Monday, October 7, 2019

Lessons From "Yoga Prison"

Over the decades of my fitness hobby, I've taken hundreds of hours of training. In yoga alone I've counted over 250 hours from conferences, workshops and master classes. I've always loved a variety of styles - especially the power and hot yoga classes. In addition, I've always considered getting a RYT (registered yoga teacher) 200 hour credential but could never decide on the format I wanted to specialize in. Many of the world-renowned instructors I loved didn't offer the training and nearby studio offerings didn't fit my needs.
I occasionally visit yoga studios in midtown/downtown for a class and ended up on the mailing list of Black Swan Yoga. Earlier this year they advertised a weekend of workshops with Benjamin Sears. I researched him and found he had an amazing background of several 500 hour certifications in a variety of yoga formats I've practiced in and loved as well as being one of the top master instructors in the world to take training from. I decided to check out his workshops on Easter Sunday. By the following Wednesday I was signed up for his advanced 200 hour teacher training in the South of France - Sacred Geometry Vinyasa.
The day I arrived at the Villa of our master instructor for the yoga training, I stepped out onto the balcony to see the view. I broke down and cried. It was SO beautiful. I could not believe that I was going to get to experience my training in this place - up in the French Alps with a view of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.
Soon though - I was wrapped up into a daily ritual of early rising, heading to the yoga room by 7:30, warm up exercises and class starting sharply at 8:00 every day. Most days class went until 11:00 or later and we were released for lunch - and study time. (My few precious moments of pool and sun time to renew my soul.) Back at it at 1:00 until 5:00-7:45 in the evening for more yoga, strength training and workshops, an amazing meal, more hours of study, quiet time at 9:00 and early to bed (by my standards) with lights out and shutters down by 10:00.
I jokingly coined it "Yoga Prison" because of the schedule, no alcohol, chocolate, bread, sugar or processed food and that we were not allowed to leave - but I actually loved all of it. It was definitely more like "Yoga Heaven". I'd like to share some of the lessons I learned in "Yoga Prison" for work and life!

Lessons

Stay curious - We get ourselves in trouble through assumptions. Assumptions lead us to believe we are right. This closes down our desire to be open and hear the other side and other people's opinions. It leads us to believe we already have the best answer so we do not explore other options. Our creativity, progress and innovation are stifled. I've taken training from countless instructors and yoga masters, yet, I promised to approach this adventure with a beginner mind. Even though I've been teaching for close to thirty years, I showed up ready to learn whatever I could and to put aside for the time being some of the practices and opinions I'd picked up over the years. Always remain curious - we don't know what we don't know.
Intention - When you set your mind to something it is easier to stay committed and focused. I was determined to succeed in this training. Whatever they threw at me I was all in. I decided when I signed up without any doubts. Another attendee was surprised with the intensity of the training and was wavering for quite a few days in the beginning. This makes it hard to go all in. Think back to the "burn the boats" story. A commander had his soldiers burn the boats when they arrived on the shore of the enemy. There was no retreating. They were all in. Reflect on the past when you stepped out to take a risk. Were you all in? What happened when you weren't? Decide and go all in!
Age doesn't matter - It is all in your head. We tell ourselves we are too old or it's too late or we are unqualified in some way and our mindset prevents us from even attempting so many things we could be successful at. Another instructor at the training was the same age as me. We took great pride in doing everything those 20, 30 or even 40 years younger than us were performing in training. Don't limit yourself with your thoughts.
Technology Trap - No phones were allowed at our meals. When I was growing up, we sat down to dinner as a family every night at the same time, enjoying each other's company and the conversation. It was so wonderful to experience this in training. There were over twenty of us enjoying each other, conversations and the amazing food cooked by the private chef. Are you fully present at your meals at home? - or your lunches with co-workers at work? Set some boundaries around phone use. It does take courage to be the one to ask for it. Try it - you will like it.
Silence - We escaped "yoga prison" for one morning for a hike midway through the 16 days of training. The night before, after an evening of self-exploration and singing, we went into complete silence. It was slightly challenging with two roommates - but we found we were able to communicate quite well with hand signals. Everyone walked about the villa with a knowing nod and a smile on their face, enjoying the beauty of our surroundings in quiet reflection. It was such a delicious experience the next morning, to hike in silence too. Without talking you reflected more on what you saw and heard and were able to enjoy the experience at a much deeper level. We really thought about what would be the first thing we said once we could talk again. Our silence was broken at lunch after the hike. We all wished it had lasted longer. What a great reminder to stay focused on the present moment instead of hurrying to get to the next thing and missing where you are completely - at work or home.
I encourage you to reflect on lessons you learn from encounters with others, experiences and places you visit. Everything and everyone has a life lesson for us if we only take the time to savor it and make changes moving forward.



