Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

Photo: Alex E. Proimos
I have never been very good at sales. I've tried several times in my life, but I'm always uncomfortable and uneasy playing the role of the person who knows exactly what someone else needs.

When I was a kid, my friend talked me into selling candy with her from door to door; the idea was that we told the people who opened the door to us that the sales from the candy went to helping keep youth off the streets, but as it turns out, that wasn't entirely true: the youth we were supporting were ourselves, and the guys driving us around in his van took most of the money. I lasted one day on that job. As a teen, I was hired at an all-women's health club, and was promoted to sales, but only for the short time it took for the management to realize I had no aptitude for it. In college, I worked as a bank teller, and management would impress upon us the importance of getting our customers to open new accounts or subscribe to different services, all under the guise that it was better for them; when the bank held contests, I usually showed up last on the list.

In each of these examples (and many more in my life that I will spare you), I wasn't invested in what I was selling. But selling is certainly a part of my self-employment now. On a daily basis, I need to be promoting my classes, workshops, trainings and videos. I've gotten a little better at it, but it's still an ill fit for me, something like high-heeled shoes; I can pull them out and wear them for an occasion from time to time, but I'm going to kick them off as soon as I can.

What makes the selling both easier and harder is that I work with people with cancer. 

It's easier because I am wholly invested in my work. I can look back at my life and see a clear path through all the twists and turns that led me to this moment. From my grandmother's death 21 years ago, to my leaving the corporate engineering world, to the people who I attracted to my classes with my avid interest in how yoga heals, and so on.

When I am asked "Have you had a cancer diagnosis?" I reply, "no, but I've studied yoga for cancer in depth." In fact, the last four years I have been learning from teachers and doctors, as well as my students. I teach evidence-based practices, which means that there are medical studies behind everything that I do. More importantly, I observe how my students respond to the practices; how it makes them feel, what language I can use that is effective, which sequences lead to reports of improvement, etc. This is an ongoing endeavor, because new evidence comes out all the time, and I am continually working with my classes to incorporate it.

If someone is unsure about coming to class, I can easily talk about the benefits and how people respond, but it's much harder for me to sell myself as their teacher.

Photo: limowreck666
One reason for that is because it is cancer. It's important. It drags us right up to the Awful Truth that we avoid in countless and sometimes cruel ways: we are mortal. We all have an expiration date, and cancer has the reputation for taking us in a slow, painful way. I can't begin to understand what someone feels when they hear those life-changing words: you have cancer. I don't know what it's like to have to weigh treatment choices, manage countless doctor's appointments, investigate research, count out all the dates and memories that came before and wonder what comes next, deal with the unskilled reactions of people I love, or be suddenly thrust out of the club of the blissfully ignorant and onto the disease battlefield.

I can empathize, but I don't know, because I've never been diagnosed with cancer. And that makes it hard for me to tell people to trust me, to let me be their ambassador as they navigate their new world. In just a few moments of introduction, I need to convey to them that this is more than just my job, that I do take it seriously (even though we may laugh a lot!), and that there is nowhere else I'd rather be. With my voice, eyes and hands, I show them that I am present with their experience, that they are in control, and that we will navigate the yoga experience using the art of adaptation together.

Photo: Dionne Wilson

I am in service to people with cancer. 

It's at the heart of everything I do.

As long as I keep doing that, I don't really need to sell anything.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Is Music Everywhere?

Image credit: Adrien Sifre
I was leaving the parking garage of one of the Kaiser buildings today, and I forgot to roll up my passenger side window. As a result, the gate arm's creak was noticeable for the first time. My immediate thought was, "who's got their radio turned on so loud?" because I associated the sound with music. I smiled as I passed through the gate and on to the next one, ready for its unique "song".

And then I wondered, did the gate arms always sing for me?
Have I been too distracted by my own silly dramas to notice the songs around me?

I thought back for a few days.

The neighbor's Pomeranian dog yapping as I practiced my sun salutes in my back yard; could that be heard as music, if I wasn't so annoyed with wanting my breath to be the only sound?

The Mockingbird who wakes up at 3:30 am and decides we all need to hear his beautiful song - no matter if we are sleeping or not.

The garbage disposal grinding something out during my meditation... might that be a form of music, too?

All of these situations have something in common: I had a goal I was trying to reach (yoga, sleep, meditation) and I viewed these sounds as obstacles for reaching the goal.

As I pulled out of the garage I thought to myself

I had totally missed the point, because the yapping, chirping and grinding were the music, and my goal to listen with more of my heart than my ears.

Photo credit: Jesus Solana
What if this was my first or last moment on earth, wouldn't I hear these sounds as music?

Since then, I've been hearing music all the time. My own body creaking, the neighbor's electric saw, the roar of an airplane... the music all around me. Not all of it is pleasant, just as I don't enjoy all forms of music, but now I'm listening.

Even to the leaf blowers!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

We Can be Heroes...

Photo credit: San Deigo Shooter
This morning I saw something that made me smile: a truck was stalled at a stop light and several people worked together to get it across a very busy intersection and off to safety. A woman was steering and several men were pushing, while the pilot's car was following closely behind. Even as the truck made its way through, more people were running onto the scene to help push. Everyone was smiling!

As a kid, I experienced stalled cars quite a bit. I was the pilot in some situations, long before I could actually drive. I learned how to "pop the clutch" before I was 13 years old! I don't remember total strangers stepping out of their cars or off the streets to help us (maybe that's the perspective on my youthful memory), so when I see people banding together to help each other - strangers, even - it warms my heart.

We all want to be helpful. The people who worked together to move that truck this morning were smiling because they enjoyed being useful, even if it was something hard. And, sometimes it's not so very hard to help.

It certainly is easier to help when there are more of us working together to accomplish something, like pushing the car.

This Friday, I'm reaching out in the yoga community again to see if we can't push a car a little ways, metaphorically speaking.

One of my mentors, Tari Prinster, will be in town from NYC. She's bringing with her a film called "Yogawoman," which is a documentary about the changing face of yoga and the power that yoga gives us to change our world. Tari is a featured teacher in the film.

"Yoga was brought to the west from India by a lineage of male teachers. Now there’s a generation of women who are leading the way. They’re strong, they’re inspiring and they’re radically changing peoples lives. From the busy streets of Manhattan to the dusty slums of Kenya, YOGAWOMAN uncovers a global phenomenon that has changed the face of yoga forever. Through rich personal stories, the film reveals how yoga has utterly transformed the lives of thousands of over-stimulated, overscheduled, and multi tasking modern women. It illuminates how yoga has transformed the lives of women in prison, cancer survivors, and those struggling with body image, allowing them to give back to others with full hearts and creative minds."

We're asking for $10 donation, which will go towards the Kelly Considine scholarship, a program that has already funded yoga training for two yoga teachers and four cancer warriors in its first year! We hope to fund even more scholarships next year to help more survivors live longer, healthier and happier lives. If you are unable to join us but would like to make a donation, go to: theretreatproject.org.

YOGAWOMAN film screening
Friday, April 4 8:15pm
$10 suggested donation
Downtown Yoga Shala, 450 S. 1st Street, San Jose 

Note: give yourself lots of time to park, it will be San Jose's First Friday festival.