Fired

While nobody likes to get fired, because it can feel like a personal failure – sometimes it holds definite advantages.

When I was younger, it was simply a matter of economics. If you were fired, you could apply for and receive workman’s compensation. If you quit – no workman’s comp. Being a bad employee was never my forte, so purposely messing up anything that had to do with the public wasn’t going to happen. I mainly stuck to ignoring mandatory (and what I considered superfluous) activities: staff meetings, company classes, etc. Unfortunately, I was never fired for ignoring mandatory company events – but it was not for lack of trying. The upside was that my jobs actually got better once those mandatory activities were out of the picture, so I didn’t need to quit.

These days, I think that when you want to quit a job, it’s better to let your boss fire you – it gives them closure. Think about it. When you quit, your boss gets angry. They say some nasty things; you say some nasty things back. It’s just not a pleasant situation. But if they have to fire you – the entire thing plays out differently. First, you get to eliminate most of the annoying elements in your job without worrying about whether it will annoy your boss or not. Second, it’s their decision. Third, firing someone is not an easy task. Trust me – been there, done that.

Imagine this….your boss has finally worked themselves up to the point where they can fire you and what do you do? You tell them that you completely understand their position. They feel instant relief because you are making a difficult situation easier. They are happy and you are happy because you achieved your main objective – getting out of that job. It’s a win, win situation all around.

Simply getting up the courage to confront an offending employee is enough to give anyone an ulcer and even if your boss can’t bring himself to fire you, you’re still ahead. Having discarded all the things you hated so much about your work…maybe keeping the job won’t be so bad.

 

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Mandatory

I have always hated the word mandatory. When someone declares an action mandatory, they are essentially declaring that they don’t trust the people around them to be willingly to participate. “Mandatory” is a negative word. “Mandatory” is disrespectful to the participants. I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person in my community who was thrilled to be treated as a child with their freedom of choice disregarded.

I do understand the need for people to work together to make something happen, however, I think that if someone wants me to participate in an action with them, it would be better if they took the time needed to explain their position and how they discerned that our acting together could benefit both of us. The benefit does need to be mutual – not necessarily equal – simply mutual. Also, that the benefit should not include “you get to keep your job”.

Explaining one’s position to a non-participating audience is not a discussion of ideas.  That’s one person basically talking to themselves – not wanting any interaction and not wanting any dissention. That’s a person who needs to use the word “mandatory” to get their way. That’s also a person who has come to believe that their views are superior to the views of others. There are many right paths to a solution and no one path suits all people. The world talks about inclusion and it’s important to remember that inclusion must extend itself in all directions – the directions we agree with and the direction we don’t agree with. The person demanding the participation needs to understand that there will always be a percentage of the group who will not agree with their position. This doesn’t make them the opposition or enemies; they are simply expressing a different set of priorities. If an action needs a certain percentage of participants to be successful, perhaps taking the time to develop that participation would lead to a happier outcome. Demanding 100% participation is not an inclusive policy that recognizes an individual’s right to choose.

When people bemoan the existence of mindless corporations ruling our society, the first thing I think of is that these corporations all share some common elements – and one of those is mandatory participation. Imagine what the world could be like if all organizations took the time to nurture intelligent participation – that leads to shared values and goals. It would be pretty awesome. Everyone wants to be valued. Everyone wants to know that their opinion matters. We just need to take the time and the mental attitude to make that happen.

For the record, I do go to mandatory events – but only to those that I share the ideals and values of the participants. I go because I believe in what we are doing, I go because I have the time and I go because I am curious. I do not go to mandatory events that I feel are frivolous or quite frankly – a waste of my time. I can’t begin to count how many mandatory staff meetings or mandatory company classes I’ve missed over the years. I was never fired for missing these events – although to tell the truth – for a few jobs – that was my intention….but that’s another story.

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Thank Yourself

When the yoga teacher invites the class I’m in to thank themselves for coming to class or to thank themselves for taking the time to take care of themselves, it takes supreme effort not to allow my groan to become audible.

