Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Posted by on in Yoga

b2ap3_thumbnail_KM with Growth Plan.jpg
It's officially over.

The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program that has been an amazing source of information, ideas, and support (as well as the cause of many late nights spent at my computer) came to a close a few weeks ago, and I'm still processing all that I learned along the way.

In a nutshell, the 3-month program provides small business owners with a practical education in how to better run their business as well as access to support in pursuing an opportunity to grow. I learned so many great things that I've already begun to apply at the studio, and the program opened my eyes to new ways to see both my role at Bloom and the direction we're headed.

The buzz word of the program was growth - what it means, why it's important, and how to make it happen. I struggled against what I initially perceived to be pressure to prioritize profit over passion and purpose. The more I compared myself to other business owners or to external expectations for growth, the more I began to feel off-kilter and confused. Midway through the program, I panicked. Should I be trying to come up with some brilliant new yoga gimmick? Should I be a business owner who aims to put a yoga studio on every corner? Should my ambitions be bigger?

This line of thinking sent me down a dark, bumpy path of self-doubt and judgment. So I did what I always do when I feel off-center and disconnected: I rolled out my yoga mat.

I've come to the mat thousands of times before, but each has been a new experience. Some days I've had a spark of inspiration in child's pose and had to scramble to find pen and paper to write out (in my terrible chicken scratch) the next Thinking Yogi post or article I want to publish. On other days, I've forced myself through a practice that felt dull and uninispired wondering why I didn't just stay in bed.

But despite all of the confusion in my head and heart that day, despite the stress and self-doubt and worry I felt over whether the growth I was contemplating was 'right,' coming to the mat made things so simple, so clear. I sat tall, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and found my smile.

Bloom's vision is my vision for my own life, too.

I want to be happy and healthy.
I want to experience and enjoy the present moment rather than constantly striving.
I want do purposeful work that I love, connect with good people, grow and change, and be creative and inspired.

The growth I'm seeking at Bloom isn't all about the bottom line. The reason I started the studio is to make wellness more accessible. I believe yoga and massage can help people to feel happier and healthier in daily life, and I wanted to create a community that makes it easy and fun for people of all ages, stages of life, and levels of fitness or flexibility to give it a go. Every new class or program we've offered has been a direct result of that core belief.

Yes, the bottom line is important, but it's not what gets me up in the morning. I'm inspired by sharing what I love with others, excited when yoga and massage changes someone's whole day-to-day experience of life, thrilled when our students consider Bloom their home away from home.

So with all that said, just what sort of growth is in store for Bloom?

Here's what I'm excited about!

    • Promoting wellbeing at work - bringing stress-reduction and wellness (via yoga, massage, and meditation) to more folks right where they work
    • Taking yoga on vacation - bringing our community together beyond the studio walls in new, beautiful locations (our popular Maya Tulum retreat is likely to fill up again this year...)

After initially having moments of self-doubt and judgement in the program when I tried to fit myself into a certain business owner mold because I thought I 'should,' I soon realized that there is no one right way to grow. When I look at these four areas of growth I know what lies ahead at the studio is organic and true and aligned with our vision. And so we continually cycle back to what we do best, we revisit and revamp what we love, we grow, we Bloom.

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Posted by on in Health


After a late night work session I drag myself onto the yoga mat at 6am for a brief practice, knowing the fully scheduled day ahead will leave no room for the complete yoga class I'm really needing. I stand at the top of my mat in tadasana, or mountain pose, trying to ground, to rise, to be the mountain, but it seems the only mountain in my life right now is the mountain of work that awaits again today.

As my arms float out to the sides I begin to draw in a deep breath, but by the time my arms have reached shoulder height I realize I'm holding it, the inhalation has petered out. My breath is completely held as I make my way up to urdhva hastasana, or upward salute. I begin the exhale as I fold forward and it seems that the breath can go out forever, like there's no limit to how long I can exhale. I play with the inhale again as I extend into half forward fold, but the same thing happens. My in-breath starts out strong, like a flood, then midway through there's no more room to expand and take in. My deep exhalation as I fold into uttanasana, or standing forward fold, confirms it:

My breath is trying to tell me something.

From a physiological perspective, there's nothing 'wrong' with the breathing I've just described. The lungs do their job whether we are conscious of it or not, and the body and brain will get the oxygen they need just because the human body is an incredible system. But the writer in me couldn't help but notice the analogy here.

