You’ve Been Chicked

I’m both a yoga teacher and a corporate business person. In a recent meeting, I acknowledged my two top sales people: one’s a female, and the other is a male. Since the salesperson with the highest revenue wins a bonus, this meeting can become spirited. This month, the bonus went to the woman.

After I made the official announcement, I heard a team member taunt the second-place finisher: “You were chicked!”

I’ve heard this line of insult between men in sports, but this was the first time I’d encountered it in business. While I was pretty sure I understood the term, I looked it up after the meeting to be sure I was interpreting correctly. I found what I was looking for in the Urban Dictionary:

ChickedWhen a woman outperforms a man in a physical activity, such as biking, hiking, or skiing, where normally a man should outperform the woman.”

Yikes!

Apparently, Urban Dictionary hasn’t stayed current on the term’s expansion across society and into my boardroom.

But the word’s usage in any venue seems behind the times to me. To imply that a man has been chicked requires a belief system with the assumption that the man should outperform the woman. As if any other outcome goes against the natural order of the world.

I thought we’d progressed beyond this concept, even in the athletic venues in which the term originated. Yes, there are some sports in which some men have a physical advantage. However telling a guy he’s been “chicked” is insulting because it infers that the man hasn’t lived up to his natural superiority.

This strikes me as not only a skewed point of view, but also obsolete. Are we assuming that the typical male foursome of weekend golfers should defeat the top ranks of the LPGA just because they’re male?

Rather than diminishing within a society that values equality and promotes the eradication of sexism, the notion of being chicked is apparently expanding through a widening array of situations from baseball to business. The common thread seems to be competition and a battle of egos. This opens many new possibilities for men to feel like failures if a woman bests them, and for women to question their abilities.

Which brings me to yoga….

In addition to running a technology company, I also spend quite a lot of time in yoga studios as a student and a teacher. While teaching yoga, where men and women line their mats up side by side, I’ve never heard the phrase “you’ve been chicked” when a male student struggles with an arm balance and the yogini next to him is floating above her mat.

However, it’s unrealistic to assume yoga is completely free from competition or egos. Both are a part of the human experience.The difference between a yoga studio, a football field, and a sales meeting isn’t whether or not the humans involved experience ego and competitiveness. The difference is that yogis practice separating their reactions from their triggers. In that moment of separation, we can realize our power of choice. We can choose to engage in the competition or cultivate a different approach to challenges.

However, even with this philosophy, the yoga industry isn’t immune to being contest-oriented, and we may be heading more toward that direction. In recent years, competition has gained some presence in the practice not only in venues such as the National Yoga Asana Championship, but also in local studios.

The drive to do better is separated from the drive to best everyone else by a fairly thin line. This can be felt clearly in classes that become pose-offs and by the abundance of Facebook yoga selfies. An emphasis on conquering poses and performing is yoga’s kryptonite. It dims the power of yogis and leaves us vulnerable to the same attitudes, insecurities and biases that foster the fear of being chicked.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen.

Strong Is The New Skinny, And That’s Not Necessarily A Good Thing

A new student approached me after her first yoga class and asked me to write down my complete teaching schedule so that she could attend my class every day. My ego was honored, but my mind was surprised. This newbie had a grand total of 75 minutes of yoga experience, and we were talking about a huge commitment. Maybe she’d tasted the peace of being deeply connected, in the perfect place at the perfect time? Perhaps she’d sensed the possibilities to be discovered in a yoga practice? This is why every teacher works hard: to open the gate for a student to realize she can create the life and the health that she wants. How wonderful that, in this case, it had clicked so quickly. As I wrote out my schedule, I asked, “What’s your goal for your yoga practice?” I expected to hear about a deep revelation, which is why I was speechless when she said, “I want the definition in your arms.” Oh. Of course.