Tuesday, August 28, 2018

What's SUP?!! The Day I Almost Didn't SUP



In July, we visited family in Minnesota - the land of 10,000 lakes. I was talking with my niece, Amy, about plans for the week and we started to throw out ideas around what we could do to enjoy the area. SUP - Stand Up Paddleboarding came up as an option. Neither of us had ever done it so the idea sounded fun, adventurous and a tiny bit scary all packed into one. I suggested we could do some yoga on the boards too, as teaching yoga was one of my many treasured jobs. Amy checked in with her sister by phone for tips and then checked out which lakes had the sport option. We opted for the closer lake. Her sister assured us it was easy to pick up the techniques and the rental company would surely give us a lesson on how to SUP. So we changed into our bathing suits and headed to the lake, still a little nervous underneath our excited facades.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and many people were out enjoying the lake, hanging out on the beach and in the water, We checked in at the equipment rental shack, but were dismayed to find that the wind speed was above the limit for paddleboarding and they couldn't rent to us. Our first reaction was disappointment - we were physically and mentally prepared. Then there were a few seconds of relief - at least on my part - that we weren't going to have to scare ourselves out on the water. We considered just hanging out on the beach to wait and see if the wind would die down. Then Amy, with her growth mindset in high gear, (mine usually is - but that day I was comfortable sitting back and not growing!), said - "let's check with the other lake, maybe their rules are different". She called them and sure enough - their wind speed limit was a lot higher, (me - silently questioning if that was a good thing or a bad thing), and we headed off to the other lake. 

We arrived at the new location, a bit busier but just as beautiful (what lake isn't!), and headed toward the rental shack. Once we were checked in, we were directed to the paddleboards on the beach. The young man let us know the guy down by the water would show us what to do. We grabbed boards and headed toward him. He set mine out on the water and told me to step up, placing my feet on the markings on the board and said, "Ok - go!". "What about my lesson?", I exclaimed, "That's it! Just go!", he replied. And so I did. Amy was right behind me, and soon ahead of me though I tried to keep my paddling rate even with hers. It was a lot easier than we both expected. Though there were a few times when the wind blew us off course toward a pile of anchored boats or the side of a bridge (maybe that wind speed was a little high!) - but never too much to handle. We had a great time exploring the lakes and even tried some yoga without falling off. We were quite proud of ourselves. 

I mentioned the growth and fixed mindset above. Fixed is where you believe things are as they are and your personal qualities and capabilities are carved in stone. A growth mindset believes that you can develop your qualities through your efforts, strategies and help from others. I like to apply this here - where my temporary fixed mindset believed our options were limited by one lake's rules and I threw up my hands accepting our fate while my niece's mindset didn't stop there and she set out to explore other options. (What was holding me back? - a little bit of ridiculous fear!). The growth mindset opens up the thinking to be creative and solve problems. It can be applied to our paddleboarding adventure in another way. It wasn't a skill we had and we approached it as if we could learn it anyway. We continued to express that mindset by watching others paddle and imitating their expert moves. 

Your mindset may fluctuate from fixed to growth. If you stay aware you can steer it toward growth every time. What area of your life is in need of a mindset adjustment?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Flip It - Like a Pancake!!


Occasionally I treat my yoga class with a format I've dubbed Sock Day! I bring dozens of clean socks to class and give each participant a pair. During several parts of class we put on the socks and do yoga poses, sliding from one challenging pose to another (i.e. from a forward one legged lift sliding both legs back behind us for a plank), playing with creative plank jumping jacks and with other vigorous atypical yoga poses. It is a great fun challenge for all. 

One member delighted in the format and claimed we needed to do it more often. So the next time I knew he was coming to class I decided to bring my socks for a Sock Day. But I had been working late into the night for weeks on a work project and didn't have time to make up more Sock Day pose challenges. So - I decided that we would still do a Sock Day but the members would suggest poses when my list was exhausted. 

And so they did.

And they were great ideas that we played with until we couldn't slide any more.
I flipped the classroom and made the students the teacher. It turned out to be a great idea that I will definitely use again.