I'm less than two weeks away from graduating from 10,000 Small Businesses, the small business education and support program I've participated in for the past few months. Since January, in addition to my regular work load and family obligations, I've been fortunate enough to participate in fantastic business education modules that have encouraged me to think about Bloom in a new way, to come up with better systems to keep the studio running well, and to consider a variety of ways to help Bloom to continue to grow and flourish in the future. It has been nothing short of an incredible gift and an opportunity I'm endlessly grateful to have had.

That doesn't mean it's been easy (as rewarding things often aren't).

Because I've had to sacrifice on sleep and self-care in order to get all my work done these past few months, I've actually become quite comfortable in that mode. For the first month or so I was surprised to find myself voluntarily signing up for additional commitments - 'Sure, I can head up that sub-committee!' or 'I should volunteer at both kids' schools this month!' I realized that to some degree it felt safe to put my own well-being last. If something had to give, I knew I was tough enough. That something could be me.

But for how long and at what cost?

It's easy for me to short the inhalation, like it's easy to short self-care and that which nurtures me. This morning when I was on the mat it seemed as if my exhalations could go on forever, like I could just keep giving, keep putting energy into external projects without any thought of recharging or nourishing myself in order to do so.

But though I can sustain the movement of my arms up overhead without breath to accompany it, it feels much more satisfying to slow down the breath and let it accompany the movement all the way up. While I can use dark chocolate to fuel work sessions that last until 2am, I'd rather spread out the work as best I can, play with the kids after dinner, work for an hour or two once they've gone to bed, then get myself to bed at a reasonable hour.

As my graduation date nears, I'm as excited to usher in a change of habits as I am to celebrate the completion of this big project.

For now, I'm satisfied to be on my mat for even a few minutes, glad for the chance to explore the connection between breath and movement. With my next breath I slow down the inflow, allow it to sustain the full motion instead of forcing the air to rush in up front, and the breath is still coming in as my arms pass shoulder height and reach overhead. The pinnacle of my inhale syncs with the press of palms together, then I begin the exhale, dive forward, and release into what comes next.

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Posted by on in Health

As I settled in for another late-night work session last night, I wondered 'Will it ever end?'

The past few months have been incredibly busy as I've taken on a new time-consuming project on top of all of my other work and family obligations. The stress and pressure of the project have translated to some less-than-positive behavioral changes: I'm sleeping less, making less time for self-care, and eating a lot more dessert than usual!

But after struggling with it for a couple of months and beating myself up over the way I've been handling this challenging time, I've realized that I need to look at it from a different perspective. Realistically, until this project wraps up next month I need to squeeze more productivity out of myself without having the benefit of more time to work with. That means some late nights (and often the help of dark chocolate to keep me going!) as well as less time than I would like for yoga, swimming, and relaxation.

It's not ideal, but it's okay for now. More importantly, as long as I eventually make some behavioral changes, it will end at some point.

I've been using that idea as a mantra of sorts these past few months when my stress level rises. Knowing that nothing lasts forever is incredibly empowering and allows me to better tolerate times of stress.

However, the flip side is that the good times don't last forever either.

It's easy to be happy and upbeat when things are going great and you've just received word that your promotion came through. You may find yourself identifying with the good feelings and associating with them so strongly that they become intertwined with your self-identity.

However, if I'm attached to well-being, when it's taken from me I not only feel unwell, I also feel cheated out of something I had come to associate as my right. The attachment adds insult to injury.

When facing a challenging time, whether on a physical, personal, or professional level, only part of the pain or discomfort comes from the thing itself.

In the end, it's not so important whether you're facing good times or hard times. When you get a frustrating email that sends you into a rage that lasts the whole day, the email wasn't really the problem. The problem is the attachment to negativity, the refusal to let go and move forward. Likewise clinging to feeling good and having everything go well seems like it shouldn't be a problem, and it isn't until the good times fade.

The events of life and work arrive in a neutral state. Your mind brings the context and baggage to determine that a frustrating email from a colleague was 'bad' but an email from a friend was 'good.' The practice of detachment from judgement can be difficult because of the strong associations and emotional attachments you have in real-life situations, so it can be easier to practice on a physical level first.

A seated hip opener in a chair is one of my favorite places to explore and practice neutrality. Because of the long hours spent on desk work, the outer hips become very tight because they are not given their full range of motion on a daily basis. I love this seated hip opener because it's a gentle (and inconspicuous!) way to provide openness in the hips, but it's also a great place to explore sensation.

