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Juliet Starrett: Petra Kolber is an author, speaker, podcast host, and most recently a DJ. She is a wellness leader who is known throughout the industry as a crusader for change and a beacon of authentic happiness. In August 2018, Petra released her first book called The Perfection Detox, which made its debut at number one in new releases on Amazon. Petra has over 30 years of experience in the fitness industry, and has been honored with some of the most prestigious awards, including more Speaker of the Year and Instructor of the Year titles than we can even list here. For over a decade she was spokesperson for Reebok, traveling around the world, starring on their VHS tapes, yep, you heard that right, and was a regular fitness host on FitTV. As a two time cancer survivor, she is passionate about waking people up to the precious gift of time. Her mission is to inspire people to move more, fear less, and build an inspired life full of joy and gratitude. We are so grateful to have Petra Kolber today on the podcast.
Kelly Starrett: Petra, welcome to The Ready State podcast. We are thrilled, I was going to say stoked, but actually I’m deeply thrilled to have you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Petra Kolber: Thank you. My absolute privilege. I’m super excited to be with you guys.
Kelly Starrett: It seems like the only time I’m either hanging out with you, you’re on stage receiving prestigious lifetime awards, or DJ-ing, or being fabulous, so thanks for slumming it with us.
Petra Kolber: Well, a girl has to do what a girl has to do, but it’s lovely to have more than 20 seconds with you both in passing in a convention hallway-
Juliet Starrett: Yes.
Petra Kolber: … so I’m really grateful for this time.
Juliet Starrett: We are so excited to have you, so I’ll get started. I think people may know you as an inspirational speaker, and more recently as a DJ, but you have a super long and colored history in the fitness world. Can you give us a little background about your fitness experience?
Petra Kolber: Yeah. You know it’s long when people say, “Oh, my gosh, I used to work out with your VHS tapes.” And I go, “Okay, hold on. Hold on, I don’t go back that far.” But I do.
Kelly Starrett: I actually had you on Betamax.
Petra Kolber: Yeah. So yeah, no, I was very blessed. I got into fitness in the hay days of aerobics, it was called aerobics in the time, like early ’90s in New York City. I had a background of dance, and a much stronger English accent at the time, and through long, and just circumstances, and drive, and determination, I got hooked up with this company called Reebok. I had also met Kelly later, like gosh, two decades later. And so like everybody I was teaching way too many classes in New York City, 25, 30 classes a week. That was my job.
Juliet Starrett: Oh my god.
Petra Kolber: I know. Drinking Slim Fast on the subway, don’t judge. And then my job became a career. Reebok found me, they asked… they were looking for another face of fitness. They had this amazing gal called Gin Miller who had done step and launched the whole step program with Reebok, and they were looking for this dance based fitness leader. I got the gig. I did a video, my first VHS with Nancy Kerrigan right after she got hit on the knee by Tonya Harding, so that was my foray. I went from teaching a million classed to being a fitness celebrity very quickly. I was very blessed. I had 10 years under contract that allowed me to pull back on teaching, move into a career, and yeah, through ups and downs the great… this is one piece of advice I remember Gin Miller gave me on my first time I met her. She goes, “Even if you have a company, never lose your name for the sake of a company.”
Petra Kolber: Back in the day when I was invited to do a convention through Reebok, I’d also say, “Hey, do you mind if I just do a class under my name?” Said, “We’re not going to pay you because you’re sponsored by Reebok.” I said, “No worries, I’ll just do it.” And because of that, when Reebok went away, as they always will because it’s going to be a different face and they want a fresh perspective, I totally get that. Luckily, because I’d also kept my name out there alongside Reebok, when Reebok went away people still knew of Petra. So I then moved into my own production, DVDs, TV, yeah, it’s been a really great, fantastic journey.
Juliet Starrett: I would just like to say that, for those who don’t know aerobics, the instructor is actually doing the whole class with the students, so 30 classes a week. We own a CrossFit gym and our coaches are actually not doing the workout with the students, so there would be no way they could do 30 classes. I just want to say how impressive that is.
Kelly Starrett: And it’s not even that you’re doing, and teaching, you’re talking in a reasonable voice.
Petra Kolber: Yeah.
Juliet Starrett: Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: That’s the thing that always kind of blows my mind. I’m like, “What is going on here? Who is this person? Why does she have five lungs?”
Petra Kolber: I know, and it’s weird. It’s like I look back now to the day when we didn’t have such thing as a microphone, I’d be teaching to a class of 80 people, yelling over the music, losing my voice, so I’d just spray Chloraseptic because I couldn’t… and I wondered why I had stress fractures, and you look back now going, “OMG, this is basically torture.” And you get paid like $15 an hour, but man, it was just such a great time and I just loved every second of it.
Kelly Starrett: You’d just smoke all the Virginia Slims, and drink all the Tab-
Juliet Starrett: And the Slim Fast.
Kelly Starrett: … and slay it. Oh man, just the whole image. This season, we’re trying to wrap our heads around aging, longevity. One of the reasons that you’re so compelling to talk to is, I mean, who you are and what you’re doing today still, but you really were one of the first anchors of general fitness when sort of the rest of the world realized that, “Hey, fitness isn’t just the domain of sports.” But really transitioning into, “You’ve got to do this to live long.” And I think in the ’80s and ’90s we made some big mistakes, lots of over training. The model was just, “Do more of it.” And if you look backwards now, what would you tell yourself? Because you were this fitness icon, especially among women, when even in 1991 women weren’t sailing around the world yet, and competing, and we weren’t even viewing women as athletes, or having their own shoes, their own needs, and definitely not unique physiologies.