I’d forgotten, “Strong is the new skinny.” This catchphrase seems to be popping up in my world a lot lately. It’s on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and the window of a local yoga studio. The first time I heard “strong is the new skinny,” I was enthusiastic. In theory, I’m all for strong men and women! However, I’ve come to see an insidious side of this concept in the way it’s being adopted. What could have been an empowering approach to body confidence has become another way to prioritize unrealistic body image; we’ve just replaced one cultural standard (thin) with another (ripped muscles). Sure, strength is important. We need strength in order to live our lives, to care for our self and the people who mater most. Ultimately, when we get strong in our bodies, we can apply this strength to the actions we take, the degree to which we become masters of our minds, and our approach to living our lives fully. When I think of “strong,” I think of my students who approach radiation treatments with optimism and courage. I think of my mom supporting two kids on her own. I think of my friend who felt unfulfilled in his secure career, so he left to pursue a job that ignited his passion. True strength can’t be measured by how many pounds you lift on a barbell, but it can be measured by how many spirits you lift. Unfortunately, “strong is the new skinny” isn’t necessarily being adopted to encourage this type of strength. Turning the slogan into a focus on an ideal outward appearance can trigger a negative internal battle that diminishes, rather than builds, strength. I have experienced how this can happen. In my teens and twenties, I used to model. During that time, I went on some bizarre diets. (Tip: if you eat nothing but string beans and hard boiled eggs for a week, fainting is a foregone conclusion.)

I turned to extreme measures in an effort to achieve an idealized version of what I was supposed to look like. Because thin was in, if the scale read two pounds over my goal, I’d put myself down. Eventually, I realized that my body wasn’t built to sustain a waif-like figure, and holding myself accountable to an unrealistic goal often made me feel like a failure. Similarly, by making “strong is the new skinny” all about striving for a visible six-pack and shredded triceps, it’s not a step forward on the path to true strength. We’re not trying to actually get stronger, healthier, or raise our levels of self-esteem. We’ve just traded one potentially unrealistic and unhealthy external goal for another. Both paths lead to the same end point: self-criticism. I like the definition in my arms. They aren’t huge, but they are strong enough to hold some really fun arm balances. I especially like my arms because they stuck with me while I developed the patience, focus and self-acceptance to learn those same arm balances. My arms represent the strength of commitment and perseverance without self-sabotage. If a new student tells me this is her goal, my arms have a really big hug for her.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen

How To Create Space & Avoid Hurting Others

Have you ever been stuck in traffic and noticed that the car behind you is so close that the other driver could change your radio station? If the traffic changed in the slightest, the other car would have no time to adjust and prevent a crash.

An inappropriate reaction in traffic can create damage and cost time and money. An inappropriate response to a person causes human damage, and the costs can be much higher.

Have you ever had a stressful week and tried to squeeze in just one more thing, like lunch with a friend? You’re already feeling the pressure of your day, and your hostess seats you in what seems like the noisiest section of the restaurant.

You’re irritated and, to make matters worse, your friend is running late. By the time she arrives, instead of being happy to see her, you start speaking from frustration, criticizing her lack of respect and consideration. Once it’s out, you regret it. Your friend is hurt and you’re responsible for human wreckage.

Whether you want to avoid a car collision or emotional damage, the solution is the same: Create space. 

There was a long period in my past where I didn’t know this and I functioned with no space between a triggering event and my reaction. I was known for being a fast thinker, a rapid-fire talker, and my quick temper.

In a corporate environment, these characteristics are often applauded, and it was easy to think of them as being positive qualities as I continued to succeed. But no matter how you try to frame it, being reactive does not allow time to think about the potential impact of words and the damage they might cause.

Responding this way didn’t create success, it created wreckage.

Creating distance between a trigger and your response can dramatically change your relationship with others, as well as your relationship with yourself. It’s in that space that you can choose your reaction to avoid hurting yourself and others.

Tips to create space

1. Take off your sunglasses. 

We all see the world through our own tinted perceptions, like sunglasses. After you wear sunglasses long enough, you forget that they’re on and start to think that your view is unfiltered.

2. Take a breath. 

The fraction of time it takes to create one full cycle of breath can provide you with the opportunity to make a choice. That breath can be enough to allow you to soften your approach and avoid turning the other person into a victim.

3. Find the fear. 

At the root of a quick, harsh response, you can often find fear. That surge of adrenaline you feel right before you respond is your fight or flight response. Many of us are wired to respond to fear with fight rather than flight. It’s this type of auto-response that can wound the people around you and leave them totally unaware of what caused your reaction. If you can find your fear, you can learn to manage it.