I actually heard about it years ago at a training conference. A gentleman relayed a story in which they had a speaker set up for a session at a conference. The speaker didn't show up and they were stressed out about what they would do with the 200+ people gathered to hear him speak. The host ended up having each table in the ballroom select one subject from the missing speaker's agenda and discuss their tips on the topic. Each table ended up sharing their best tip with the whole room. It turned out to be a great alternative. (The speaker had an emergency and couldn't make the event). The attendees became the experts in the room - flipped!

So what can you flip in your organization, during your next speech, or in your work or home project to add creativity and a new twist?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Through the Eye of the BEE-Holder


My husband is a great joke teller. He can roll with a slew of them and entertain for hours. Years ago I had him train me in joke telling. He would tell me a joke. I would listen intently. Then I would try to repeat it back. He would fill in what I  missed and I would try again. Eventually I would get it perfect and we would move on to learning another joke. I got to the point that I could roll a bunch off the tip of my tongue but without practice I'm back to one or two here and there. 

He recently told a silly joke - let's see if I can remember it. 
Question - 
"If you are holding a bee in your hand, what is in your eye"?
Answer - 
"Beauty"
"Beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder!"
Too cute, right? I know you will be able to use that one when a clean joke is required.

Our niece coaches a women's hockey team at Stevenson University in Maryland. Students from the hockey team, golf and basketball teams and a few non athletes from the school volunteered to come to Houston to work with Habitat for Humanity. They spent the last week up early every morning working til dinner time rebuilding homes devastated by Hurricane Harvey. They did their own fundraising to make enough money to make the trip - 28 of them in all. My niece asked my husband if he would cook for them on their last night and of course he said yes. He spent two days cooking brisket, chicken, pulled pork and stuffed jalapenos along with his famous macaroni and cheese in preparation. I contributed chocolate chip cookies and brownies. But I also did a few major things to the house that I have been procrastinating on. It feels so great to make those things happen.

When the group arrived they kept making comments on how beautiful our house was, how cool the stepping stone that was shaped like Texas on the front lawn was, how nice the backyard and pool were, etc... Everything was new to them and everything was cool to them. It was a delight to see my old house through fresh young eyes. As they pointed out different things I was a bit surprised about the things that had become common place to me - like the stepping stone - yet with their perspective it all became cool and new to me. They were "bee-holders!"

It was a great reminder to approach each day and each experience as something new and exciting to enjoy as we sometimes lose that "beauty in the eye of the beholder" perspective. 

A recent MasterMind group call reflected on the topic of enthusiasm. We were to report on how we had incorporated enthusiasm into our daily lives. The next time I taught yoga I started the class like the young college students approached my home - with fresh new eyes and an enthusiastic perspective - and that made all the difference in my class and my day and my week - as it will in yours. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Help! I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up!


In yoga, a major part of the class and practice is focusing on your breath, paying attention to how your body feels in different positions, adjusting, staying curious and aware. It provides a great lesson for life - especially when driving. 

We typically use the phrase "I've fallen and I can't get up" when making fun of someone's tipsy condition - when they've been drinking a little too much and stumble to the floor. But it was no laughing matter when I came across a woman sitting in her driveway on the way to the park for a work break walk.

I was heading down a side street in the neighborhood and noticed an elderly woman sitting up on the driveway with her legs off a bit to the side and her back to me. At first glance she looked like she was sitting next to the grass and doing some gardening - which I thought was odd because there weren't any flowers or anything else there. When I noticed she was not making any movement - I stopped the car and rolled down the window, calling out to her to ask if she was ok. She motioned with her hand to come to her. I jumped out of the car and ran toward her noticing blood in her waving hand. I tried to help her up but wasn't able to lift her on my own. She said her son was in the house sleeping and to ring the bell. I did but he must have been sleeping pretty deeply because he didn't come out. I waved at cars passing by - jumping up and down - but no one stopped. I ran down the street waving my arms behind one car and the young men in the car stopped, asked what was going on and came to help. Another woman also stopped and two of us were able to get the woman on her feet. We walked her into the house, got some ice for the lump on her forehead and were able to wake her son. We left her in his care. 

I'm not looking for and don't desire any accolades. I just want it to serve as a reminder to pay attention. To be curious, to look around you, to be aware - whether it is while driving or just being with people at work or home. We are missing so much by not paying attention to what is around us. Sometimes it is fun we are missing out on, or deeper relationships, or the opportunity to help someone in need. 