Petra Kolber: Yeah. I mean, I think looking back, we’ve made a lot of mistakes. I think the biggest mistake, especially from a female perspective, we made, and we still do to some point today but I think the whole conversation is getting better, is that we made what you look like the definition of success. That you got the six pack, that was a win, you look like the Jane Fonda cover, that was a win, and I was guilty of that, too. And we never said it specifically, but that was the win. We were not moving for longevity, we were not moving for how we felt, we were moving for how you looked like, end of story. I don’t think the feeling, the talk about emotions, or self awareness, or confidence ever came into the equation. And there was a lot of good though, there was community, there was joy, there was a lot of gird, but I think the damage, I would say to my younger self was, and I don’t know if I did this deliberately, but any messaging that you’re going to do to people in front of you, whether it’s one, 10, or 1,000, never let that message be, “Success is what you look like.”
Petra Kolber: Let that message be, “Success is how hard you worked today. Did you show up? Did you give it your all? Did you get up even though you wanted to go under the blankets because your loved one just left you.” Let’s look at why we move, and just not… I always, in a lot of messaging is that, “I’m not here to change your workout, I’m here to change why you work out. Here to change the driver.” So it’s not, you’re not running away from your… you’re not running away from getting older, you’re running towards what you can become with all this wisdom. It’s just like are we moving to… because we loathed ourselves? Are we moving ourselves because, “Oh my god, we get this body that’s going to move us into a life of our dreams.” And like you talk about getting older in the industry as someone who was a pioneer in the industry, that’s tricky for sure.
Kelly Starrett: It’s interesting and timely today in the New York Times, there was a really great article by a woman runner named Mary Cain, who was very, very young, and promising, and talented, and then went right into this system where she just got chewed up and really fell into relative energy deficiency syndrome, which is a real problem. She stopped getting her period, stress fractures, psychoemotionally just super abusive and destructive, so she wrote this sort of op-ed and kind of talked about it today. And it’s actually started a lot of conversation amongst the men and women coaches that I work with. What’s really interesting is that people are certainly products of the system, but I think it’s very timely that you’re talking about not exercising for weight, right?
Kelly Starrett: And that… or only exercising because I hate myself so that I can eat a certain way, because if we’re real… what’s interesting about this young generation of women who are really struggling to eat enough calories to support the real and sustained loads, which is not unlike what you did teaching 30 classes, to be honest, is that they actually set themselves up for huge amounts of neuroendocrine dysfunction. That they crashed their thyroid, their neuroendocrine axis gets off, they’re susceptible to a whole lot of diseases, that happens in our 20s when our aesthetics really matter, we are still getting it really, really wrong, even today, especially with our young athletes, in terms of taking this view towards, “Hey, you’re going to probably be 90.” And would you speak to that a little bit?
Petra Kolber: Look, I think it’s such, and we can talk… look, so it’s such a weird place to be, because there’s one thing to be competitive, and I think that’s a really healthy thing. I’m of an age right now where I could either go into this idea of, “Well, I’m 56, maybe I need to do things differently.” I call it the crack in the teacup. When do you honor your body for the years behind it? Or when do you use your years as an excuse, let’s say? But going back to the young kids today, where there is so much more knowledge, which is a wonderful thing, like look, let’s be honest, I asked Kelly right before this show because I pulled my calf muscle working out with a freaking 20 year old this morning, I’m like, “Kelly, do we ice? Do we not? I don’t know any more.” But with the knowledge there also comes overload. And I look right now, and I was thinking about this with a friend last week, if I had the success and what I was doing in my 20s, early 30s with social media-
Juliet Starrett: Oh, yeah.
Petra Kolber: … that’s a whole other element, right? We have this knowledge base, and we have… we need to be on social maybe to promote what we’re doing. It’s really hard to be an athlete these days and not be of that, so people can become aware of you and you get the great sponsorships, because look, all I know is these days, if you’re writing a book, you want a sponsorship, the first question is how many followers you have. So there’s that, I would just say to everybody, “You’ve got to…” and you know this Kelly and Juliet, it’s just like the best coach you’ll ever have is your intuition. This morning my intuition was telling me two minutes before I pulled my calf muscle, “Oh, you’re getting a little bit out of your comfort zone right here, is this ego, or is this your age?” And it was ego.
Petra Kolber: My ego when I did that last sprint, my age… you’re not pushing out, you’re… I should have taken that last… stepped out for that last set, and I didn’t. My ego is like, “Screw it. I used to be able to do this. Let me go at it.” And guess what I did. So I think whether you’re on social, whether you’re competing, whether you feel like, “Do I go for that extra trick?” Just take a moment of pause, get super quiet, and what’s my inner coach telling me, because she or he is never wrong? And it’s just when we listen to all that noise, whatever, and we start training because we think we should to keep up with our other person who is an inspiration at one point, and then that inspiration becomes comparison, and then that comparison becomes, “I’m training for the wrong reasons.” Is it the external drive versus the internal… intrinsic feeling of love of movement. It’s a slippery slope, and we just got to keep coming back to that inner coach of our intuition.
Kelly Starrett: We’re all sitting around the table, nodding our heads, looking at each other.
Juliet Starrett: Nodding heads. Yeah, so Kelly and I have actually talked about this before on this podcast, but I think it took us into being in our 40s before we’ve sort of taken on this idea of training when we have the desire to train and actually sort of being in touch with those feelings. When we were in our 20s and 30s we were like, “Three days on, one day off.” Or, “Train six days a week no matter what.” And just crushed ourselves, and we’ve really worked hard to listen to that inner voice that says, “Do I actually feel like training today?” And when we-
Kelly Starrett: And to be honest, we’re talking about training-
Juliet Starrett: Yeah. Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: … where Juliet is world champion superstar-
Juliet Starrett: Yeah, we’re always-
Kelly Starrett: … we’re not talking about moving or walking. Right?
Juliet Starrett: No. Yeah, we’re always active in some way, but we’re talking about, “Do I have a desire to actually breathe hard, lift a heavy weight, otherwise crush myself today?” And it’s taken us this many years, we’re both 45, or I guess we’re 46, and it’s taken us this many years to sort of be able to even just start to get in touch with that, and not just crush ourselves no matter what.