4. Watch your energy levels.  

We’re taught that we need to care for others, work hard, and provide for our families. We’re not typically taught how to do everything we’re “supposed” to do while maintaining a healthy balance of energy. When we overextend ourselves, we create an internally toxic environment. We can only give what we’ve got, so our reactions become the same toxins we’re building within ourselves.

Creating space in your mind, your emotions, and in your reactions will minimize the wreckage in your life. If you’re creating chaos, it will follow you.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen

Is Yoga Marketing Hurting Older Women?

Most days when I look around the room at the yoga students I’m teaching, I wonder: Why don’t more of my students look like me? Most of the faces looking back at me are younger than 30 years old. This same demographic dominates the local studios I teach in as well as studios I’ve traveled to throughout the United States.
I’m female and 51 years old. I’ve raised a family, had multiple careers, built an amazing marriage and, generally speaking, lived a life. Yoga has transformed my health, the way I age, the way I think of myself, and the way I interact with the world. Thanks to my practice, and my teaching, my body is strong and I have a deep sense of personal power and confidence. Women transitioning from their 40s into their 50s could make good use of these benefits, so why aren’t they streaming, en masse, into yoga studios?
Bringing yoga into the mainstream of American culture necessitated shifting its public face away from the one we became familiar with from the 1960s through the 1980s — that of an older, Eastern man with leathered skin and shining eyes. Most product marketing in the U.S. likes to focus its lens on whatever is young and pretty. It sells.
Not surprisingly, the mass marketing of yoga has fallen in step with this approach. The result has been a great boon for yoga. Studios in most downtown areas have made yoga accessible. There is a depth and breadth of styles, information and training easily available to anyone interested. “Spirituality and Yoga” is a common Google search string. Western medicine has put a scientific stamp of approval onto the practice and the lifestyle. The net result is that we’ve all benefited from the creation of a profitable, and therefore sustainable, industry that’s also healthy and life enhancing.
Unfortunately for the American woman, the new face of yoga — which tends toward young, slender, lycra-clad (or under-clad) gymnasts — may be as un-relatable as the old face of yoga. However, the advertisers, magazines and social networks are not at fault. It’s not the commercialization or mainstreaming of yoga that prevents my contemporaries from enjoying the benefits inherent in a yogic lifestyle. It’s the mindset of the typical 40-year-old woman that keeps her from opening the door to the yoga studio.
We’ve created a culture in which women over 40 don’t know where they fit. They don’t know who they are, or what they’re supposed to be. Often when these women come to me, they’ve stopped believing they can build muscle, so they stop trying. They think having constant pain is to be expected at their age. They’ve developed a fear of failure that prevents them from pursuing risks or adventure. As their lives and bodies changed, they became so used to feeling helpless that they gave up their sense of power along with their skinny jeans.
I believe there’s a light that exists inside every woman over 40 years old, but it must be reignited so they don’t spend the rest of their lives on the sidelines. Promoters and brand builders can’t give them that spark, and they shouldn’t be accused of taking it away. It’s my hope, and actually my anticipation that as yoga becomes more commonplace through the promotion of yoga-lebrities, pretty pictures, creative products and increased profits, more people will become curious enough to step up to the threshold of significant life change through yoga.
This post was originally featured on MindBodyGreen..

4 Reasons to Give Up Hope

“Will you be able to follow through?”
“I hope so.”
 
“Will I get the shipment on time?”
“Here’s hoping!”
 
“Are you going to get that job?”
“That’s what I’m hoping for.”
So often, we are stuck counting on someone else to put their best foot forward, and we are left hoping they can accomplish the goal. If you look at the questions above, each answer tells you nothing about the likelihood of achieving any particular outcome. When you tell someone you’re hoping, you’re not offering a plan, an expectation, or even your personal conviction. What you’re doing is giving yourself the message that it’s out of your hands, and you have to accept whatever comes your way.
Here’s why you can do better without hope:
1. Hope is the big neutral. 
 
