Stuck in a Rut? Change Your Routine

I was recently in a serious rut in my yoga practice and have been able to break out by changing my routine.

I couldn’t practice for more than a few minutes. It started with an injury I sustained in early June. I hit my head hard on the bottom of a pool, compressed my spine, and dislocated a rib. I made the decision to not do any physical exercise for a while to let myself heal. At the same time, my duties at ILANTUS became more demanding, so it was easy to just wake up and work, instead of my usual habit of doing some yoga first thing in the morning. In retrospect, this was not a good decision.

I didn’t practice any yoga for almost two months. None. Didn’t even break out my yoga mat. That’s the longest no-yoga stretch since 1996 for me. When I realized I needed to get going with yoga again, I began each attempt at practicing the same. For the past many years, about 90% of my yoga practices begin with the same set of standing asanas (yoga poses) – a set of warrior poses, and warrior variations. It was this same set of asanas that I started doing again this month, when I needed to startup yoga again. The problem was I couldn’t stay engaged for more than a few minutes. My mind would distract me, my body would feel resistant – it just didn’t feel good.

Then, I decided to try a different start – a sun salutation series. The sun salutation series moves through multiple poses quickly, one move for each breath. In the warrior series I had usually been doing, I hold each asana for many breaths before moving to the next.

When I do the sun salutation series to start, I am able to stay in the practice. And sometimes I then move to the warrior series, and sometimes onto other asanas. I’ve been doing this for a week now. My body still feels tighter than it did before the injury, but at least I’m moving and starting to loosen up. It feels like I’ve broken out of my rut, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t change my routine.

Snake Smuggling Adventures

I now like to think of my wife and myself as bona-fide snake smugglers. Before I explain, I must appreciate my mom.  When she heard our story of transporting a live snake in the car, driving 700 miles, a 90th birthday party, an overnight motel stay, and many stops along the way, without being discovered by our curious 9 year-old son, she was so amused that she thought it would be a great adventure to share on this blog.

It all started with a simple promise of mother to son – “sure honey, in 4th grade you can get a snake”. I can’t say I would’ve reacted any differently, especially since the promise was made months ago. As it turns out, the snake promise has led us on a journey brimming with learning and unexpected experiences. When we got serious about purchasing a snake, I brought up the topic to our local witch doctor, my friend and mentor Steven Young. He had us over to his house where we discussed the purpose of the snake, Niko’s (my step-son) hopes of snake ownership, and the demands of caring for a pet snake. We asked Niko questions like “you don’t want a snake so it will eat your sister, do you?” Thankfully, he answered “no”.

After some deliberation, debate and internet research, we decided on a California Kingsnake for our young aspiring snake handler. We called many pet stores and Craig’s list posters, and we found what we believed would be a great snake for Niko. We purchased the snake from a family who decided that the four snakes in their home were a few too many, hence they were selling one.

Going to retrieve the snake was an interesting experience for me, virgin snake handler I was.  But I tried to act confident as I entered this snake-savvy household. When it came time to take Saphira (as our lovely pet is now named) out of the tank, everyone in the house proclaimed they were too scared because she moved too fast. I laughed inside as they goaded me into being the one to lift her out of her habitat. I was only a little jumpy as I set to the task and got her out of the terrarium. She then proceeded to slide her way up my body, around my collar, and into my pants pocket. I guess they decided I was up to the task, and the deal was done. I was grateful they also agreed to sell me the habitat.

Toni and I were set on giving the snake as a Christmas surprise. This was challenged by the fact that we would be spending the holidays with Toni’s parents in Lovell, Wyoming, which is an 8-hour drive.  Therefore, we had to figure out how to keep the snake warm, and smuggle the snake and her 55 gallon tank without Niko finding out she was with us. To complicate things further, we had a 90th birthday party to attend in Manitou Springs. We would first drive two hours south of our home to the party, then head north to Wyoming, stopping at a hotel along the way.  How could we do all this without Niko knowing Saphira was with us?

After more advice from Saphira’s previous owners and Steven, we determined that Saphira’s preferred mode of travel would be a pillow case, tied at the top, which we put in a cooler at the foot of the passenger seat, using a combination of hand-warmers (like you put in your glove when skiiing) and water bottles filled with hot water to heat our snake cooler condo. Prior to the voyage, we hid Saphira and her habitat in the basement.