Petra Kolber: Yeah, I think always, I mean too, is also what’s underneath that feeling. It’s, “Why am I working out? Do I need the…” and for many of us, look I know for myself I have more focus, more energy, more attention, my day is better, I work for myself, I am just nicer to be around when I’ve done a really hard workout that I can not do on my own. I’ve joined classes again, kind of like a competitive setting that I haven’t done in years, and again, it’s just coming back to keeping that sense of community, keeping that sense of healthy competition, but not allowing my inner ego to go, “Okay girl, you need to keep up with this person next to you because you used to be this person.” And bring the best of what you were from my 20s, 30s, 40s into my 50s and then also leave that external crap that no longer serves me, which is some days I’m better at it and obviously this morning I wasn’t quite as… I always say, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Because today my ego won, and that’ll be my new t-shirt, “Don’t let your ego win.”
Kelly Starrett: “Today my ego won.”
Juliet Starrett: “Today my ego won.” We should make that a t-shirt, that’s amazing.
Kelly Starrett: Tweeting now.
Juliet Starrett: So Petra, you were obviously a fitness celebrity and icon, you do a ton of motivational speaking. One of the things that I want to talk to you about that I think is so relevant in this aging and longevity conversation is your work helping people with their emotional issues, and I really want to ask you how you see the role of happiness in aging.
Petra Kolber: Oh, damn. Take a big pause, I’m listening to my intuition going, “Do I tell them the truth?” For me, this all began where for years I had been interested with the neck down, like you guys, it was like for 30 years I studied the neck down, never even thinking what happened between the ears. And I found this thing call positive psychology six years ago and I was fascinated, I went back to school with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, and it was like 180 people around the world, and then they broke you up into what you did. There was coaches, and there was yoga teachers, and then they have fitness, and I was the only fitness person. I was like, “Oh god, this is so interesting and so terrifying.” So I created this program called Moving to Happiness, and it really was just a one day, “Let’s revisit how we look at coaching from the fitness perspective, and again, the why behind the workout.”
Petra Kolber: Because what I was seeing is I would be training across the world, these incredible people, and maybe you’ve seen this in your studio is that people come up to you afterwards and they go, “Oh my god, how do I get rid of this?” And they pinch like a millimeter of their belly, and all they could see was everything that was wrong with them. I’m like, “Oh my god, you guys are magnificent beings, and again, I think because we had made the body the definition of success through movement, especially in the exercise/fitness indoor studio, maybe less in the CrossFit world, but in this indoor studio aerobics, it was really what you looked like, end of story. We had done so much damage, like, “Oh, how do we change this?” And then let’s put on this whole thing of getting older.
Petra Kolber: So it’s not just your body breaking down to some extent, but then you have this other thing, there’s people dying, as you get older there’s more death that comes across your way, there’s more broken relationships, ended marriages, ended relationships, there’s a lot of other stuff that comes, so I think what the work around… now happiness is just a prong, if I said, “Are you going to age happily?” For me, happiness is interval training, it’s not steady state. It’s always changing, it’s like, oh, you got moments of peak joy, right? And then you get moments where like, “Oh my gosh, what am I doing?” But it’s being able to sustain the lower, challenging moments in life, that’s why we do this work. And that when the moments are going great in your workout, out of your workout, in your relationships with others, with yourself, and community, you get to savor it without going, “Oh my god, when is the shoe going to drop?” And then in the challenging moments in your workout, with injury, with the loss of a loved one, you get to say, “Okay, I have the resilience, I have the grit. I can pull on others, I can go to my community at CrossFit and pull on those people.”
Petra Kolber: So it’s really just having the wherewithal, for me, happiness simply comes down to what is under the feeling. Taking the time to go, “What is the thought that triggered the feeling, that triggered the action, that triggered my habit, that triggered my future.” And it all comes out, slowing down, so that you can speed up when you need to, then also slow down for those days, like you had said, maybe today is not the best day to crush my workout, crush my work, whatever that might be. Maybe it’s just a day of reflection and recovery because I know you guys know this, as human beings we were designed for moments of intense activity, and intense reflection, and recovery, and I think as you move on in years, that’s more important than ever, the recovery, and reflection, and being in community. I don’t know if that answered your question at all, but to me it’s all about the thought that’s triggering the feelings, the actions, and that’s the bit that I’m really interested in, both inside the gym and in our life.
Juliet Starrett: Yeah, it definitely answered my question and I love what you’re saying. Another thing that I know you’ve talked about, and Kelly and I are… it’s a subject that interests us a lot and that’s about just being uncomfortable and taking risks. What is your perspective on risk taking, making yourself uncomfortable, just in the context of aging and longevity?
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, do-
Petra Kolber: That’s a great question.
Kelly Starrett: Do you think we get better at that or worse at that?
Petra Kolber: I hope, I hope we get better. I think, because people often say to me, in a little different way, taking this outside of even a gym setting, people go, “Well, what do you think about the idea of doing it scared?” So I’m again like, look, I’m going to keep coming back to working out, because I’m beginning to work out again in a way that I haven’t done in like 10 years. And I’m a community setting, and the first time I walked back into that, I was afraid. I was afraid of standing out, I was afraid of not being able to keep up, I was afraid of injuring myself, and really underneath that I was afraid of not fitting in. I really took and go, “What are you really afraid about? Are you really afraid about injuring yourself?” No, because you kind of know yourself, unless your ego wins the war, which it did today. “Are you really afraid of not keeping up?” No, you’ve been in positions like that. What I really was afraid of, and I think this does get… this part gets harder as you get older, you’re afraid of not fitting in because in many parts of our lives you –
Kelly Starrett: I just had to interrupt, I’m thinking about my 14 year old daughter who is obsessed with obviously fitting in.
