully walk without having a massive headache and to be able to hold Christopher, my younger one, while I was standing and walking around. It took me a good four to five months to feel that I could walk around and be comfortable and confident. I got back into teaching aerobics and I did an aerobic competition when Christopher turned one year old. That was my way to go, “I’m better, I’m stronger, I’m getting back.” I never felt back. It was a long time to feel fully in my health, is what I’d say.
For those people who haven’t had kids, having little ones that close together and then you throw in boys with that energy, it’s like a tornado hit your garage, like category five hurricane. It’s enough, let alone that when we’re drained, like the way that you described, physically, mentally, you’re sleep deprived. It’s a tough phase in your life to go through.
It sure is, Mark. Boys are more physically active, and I did what I had to do. That’s my mindset when I raised the boys, be there. I had to get stronger and always being in fitness and physically active and in sports and an athlete, it kicks in. You do what you to do.
I don’t think they have aerobics anymore. Do they? I’ve never thought about this, but is that true?
I don’t think gyms have them anymore. You might see it out there, although you could go online and get the videos out there, but it’s shifting into CrossFit, yoga, more weight-based, cross training.
Denise Austin lives down the street from me. She’s great. She’s fantastic with energy bursting out. She was big into the whole video, Jane Fonda, jump up and down and get everybody going and she was very successful at it. You recover from all this and you slowly make your way back into the game and feeling like you’re alive again. It sounds like your relationship was starting to go south because you talked about having to raise boys between three and five.
The marriage was going south. He was a high school coach and that took up a lot of time. We grew apart and there wasn’t a solid foundation. I’m now good friends with him. That took awhile to get to, but it was to the point where I wanted to have some counseling to go through all that and he wasn’t on that same page, so I decided. I was the one that said, “Then let’s split up or get a divorce,” and he said “Divorce,” so that was that. It wasn’t mutual. The boys and I left the house and left everything. I took the boys and their clothes, their things, my things, and left. That was my choice.
You lost everything, or you left everything?
I had deeded the title of the house over to him, so in terms of any type of equity or to split anything, I say I lost it. I lost the money I put into the home and that wasn’t important to me. I didn’t lose it. I did walk from it. The boys were, to me, the most important things.
I had to go through this myself, but I didn’t lose everything, but it blew my mind away. I was married for 24 years and going through that, the amount of stuff that you acquire and you’re like, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Somebody from another country, a third world or something, would look at this and it’s like riches beyond riches and it wasn’t. It was just a garage full of stuff. When I finally had moved out and I was sitting there in my place in Manhattan Beach, I’ve got one bed and one trouser, I was like, “How did this happen?” I used to have so much, but it boils down to it’s not about stuff in your life that matters. It’s about the things that are in it, like your kids, like my kids, and relationships that you have with other people that are the key to richness, to me at least, in life. Don’t you think?
You nailed it. It is for me. I know everyone’s different, but what I believe for me at that point in my life, why I made that choice, was having gone through that near-death experience. That’s the best way I can describe it. I remembered all the people that I loved and you don’t take anything with you. That knowing is always in me, so that was why the only thing that was important are these two young little souls that I have and want to take care of. That was an easy decision. You can always get stuff. I took the pictures with me, but I do agree with you. My big belief is that’s all that’s important in life is those you love, loving them and caring with your family, friends, anyone.
You continue down the path and you’re much more determined on the path that you want to go, so you end up going to grad school and you’re working a couple of jobs.
I realized that in my profession. I only had my bachelor’s to make money and be responsible financially for the boys. No matter what, I was going to be the one, so I had to get my masters and I was working full time. The second job was aerobics, so I would do that after school. I got accepted probationary and I took all night classes as many as I could. Then it came to a point where I go one day a week and then it was like, “No, you got to be there full-time.” Now is the point where I go, “I need the money.” Here’s the timeline. There’re so many things that went on. I got sick from the eating disorder.
Why is it that women have eating disorders and guys don’t have eating disorders? Is it body image things? You talked about control earlier.
