POP UP YOGA DSM: 5 Lessons

Whenever I tell the Universe that something is going to happen a certain way, my life spins 180 degrees to shove me off course in a brand new direction. This is not always a bad thing; in fact, it humbly reminds me to make plans with an open heart and mind. Because you never really know what doors will open and close on a given day, nor can you anticipate where a certain path may lead.

Photo Credit:  Justin Salem Meyer

Photo Credit: Justin Salem Meyer

So in early April, when my friend Emily said, "I've got this idea for free yoga classes in parks around Des Moines. Will you help me make it happen?" I said yes. We quickly became close friends, texting multiple times a day or meeting for coffee to create POP UP YOGA DSM one step at a time. And now POP UP YOGA DSM is a real thing, a fast-growing community initiative that exists out in the world and will eventually (hopefully) become a nonprofit. 

I've made many things from scratch -- cookies, essays, events, marketing materials, communications plans and blog posts -- but I'm often creative in a behind-the-scenes sort of way. I feel bits of envy toward true artists and entrepreneurs.  People who can say, "Look. I made this," and point to a business or a painting or a ceramic jug or a program. That's probably partly why writing a book is on my bucket list; I am a writer at heart, yes, and want to make it my career eventually, yes, but really, I want to be able to pick up a book and say, "I made this."

Anyway. Emily and I made POP UP YOGA DSM happen, and I wanted to share five key lessons I've learned so far about turning a vision into a reality.

1. Don't go it alone.

Photo Credit:  Karla Conrad

Photo Credit: Karla Conrad

Emily could have easily decided to pursue her idea without me, but because she's done this sort of thing before, she knew that the road to success and fruition often feels smoother with a partner. And even after the two of us got on board, we knew that we needed the help of other people. Like I said, I'm good at the behind-the-scenes planning, writing and managing other people. Emily is great at visualizing a dream and asking others to take part; she's also hella good at social media. We reached out to friends and acquaintances to help us with liability issues, web design, 501(c)3 applications, t-shirt design, seed funding, photography and more. It is so crucial to know your strengths and how or when to ask for help.

Note: I listened to an amazing podcast over the weekend with Jessica Zweig and Jessica Murnane that covered business divorces. So, even though I just said all that about having partners, sometimes going it alone is indeed the best route.

2. Embrace criticism.

Photo Credit:  Justin Salem Meyer

Photo Credit: Justin Salem Meyer

You know how a hug generally lasts a few seconds, and then both people step back -- to carry on the conversation, walk forward, whatever? Criticism, to me, is the same deal. I used to let criticism become a cloying, suffocating bind that stuck me to one spot, and (obviously) that approach never served me well. It didn't allow me to learn and it made me feel like shit. So now, I embrace criticism for a few seconds, and then let it go to move on.

When you create, you are making something out of nothing. And when other people see you doing that, or see the results of your labor, they are often quick to make opinionated declarations based on knowledge and priorities. That last part is actually really important: everyone's criticism comes from what they already know, and what they care about.

With POP UP, we heard the following: 

  • I love it!
  • I don't get it.
  • Is free yoga even sustainable?
  • Isn't so-and-so already doing that?
  • I love it!
  • What's the point of this?
  • Is it only a summer thing?
  • Can you raise more money for area charities?
  • I love it!

Audience-wise, we have people who love yoga and love practicing anywhere and everywhere. We have teachers who care about community involvement and donating their abilities and time. We have individuals who are intimidated by walking into a studio or the cost of a yoga class who really appreciate as much free yoga as possible. We have people who wish we offered a class every day, and people who think the whole thing is a total waste of time. We have teachers who think these efforts directly conflict with supporting local studios. We have people who are now interested in making yoga a regular part of their lives, and people who still refuse to even give it a try. And we have people who have no clue what POP UP or yoga even is or could care less about what we're doing.