Petra Kolber: Ah, well, this is why I wrote a book about perfectionism, because it doesn’t go away, it just changes its voice. As a 14 year old, you’re trying to keep up with everybody else, “What do I look like? Am I saying the right thing? Am I in the right group?” As you get older, that just changes to, “Oh, am I young enough to fit in? Am I young enough to keep up?” It’s so weird, but then you flip to the positive side of that, you go, “Okay, you know what? I’ve got the wisdom, only I get to choose if I’m young enough.” Or, “No one gets to make that decision, expect for me.” And that’s why I think it’s also hard work and heart work. When we take the time to listen to our souls calling our heart, why are you on this planet? Look, I know I have more years behind me than ahead of me, it’s so weird. If someone dies now, oh god, this is not a depressant I hope, this is just something that’s… I now take their age when they died and I subtract my years and, “Oh, crap. That means I only have like 25 years to live.”
Petra Kolber: But with that, it’s like, “So what do I want to do with my wild, one, and precious life? Am I going to spend it worrying whether I fit in? Or am I going to spend it making a difference, and being a voice and a beacon hopefully of light for those that might not feel like they fit in and don’t have a place to go. But that whole idea of fear, again I say, “Hey, fear is also a really good teacher. I go, “What’s underlying that idea of fear?” So taking it out of the gym arena, maybe it’s I’m now a solopreneur. I go out, I do keynotes, I do… I write a book, I do presentations. And sometimes when I’m doing the keynote I’m like, “Ah, I’m really feeling a bit anxious.”
Petra Kolber: So if the fear is telling me, “You know what? You really haven’t prepped enough, you should probably go and run your lines a couple more times.” That’s a good fear. But if my fear is telling me, “Oh, are you nervous of the audience? Are you going to be judged?” That’s a false fear. That’s like, “Oh, okay my ego is stepping in.” And then for that kind of fear I’m like, “Oh, let’s just turn the lens off myself back onto the audience and the people I want to serve.” Because that kind of fear is not healthy. I think do we get better at it? I think, to be honest, it depends on the circumstance.
Kelly Starrett: Fair enough. We think that one of the issues facing most of us today is that it’s difficult to live as a modern psychoemotional being, right? Contend with all of the pressures, and I don’t think it’s necessarily worse than when my parents were around, but it’s certainly different. Things combating for our time, the amount of work we can do at home, the demands even just our children, I mean, Juliet and I are always talking about ’70s summer for our kids, for example. But here we are and we’ve really radically, and suddenly radically changed a lot of the environment in which the human being evolved, community, church, group organizations, and one of the things we feel like is we’re sort of witnessing, frankly, the wholesale devolution of the human being in terms of the schism from eating whole foods together, being in a community, having down time.
Kelly Starrett: One of the things that we’re always sort of trying to wrap our heads around is how do we get… how do we remind people that what they are doing today is really setting themselves up for how they’re going to live when they’re 60, 70, and 80, even 100. We really believe we’re going to be 100 years old. And one of the things I think that caught us was that you postulated that you’re seeing that these changes in behavior, specifically sitting, sorting of messing with our emotional health. And Juliet and I have come to recognize largely that we’re seeing that just people aren’t moving enough during the day. We don’t see it’s necessarily sitting versus standing in schools, but we’re seeing that there’s not enough just base activity to be good human beings, but the emotional health pieces really resonated with me. Would you talk about that?
Petra Kolber: Yeah. And I love the work that you are doing in the schools, and even just watching… I was watching you being interviewed the other day Kelly, and you were talking about… or maybe it was something you did online about sitting on the floor, right? Getting down and up off the floor. And I was like, “Okay.” Because I have a standing desk and then I was sitting. I’m like, “Okay, take my computer just to sit down on the floor. When was the last time I did that?” But I talk about, we say sitting is the smoking of our generation, but it’s also the emotional. You can not be at your best when you’re sitting, the worst place for our health, our happiness, our focus, our self esteem is sitting. And I have this really bad joke, but I’ll share it now, and I say, “My job is to scare the sit out of you.” Because… that’s my next t-shirt, but I know when my body is idle, my brain ramps up, and not in a good way. When my body is idle my negative inner critic, my worries, my doubts, they ramp up, and it’s not when… meditation is a whole different thing, but when I’m sitting, and I’m kind of half… when I’m sitting and I’m not fully focused, I think it’s those two things together.
Petra Kolber: I think when you’re sitting, and you’re partially focused, and if you’re distracted maybe you’re scrolling through your screen, that’s the worst place I believe for your brain, your body, your beliefs. I have this thing called STOP. It’s like when you feel this negativity, whether it’s questioning, whatever it is, you just… you know your thought process is not moving you into your best self. Your thought process is rumination versus reflection. You’re looking at all the things you did wrong, versus all that you’re doing well. And we all know that space where you begin to feel like getting a little blue, it’s like STOP. It’s like S, stand up, T, take a walk, and it’s not just moving your body, it’s also moving your thoughts. So then, O, observe your surroundings, because as we know if you’re listening, or smelling, or tasting when you’re in the present, and then P, pick a positive thought.
Petra Kolber: To me it’s not just moving the body, it’s moving your breath and also moving your thoughts. I think the piece that might be missed more than anything is we can still be moving our body and still ruminating in our mind, but when we become cognizant of the thoughts that are going through us, and especially when you’re moving, the best catalyst to move your negative state into a positive, there is nothing better than movement, as we know, the depression, anxiety, stress, aloneness, I know when I went through a devastating breakup, what got me back to normal was a walk and a run in Central Park. Nature and movement are the best healers in the world.
Juliet Starrett: Hear. Hear.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah. When we’re talking about as people get older, we’re dealing with a lot more pain, we know, and the research is very clear that keeping your brain engaged, and developing sort of new neural pathways is the magic, right? Purpose, design, those things are deeply, deeply integrated. And ironically, one of the things that becomes a base practice for Juliet and I, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve come to realize that it’s much more important, is walking. I think one of the things that Juliet and I hold sacrosanct is that, “Man, we’ve got to get our 10,000 steps.” And Juliet is a little bit more than me, because she’s a little bit more rad than I am, but it turns out that whether we’re trying to-
Juliet Starrett: Hyper would be the word.