I can’t speak for anyone else and I can only suppose you as a male, but for me, it is all about control. It wasn’t about the body image at all. It was about what I can control. I couldn’t control an ex‑husband, I couldn’t control family or friends. The only thing that I felt I could control was eating. As crazy as it sounds, it’s like, “I’m going to have a little bit of control over that.” I went through counseling through that and that was the essence of what they thought they were sharing with me that it’s about control. I couldn’t look at myself and go, “I get it. That’s what I was doing it.” It wasn’t body image for me and so I can’t speak for any other women. You give me your opinion, Mark, but I feel that men have the ability to control more things. Given how the society was back then, I’m about your age, men could go out and get a job easily versus a woman. It’s just different. Maybe that might be one of the things, but for women, that’s one thing I can control.
I can give you my opinions, but at the end of the day, maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong in terms of if males, especially white males, have advantages, we probably do. I don’t ever want to speak my opinion about what women have or have no opportunity to or African-Americans where there has been discrimination, and so the same opportunities aren’t there. That makes sense to me, but it’s hard to walk on those shoes if you haven’t walked in those shoes.
I agree completely 100%. The fitness contest, so I started lifting weights to gain more strength but still have not completely gotten up to where I was up to. I knew one way to get money was to enter some fitness competition. There was a $10,000 prize and I go, “That would be great. That’ll help me. If I can win that, then I’ll be able to quit and do my master’s and get that finished.” I entered, and I won Miss Fitness Arizona on my first try and that got me into the Ms. Fitness USA. I competed, and I did pretty well. I was fifteen out of the group, but I didn’t make the finals.
I missed the finals to get in, but proud of myself, the oldest one and the only one with children, so that was fun for me. I love taking steps and leaps of faith, but I knew that, at that point, I had to go and quit my job and go one semester full-time. I’ll make it and I did. It wasn’t easy, but I would do little jobs on the side and teach my aerobics. I even did a thesis and got through that, so I graduated and finally got my master’s. I started my own private practice and kept going forward with raising the boys and trying to financially get myself set and I’ve done pretty well.
Congratulations on all that. You talked about the private practice. What is the private practice?
A private practice for speech pathology, so that’s what my degree is in school. I’m on contract, not myself and my services as speech, to schools. I also do work with pediatrics, so specializing with young children who have either speech or language delays or syndromes and disabilities. I would also contract other speech pathologists out to schools and eventually I built up and I have a small office that I would work out, so building all that for the speech therapy aspect of rehabilitation in schools, pediatric children.
It’s such a gift when you can give back in that way because you’ve got such great perspective on all these things that you’ve had to overcome. Some things you can control, other things you couldn’t control, and they keep hitting you in the face. You keep having to get up. Were there any lessons as you reflect back on your life, as you’re going through each one of these different deals, now that you’re okay? You can reflect back and life is going fine, the decisions that you made and haven’t made, but do you have any wisdom? Do you see the world differently? How do you frame that up?
I love that you asked the questions because that’s exactly where I am now. What I’ve learned through all of those adversities is to look at them at the time now. I can do it now, but to look back and go, “Where was the gift?” Meaning, “What was I supposed to learn?” It’s not about my ex‑husband. It’s not about anybody else. It’s only about me. I know through experience that in every adversity or circumstance or condition, there is always a gift in it if you choose to look for it. You have the choice to look for whatever you want to, but if you choose to look for the gift, you’re going to find it. It’s generally a personal growth thing that takes you deeper or takes me deeper into myself and I learned from it and I grow. Some of that came forgiveness not just for my ex-husband, but for myself. It took me to a path of looking at the world differently through eyes of, “What a blessing everything is that we have and not to blame.”
There’s no perfection. I’m not perfect, but I so much want to learn because I’m in such a place of health. My health keeps getting better. I’ve learned how what I believe and what I think about all the time, that the positive keeps me going and growing and what has opened up because of those choices. I love my life, Mark. I love my family, I love my children. I feel like I’m the most blessed person on this earth that it sounds crazy, but we all should. That sounds Pollyannish and people always would say, “You were not always like this.” I’m like, “I limit my pity parties and I have them, but I give it a timeline. I’m done and then I’ll move on.” I want to keep growing and generally, that’s where adversity comes, at least for me.