Sentiments range across the board, and that's okay. It's normal. Working on POP UP has taught me to believe in a vision, but be open to making changes as needed. Sometimes good ideas, and constructive criticism, arrive in the most unusual packages.

3. Protect your time.

Photo Credit:  Justin Salem Meyer

Photo Credit: Justin Salem Meyer

If you are community-minded, you quickly learn that the need never stops, which can feel overwhelming and exhausting at times. You also learn that if people ask you to do something once, and you say yes, they'll ask again and for more the next time. It is incredibly easy to lose your entire day -- your entire life -- to the priorities of others. And then it becomes incredibly challenging to get it back. 

That doesn't mean you should be selfish; it means do all you can, but "put your own oxygen mask on first." Be cognizant of YOUR priorities and limits. Know how to say no, even if you really really really want to do the thing you're being asked to do. Let's get real: I work on this every single day because I suck at it sometimes. But I know that when I don't protect my time, I get burnt out or sick or frustrated or angry. And then I suffer.

It's like multitasking. I assume if I am doing MORE, then I am doing BETTER. It's actually the opposite -- the more I do at once, the less I do well. But it's a bad habit that I have to break every single day, and I often don't even realize I am doing it until I have 15 tabs open while checking my phone on a conference call while responding to an email. Gross, right? And while working on something like POP UP, it's even worse, because I feel the need to be DOING THINGS ALL THE TIME. 

Here are three tips that have helped me learn to protect my time:

  • Resist the strong urge to fill up all your free time; make space instead. Leave at least one, ideally two, weeknights completely open. No meetings. No dinner plans. No happy hour. No crazy-long to-do lists. 
  • Do one thing at a time, maybe even one thing per day. (God, this is hard.)
  • Listen to yourself. Do you really want to say yes to this? (Note that I didn't say "should"!)  Can you devote a decent amount of time and full energy to it? If the answer is uncertain, say no. If it doesn't light you up inside, say no, even if it's a great/lucrative/interesting opportunity. I heard somewhere recently (I think via Jess Lively) that you never regret saying no, but you sometimes regret saying yes. Very true.

4. Assume the best.

Photo Credit:  Justin Salem Meyer

Photo Credit: Justin Salem Meyer

I know that you're typically told to assume the worst, but instead, I challenge you to assume the best. In situations, in circumstances, in other people -- you don't always know what will happen, or what he meant by that, or what she thinks, etc. You just don't. So assume most people mean well over the long run and most things work themselves out. You may get burned once or twice, but honestly, it's just a much less stressful way to live.

Emily wrote a wonderful post on this already, but it's something I'm practicing more often. 

5. Have fun.

Photo Credit:  Justin Salem Meyer

Photo Credit: Justin Salem Meyer

Life is really fucking short. If you're doing something that does not bring you at least a spark of joy at least once a day or every other day, stop doing it. This remains true for relationships, jobs, food choices, workouts and creative endeavors. Really, the biggest reason why Emily and I started POP UP is because we thought it would be fun. And sometimes, that's a good enough reason to say yes.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 12: Balance


bal·ance (noun) \ˈba-lən(t)s the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall, the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling, a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance

Oh, the oft-mentioned, rarely-attained dream of balance. I like to imagine that balance is similar to my favorite breakfast -- peanut butter toast. I wake up most mornings with the intention of having breakfast in general, and specifically, peanut butter toast. It goes with everything, which I appreciate when deciding between iced versus hot coffee. It is nutritious and tastes delicious. It's relatively cheap (unless you decide to swap out peanut butter for overly priced almond butter, which sometimes is necessary) and easy to make. It's portable; I can eat it standing up in the bathroom, sitting on the couch, at my work desk, in my car. It can also sub for lunch or dinner in a pinch.

(Stay with me.)

