We Will Have To Manage Ourselves

In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time - literally - substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.

This Peter Drucker quote has inspired a great deal of my yoga and meditation practice over the years. When I pay attention, it's clear that my choosing skills are not where I want them to be. I have spent way too much time over the last few weeks scrolling endlessly through social media feeds, clicking instinctively from news article to op-ed to meme to photo gallery to live stream... just caught in a cycle of cheap information binging. When the going gets tough, I get on Facebook.

I choose to do all of that. But it doesn't feel like a choice. That's because, like so many of us, I'm used to choosing by default rather than design. The drivers of my decisions tend to be instinct, habit or burst of emotion. The part of me with goals, dreams, and a desire for fulfillment and purpose has abdicated its leadership role and outsourced choosing to simple, immediate mental flashes and fluctuations.

This is why I practice yoga and meditation. Because I need them! And I know I'm not alone.

In my experience, one key for us to "manage ourselves," as Peter Drucker put it, lies in developing habits and mental patterns that point towards awareness and gentle, graceful restraint.

There's a metaphor many of my meditation teachers use; they talk about the various seeds we have within us, and ask us to notice which seeds we are watering because those are the seeds that are likely to grow. I clearly recognize within myself the seeds of addiction and passivity. Yet I also recognize the seeds of focus, dedication, and thoughtful purpose. So these days, I practice cultivating and curating my environment to water the seeds I would like to see sprout. There are so many ways to work on this. But today, I feel particularly inspired to share some of the wonderful pieces of technology that have helped me focus, manage myself, and choose to live more by design.

Headspace

Headspace is the best meditation iPhone app I have yet discovered. It's simple, well-designed, and weaves accessible (and visual!) teachings about the practice into its recorded meditation library. I sit with Headspace every single day. For those of you who have tried to meditate daily and failed, this may be the tool that helps you create and keep the habit. Andy - the creator and voice of Headspace - now feels like an old friend. He makes mediation relatively easy to commit to and remarkably rewarding.

Audible

Audible is Amazon's audiobook subscription service. I pay a monthly fee and receive a credit to purchase an audiobook. By its very design, Audible helps me turn listening into a habit. It also helps me cultivate patience and conscious decision-making. And for me, audiobooks are incredibly conducive to focus and dedication. They present complex ideas in the span of hours, days, weeks and months - unlike the bite-sized attention-deficit-inducing packets of information we consume on social media and via advertising.

Trello

Trello is a "kanban" task management application for my laptop and phone. It's a visual way of organizing tasks and ideas not unlike moving sticky notes around on a wall. In general, I think creating long to-do lists can be unrewarding and unproductive. But Trello makes the process of deciding what to do - and how to do it - a creative and conscious endeavor. it helps me clarify what is important and how my goals and tasks are related to one another. Although many tasks may be visible at once, Trello helps me avoid the tendency to multi-task and get overwhelmed, and instead helps me complete things in an efficient, one-at-a-time, flow-state way.

Podcasts

Conventional wisdom states that because of technology, we are able to share information with greater speed and ease than ever before. But in my experience, certain kinds of information are getting easier to share, while other kinds are getting harder. The information contained in relationships and conversations, for example, can be tough for some of us to access via the dominant technologies of the day. Podcasts - especially those that utilize the interview format - are an innovation that creates and conveys the information of relationship and conversation better than most. One of my favorite podcast series is Yoga Revealed with Alec Vishal Rouben. His interviews are insightful and his subjects are excellent and intriguing - if you're curious, start by listening to his discussions with Matt Kapinus, Rob Loud, and David Magone.

On Authentic Marketing

Over the last several months, many people have been asking me questions about marketing in the yoga world.

I don't always know what to say.

I have my own experience and plenty of strong opinions gathered over the last several years as the Chief Marketing Officer at Kindness Yoga, but I've always been too busy doing the marketing to figure out how to talk about it.

Lately, though, I've been trying.

I've been trying because people are clearly hungry out there, and when I see hungry people I want to serve them. I've been trying because I'm often dismayed by all the noise and shouting that's passing for marketing these days in my industry. And I've been trying because it's a frontier for me, and I love frontiers.