When the day came to begin our cross-state overnight snake hiding journey, we sent the kid to a friend’s house so we could stash the 55-gallon terrarium in the car, covered with a sheet. The cooler worked great, but it was a bit tricky keeping the water bottles sufficiently hot by refilling with hot water from convenience store coffee machines, without discovery by our 9-year old snake recipient. In the hotel, I waited for Niko to fall asleep, which he didn’t do until we turned off Beavis and Butthead (which Toni and I thought way funnier than he did).  With Niko asleep, I was able to let Saphira out of the pillowcase to cruise around the bath tub for a while. Twice in the car, when Niko was asleep, we placed the pillowcase-enclosed snake on  our lap our in our shirt to keep her warm when our heating unit began to lose it’s vitality. Only once did Niko ask “hey mom, what’s in the cooler?”. Toni slyly replied “food”, knowing that our kids much prefer eating restaurant food when on the road, and if he inquired further, he might be forced to eat cooler-food from home.

It worked! We made it all the way to Grandma’s, and were able to hide Saphira in Grandma’s closet until Christmas Eve (we decided to give her to him early). Here is a picture of the outcome:


The journey back was much easier, because Niko took full charge of keeping her safe and warm in her cooler-condo, and he even took her out of the pillow case a few times so she got a chance to play.

Coping with Stereotypes, Lessons from the Hitchhiker Diaries

I am a trusting kind of guy. I trust in the basic goodness of people. And still, whenever I pick up a hitch hiker, I check where my backpack is and when I drop hitchhikers off, I make sure it is still there. The other day, I picked up a hitchhiker who told a story that gave me an example of another way to cope with the suspicion of picking up a “bad apple” hitchhiker.

He said that he was picked up by an old woman and after he got in the car and she started driving, she said, “I’ve been picking up hitchhikers for long time, and so far not one of them has hurt me or stolen anything from me.” She then looked at him and asked, “You’re not going to be the first, are you?”

We both stereotype the hitchhikers as suspicious and possible of theft. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with stereotypes, and in fact, all humans do it with everyone we meet. The key is recognizing and acknowledging that we do it, and not blindly reacting to it. Once you do that, stereotyping can actually be a resource, not an obstacle.

With the hitchhikers, neither of us ignore the fact that we are stereotyping. But how we cope with the stereotype, what we do with it, is different. I do not ignore that the suspicion comes up inside of me, and I am hoping that the subject won’t even need to be brought up between us. The old lady not only acknowledges that it comes up within her, she tells the hitchhiker that it does, and what her expectation is around it.

It’s hard to change the stereotypes we all have about each other. It is much easier to change what we do about those stereotypes – what we act on. And by being aware of the stereotypes I make, and how I cope with them, there are not as many intrusive thoughts/questions in my head when I am talking to others, and I am better able to listen to their stories and connect with them.

As far as me, the old lady, and our hitchhiker stereotypes go, I can’t really say that one way of coping is better than the other, and both have resulted in no stolen articles yet – although I’m quite certain the old lady has been giving rides a lot longer than me. So, I guess I’ll get back to you in another couple decades on that.

Independence and Internet Freedom

I received a couple tweets from friends and colleagues that are supporting a newly proposed “Declaration of Internet Freedom“. This, and the fact that it is the day before Americans (of which I’m proudly one) celebrate our independence, led me to read the Declaration of Independence. You can find the full text here, if you are interested in reading it yourself. It does not take long.

As we all know, there are many places in the world that do not enjoy the freedom that we have, which started with the Declaration of Independence, and was firmly set on it’s way with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Many thanks to our Founding Fathers for doing that well, even though they did leave out some key factors, women being the most obvious.

There are several proposed laws being debated in congress that would prohibit our freedom when using the currently open internet. You can read about some of them in this previous blog post of mine. If you are inclined, please sign the Declaration of Internet Freedom.

Happy Independence Day!

Drinking Water on the Road

I consider myself a bit of health nut, and one of the consequences of that is I like to drink good water whenever I can. I also am environmentally conscious and don’t like the idea of buying bottled water everywhere, because of both using the plastic, and the transportation cost (carbon footprint) of shipping the bottles of water (they’re heavy). One of the times I’m challenged around this is when I fly and stay in hotels.

What I have found is that hotels almost always have a filtered water or 5-gallon dispenser in their fitness rooms. So, I travel with my water bottle, being sure to empty it before going through airport security (sometimes this means gulping water down while taking off my shoes to get through). My first stop when I check-in to the hotel is to fill up my water bottle in the fitness room. I then fill it up before I go to sleep at night and before I leave the hotel for the day’s activities. This way I drink good clean water and avoid the environmental and business expense costs of drinking bottled water.

And if I do wind up buying bottled water on the road, one of my purchase decisions is to find bottled spring water from as local a source as possible. So, if I’m in Houston I would choose Ozark Spring water from Texas before buying Dasani filtered water bottled in Georgia.