On ideal mornings, my peanut butter is distributed evenly and perfectly across my toast, which I eat as slowly as I like. But most mornings aren't "ideal" in the least. When I spread peanut butter across a piece of toast, it's rarely even. It often depends on the type of butter purchased -- smooth and creamy, crunchy and thick -- and inevitably it gets too thin on some corners of the toast and overly slopped on others. Every day, the peanut butter spreads a little differently, but it's still delicious and still counts as breakfast. And some mornings, I don't have time to make or eat it at all; it just doesn't happen, even if I want it to.

Balance is kinda like that. According to the above definition, it's a state where our weight is spread equally so we do not fall or lose control. So we don't fall off our bicycles. So we have the perfect ratio of peanut butter on our toast.

But if I imagine a balance scale, my life needs about 25 little bowls. Like you, I've got multiple categories vying for importance. Family. Friends. Health. Faith. Career. Relationships. Bills. Cleanliness. Rest. Activity. Inspiration. Creative Output. Appointments. Pets. Homes. Food. Community. Hobbies. Schedules. Etc. Not to mention how these categories adjust based on the time of year, with school and sports and vacations and holidays.balance scale

And I'm supposed to keep them all at the same level, all the time? It's impossible. Usually one is overflowing, one is totally empty, one's chain snapped in half, one is half-heavy, two are aligned at the same level, and one has completely disappeared. I mess up and say the wrong thing and forgot my to-do list and don't live up to my intentions and eat too much chocolate and sleep through alarms and spend money over budget, and more.

Which basically means that I "fail" at balance all the freaking time -- because I fall and lose control a lot. That's okay. The problem is that "balance" is too big of a concept. We hear "balance" and think "do all the things, perfectly and at once."

In yoga, we practice our balance during certain poses and the temptation is the same -- hold balance with ease, without a single wobble. I may try to move to handstand by gently lifting my leg instead of throwing it or kicking it up. I may try to find a slight pause, stacking hips over shoulders, and when my feet reach skyward, I may press into my hands to feel more grounded. I might pull my core in tight, flex the soles of my feet toward the ceiling and focus on all the little things I can do to STAY UP AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. And usually after about one breath, I come down, and think about all the ways I didn't do it "right." I admire the yogis who can go up in handstand easily and hang out there for what seems like forever, and handstand seems like such an "ideal" yoga posture -- because, all "good" yoga students need to be able to do handstand, right?

This is how we typically think of balance -- as if it's a place we can get to, if we do everything right and carefully, and once we arrive, we STAY there with all the other good, perfect people who have managed to figure it out.

Except ... we're wrong. Balance isn't a place; It's an ideal state, an archetypal idea. Balance isn't a set point of arrival; it's a back-and-forth, short-term position. Really, I think the only thing we should be aiming for is the third part of that Merriam-Webster definition, in which balance is when different things have an equal or proper amount of importance. But what happens when something is important to you, and yet you only prioritize it half the time? Does that mean you're not balanced? Does that mean you're failing?

dr. seuss

No. Lots of things are likely important to you, and these are probably the things that theoretically you want to give equal weight in your life. Maybe some days you do, but lots of days, that's probably not the case because it isn't realistic. Nobody can give 100% at all times to multiple priorities. That's why you must make choices as you see fit; balance shifts all the time -- based on different periods of your life, different times of year, different challenges and endeavors. Balance also looks different on every person; the things you might choose to prioritize may look like the opposite of balance to someone else.

Life also gets in the way. How often have you planned out your day to be just so and then the universe doesn't adhere? That happens to me constantly, and it can be frustrating, until you accept that balance is only an intention, and you can only do your best at prioritizing what's important to you each day as it comes. Sometimes that priority takes shape for an hour, or five minutes.

In yoga, poses always balance each other out. Inhales are followed by exhales. You push your body, and then you pull back to rest. Over and over. You find strength from the ground up, whether your feet are on the ground and everything looks normal, or your hands are on the ground and your world is upside down. You make small adjustments here and there, and learn where to hold on, and where to let go.