So this is hopefully not a one-off post, but rather the start of something ongoing - not the exhortations of an adviser so much as the musings of a doer. A snapshot here and there of what I'm doing and how I'm thinking.

The other day a stranger reached out to me with some marketing questions and the vulnerable admission that business is slow, and the marketing that used to work well enough just isn't working anymore. I've taken an excerpt from my response to share with you here. Hopefully you find it useful and meaningful. Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments, or reach out to me to share your experience.

...as I said in the interview, I believe that most people are overwhelmed out there. There’s too much noise and there are too many offerings. At the same time, ritual and culture are going through cycles of creation and destruction at a very rapid pace. I believe that people are searching for ways to organize this flood of information and find something they feel is solid and real enough to hang onto - a social group or activity that won’t disappear or become boring or destructive.

In this environment, traveling for events is a challenging market to succeed in. It's easy to become part of the noise and hard to resound so that your message cuts through the din and truly inspires. Those who do succeed in this market seem to create a world for their audience to play in, even when they're not present. They become that figure who is consistently inspiring in a stabilizing, resounding sort of way. Consider Brene Brown, Seth Godin, and Michael Port. They deliver their message with consistency across many channels (social media, multiple written works, online programs, videos, partnerships, appearances, free offerings, whatever) and create communities larger than themselves which extend and sustain the work they've brought into fruition.

Not knowing your work or your business structure, if I were to offer you one thing, it might be the following: ask yourself these questions on a deep level. Use them to guide what you're doing.

  • What is the core of my message? This is not simply what you say, it’s the actual inspiration you transmit. It's your whole way of being and the message that way of being sends. Of course, people will interpret your message in their own ways. One person may see me and think, "That guy is a showoff and offers very little to others." Another may think, "That guy is a passionate performer who loves his craft and generously gives us everything he has!" I'm always searching for the grains of truth in what that first individual has to say about me, so that the core of my message - which is much closer to what the second individual thought - can shine through with greater frequency and vibrance.
  • Who is my audience? This is not a demographic. It's not a target market. It's not impersonal. This is a meditation on the actual people who are ready to hear - and be lit up by - your message. The people who want you to become a rock or a fortress for their lives on some level. Maybe it's the five people who show up to your 6:30am class. Maybe it's your friends and family on Facebook and nobody else. Maybe it's thousands of Instagram followers. 
  • How can I share with my audience every day? What do you like to share? What makes you feel creative and lit up, but is easy enough that you can do it every day (or nearly every day) without giving away your work? For example, as a yoga teacher, I love sharing artistic and sometimes jaw-dropping asana pictures of what I’m currently working on. I also love writing little musings on philosophy and messages I myself need to hear. I like to incorporate small snippets of my life outside yoga, but I also try to maintain certain boundaries. And of course, I love teaching regular asana classes every week. I do NOT love blogging. I do NOT love recording lectures or videos. So I don't do those much. You might be completely different. I do think your ways of sharing need to be relatively bite-sized and they need to be consistent and regular. They also need to be human; not mechanical, planned, or cranked-out. They're like eye contact or smiles. They go a long way.
  • Do I have what it takes? It takes a lot of things, but in general I think succeeding in a market like this takes patience, capital, and courage (and maybe creativity too). Do you have enough of all of these? Enough to offer yourself again and again over time, not because you need to but because you want to? Enough to hone and refine what you offer, and pay really close attention to your audience so you know what’s lighting them up and what’s falling flat? Enough to spend your nights and weekends working even if you have to get a day job to pay the bills? Of course, you’re not just starting out. But you may be just starting out on the path I’m pointing towards. And the path ahead is always brand new for all of us, especially now that things change so quickly and so drastically.
  • Who has my back? What is your group of trusted friends, peers, and collaborators? Who will always recommend you, and who will you always recommend? Who lifts you up when you’re down? Who has success they’re willing to share with you? Who are you willing to share whatever success you have with? These relationships are what you’re aiming to develop as you share with your audience and refine what you offer. For example, I have a wonderful relationship with one of my asana teachers, Christina Sell. We’re both fond of one another. I’ve helped her grow her presence in Denver because I’m her raving fan. And now that I’m offering workshops, studio owners who know her are reaching out to me because they know me through association with her. I never calculated this. It’s not something I asked for, and I don’t think it’s something Christina is doing intentionally. It just started happening because Christina truly genuinely has my back and I have hers. People see and feel that affection and respect, and they respond to it. The more people you create mutual bonds of affection and respect with, the better.