Everything you said, I absolutely love. There was a couple of thoughts that came to me. Number one is I talked to this woman and she came on to the show, Kathy Eldon. You listened to that episode. It was so moving. She had this whole thing about bless and release. This came on the heels of her 22-year-old son being stoned to death in Somalia after the US had bombed some village. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and that’s what happened. She harbored a lot of anger toward the Somalians for many years in and so she finally got to that point where she was able to bless and release and forgive. All these things that you’re talking about, these choices, adversity happens and it’s our choice. How do you want to view that? Is that a gift or is that a detriment?
Everything you’re talking about is that you’ve been able to take that and use it more as a learning experience, as a gift towards making you a better person. By not holding onto all this negative weight, it allows you to truly soar at such a much higher level. There’s another guy, a former Raiders teammate, Jerry Robinson, that came on one of the early ones I did. The first thing he said is he wakes up everyday with an attitude of gratitude. I love that because I’m 6’4” but I could have been 5’2” and I’m of certain color and I have a certain personality and there are certain things I can’t control. The one thing that we can all control is our attitude and how we want to view the world and what lens that we want to go through. You’ve done a great job with that. I’m sure it’s infectious with the kids and people that you are in contact with in your work.
[Tweet “We’re all going to go through adversity, why not go “I’m going to have fun with it and enjoy it for the moment.””]
You talk about the Jerry Robinson quote. When I heard that, I thought that’s amazing. What I have taught myself to do, I’ve been doing it ten years now, is making this conscious decision before I put my feet on the floor to be happy. I will not put my feet on the floor unless I am happy. I sit in bed for 30 minutes at times. The more the practice kicks in, the more for me it’s easier. I’m awake, I’m in bed, I will not put my feet down until I am happy. I don’t mean this giddy funny happy, but certainly a grateful happy. I set my day, so I’m going to have a day filled with joy and laughter. I started with that because I love to laugh, although I get accuse of being serious too much. I decided, “I’m going to try this out. I’m going to have a day filled with laughter,” thinking right. By the end of the day, I could barely stand up. I was laughing so hard and it finally hit me like, “I intended that.” I do it and it works for me and I have fun with that. Life is precious, I know that. To go through life that way, it makes it so much better. We’re all going to go through adversity, why not go “I’m going to have fun with it and enjoy it for the moment.”
I was on Mount Rainier and I was very fortunate to be involved in the NFL Network that had this feature they call “Life After Football”. We had to meet the Ranger up there. I’ll call her Ranger Rick. She’s got the top hat, the little Ranger, Smokey, the bear outfit on. She came up and she met us at 7:00 AM as the sun was coming up. The guys, the producers, and the film people were getting all their equipment set. She walked up and she has such an infectious positive energy about her. On a scale of one to ten, whatever rating you want to give her, she elevated herself like another three points. She was such a joy to be around and everything was great, not in a phony way but in a very authentic way. Life is too short and crazy things are happening. You and I are probably similar this way. I don’t want to go and get all knee-deep in all the negativity in the political world. I don’t want to go and freak out about North Korea. That doesn’t get me to where I need to be personally going to the light, going to happiness, going to all things positive, and going after whatever you’re purposeful about going after. For you, it’s been this lifetime journey and ending yourself up in a place where you can give back to people in a very positive way. It’s awesome.
I believe, Mark, that every thought has a frequency and energy. If I’m going to go pay attention, and the law of the universe, what you focus on is going to expand and where you put your energy, that grows. We know that it’s pure physics. If I put my attention on all the politics and it is bringing me down, I’m feeding that. I choose to live this life. I believe that by staying positive, I’m shining a light. I’m keeping the elevation, the mood, lighter for other people. By you talking about where you were at, it puts a huge smile on my face and it made me feel lighter and that’s how I want to go walk around this earth. It doesn’t mean I hide my head in the sand, but I always want to stay positive.
You talked about the frequency. One of the things that’s great about climbing these different mountains around the world, and we get very extreme in high places, there’re no cell towers, there’s no connectivity, and literally, it takes you about three days to get to a point where you’re not checking your phone and there’s no text and there’re no emails, but that place of solitude and that place of becoming clear and that place of being void of all the noise, especially the chaos that goes on. Whether you have that in your life or you’re not, it gets back to what you said. It’s choosing what frequency that you want to be on. I love that term.