Balance is really a dance. So as you seek that equilibrium, in life or in your practice, find peace in the fact that it'll always be fleeting.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 11: Comparison

(One of my best friends from Chicago shared the above quote with me a long time ago, when we worked side-by-side in a tiny downtown office overlooking Michigan Avenue. We met as strangers fresh out of college -- eager to make a difference, passionate about words, curious about our faith-- and when we both moved on to other endeavors, stayed close. She is a soulmate friend; we don't talk or see each other as frequently as we'd like, but when it happens, it's like no time has passed at all. And every time I read or hear this quote, I think of her, grateful for our deep connection and the different things she's taught me.) comparison

In today's world, it's easy and tempting and common to get distracted by how something looks instead of how it feels. We pin our dream kitchens and brilliant craft projects. We tweet our accomplishments and funny jokes. We post professional photos of our families and positive life changes. We instagram our beautiful meals, our perfect relationships, our uncluttered desks, our carefully curated outfits, our commitments to exercise or positive thinking. We like to share using these mediums because we think it allows us to connect, and we end up spending an inordinate amount of time looking at what other people choose to share.

A fine line exists between connecting and comparing; the two may look identical, but one feels good and the other doesn't. It's that simple, and yet, it's more complicated. Connecting can bring about feelings of warmth, vibrancy, inspiration, closeness, joy, love, humor. Comparing often results in jealousy, pettiness, bitterness, angst, depression, paralysis. And every time we're presented with the snapshots of someone else's life, we likely feel the comparison part FIRST. Because we're human, and human beings are always on the lookout for ways to be better and have more.

  • Maybe you read something fantastic by a writer, or see some incredible photographs (insert creative product here), and think, Wow, he/she is so talented, this novel/photos are great, which means I should probably never try to do XYZ again because all the good things have already been said or done and it'd be a waste of time.
  • Or maybe you go to a yoga class, and the person next to you is offensively flexible, choosing all the up-levels for every single post, in a trendy yoga outfit, or you see a cool yogi picture online somewhere, and you think, Must be nice to just go to yoga all the time, this person probably doesn't have responsibilities or a job and that's why he/she can look so good and spend so much time being good at yoga, plus he/she was just BORN flexible which isn't even fair, how come I can't do handstand that gracefully? I suck. 
  • Or maybe you get a text from your college friends at a party six hours away from where you live, and think, Now they've got all these inside jokes that I won't ever be a part of, why do I live so far away, I hate that I can't go to everything and see all my friends all the time, my friends here are just not the same so this weekend I'm just going to stay home and pout about it, I mean it's cool that they had a good time but they didn't have to flaunt it all over Facebook.

Truth time: all those examples are my own. I'm human so I think not-nice thoughts sometimes. I know you do, too, because we all do.

But do I really believe that because other people wrote great books, the universe is like, "Oh, sorry, our quota has now been met for books written, you're out of luck." Of course not. I remind myself that someone else's creative journey or output has nothing to do with my own. The time I spent feeling sorry for myself? Could've used it for writing. Can I still be inspired by the things I read? Absolutely. But I want to use it as fuel for fine-tuning my own voice and encouragement for sticking to my writing habits and goals.

Do I really believe that I am terrible at yoga because of the person's practice next to me? Of course not. Focusing on someone else during yoga is the opposite of the whole POINT of yoga. It can also be the quickest route to acute distraction, or maybe even getting hurt, and therefore cultivating nothing positive out of my own experience. I remember one of the first classes I ever went to, where I felt dumb because I didn't know where to put my stuff in the studio, and self-conscious because the lady on the elevator was all decked out in expensive yoga clothes whereas I was wearing a t-shirt and random capri pants, and embarrassed because I had to take about 47 million breaks in class because I forgot water and didn't know it was even going to be a hot class plus could hardly hold myself up in plank.