What's the point of all this? How does it translate into success?

With patience.

When you focus on the questions above, in my experience you start to develop these powerful relationships with people. They begin to see you as a meaningful touch point in their lives, someone whose message and way of being they remember and want to return to when they're away. And slowly but surely, your little group will grow and evolve. And depending on the universality of your message and the strength of your voice, your group may grow. Over time a handful will share your posts. Then a few will start to sign up for your events. Then you'll begin getting calls out of the blue offering you opportunities, and people will start to recognize you in the grocery store.

You can't demand this recognition or participation. I'm saying that the space is too crowded and noisy for those who shout to actually stand out. Instead you're metaphorically standing in the crowd with great uprightness, resoluteness, and calm. You're not asking for the mantle of leadership. You're putting it on. 

There's no guarantee that what you're doing now is going to garner you recognition. You can adjust your message within the bounds of your personal sense of integrity, but it's important that you're patient and undemanding. The whole idea is that you offer more than you ask for, day in and day out. You give yourself, and you share the messages you believe in unconditionally. People have the time to see you develop and grow and become a ship sailing proudly through the world. And some will want to climb on board. 

Just going back and re-reading this feels powerful, like something I myself need to return to over and over again. What do you think? Is this useful? Inspiring?

I wish I had some clever and beautiful way to wrap this up, but I'd rather get out there and make things happen. In general, I encourage you to do the same.

Yoga Jedi Interview in 303 Magazine

Here's a cool update for a snowy day! Last week, I had the honor of being interviewed by George Peele of 303 Magazine about yoga, philosophy, and - yup - Star Wars. I love bringing the lessons I learn from from my yoga practice into the popular culture and myth of our time, so this was great fun. Gratitude to George for seeking me out, guiding this excellent interview, and helping me get these creative musings out into the world.

You can check out the 303 Magazine article here. I'm also posting the full, unabridged interview below. Enjoy!

303: When did you first discover yoga?

Jack: I discovered yoga in December 2009. Almost exactly six years ago, in fact! I was struggling with a series of knee and back injuries, including a surgery gone wrong. I was in a pretty rough place, both physically and emotionally. I wandered into a yoga studio and basically broke down in front of the teacher, Twelve-step style. “Help me, I can’t do this anymore, I’ve hit rock bottom!” I ham it up when I tell the story nowadays, but at the time I was really struggling.

That was Bristol Yoga, an Ashtanga studio in Vermont, and the teacher was Christine Hoar. She met me right where I was, with all my drama and frustration, and helped me rise up and feel confident and empowered again.

303: Were there any other prominent physical and/or psychological disciplines in your life prior to yoga?

Jack: Not really. I played club soccer as a teenager and dabbled in meditation during college, but nothing really stuck until I found something that was simultaneously physically and psychologically uplifting.

303: What drew you to the practice?

Jack: At first, I practiced because I needed something to focus on. My injuries were weighing on me pretty heavily. The rigor and discipline of the Ashtanga practice and Christine’s instruction helped me feel strong and clear, and inspired me to envision a brighter future for myself.

Since moving to Colorado, I’ve held onto my discipline and intensity. But more than ever, I’ve also come to emphasize creativity, humor, and joy in my practice.

303: When and where did you study to become an instructor?

Jack: I was trained and authorized to teach by Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell in Tucson, Arizona. I think that was in early 2013. Darren and Christina remain two of my greatest inspirations in the realm of teaching and practicing yoga postures.

303: When did you start instructing? Where?