Kelly Starrett: … accumulate enough fatigue so that we can actually fall asleep, because sleep starts to become an issue and quality of sleep for more as we age a little bit. And we’re talking about managing chronic pain, or just beginning a process, I really appreciate that you’re starting this tying in this psychoemotional sort of self awareness into this practice because the research is very clear about the neuroplasticity that if you walk briskly, your brain is very, very turned on into paying attention to your surroundings, turning on and making new connections, because your brain is like, “We’re walking fast, something must be going on here.” And I think that that is just a beautiful mnemonic trigger to do a lot of things. And I appreciate as we get older, or as we get wiser, these first principles end up just driving so much of our behavior and thinking. And I think that that beautiful one of, “Hey, I’m not feeling myself, I should get up and walk.” That’s crucial.
Petra Kolber: Yeah, and I think what’s really interesting, I mean, we’re seeing now in women over 50 higher risks of anxiety, depression, and alcoholism. I mean, that is rampant. I went through a really devastating relationship breakup when I was 51, moved to New York on my own, and it was really interesting. I’m being completely honest right now, is like at 3:00, I couldn’t bare the weight of this pain, and I would look at the clock and I would have a quarter of a glass of wine. And I knew that was the chip in the teacup. If I didn’t manage that, my life could have gone two roads. I was like, “Okay, girl, you’ve got to put this down, you’re going to go out into Central Park.” Because I had enough emotional intelligence to know this is not the life you want to be living, but it was a small, little chip in the teacup, then I get an injury, I don’t fully rehab the injury, I kind of work around the injury because I’m older and that’s your chip in the teacup. And it’s these many habits that become negative habits, that if we’re not emotionally aware and in tune with the feeling underlying the habit of picking up that wine at 3:00.
Petra Kolber: Okay, I could get the same effect of numbing, or feeling… without the depression afterwards. So you’re going to take a depressant, and then try and feel better from it, why not go for a walk in the park that’s going to make you feel way better without the after effects. But there’s so many people out there, Kelly and Juliet, that just, they don’t know differently. They don’t know neuroplasticity. Oh, we’re of an age we’re like, “Oh, that’s just… that’s bologna. That’s visioning, that’s not… I mean, we all know there’s a science behind it, your brain can change, you can change how you view… and I think, I’m not finishing my sentence, but you get to choose how you view aging, end of story. I think that’s what I want to share, is like you get to choose, you age well, you age with wisdom, you age with grace, you age with information. Look, if I knew what I knew at 30, god, we could all be president. But let’s take all this amazing knowledge and then enjoy our life, versus trying to fight getting older, and then share our wisdom forward, but the only person that can choose whether you view aging as a curse or a gift, is yourself.
Kelly Starrett: I really appreciate you sort of highlighting and talking frankly about the drinking. We see, and we’ve mentioned this before on the cast, but here in Marin, we used to be the healthiest county in California, and now we’re not, and it’s because of the adult binge drinking. We think it’s people are just trying to self medicate, they’re trying to make themselves feel better and get through the day-
Juliet Starrett: Yeah, it’s a coping mechanism. Yeah.
Kelly Starrett: … it’s just absolutely a coping mechanism. And what we know around changing behaviors, I mean, is you can’t just say, “Don’t do that.” You have to give a substituted actual behavior, and I really appreciate that you’re saying, “Hey, when you’re feeling super depressed or stressed, instead of reaching for a glass of fantastic proof of God’s love, AKA wine, maybe put that off, or think differently about it, or try this behavior instead because I think a central feature of every one of the high level athlete friends now who have moved into their 40 and 50’s, they’ve all really curtailed their drinking. They see drinking as, “Hey, I should drink when I’m rested. I should drink when I’m on vacation, if I’m going to drink at all.”
Juliet Starrett: Yeah. When you’re at a wedding to cheers someone.
Kelly Starrett: Right, but we should treat that alcohol like chocolate cake, like maybe I’m not going to eat a whole chocolate cake every single day, sometimes I’m going to eat a whole chocolate cake, but I just appreciate that you’re recognizing and seeing the behaviors as self medicating because I think a lot of us, I don’t know how I ended up as 46, I just suddenly woke up one day and I was like this, and I didn’t get to go through some class on aging, I just had to sort of figure it out. Fortunately J Star is my partner here, but I think a lot of people end up with sort of a new set of variable and we’re not in conversation with community, or friends, or having these frank discussions about the implications of poor sleep, and self medicating with alcohol, and et cetera, et cetera. I just, I really appreciate your view on this.
Petra Kolber: Yeah. No, I think this is the one when I see your new series I’m like, I think this is the big thing too, right? As we talk about aging, there are certain things we don’t want to talk about. There are certain things that are off limits. And look, to be honest Kelly, when I met you years ago, I was so intimidated for you. Really, the thought of being in the same room as you, if you guys had asked me to be on your podcast a few years ago, I’d have made up some ridiculous excuse because I’d be like, “How the hell am I going to be…” That my enough-ness, like keeping up, was like, “I’m not going to be smart enough.” But the fact that you both are bringing this conversation two people I believe, that don’t talk about… there’s the light side of aging and then there’s a dark side. There’s loss, and the thing I realize I have nothing against alcohol at all, but again, it’s the why, right? Why are we having this drink? Is it to celebrate my friend’s wedding? Is it to celebrate my wedding? Is it to celebrate this view in Greece, that I’ll never be back here again. Go, go, go. But just six months ago, I stopped drinking. I read a great book called the naked mind, and even half a glass of wine for me was affecting my sleep. I’m like, “Crap. Crap. Crap.”
Kelly Starrett: Right. This is the number on reason.
Petra Kolber: It was so annoying. Ah, at like 2:00 in the morning, half a glass I’d wake up, I’m like, “Shit.” And if I want to be around long enough to do the work I want to do, my legacy work, how can I make great habits not about me, so I can be my best self to serve my work forward. I’m not saying I’ll never have a glass of wine again, but I can tell you this for certain. I’ve never felt less anxious, less alone, less depressed, less blue, less… more in control, that I’m making a good choice of my life, because when I was having that, my why was like, “Oh, I’m going to have a treat because it’s 6:00, and I’ve worked hard.” But then I was also watching… I was numbing out, and it just what… the reward was not worth the risk.