The people that I admire in the world: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, etc. are not individuals known for taking care of themselves but rather for taking care of those around them. Now I’m sure that all of them took needed time to get nourishment and rest when they could – but taking care of themselves wasn’t their prime directive. So why in the yogic community are we pushing hedonistic behaviour?

Continuing along this line of thinking and using another yoga teacher favourite phrase: Thank yourself for showing up. That seems to be the problem – many people simply show up and delude themselves into thinking that they are engaged. Being present for a yoga class is one thing. Being engaged in the class, putting in the physical and mental effort needed is an entirely different matter.

It reminds me of a time a fellow dancer and I both enrolled in a series of fitness classes to augment our dance careers. I personally hated the classes – every class was a journey into my own personal hell. My friend loved them. One day I stood behind my friend for the class and was shocked to see that while I was standing in a pool of sweat – she didn’t have a single drop of sweat on her! My muscles were visibly quivering and she was happily bouncing along with the music. At first I thought it was me but in the end – I got stronger and she didn’t.

Isn’t one of the problems in our capitalist society the fact that everyone wants an instant return for their investment? Stores open and close, companies change direction, bankruptcies, refinancing. Then there’s the other obvious problem – who wants to take the longer route that benefits the earth when that route doesn’t have an instant return or a return that has a monetary value? Quality of life is not a quantitative value.

It seems to me that we can better serve the people that come into our classes by teaching with honest values, which in turn could help to bring about some needed changes to our society. Teach your students patience. Teach them hard work without reward. Teach them faith in themselves – that their efforts will have some affect on their lives – though maybe not what they planned. Teach them awareness to their fellow beings. Teach them gratitude that they are able to take a yoga class.

Teach to the person that you yourself want to become.

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In the hot seat

The woman felt alone in the room even though she wasn’t.  There was someone sitting right across from her, waiting.  It was her interrogator.  The woman took a deep breath and looked up, meeting the interrogator’s eyes.

“How do you think you did?” asked the interrogator.

The woman forced herself to keep eye contact as her body began to sink back into her chair.  She took a quick breath and then began to list all her faults, foibles and recent transgressions.  The interrogator’s face was grim.  One eyebrow started to rise slowly.

When the woman finished her monologue, she looked down at her clasped hands and waited.  Her breathing was shallow.  She glanced up.  The interrogator’s expression hadn’t changed.  After a moment, the interrogator tilted his head back so he was looking down his nose at the woman.  He took a long deep breath, shifted in his chair and then began.  First he added to the list of the woman’s transgressions and then he analyzed the effect that these transgressions had had on the greater society.  Occasionally he would pause and demand the woman offer more in-depth explanations for her actions.

It really didn’t matter what explanations the woman gave.  The damage had already been done and this was an exercise in blame and guilt.  Her behavior would have to change.  What steps was she taking to change this offensive behavior?

Is this a scene from Communist China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s when self-criticism and public humiliation was the expected norm?  Nope – this is a 21st century feedback session and feedback is a big part of the yoga scene.

I have no problem with feedback, in fact I have been receiving feedback my entire life.  The dance teachers correct you, the rehearsal directors yell at you, the choreographers have their opinion, the directors hire or fire you and the critics throw in their two cents publicly.  Having said that, I’m very particular about how I act on the feedback that I receive.

If you are someone that I respect, or I admire your approach – then I will work hard to incorporate your feedback into my teaching.  But if you are one of those people whose classes I tend to avoid, or whose style is on the opposite side of the teaching spectrum, there’s a good chance I won’t act on your feedback.  I will listen to it and accept that it gives me another view to the whole picture but I probably won’t act on it.  No one can be everything to everyone.  All I can do is my best and teach from a place that feels authentic to me.