Jack: My good friend and mentor Livia Cohen-Shapiro created a speakeasy-style yoga studio in Boulder, Colorado called Ganesha’s Yoga Spot. It was awesome and low-key. There were no frills, just a room with an electric space heater and a few blankets and blocks. Livia graciously invited me to lead my own class early on Sunday mornings over there. She will always be an example of truly effective leadership and lineage for me.

303: Where do you teach currently?

Jack: I teach 3 weekly classes at Kindness Yoga in Denver, and 1 class at the Yoga Loft in South Boulder.

303: What style(s) of yoga do you teach?

Jack: I have a “yoga mutt” style of teaching; there’s a little bit of everything in there. Students can expect the rigor and pace of traditional Ashtanga yoga, the biomechanical nerdiness of Iyengar yoga, and some of the language and teaching technique of Anusara yoga.

303: Do you have a favorite pose or sequence?

Jack: No sir. And I don’t say that to make some kind of statement. I say it because my focus and curiosity shift all the time.

303: Do you have any favorite dharma subjects? Calls to action or words of wisdom you employ regularly in class?

Jack: My focus is always evolving, but here are a few things I've been talking about lately:

  • There’s a difference between working hard and being hardened.
  • I'm not very interested in practice based on the belief that you’ll get something out of it. I'm much more interested in practicing because good times are ahead and tough times are ahead, and you stand a better chance of loving your life when you’ve honed a practice.
  • The pose doesn’t have to look like anything in particular. It’s going to look like something, but it doesn’t fundamentally need to look like anything. The same thing is true of your life.
  • It’s hard to increase your peace with dogma. Real practice goes beyond beliefs of “is” and “isn’t” and “right” and “wrong.” That’s why practice is so important when unexpected things come and try to sweep you off your feet.
  • How do you talk to yourself? Does your internal voice always tell you to be more, better, different? This self-talk might drive you towards accomplishment out there in the world, but in my experience, you'll likely lose out on deep peace, freedom, and satisfaction from the inside.

303: Hobbies/employment outside of yoga?

Jack: I’m blessed to be the Chief Marketing Officer at Kindness Yoga. I get paid to think about yoga all day, every day. Plus, the level of maturity and discourse amongst my colleagues is off the charts. I love my work.

303: When and where did you first see Star Wars? A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

Jack: You know, I have no idea when I first saw Star Wars. My earliest memories of Star Wars were actually from an audio cassette of A New Hope. George Lucas donated the rights to NPR and they adapted the script to the radio. I played that cassette over and over every night as I fell asleep, on every car ride, all the time.

303: You led an obviously Star Wars-inspired workshop earlier this year called Use the Props, Luke. Can you give us some insight into its genesis and manifestation?

Jack: Totally. Use the Props, Luke came about because I was exploring what mastery of yoga postures meant to me. In my view, mastering yoga postures is about developing an empowered relationship with them. One where you feel free to be curious and creative and honest. It’s not merely about developing the strength and flexibility to push closer and closer to some idealized form of the shape. The thought popped into my head that for me, the journey to mastery is about starting from a mental and emotional state where you only see one or two possibilities, and reaching for a state where you see a whole galaxy of possibilities.

Then I started thinking about the character of Obi-wan Kenobi from Star Wars. He occupied the role of this wizened old master, and some of his choices were inexplicable to the other characters. I thought about Han Solo, bewildered by Kenobi’s complete lack of interest in money, and Luke’s dismay when he saw his mentor allow Darth Vader to cut him down without a fight. I realized that Obi-wan was sometimes inexplicable because he saw more possibilities than anyone else, and that was related to his mastery.

I wanted to bring that concept to my students and help them see props as more than crutches in the yoga practice. When I use props, it’s not to make postures easier, or driving towards one idealized state. It’s to discover new possibilities and get more creative and aware.

303: You opened class recently with a Joseph Campbell quote. As you likely realize, Star Wars creator George Lucas was a huge fan of Campbell's work. How has Campbell influenced you?