One Definition of “living on the edge”

I like yoga. I’ve been practicing steadily since 1995. I’ve had some good teachers in my life, and one great one. Sofia Diaz. She makes yoga about your life and in her classes I have learned many things about myself and the way the world works. I was practicing in my living room the other morning and something that she often says entered my head. It has entered many times before, but this time I made a connection between it and how effective I am at getting things done, being creative, and building the best relationships I can.

“Yoga begins at the point of failure.” On the yoga mat it means staying in asana (loose translation: a given yoga pose) until you can stay no longer. Your body starts to give up, but more relevant and salient is your mind starts to give up. When I start to feel the point of failure, I often think of it as being on the edge.

Back to the other morning. In approaching the edge of my asana, I realized that’s where change happens. That’s where you grow. It’s where you create. It’s where you connect. In my yoga that morning, I started connecting that to other aspects of my life.

For example, I collaborate a lot in my life and my work. I also lead and facilitate a lot of collaboration efforts. When I’m talking to others about a plan of action or brainstorming ideas, if I stay where it’s comfortable, I can get to something that will work. But if I can stretch my understanding of the problem at hand and reach toward others and their ideas, the collaboration can go much further and the output will be levels above.

The added bonus about getting to the edge is that whatever you do there, not only is it better, it gets done faster. The double bonus is that you feel great when you are there. There is nothing but you, the others in your awareness, and what you are creating.

Now, back to that morning yoga in my living room. Moving through asanas, I let my mind sit with the concept of always being at my edge. “Wow, I would get a lot done, I’d be doing it all really well, and I would feel great all the time”, I thought. All of the sudden the phrase “living at your edge” made a lot more sense.

My mind then wondered how could I get to the edge more often? How could I stay at the edge? How could I get myself back to the edge when I got too far away? By that point, I was in savasana, the final yoga asana called “corpse pose”, where you lie on the floor on your back and spend no effort on anything. The edge of letting go. I let the questions go. More about this in future posts.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

My friend and colleague, Jonti McLaren, turned 40 two weekends ago. At his birthday party in Palo Alto, I had an educational conversation there about a theory Aristotle developed about how to connect to and persuade an audience. The discussion took place with an old time friend, Larry Hagquist, and Jonti’s wife’s high school mentor, named Gene. Both are high school teachers, and coach programs that require public speaking skills.

Larry coaches Poetry Out Loud, where teens compete in spoken poetry. He sent me some links of his students on You Tube . This is not slam poetry, with it’s oscillating vocals that reminisces of rap music (of which, some I quite like). Instead, this is clearly spoken classic poetry meant to enrapt the audience in the message. He also coaches the school’s debate team.

Gene coaches Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), an organization to mentor teens in becoming future business leaders. High school teams engage in service opportunities, attend leadership conferences, and compete in local, state, and national events.

Neither had met each other before. What they explained to me is such common knowledge in speaking and argument creation that they were able to explain it to me co-creatively, without missing a beat. Developed by Aristotle, the idea is to capture an audience, you must appeal to their ethos, pathos and logos.

Ethos is in the realm of ethics. The idea is that you have to show up to your audience as someone who has authority on the topic to which you speak. Why should your opinion count? Pathos is in the realm of passion. You have to syntonize with your audience’s emotion. If the people to whom you are speaking are not engaged emotionally, they will not be able to relate to what you are saying. Logos is in the realm of logic. If your argument is not reasonable, it will not rule the day.

For me, it’s like saying you have to show up, connect to your audience, and make sense. For any given situation, there are specifics in these three realms to be aware of and to exercise. It also seems there are ways to exercise in these three areas, even if not creating a specific presentation or argument.

For ethos, I can practice being in my personal standing. Confidence and clarity in purpose, not to say that I need to be clear about all the detailed steps I take every day, but clear in my purpose for the day, my purpose for this life. I can practice pathos in my close relationships – connecting to my loved ones at an emotional level. And logos I can practice in my ability to solve problems logically and reasonably in my day-to-day life and work.

I recognize it’s not that simple, but it’s a good start, I think, and I would like to know what anyone else thinks about the matter.

Benefit of Public Transportation: Connection to Place

I take public transportation when visiting cities whenever possible. Some people wonder why I do that. One reason I do is because it connects me to the place I’m visiting. A good example of this is when I arrived at O’Hare a few weeks ago and took the train into the city.