Petra Kolber: It just didn’t pay off, but if I go to friend’s wedding, or I’m going to go to Tuscany, I’m not, of course, that’s a celebration versus a numb-ification. And to go back to when I was having that glass of… that little bit of wine at 3:00, I’d literally go, I’d look at the clock and go, “I am consiously numbing right now.” So I’d always say, “Okay that makes…” I don’t know if that makes it all right, but I was consciously numbing. But, yeah, I don’t have… I just say, “Why? Why am I having this? Is it a celebration or a numb-ification?”
Juliet Starrett: I love that. We should make a t-shirt of that, too.
Kelly Starrett: Yeah, you know I think underneath that, too, is really feeling anxiety, and feeling stress, and I think the pressures in your 40s and 50s really do become significant. And we are not given coping mechanisms. I, on Juliet’s advice, got into some therapy about six years ago just to talk about my family, and my coping mechanisms which weren’t working for me very well, and now it’s really difficult to feel my feelings. Juliet would be like, “Oh, you’re feeling your feelings right now?” I’m like, “What’s this anxiety?”
Juliet Starrett: Well, let me give you-
Kelly Starrett: “What is this?”
Juliet Starrett: … let me give you an example, Petra, when I first met Kelly he would do a speaking engagement and he would feel absolutely no sense of nerves, like he would be numb to it, he’d just go and speak at some gigantic conference. And then he sort of got in touch with his feelings and he’s like, “Well, great, now before I speak I feel nervous.”
Kelly Starrett: Anxious.
Juliet Starrett: Anxious, excuse me, anxious. Anxious. Okay, I digress. I can’t go on in this podcast with, you know, you mentioned a little bit the Slim Fast in the ’80s as part of your diet, and I am sure, not knowing you well, but sort of guessing what your lifestyle is like, that nutrition is also something you care about and focus on as part of your aging well ritual. Can you tell us a little bit about how you eat what you do nutritionally, if anything, and how that’s evolved over the years from the days of Slim Fast.
Petra Kolber: Yeah. I mean, I’m not an expert on this at all, and I think for me also there’s a lot of confusion, even myself I get confused, so I’ve dabbled with intermittent fasting, which I find works really well for me, my energy level and my focus is great, I just dabble with it. I’m not an expert, and I kind of… what’s the word? I’m a flexitarian, I think, I dabble with this, I dabble with that, much more… I mean, the thing that really affect me is inflammation, so I’ve limited my sugar. I’m still… I snack too much still, but definitely whole grains, healthy proteins, healthy fats. Following a lot of what’s out there, just for me it’s all about inflammation and eating for my brain, and longevity, and more just sustainable energy and mood. Just I dabble in this, I dabble in that, but I do find I did a couple of plans that were really anti-inflammation and the problem with me, because of my history, I find if anything is too restrictive, I tend to bounce back the other way a little bit, which is not healthy for me.
Petra Kolber: So I’m trying to find structure without it being too limiting, so it can be long sustaining versus, “Okay, for 30 days you’re going to do this.” And then I kind of go the other way a little bit. I don’t find black and white for eating works well for me, so I just try and pick and choose what works well. And the big thing I’m trying to do now more than ever, I’m not great at this, is eating earlier to allow that really, like a full 12 hours, 10 to 12 hours, from going to bed, and also eating three hours before I go to bed. It’s a big thing for me. Again, it all comes down to sleep. I just found my sleep is so much better. And again, it’s like you said Kelly, longevity, my genes are not fab. This is just a state of fact, it’s not negative. We don’t have longevity genes, so if I can do whatever I can to switch on the great, the great genes and keep the not so good genes turned off, that’s the stuff I’m interested in, and I do the reading on, but I’m not an expert, but I know what foods make me feel good, and I know what foods make me feel not so great.
Juliet Starrett: So you and I have something in common that is the least fun thing to have in common, which is that we have both had cancer twice, and we’re both relatively young to have had cancer twice. I know from reading and following you over the years that you dealt with having two kinds of cancer with continuing to take care of your health, and moving, and being positive, but tell me a little bit about what that was like for you, and is like as you consider your aging.
Petra Kolber: Yeah, it’s so interesting. People who haven’t seen me for a long time, the first thing our of their mouth Juliet is like, “How are you?” Like, “I’m fine.” For me, I’m a lot further out of it than yourself, this was 20 years ago, and I could not have imagined… the interesting thing was my first cancer was melanoma, and it was on my foot, on the sole of my foot, and it was in my hay day. And I remember saying, “Hey, can we just wait until I’ve done these three conventions?” And he’s like, “Yeah, no.” And I was like, “Oh, man.”
Juliet Starrett: “Yeah, no. Yeah, no, we can’t wait.”
Petra Kolber: I’m like, “I’ve got these…” “It doesn’t matter.” So that was… I just found that interesting that it was on my foot, so I had to stop. I had to stop. It really stopped my career, but Reebok was amazing. But then two years later I got Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that was what I would say was the heavy one to deal with. I had chemo, radiation, lost my hair, and I could not have imagined going through that without having movement. I would have chemo on Monday and I would teach STEP on a Tuesday morning, bald head, and that was my savior because as you know, I think if we’re in the movement industry, in the exercise fitness industry, we have this idea of control. “I’m going to control my diet, I’m going to control my workout. I’m going to control my life.” And then you get the cancer diagnosis you’re like, “Ah.” You know, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making plans, but when everything else was out of my control, my health, my future, it was the first time you really face your mortality, the one thing I knew for sure is I could show up the next day and if I moved my body I wouldn’t feel nauseous, I could still move a room of 50 people, there was still joy in that room, and that really was my savior, and the bit that kept me very positive throughout the entire process.
Kelly Starrett: I wonder, the movement obviously has been shown-
Juliet Starrett: It’s huge.