Even with a big dream that seems daunting for a single individual to impact (like peace on earth), you can do more than just hope. Don’t hope; set an intention. When I teach a yoga class, I start each practice by guiding students to set an intention. The idea is that we are dedicating the energy and effort of the practice toward a particular outcome. Big or small, it takes you one full actionable step beyond hope.
2. When you stop hoping, you can start doing. 
A friend of mine from the South has a saying that always makes me smile. When she’s ready to go but waiting on someone else, she says, “I’m sittin’ on green and ready to go!” Hope is like sitting on green and… just waiting. When you’re only hoping for an outcome, you are not moving any closer to the goal. You’re telling yourself that what you want is out of your control, and that there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to decide if your goal is worth some exertion. Even if the answer is “no,” you can take action by dropping it. If the answer is “yes,” you can take an action toward making it real.
3. Hoping stunts your growth.
We grow through challenge, pressure, making mistakes and starting again. Hope is a comfort zone that doesn’t include any of these. Each time we take action, even if it turns out to be in the wrong direction, we grow beyond who we were yesterday. Nature doesn’t let anything stand still. If it’s not moving, atrophy and degeneration sets in. Swap out hope for responsibility, and you continue to progress as an individual.
4. Eliminating hope from your verbiage will boost your self esteem.  
You cannot build confidence without achievement. Nothing feels better physically, emotionally or spiritually than making a commitment, having conviction and taking charge of your destiny. Telling yourself you are going to do whatever it takes feeds you a totally different energy than telling yourself you’re hoping. When you take control of attaining what you want, even if you fall short of the final objective, you amplify your sense of personal power.
What is one hope that you can turn into an intention today?
Originally posted on MindBodyGreen

Why Sometimes It’s Good to Burn Bridges

This post was originally featured on MindBodyGreen
Before man learned how to engineer and construct bridges, our movement was restricted. Bridges allow us the freedom to explore territory farther away from home base and grow our knowledge of the world around us. The same holds true in our spiritual and emotional growth. If we don’t effectively build a bridge from where we are to a new place, we will pretty much stay the same.
It's OK to Burn Your Bridges
Through my life I have constructed bridges to new places of great value.  I’ve also traversed a bridge or two only to find myself in a destructive pit stop. For example, I crossed a bridge to a successful corporate career and then I built another bridge from that career to one of service and health. On my way to middle age I walked across a bridge that seemed to be traveled by all of my contemporaries only to find myself on a new shore where I was told I was becoming useless, tired, old. On that shore I found a place where people over 45 yrs of age gave up and shut down. I hightailed it on to the next bridge out of there and found a very different land where I currently reside in vitality and strength.
As we cross these many bridges to new locations, we tend to hang on to the structure that got us here. You’ve heard the advice “Don’t burn any bridges.” It usually refers to keeping a safety net, maintaining an option, or having a back door retreat strategy in the event you don’t like where you’ve landed. That’s an old tactic that’s useful when you’re in your 20s and 30s because at those ages your toolbox is still sparse. As we age, we accumulate quite a few bridges. If you don’t somehow let go of them, they will begin to weigh you down. Each one of those old bridges requires attention, upkeep and maintenance to keep around, which uses your energy with no return on investment.
I have a different suggestion for those of you who have joined me on the shoreline of middle age. Start blowing up your bridges. Let them go. They were useful, sturdy supporters, but they are of no use to you anymore. Your future is in front of you. If you find yourself on land that’s not a good fit, build a new bridge and get out.  However, you don’t need to go back.  You don’t need to be 20 again. That location’s value had walls you couldn’t see beyond and strictly enforced limitations. You don’t need to trade your wisdom for smoother skin. You don’t need to leave this place of knowing who you are in order to find adventure and limitless possibility, its available right here. Honor the many bridges that got you where you are, fix your sights on the path ahead of you, set the dynamite, light the fuse and let it blow.