I use that in the yoga with the players. I teach them about the energy and that your thoughts, so that if you’re not hitting really well or you miss a pitch that you’re pitching, you have to understand that your thoughts are going to have a positive or negative effect, however you choose, so how are you going to handle your energy and your thoughts as you go forward with it? I do use that quite a bit.
Are we talking about your working with the Cubs? Tell us what you do with the Cubs.
I’m working in particular with Kyle Hendricks. He’s already told everybody that he does yoga. We’ve been working together since 2016. We do a four-day on, one-day off routine. Kyle is one of the starting pitchers for the Chicago Cubs and he was in the running for the Cy Young last year. He ended up doing extremely well this year, too. I was working with him and then this year in the clubhouse with him. I ended up getting nineteen of the players on the mat at one point or another and know through yoga, teaching them different things mentally as well as how the breath works. “Let’s just focus on the breath,” just to give them tools in their toolbox. Every athlete, breakfast is one of the most important things. That’s what I’m doing, and I love it.
They won the World Series. What was that like for you? It must have been exhilarating to be a part of that?
It was a dream, like pinch yourself to be there at every game. I would go, and I would be at every game and in the clubhouse. Kyle and I would work out and then watch the games. It wasn’t just about baseball for the Chicago Cubs to win that World Series again in 108 years. It was bringing together a family. I get tears. If you were here, it was incredible. The entire city came alive and people wrote all about their family members on chalk on the outside of the red brick walls of Wrigley Field. The Cubs subsequently took professional pictures and it’s up in the bleachers and in the clubhouse. When the parade happened, I got to be in the parade and looking at 5-plus million people and all they were saying was, “Thank you,” to these players. It brought back memories of my grandpa and we used to watch the games and you would see videos. People would come up to the guys and say, “Thank you. You don’t know what you did,” and it was tears of joy. It wasn’t about baseball. It brought everybody back together. It was incredible.
I’m a Seattle guy originally before I’m down here in Southern California, surviving the 100-degree heat. In Seattle, there’s a band called Pearl Jam. I’m sure a lot of people have heard of it, and for some reason, I’m not sure why, Eddie Vedder and the gang got this thing about the Cubs last year. They had some concerts back there, but I was following the Cubs’ journey through the eyes of Pearl Jam. Maybe you know the answer about why they chose to take on the Cubs as their team and vice versa. Chicago took them on and it seemed like they thoroughly enjoyed having them there playing concerts and songs.
I don’t know. Eddie Vedder was there most every game, especially playoffs. I don’t know if he’s a Chicago native. I should know.
I think he’s San Diego originally.
I have no idea. He might be Joe Maddon’s group. I don’t know, but Eddie Vedder was there. I didn’t know the other guys were there. I knew they gave their concerts at Wrigley Field. Good, so you’re following through the Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder.
The name of this podcast is called Finding Your Summit and it certainly sounds like you have done that in spades and having overcome so many of these different things that you’ve gone through. Here you are, you’re standing on top of your mountain, your summit, and feeling purposeful with passion, about the things you’re doing in the world and a lot of joy and happiness that you spread.
Thank you very much. I love where I’m at. Looking back at every single adversity, I wouldn’t change a thing. There are no regrets, lessons learned, and growth going forward. I appreciate that. I’m blessed always.
Where can people find you?
People could go to Instagram, @Christine.Schwan. My Facebook is @ChristineSchwan, and they could check in with me there. My email is CSchwan1@gmail.com. I’ll give that out because I like to answer people, male or female, who go through adversity. I love to give hope and say never give up.
[Tweet “When you follow your passion and it’s leading you, you know that you’re doing what you should be doing.”]
It’s such a strong message with all that. It’s great to encourage. I get various people sending me different notes. You don’t think that you’re making a difference and then somebody like you sent me an email and says, “Keep it up, keep going,” and it’s like, “Maybe what I’m doing matters.” It’s great.
I’ve learned that when you follow your passion and it’s leading you, you know that you’re doing what you should be doing. Keep it up and don’t stop.
It’s awesome from purpose to passion, it all works. Christine, thank you so much for being on the pod. You are great, you are uplifting, and I can’t wait to share this with the world.
Thank you, Mark, for even inviting me on. It was a pleasure.