Kelly Starrett: … to affect positively everything, right? If we could exercise in a pill it would crush anything that we currently have as drugs. But what’s really interesting that you hear that is that you belong to a group of people, and that they came, and there was that fellowship and community, and one of the things that I lecture on a lot in high performance environments is that when people are injured they get pulled out of their communities, they’re told no, or they can’t, or they’re cut out, and there’s a lot of social isolation. And I think the worst experiences are what happens at the end of people’s lives, they end up in hospitals in these rooms and it’s terrible, lonely. But as we get older, or accumulate trauma, or injury, or disease, we really do lose the narrative of that social fabric and that connection. And it’s really interesting to hear you say that that was the thing that kept you going, because that’s one of… what we think is one of the best practices in high performance environments, is to belong to other people. And to, even if you’re on crutches, you’re still going to be in training with the crew. And I just can’t… I can’t emphasize how important creating tribe, and identity, and family, and connection is for wanting to stick around on this planet for a long time. It’s really amazing.
Petra Kolber: I think-
Juliet Starrett: Yeah, and the movement piece is huge in my own experience. Huge.
Petra Kolber: Yeah. I mean, for me, Juliet, and I don’t know about you, it was I forgot. I forgot. For that one hour, it wasn’t, “Oh, I’m dealing with cancer.” It was like, “I am teaching a class.” It’s like cancer didn’t even enter that conversation for 60 minutes, so maybe it’s almost like active recovery for your brain, it was just like, “I just need 60 minutes not to think about my next treatment.” And I think, what you said Kelly is so true. This idea of social connection, we’re throwing this word around a lot right now, the importance of community. But I can tell you as someone who works from home in New York City, like yesterday, I did not leave my house yesterday, and this morning I woke up and I felt weird. It was like I couldn’t wait to get to class, because… and because we have that wherewithal, we are aware of our feelings, but I can only imagine how many people go a day without not really connecting or talking, go two days, go three days, go four. And it’s that slow, it’s that chip in the teacup.
Petra Kolber: So if we can all just remember as human beings that that one, “Hi.” To a stranger in the street or, “How are you today?” And really look them in the eye in the grocery line, that might be the one interaction that they’ve had with that day, and that one, “Hi, how are you? How is your day going?” And a really meaningful conversation with a stranger could be the best medicine that that person is going to have that day, even that week. So I think remembering this human connectedness as we get older, and the importance of community, and not only with the people that you know, the connection of everybody around us, and I think connecting to people that are not alike to us, this whole like we tend to go to the tribe that we know, let’s just try and use movement and these conversations to connect on a human heart level. I just… as you said, it was one of the… I think it’s one of the most important gifts we can give to the world right now is showing up and connecting to those we know, and those that we don’t.
Kelly Starrett: I’m going to be in New York next Thursday, and I can’t wait to chat up a bunch of strangers on the subway. “Hi.”
Petra Kolber: Maybe not the subway.
Juliet Starrett: The New Yorkers don’t like that, Kelly.
Petra Kolber: Not the subway.
Kelly Starrett: Well, you know, it’s-
Petra Kolber: Anywhere but the subway, just don’t do subway.
Kelly Starrett: What’s interesting was every time we go in New York we notice that people are really keen on their dogs in New York, and it’s because, I think, that they’re missing this isolation, and that they’re… or they’re feeling this isolation and the dog has really become surrogate for being able to initiate conversation. It’s really… it’s been, I have witnessed this now multiple times in New York, and I’ve been shocked at the fact that if you took dogs away from people, I don’t think people would even talk to each other.
Petra Kolber: Dogs and babies, those are the two things.
Juliet Starrett: Yeah.
Petra Kolber: Dogs and babies.
Juliet Starrett: The connectors.
Petra Kolber: The connectors.
Juliet Starrett: The connectors, so I sort of… I want to… you touched on it a little bit, but I want to talk a little bit more about the driver of looking good, and what made me think about it is I actually read an article last night in the New York Times that was like headlines news that Keanu Reeves had gone to some event with his… he’s 55, she’s 46, and it was big news because she actually has gray hair, and clearly hasn’t had plastic surgery and bunch of Botox, so the whole point of the article was how lovely it was that Keanu Reeves is the only man in Hollywood who is willing to date a woman who looks her age. And I think it’s interesting in this, you’ve been in the fitness world for so long, I do think as women when we age there is a lot of both external and internal pressure to look a certain way, and try to keep up appearances. How do you manage that just with your own body that I’m sure is changing in ways that you don’t love, and in the ways in which you speak to people about this.
Petra Kolber: Oh, gosh. Yeah. With my… my body is one thing and my face is another. Right? Because I can hide my body, let’s be honest, but I speak a lot, so… and I’ve got to be honest, when I moved back to New York people were saying, “Are you going to go back to teaching?” Because I had begun to pivot into speaking, and a big part of me said, “I want to move and still be hopefully motivating, and inspiring, and connecting people, but I want to do it more through language versus movement.” That’s because I didn’t want to have to try and keep a six pack, I’m not saying that you can’t, but I’m not genetically gifted that way, so aging, when I look at my body now, I am just grateful.
Petra Kolber: I just want to be in a body that doesn’t have pain, has freedom of motion, and is as strong as it can be in the body that I was gifted with, end of story. I don’t want to not work hard, but I want to honor the body I’m in. But I got to be honest, Juliet, god dang, this whole face thing, my neck, it’s my neck, it’s like, “Oh my god.” Because I feel like my… I feel I’ve got my body, and then I got my face, and I have this bridge called my neck that’s like 10 years ahead of my face. It’s like, “Oh, god.” So look, and I speak, and then sometimes… you know this Kelly, you’ve got these massive screens behind you. And then I get my recording –
Juliet Starrett: Where they can see your pores.