When I place my leg in this position and gradually fold forward, it produces a strong sensation in my hip. My first instinct is to label the sensation ('pain' or 'discomfort'). But once I've attached to the idea that it's painful, it becomes much harder to stay in the pose and give my poor hips the opening that they need.

When I instead practice observing it as a sensation without labeling it, I find that I feel less wrapped up in the emotional responses that pain can produce. I no longer victimized by a bad feeling that has no end. I no longer feel trapped, but rather curious. I know that when I choose to come out of the pose, the sensation will stop. That mindset makes it easier for me to tolerate and be present for the intensity.

Yes, I'm getting less sleep than I'd like to be, but won't be forever. My hips and back are tighter than I'd like them to be because of all the sitting I've been doing, but it doesn't have to be that way for ever. My dark chocolate habit is perhaps getting a bit out of control (is there really such a thing as too much dark chocolate?), but once I decide to make the change, all of this will be different.

This, too, shall pass. The choice of whether to stress out about it is mine.

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Posted by on in Writing

 

      I've spent the past four days

not

      doing the one project I really needed to get done.



      Every morning I put it on my to-do list, but once I sit down to work something else always seems to take priority. Even when I schedule time into my calendar to work on the project, I find that other shiny objects - a fun conversation that emerges in

the studio

      , the new article a friend recommended, or that thing I've been meaning to research - pull my attention away from buckling down to just get the work done.



      I've been frustrated at my procrastination because it feels like I'm continuously breaking a promise to myself. 'This time,' I said yesterday morning, 'I'll really get it done.' But my behavior didn't change to support the promise, so another day went by with my task list unchanged, the project grew even more monumental in my mind, and I began to think maybe I wasn't suited to completing it.



      Why do we procrastinate?



      It’s not necessarily because the task at hand is all that difficult or time-consuming, in fact it's often quite the opposite.

 

 

      I procrastinate when I’m afraid of bringing important work into a state of completion because it means of putting it out in the world to be evaluated and judged. I don’t want people to think this is the best I can do, so I convince myself that if I just had a little more time I could do better. This is where the perfectionist meets the procrastinator, and when the two traits team up it makes for a paralyzing combination.



      One of the most important things I've learned from 17 years of yoga practice is that the best I can do is to show up and be the fullest expression of who I am right now, however imperfect or out-of-shape or tired or overworked I am. Yoga is not about wishing for what could be, it's about being with what is.



      When I place my body in a yoga pose, it doesn't matter what the pose could look like on another body. When I practice conscious breathing, it doesn't matter how full my breath is compared with the person next to me. What matters is that I'm practicing awareness in my body and in my breath rather than being carried away in my thoughts. Yoga is a practice of consciously choosing what to do and what

not

      to do from moment to moment.



      I understand how to do this on a yoga mat, so I found it frustrating that I was having trouble translating that to my worklife.


      Recently my friend and colleague

Tina DeSalvo of The Soul Purpose

      introduced me to a tool that has become key in my anti-procrastination toolbox. It's called the NOT To Do List.



      Every morning after I make a plan for the three things I hope to accomplish in my day's work, I also list (mentally or on paper) the things I will not do in that particular work session. There are always so many things pulling at me, so many deadlines going at the same time, and it can be tough to realistically prioritize. The NOT To Do List is a way of acknowledging the fact that all those shiny objects will be distractions from the work that needs to get done. Identifying them makes it easier to avoid unconsciously slipping into that behavior.



      On my NOT To Do List for today was: responding to every email in my inbox, researching the

Chicago Symphony Orchestra family matinee series

      a friend just told me about, searching for a slow cooker, watching a new TED talk, and finishing up revisions to a story I've been writing.



      It's not to say that these things aren't important to do. They're just not important to do today.



      The NOT To Do List gives you permission to prioritize, to set boundaries, and to consciously decide how to spend your time on a moment-to-moment and day-to-day basis. It empowers you to make conscious choices rather than feeling as if you're constantly breaking promises you've made to yourself.



      Procrastination is nothing more than an excuse for holding back. As long as I have a sprawling To Do List waiting, I can reasonably tell myself there’s no way I can take on that bigger project I've been putting off - a project that might require me to open up, to be brave, to change, to be vulnerable. As long as that To Do List is waiting, nagging, there’s always a valid reason why that other bigger project can’t happen.



