Lisa Carlson slows a busy life with an hour of yoga a day

Photo by Rachel Coward. Photo location: Bellevue Club

Photo by Rachel Coward. Photo location: Bellevue Club

It used to be somewhat of a stretch to get Lisa Carlson to participate in yoga. She didn’t feel like she was flexible. She didn’t feel that yoga was “cardio enough.” Then there was the part where instructors tell you to be present. She wondered what they meant. “I am present. I am right here,” she thought.

Carlson, who is married to KVI’s talk radio host John Carlson, is a mountain-climbing philanthropist who meshes her love of the outdoors and physical challenges with her passion for funding cancer research.

She’s a Type A personality with a meticulous calendar. She’s a multitasker capable of elite alpinism and elite fundraising, ideal credentials for Carlson’s role as event manager for Fred Hutchinson’s Climb to Fight Cancer, which has raised $7.6 million since 1997.

Not only does Carlson organize these events — she often climbs the mountains with the fundraising team. Since 2001, she has climbed seven mountains, including the 22,841-foot Aconcagua in Argentina in January 2015.

Knowing all this, Carlson’s longtime disconnect with yoga is understandable. Yoga is a sport of patience and concentration. Carlson is a woman on the go.

But sometimes the unexpected can change perspective. Last June, Carlson fell ill before a big climb, so she went to the doctor to make sure all was well. It wasn’t.

65A benign mass was found on Carlson’s ovary, which required a hysterectomy. Surgical complications forced her to stay in the hospital longer than expected.

After that, her energy was zapped. One day, Carlson was about to climb a mountain; a week later, she couldn’t walk up the steps. It would be weeks before the ultra-fit dynamo would be able to workout.

Once recovered and ready to exercise, Carlson opted to give yoga another try. “I was enthusiastic to start working out again, but I could feel that I needed to go slow,” she said. “I went to a yoga class, and it kicked my ass. It just clicked for me.”

She now marvels at the benefits of yoga.

“It has everything — cardio, strength,” she said. “And the best part is you are not going to get injured. Everything else, like running and CrossFit, is amazing, but it’s hard on your body.”

Yoga also is easy on the mind, giving the busy Carlson a mental break.

“It takes me down a notch,” she said. “I’m a very structured person. … For an hour a day, my mind is quiet. I feel a little Zen the rest of the day. That’s the only way I can describe it.”

While jogging, Carlson lets her mind roam. She can think through her problems while her feet pound the pavement. Yoga, on the other hand, requires more concentration.

“I try to focus on what I’m doing,” she said. “I need to listen to the instructor so I understand a pose.”

The concept of being present took a while to soak in, but now Carlson gets it. “It means letting your mind be there,” she said. “I can’t think about a project I’m working on or an upcoming meeting.”

Yoga gives Carlson the same endorphin high that comes from other forms of exercise, but it also comes with a feeling of peace. She considers herself an “advanced beginner,” and understands that yoga can be intimidating to those who don’t practice it.

“I challenge someone to try it for a month,” she said. “You are only competing against yourself. I’ve never been a flexible person — I’m still not. But I’m inspired by the other people around me and what they can do.”

Carlson takes classes in an 85-degree room at Core Power in Bellevue. While yoga videos work for some people, she feels that taking a class helps her avoid other distractions.

Yoga has aided Carlson in her other activities. She runs, mountain climbs, lifts weights, hikes, skis, and snowboards, and yoga has dramatically helped with muscle fatigue. “I’m never sore anymore,” she said. “It benefits everything I do. There is no downside.”

Carlson believes yoga is a great activity for people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. “It transcends everything, it’s healthy, and it can be modified for everyone,” she said.

Yoga is peaceful and calm, but that doesn’t mean Carlson is content. As with everything in her life, she sets yoga goals.

“I want to continue to get better at poses and be more present,” she said.

Her biggest goal is to forget time while doing yoga. It sounds simple enough, but for an adherent scheduler like Carlson, not looking at her watch takes a concentration all its own.

The Benefits

The perks of yoga are both physical and mental.

  • Decreased chronic pain
  •  Lower blood pressure
  •  Insomnia mitigation
  •  Increased flexibility
  •  Stronger, better-toned muscles
  •  Improved respiration, energy, and vitality
  •  A balanced metabolism
  •  Weight reduction
  •  Cardio and circulatory health
  •  Improved athletic performance
  •  Injury prevention
  •  Reduced stress
  •  Mental clarity and calmness
  •  Improved attention span
  •  Sharper concentration

The Climbs

Lisa Carlson is dedicated to fitness; one of her favorite activities (aside from yoga) is hiking. Below is a list of mountains Carlson has climbed.
Aconcagua (South America): 22,841 feet
Mount Elbrus (Russia): 18,510 feet
Mount Rainier: 14,410 feet
Mount Adams: 12,276 feet
Mount Hood: 11,240 feet
Mount Baker: 10,781 feet
Mount St. Helens: 8,366 feet

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of “425 Business.”