I do think that probably the worst way to start a feedback session is to ask the person, “So, how do you think you did?”  Other than it’s not very original, I am sure that many people, like myself can slam themselves down ten times better than anyone else could and how is debasing one’s own performance going to help with self-confidence?  Also going over the mistakes ad nauseum isn’t helpful.  We’re trying to create competent teachers who have a love of learning, not a group of people who are afraid to make a mistake.  The fear of making a mistake was a big part of my early life, where messing up could get you fired.  I don’t want to go down that path again and I don’t want anyone around to have to go down that path.

It might be more helpful if feedback sessions were broken into two parts.  Part one being the actual feedback.  Nothing more.  The second part should be a few days later when the person receiving the feedback has had the time (and privacy) to digest what was given.  Sometimes a feedback session can feel like an assault.  You get hit with something that you didn’t see coming and you just don’t know how to react.  Well – react beyond confusion.  One of my initial yoga feedback sessions went like this: “Your voice was very monotone but now that I’m talking to you, I realize that’s the way you speak”.  I honestly didn’t know how to respond to that one and we ended up staring each other for about a minute while I searched my brain for something to say.

Feedback needs to be taken with a grain of salt and that includes good feedback. Praise feels great but the day you start believing it to be the only assessment you need, you’re in trouble.  Just remember that not everyone will love everything that you do.   Use the feedback that feels authentic to you, be wary of the feedback that seems a bit whacky and realize that your growth is just that – your own growth.

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Take a deep breath

The first time I heard someone use ujjayi breath, I thought they were having a seizure. For those of you not into yoga, it’s a breathing technique that uses a constricted throat and produces an oceanic sound. So they say. To me it sounded like a cross between a snore and a death rattle. It certainly didn’t sound healthy. I glanced over to the kid next to me, a tiny little girl smiling serenely with her hands pressed together in prayer, making this frightening noise.

The class teacher passed in front of me and began to instruct the class on how to create and use ujjayi breath in our yoga practice. I tried to constrict my throat but the only thing that came out of me was a gag reflex and a panic attack. The teacher insisted that she wanted to hear an oceanic sound coming from all of us. I tried again. It didn’t work. I gave up. When the teacher passed me, I made a snoring sound. She bought it – or she chose to leave me alone.

Making sound when I breathe is not something that I am accustomed to. In the world of ballet where I grew up in, we practiced silent breathing. The idea is to make the effort of dance seem effortless and that included the sound. No unnecessary sound of the feet hitting the floor and definitely no audible breathing. Sure the chest might be heaving after a particularly vigorous dance – but it was a visible heave and not an audible one. I still like my ability to take long deep silent breaths.

But now here I am in the yoga world where breathing is an important component of the practice. Maybe there should be some clarification. Maybe we should stress the goal is to have controlled breathing, calm breathing, deep breathing. Telling someone to breathe is kind of silly. Everyone alive is breathing. A wonderful meditation teacher once introduced counting as a means to extend the breaths. It was very effective and that was the method that I used to cultivate more breath control into my life.

How does controlled breath aid our lives? I once took an hour-long yoga class while breathing through a straw – for the entire hour. Although physically it was an easy class, it felt like one of the longest hours of my life. The inability to have all the air I wanted when I wanted it was maddening and it put me in a constant state of panic. All my yogic breath training kicked into full gear as I tried to convince myself that I was OK, that I was in control of my slow breathing. A side note to this anecdote: A friend did this exercise with me and we both discovered that with our focus distracted by our inability to take full breaths, we missed almost 50% of what the teacher said (a good note for anyone teaching people with respiratory issues).

Now that I have more calmness when I breathe, I find that many teachers instruct breathing too fast. Sometimes it feels like I’m doing the straw exercise again. I think it’s better to be too slow. If a student gets stressed by the slowness of the breath cue, they can always take a small hiccup of air and then rejoin the rhythm of the class. Forcing a faster breath or not allowing a breath to go to its natural fullness causes a stress in the body. As a teacher, I follow the breath of the slowest breathing person in the room and within a few cycles, most of the class is on the same rhythm. I still don’t see the difference between silent controlled breathing and audible controlled breathing but I certainly don’t know everything and these are simply observations made on a long journey.

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