      But in the end, it can happen if you want it to, if you make time and space for it. It's all about priorities and making conscious choices regarding how you spend your time.



    To do, or NOT to do. That is the question.
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Posted by on in Health

Over the past week both of my kids have been sick and, as a result, home from school. I also had a ton of work to do and deadlines to meet at the same time, which made for an interesting few days.

Let me set the scene: I'm at my computer, the kids are playing in their room with Legos. All is going well for five whole minutes when I hear escalating voices arguing over who had to play with the headless Lego guy. I'm trying to finish an email but also need to address this very real and very important issue of Lego guys without heads and the fairness of whether brother or sister must be the one who gets stuck with said Lego guy. I get them settled and then return to my work, getting into a groove this time, only to be interrupted 15 minutes later by requests to watch television. I hold out for a while, but after 20 more minutes of whining I decide that this is an okay time to give in.

I push through some more work and after 30 minutes I hear screams from the other room. I dash in, thinking someone has vomited again or is mortally wounded, only to find that the show is over and they would like to watch another one.

I allow them one more show (let's be honest, I give myself the gift of 30 more minutes of uninterrupted work time) and fairly sprint back to my office to make the most of each of those thirty minutes.

For the first few days of my work-from-home-with-sick-kids routine, I was just plan grumpy. I felt the tiniest bit resentful of my children for choosing this particular week to get sick, when I had so many deadlines and such a profound need to be at the studio. But when they were sad and sickly and spilling bodily fluids all over the place, I realized that this was not their doing, it was not their fault, it was not my fault, it was not anyone's fault. It just was.

Recognizing that there was nothing I could do about it and no one to blame helped a lot. It didn't change the situation, it didn't buy me more work time, it didn't make them get better more quickly, but it changed how I felt about the whole thing. I surrendered a bit, gave up fighting, gave up the quest for control over my time, and notified my colleagues that deadlines would have to be extended. Instead of pushing, yelling, resenting, I decided to cozy up on the couch with my kids, a blanket, and some books, and just surrender to the situation as it was.

Though it wasn't easy to do, this surrendering felt very familiar, comforting even. Surrender is a lot of what I practice on the mat these days, particularly when it comes to my gentle yoga practice and teaching. I love how in a gentle or restorative yoga pose the emphasis is not on muscling through and making things happen, but rather on giving up effort and resistance, and practicing contentment rather than striving.

Though it would seem that relaxation should be easy, that it should be our natural state, in our busy culture relaxation actually requires significant effort and discipline. There is a particular skill in learning to release effort on a physical and mental level, and the process allows you to become more efficient in the most therapeutic and nurturing way. Conscious relaxation and surrender is a way of embrace the idea that this moment is enough, you are enough.

The other day in my gentle class I led students into reclining bound angle pose on a rolled blanket (insert picture). The blanket runs along the length of the spine and when you initially lie down there's a tendency to resist to lift away from the support. It's a little bit like the princess and the pea at first. 'What's this inconvenience beneath me?' you wonder. The muscles on the back of your body tense and prevent the release of your shoulders towards the floor. Your hips also hold on a bit, preventing that lovely opening that you crave in this pose.

I guided the students to progressively relax into this new sensation (we usually practice this pose on the bolster, which feels quite different). Gradually, with patience and concentration, they were able to access this state of surrender rather than resistance, they gave into the blanket rather than wishing it wasn't there, and thus they were in the moment rather than in the 'what I wish could be.' The result of their discipline and effort was a deep relaxation of body and mind that was visible as a watched from the front of the room.

My kids are mostly healthy now and I'm thrilled, for many reasons. They are back to their sweet, playful selves, there are no more messes to clean up, they are back in school, and I am back at work. But I take with me this newfound appreciation for surrender, both at work and at home. When the day is eaten up by meetings and conversations and I'm not able to get to some of the heads-down work I need to get to, instead of being frustrated I acknowledge that is what needed to happen that day, appreciate it for what it is, and know that when I come back tomorrow there will be time to get the other stuff done.

Most of all, surrendering is about taking yourself less seriously. The world does not stop if these emails aren't sent out today, the walls don't come crashing down if I return that phone call tomorrow instead. Surrender is freedom, and all of this almost makes me grateful for childhood stomach bugs. Almost.

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