How I Lost My Mind… And Found It Again

The first time I became truly aware that I’d misplaced my mind was about 6 years ago.
Misplaced Mind
Running two businesses, my calendar was insane. As a yoga instructor I teach, travel, write and produce yoga videos. I’m also the CEO for a high tech consulting company that I founded 18 years ago. The impact of my lifestyle on my mental faculties started so gradually that I didn’t notice for a while. My To-Do was getting longer instead of shorter. Between the appointments and nonstop emails, I even started taking my laptop into the bathroom with me to get a head start! As I struggled to keep pace, my goals shifted. My priority became just keeping my head above water.
I began to feel very uncomfortable if I wasn’t connected through my phone or one of many computers. For down time, I watched TV…with my laptop open and my phone at my side. During travel time I listened to podcasts, surfed the internet or pulled out the file of articles I habitually stockpiled. I lived the adage the more you teach yoga, the less you practice yoga. My days were jammed trying to absorb as much information as possible while striving for success in as many places as I could cover, who had time to practice?
The net result was that I was hardly absorbing anything, and I wasn’t getting to the end of that ominous To-Do list. That’s when I realized, somewhere in the craziness, I’d misplaced my mind. As I tried to do more, I was unable to concentrate, I couldn’t focus, and I became very reactionary, which made it difficult to solve problems in real time. My imagination had almost completely disappeared, and it was taking me two and three times longer to write anything because my ideas flowed like sludge. What I was doing, wasn’t working.
Finally, it dawned on me that the insanity had to stop. So I went on a controlled digital diet. I shut down everything that plugged in or ran on a battery before and after a strictly enforced 10 hour work day. It was really hard. One of the first things I noticed was that there were other humans living in my house! Two of those people were my almost-adult children who were watching the scary example I was setting for how to live a life. Next, I started cooking again. Cooking necessitates slowing down and caring for yourself, something that had become extinct in my panic button lifestyle. The cell phone no longer had a prominent place on the table, which afforded the opportunity for human conversation. Finally, I rededicated myself to my own yoga and meditation practice, which gifted me with time during which no one could reach me, and no additional information was coming at me from the outside world.
Within the first two weeks. I experienced a shift. Information started coming to me from my inside world.  I could remember what I’d been told 24 hours ago. Inspiration appeared in everything – driving, talking, visiting, noticing. New thoughts started bubbling to the surface. Not only was I able to write a few pieces, I started getting ideas for new projects and approaches to issues that had been locked and stuck. Apparently my mind hadn’t gone missing, but had retreated in fear of everything I was throwing at it. When I stopped bombarding my brain with the continuous, anxious laden flow of data, my mind hesitantly, but determinedly, came of the darkened corner.
I still have relapses when I start keeping Facebook running in the background, afraid I’ll miss a critical post. I begin checking email before I get out of bed, and I start texting while talking to others. It doesn’t take long before these behaviors result in creative blocks. When I notice, I remember to breathe in and create space in my days and my life. It’s in that space that I find my mind.
This article was originally published on MindBodyGreen.

Do You Lift Weights? No, I Do Yoga.

At least once a week, I’m asked how often I lift weights. “I’m a yoga teacher, I don’t lift”, is generally met with polite skepticism. The truth is, my practice is the reason behind my physique, and also my ability to maintain my sense of humor because strangers rarely believe me.
I teach my style of power yoga once a week in a bare bones, no kidding around, “muscle gym”. The first time a member takes my class they are shocked at how difficult it is to access the strength required to do foundational poses, like Plank, Chatturanga and Upward Facing Dog (yoga variations of a push-up). Weight lifting isolates each muscle, but rarely asks their body to use its entire self in a single movement. The opposite is true of yoga. Each posture tones and strengthens muscles throughout your whole body. Although you will not build the bulk of a serious lifter, yoga stretches your muscles while simultaneously contracting them, resulting in increased flexibility, definition and a chiseled, leaner, longer physique.
A power yoga class can burn about 300 calories. Put that class in a hot studio and you’re burning 600 calories. The successive movement from one pose to the next will increase your heart rate, your respiration, and the amount you sweat.
If you’re going to work out for more than an hour each day, it should be with something you look forward to. If you drag yourself to the gym simply because you want to stay in shape, it’s time to reconsider. Most yogis truly enjoy their workout time, and you can retain the metabolic and strength benefits of your old regime, while adding flexibility, detoxification,  mental clarity, balance and a greater sense of well being.
Ultimately, the proof is in the practice. Take a class and notice how your muscles feel the next day. They’re sore for good reason – and your body never lies to you.

*originally posted on MindBodyGreen