Petra Kolber: Oh, geez. I’m like, “Who needs high definition?” I’m like, “Please, put a silk stocking over the camera. I don’t need the definition.” But, I have to look under the question of, look, I’ve had Botox, I staved off it for like four years, then I was like, “Oh.” I began to… I looked angry, so I started having it again in my furrows. And then I go… then I’d look at my neck and I’d kind of… I’ve done that, being honest, I’ve looked and I’m kind of pulling it back in mirror and I go, “Oh, I like how that looks.” I mean, so it’s that balance between aging well, and then aging up to society’s standards. And what are we selling right now? I think the interesting thing is if we think of a… I’m going to just use ’40s, like ’40s or ’50s, a few years, like in the ’30s, ’40s there was no Photoshop, there wasn’t plastic surgery as we know it today, and what I think is so interesting, when I see someone now who is aged, even like 60s, 70s, the first thing I do, this is being honest, “Have they had plastic surgery?” Because I don’t know any more.
Petra Kolber: I think this is where the challenge comes, I don’t know what aging normally looks like anymore. I really don’t. I don’t have a role model in front of me that probably hasn’t had a little bit of surgery done. There was… I love this show on Netflix, The Kominsky Method, and it’s with Michael Douglas and Jane Seymour was just on it, and it was the first time they actually aged her up. She had her hair was gray, and I thought she looked absolutely beautiful, but then I look at other women my age and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, is that what I look like?” So I find that we… I’m kind of judgy, and then I’m wondering why I’m judging myself so harshly, so I’m just trying to use self compassion, self awareness, and then there’s that, then under that why, like, “Okay, why are you deciding to have Botox this year? Is it to be on stage? Is it because you feel you have to look a certain way to be relevant?” Or, I’m just being honest, “Is it the real question?” If I look a certain way, I’m going to have five, to six, or seven more years as a speaker. I don’t know. I mean-
Juliet Starrett: Yeah, well-
Kelly Starrett: People, I get a lot of comments on my body on the inter-web.
Juliet Starrett: Yeah. Yeah. And if it makes you feel better Petra, I just got this crazy facial where they basically burned all the skin off my face, and I looked like a molting snake for two weeks, and in the end I don’t really think it made a big difference in my skin, I just looked like a freak for two weeks.
Kelly Starrett: I just want to go on record as saying, I can only speak for myself, but you amazing women, right now, there’s something, there’s some switch in my brain that has been thrown where I’m like, “Wow, Juliet doesn’t have any student loan debt. She has a 401K, she has health insurance. She doesn’t even sleep on a futon from college. She owns her car. That’s so hot.”
Petra Kolber: I’m going to remember that. I’m not-
Kelly Starrett: “She’s already had her kids.” I’m like, “Dude, this woman, let’s party.”
Juliet Starrett: And I just want to add, too, that you’re not alone because I, in a twisted way, occasionally have fantasies of taking like two of my closest friends and going and checking into a Beverly Hills plastic surgery spa, going dark for a month and just doing it all, so you’re not alone.
Petra Kolber: I know.
Kelly Starrett: Fortunately, men aren’t vain at all.
Juliet Starrett: I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t been unfortunate enough to have some surgeries recently thanks to cancer, I might already be down there in Beverly Hills, but I just don’t really want to have more surgery.
Petra Kolber: I think that’s the thing, too, right? I’m going to save my surgery for when I really need it, you know?
Juliet Starrett: Yes.
Petra Kolber: Don’t how many times you have to go under. But yeah, it’s a… I think I’d be lying if I said it’s easy getting older, but I also don’t want to waste my… my battle with myself on this, I do not want to waste my years worrying about how I’m aging because I know I’m going to look back at 65 to this age, like we always do, if you only knew how amazing you were, sister, just celebrate it. So just be joyful for the body that we have, the life that we’re living, having meaning and purpose in our lives, I want that to by my driver. How I am living, not how I look like.
Kelly Starrett: Well, the irony, of course, is that if you sleep, limit your alcohol, eat whole foods, exercise, find a community, you’ll look better when you’re 90. I mean, that’s unfortunately, the things that we always talk about, winning the short game, but playing the long game, and doing both is actually the same recipe. Petra, where would we find more like your books, are you on Instagram, how do people-
Juliet Starrett: How do people find you?
Kelly Starrett: … tap into your fabulous brain?
Petra Kolber: Well, the easiest way is just my name, P-E-T-R-A-K-O-L-B-E-R.com, it’s Petra Kolber on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter I’m rarely on, but that’s how you can find me.
Kelly Starrett: And if we’re going to… if I’m coming to the club in New York City, are you spinning? DJ Petra?
Juliet Starrett: Yeah, where can we find you DJ-ing?
Petra Kolber: Oh, right now I’m actually down in… I was spinning, actually at a hotel, but now… that was Rosy on the Rooftop, so right now I’m not… that’s not going to be my next career, right? I’m looking to mix DJ-ing into my keynoting, because the power and the end-game is, if you bring it back to community, the digital DJ-ing was built on the vinyl records of the history and the shoulders of the legacy makers. So at the end of the day, whatever age we are, we all need each other to move everything forward in a beautiful and bold way.
Kelly Starrett: Fact.
Juliet Starrett: Before we end, can you and I become best friends? You’re so fun.
Petra Kolber: Oh, we already are. I’m like Velcro, once you have me in your life, Juliet, sorry, I’m just… you’re going to see me popping up. I become like a stalker, but in a really nice way, not in a bad way.
Juliet Starrett: That’s fine. I’m ready.
Kelly Starrett: And also, this is also very typical, where I have met you, we’ve been on the stage together, we were friends, and then you ditched me for my wife, thanks.
Juliet Starrett: Well, Petra, it is just an honor to have you, and so fun to talk to you about all this, we could go on and on. But we just are very grateful for you spending the time with us.
Petra Kolber: Oh, thank you guys so much for this privilege, really I look up to you both in many ways, also as a couple that are really inspiring us all to age well, and move well, and move for the right reasons, so thank you very much.
Kelly Starrett: We appreciate you.
Petra Kolber: Thank you.Back to Episode