Seriously -- I came across this anecdote in an old journal recently, and laughed out loud at my pitiful self. Because the thing is, that lady on the elevator probably didn't even give me a second thought. Everyone in that class probably didn't give me a second look, because they were (hopefully) focused on their own practice. It's not like that teacher from so long ago says to her friends, "Ha! Remember that one girl who came to class once and totally sucked? Man, I hope she's not out in the world, still practicing yoga." I mean, at the time, thought I was terrible, but it had nothing to do with anyone else. Other people spend way less time thinking about you then you think they do.

And do I really believe my friends should never get together unless I'm in town, and that they should hide evidence of doing so online to protect my delicate feelings? Of course not. I just miss them, that's all, and I wish I could be there, too.

highlight reel

On the other hand, I also forget that the highlight reel I choose to share can cause other people to have these same reactions. For example, during a recent dinner with friends, we got on the topic of the mermaid pose I had put on Instagram. Someone said, "Oh, I saw that, and then I thought, great, good thing I just sat on my couch all day like a loser instead of working out. Thank goodness you said how long it took you to get that pose!" She said it with kindness and laughter, but it got me thinking: when I share things online, I don't think about how it might make other people feel. I assume everyone else is just living their life. What I choose to share online is the good stuff of my life, the I-wanna-share-this! stuff, and the same goes for everybody else. So why do I insist on an apples-to-oranges comparison, one that brings me down?

I mean, I want a life that feels good to me, no matter how it looks to anyone else. And I want that same thing for the people I love as well as total strangers. How things or people appear is just that -- how they appear. Maybe true to real life, or maybe not. What we highlight in our quick conversations with coworkers and friends and family, what we share on social media -- those things are usually completely different than the behind-the-scenes footage of our lives.

Here's another example, one that has to do with minimalism. I love to think that I want a white, empty home with beautiful furniture and glossy countertops and everything in its ideal place, and I will pin the shit out of those images online for some reason. In my mind, that kind of style equals a type of person I want to be, or a point in time I want to reach -- one that is clear and direct and without mess or fuss or distraction. Which is an illusion, because I've never been that type of person.

living room

I'm a let's-take-the-long-road kind of person who sometimes isn't as direct as she needs to be, who often creates messes and enjoys the spontaneous nature of them, who likes stories and vibrant people and big love and exciting adventures, who is constantly distracted by the thirty different projects she's got going on. That means my home is always going to be a bit cluttered and eclectic and lived in. Do I ever wish I weren't like that? Sure. Am I always like that? No. I'm a complicated individual, just like everybody else.

All those people you've ever been jealous of, that you've compared yourself to? They've got their own smudged facets of life. Their own stories of love lost or deep depression or fear or loneliness or insecurity. When I remember this fact, I stop the comparison game. I can make all the assumptions and judgments I want about a person, but I actually never know what else they might be dealing with. I don't know all their stories, and vice versa. Still, our minds immediately jump to comparing, so it takes real mental strength and sense of self to slowly back away from that negativity. It's also a never-ending practice. Your ego wants to fluff itself up and hold fast to the comparison; heck, sometimes it's even satisfying to give into the jealousy and spite for a short moment. But it's not productive.

Or think of it this way: there's literally ALWAYS going to be someone that is "better" than you -- more attractive, smarter, funnier, richer, more organized, kinder, more stylish, more eloquent, more popular, more talented, and on and on. Always. So let the comparisons go, because you can't win. Which is sort of a relief -- when's there's no prize, you get to stop playing the game. In the game of comparisons, when you stop, you get to simply be you. 

All that time you've spent in the past comparing yourself and your life to other people is gone. You can't get it back. You wasted it. All that time you spend throughout your present days scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through all kinds of feeds to see what everyone else is saying, thinking, creating, doing ... that's also gone. And you have little to show for it. All that time you spend considering the future, when you'll be better or more than, is a distraction.Because all you have is right here, right now, with the body, mind, heart and soul you were given.

Don't let comparison steal your joy.