Be attentive - stay aware - your life will be so much better in so many ways by staying in that frame of mind as much as you are able to.

Friday, January 12, 2018

When the Time is Right




During the Christmas Holiday I offered door prizes in my indoor cycle class and yoga class along with decorating the rooms with festive lights. One of the prizes was a private yoga lesson and the woman that won was delighted. She's been wanting to try yoga and this was going to be perfect for her. She could learn the basics and would then be comfortable joining classes after that. The timing was perfect for her.

When I first met my husband one of the things we started doing together was golf. I loved it though we didn't play very often and I wasn't very good. I did eventually get out of the double digits on my score on each hole, but it took a long time because I only played a few times a year. I also had some "bad" lessons from leisure learning classes along that way - that created bad habits that had to be corrected. But lessons once in a while and irregular playing and practice didn't really give me the results I wanted to see. I started playing more often as I made more golf playing girlfriends, but still not enough to make a significant positive change in my game. I finally decided the timing was right and committed to weekly lessons for several months with my golf pro. I was so excited, believing this was the key to finally making a difference and my golf pro was too - knowing this commitment was what I needed to make progress. I am thoroughly enjoying my lessons, look forward to them, and practicing in between. I know I may get worse before I get better but the timing is right and the process is right to really make it work this time.

It happens with New Year's resolutions. We merely make a list of things we wish were different but don't take any real action to make the changes. The timing isn't right for us. 

How do we know the time is right? We reach the point where you don't want things to be the way they are anymore and we are willing to do the things that need to be done to make things change for the better. And you just know - the time is right for you - I just know. 


Friday, August 25, 2017

What Lens Are You Looking Through to View the World?


When I first heard about the solar eclipse that would come across the United States a year or two ago - I knew I had to be in the path of totality to experience it. Within a year prior to the event, hotels and campsites all along the path were sold out. A fellow yogi was taking a group on a yoga retreat to experience the eclipse and I considered that opportunity too - but I never did act. A few weeks before eclipse day, my husband and I decided we would wait until it was closer to the actual day and see what the weather would be like in various parts of the country before making a plan to travel. It would be a shame to plan a trip like this and have your view obstructed by rain clouds. We planned to fly out early the morning of the eclipse and head back late that night, so we could bypass the lack of sleeping arrangements in the path cities. So we waited. 

As the day approached my husband ended up with a business trip out of town to take care of a problem at a power plant and wouldn't be able to go with me. I decided to go on my own. I checked out flights to Durham, North Carolina where I have family. I could fly and stay there at night, then drive to Columbia, SC, (A city on the path), with my nieces to experience the celestial phenomena and come back that same night. But - the weather didn't look like it was going to cooperate so I nixed that plan too. My eclipse adventure was going to be in Houston with a 70% eclipse. 

I ended up planning a yoga on the beach during the eclipse and snagging a few dozen NASA approved eclipse viewing glasses on-line for the attendees. Those that could took the day off from work and escaped with me to Sunny Beach in Galveston. We hung out, did a little yoga, took a break to swim and hang and view the eclipse and then did a little more yoga. 

For one beautiful afternoon the country came together to enjoy a celestial eclipse experience. 

We actually kept our eclipse glasses on during part of the yoga practice. It was entertaining to try to do poses when you couldn't see anything - but glorious to turn your head or lean back to look up at the sky in a pose and see the moon covering a majority of the sun - a phenomenal experience. 

Throughout the afternoon I considered the different views I had of the sky. In spite of the eclipse, the day remained quite sunny the whole time. If you hadn't heard about the eclipse, just by looking at the sky you wouldn't have had a clue it was happening here because the sun was blinding and bright. Without the glasses you couldn't see the moon passing by the sun. With the glasses on, the eclipse was amazingly clear. 

So - my question is - how are you viewing the world? Are you blinding yourself with limiting assumptions or using tools to help you see more clearly the options, opportunities and beauty before you?

We are one under the sun. What will you do to keep that feeling alive!

To keep informed about other yoga events and our business workshops related to busting assumptions, unleashing creativity and gaining courage to take intelligent risks - sign up for our newsletter at www.margaretajohnson.com

It was a joyful day for all who came out to enjoy my beach solar eclipse yoga! (Some missed picture time - they had to go back to work!) Keep April 8, 2024 on your calendar - when we will experience a total eclipse of the sun here in Texas. We will be heading to the hill country for a relaxing retreat/eclipse viewing event. It will be here before you know it.