Jack: I look to Joseph Campbell as a model of positive, empowered masculinity in western culture. Strong and athletic, yet also gentle, self-assured, and intelligent. He was a runner, a football player, and a scholar who taught and demonstrated tolerance, curiosity, and the oneness of humankind.

In terms of his work, he traveled the globe and accepted the stories of all cultures, but he brilliantly synthesized and shared them for a Western audience. I love the myths and stories of yoga’s roots. I’m also influenced by Daoism, Buddhism, and Christianity. But Joseph Campbell reminds me – and has taught me how – to take something foreign and esoteric and reveal its value today.

303: Are you excited about the new film?

Jack: I’m curious about it. The original trilogy captured my imagination so thoroughly as a child because the characters were fully mythic. Each one was on a journey of self-discovery. Many newer action-adventure films show characters undergoing a transformative moment or experiencing authentic emotions, but there’s rarely space for true transformation amidst the action and CGI. So I’m interested to see whether the new Star Wars can capture something really compelling like the original films did.

303: What does the horizon hold?

Jack: I’ve been asked to travel and share Use the Props, Luke at a few studios around Colorado and possibly further afield, so that’s exciting! I’m also leading a Yoga Teacher Training with my good friend and colleague Ellen Kaye this summer at Kindness Yoga here in Denver.  I respect her depth as a facilitator so much and I can’t wait to collaborate with her. 

303: One more question. What do yogis and Jedi have in common?

Jack: Great question. As far as I understand - and I didn’t understand much of the newer Star Wars movies, so I could be wrong here - being a Jedi is like being a Marine or something. There’s training and an official process for becoming one, and then you’re part of an organization with goals and means and collaboration. Yoga isn’t like that. It’s an activity and a practice that may empower you in your life. To be a Jedi, you need to have a gift for using the Force. But the powers you can cultivate by practicing yoga are always available to everyone. So those differences are important.

In terms of similarities, both yogis and Star Wars Jedi Knights have access to resources inside themselves that many other people don’t. People in my life often see the shapes I make with my body and the ways I handle certain situations and say things like, “I could never do that." And yes, I’ve been blessed with some advantages in my life. The chemicals in my brain seem to be pretty well-balanced, I’ve always found supportive people and environments to live and work around, and my body is vital and strong. But lots of the so-called incredible things I do come about because I’ve found ways to dig deep and uncover a real-life Force inside of me, just like a Jedi.

So both yogis and Jedi have this certain kind of power in their environment. They’re not victims of their environment; they recognize that they can affect it. And they work on that power, but that power also works on them. It changes who they are, hopefully in the direction of responsibility and compassion, but not always. I think that’s always a risk with any kind of power, whether it’s having perfect equanimity, using the Force, owning a firearm, being someone’s boss, having lots of money, whatever. Your power can be expressed through you as generosity or ruthlessness. So whether you’re a yogi or a Jedi, the way you act and think and feel has a big impact on who you become.

Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 58* out of 60*

Tiriang Mukhottanasana (Intense Backbend Stretch)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 60* out of 60*

Ganda Bherundasana (Formidable Face Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 56* out of 60*

Sirsa Padasana (Feet-to-Head Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 52* out of 60*

Kapinjalasana (Partridge Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 43* out of 60*

Gherandasana I (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Gheranda 1)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 44* out of 60*

Padangustha Dhanurasana (Teardrop Bow or Big Toe Bow Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 43* out of 60*

Rajakapotasana (King Pigeon Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 38* out of 60*

Bhujangasana II (Cobra Pose 2)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 37* out of 60*

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana IV (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose 4)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 40* out of 60*

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana III (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose 3)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 30* out of 60*

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose 2)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 29* out of 60*

Valakhilyasana (Heavenly Spirits Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 45* out of 60*

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana I (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose 1)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 28* out of 60*

Vrschikasana II (Scorpion Pose 2)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 33* out of 60*

Vrschikasana I (Scorpion Pose 1)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 32* out of 60*

Mandalasana (Circle or Mandala Pose)

Iyengar's difficulty rating: 27* out of 60*