At the second train stop, a young man wearing a backpack go on the train. He sat across from me, and I couldn’t help but notice his leg shaking up and down forcefully. He began speaking out loud, so everyone could here, and asked people to please listen, that he needed help. His dad was being an asshole and kicked him out and he had nowhere to go. He’d been sleeping on the L for the past couple nights, scrounging where he could. He said he was having a really hard time, but he’s not a bad person, and hadn’t done anything wrong. He was trying to get enough money for bus fare to get to his cousin’s place in New York state. He needed $18.50, and had collected $6 already. Still talking loud so everyone could here him, he started to explain each person that gave him some money to get him to the $6 he had already. He was having such a hard time. And he seemed like such a good guy. He then said he just really needed some help, and then mentioned something about no one listening to him in frustration. When he was done talking, he hung his head down and continued shaking his leg, with extreme up-down oscillations. I know that people’s legs sometimes shake (including mine). I have just never seen it this obvious and strong.

I couldn’t ignore such an honest plea from a guy sitting so close. I found some change in my backpack and some singles in my pocket and gave it to him. He looked at me and said thank you very sincerely. He then hung his head back down and leg still shaking. I started to breathe with him, to support him further. I empathized strongly with him, just by listening and breathing.

I asked him how much more he needed to get the bus ticket, he counted the money I gave him and said $10. I knew I had a $10 bill in my pocket, so I gave it to him. He was the really grateful. Then, we started talking. We talked a little bit about him getting to his cousin’s, but mostly he asked questions about my life, which I readily answered. I found an apple in my bag, and gave that to him too – which he quickly devoured, commenting that he hasn’t had much food lately. By the time the stop came around that would get him to the bus station, he was so much more relaxed, he was breathing easier and his leg had completely stopped shaking.

Something about connecting with this guy and helping him out made a difference to me and connected me to where I’m visiting in a way that couldn’t happen in a taxi. And the train fare plus the money I gave this guy still cost less than half of a cab fare into the city.

Cell phones can be counter-productive

When in a meeting or having lunch with someone that you are interested in talking to, you should turn off the ringer on your phone. The other day, I was having lunch with a gentlemen who was helping me with some information gathering. He was in essence doing a favor for me. I received multiple calls while talking to him, and each time I looked down at my phone, and then ignored the call. The third or fourth time it happened, he said to me “if you are going to keep doing that, then I’m going to do it too, and this will go nowhere. I’ve got more emails and voice mails than you do [which I’m sure is true], so let’s both stop it now or forget it”.

He was right. I turned the ringer completely off – not even on vibrate. Since then, I’ve been very cognizant to make sure that during important meetings and appointments that require my full attention, I turn my ringer completely off so I can focus and be productive with whoever I am with.

Giving Receivable Feedback

Have you ever received feedback that felt hyper-critical or invasive? I don’t like getting feedback like that, and I don’t like giving it. Recently, a friend gave me some really good advice on how to give receivable feedback. I’ve used it a couple times, and it has worked really well. I took his advice and broke it down to these steps:

– Breath

– State your purpose – “I want to give you some feedback”

– Describe the behavior you see – “I notice that in this situation, you…”

– Explain the affect of the behavior – “When you do that, this is what I see happen…”

– Give the feedback – Paint a picture of the modified behavior and it’s potential impact

I’ve got a good example to illustrate. I take the bus a couple times a week from my home to the office. It’s a 17-mile drive down a very curvy canyon. I like to read on the bus. Some drivers are very smooth drivers, go a respectable speed, and handle the curves well. With these drivers, you feel safe and you can read without getting sick.

A few weeks ago, I had a driver who sped up at every straight-away (no matter how short), hit the brakes in every curve, and all-in-all drove too fast. It felt unsafe and I couldn’t read a few pages without getting nauseous from all the lurching around. I also noticed that when we got to a stop mid-way down the canyon, we stayed there for a couple minutes. I guessed that this was because he drove so fast down the first half of the canyon and couldn’t leave the stop ahead of schedule. I had him twice in two weeks and I decided on the second ride to give him feedback.

I used my friend’s approach. At the end of the line, where I get off, I waited until everyone was off the bus, so I could talk to him alone. I took a deep breath and imagined what it would be like to receive the feedback I was about to give. I think this made me more receptive and receivable. I said, “I have some feedback for you”. He didn’t say anything, but he seemed available for more. I then said, “I noticed that coming down the canyon, you speed up on all the straight-aways and brake on all the curves. It makes for an uncomfortable ride and feels unsafe. I also noticed that at the Magnolia stop, we wait there for 2-3 minutes.”

I paused, and he said “that’s because we always get to the stop ahead of schedule and I need to wait to leave there.”

I said, “I wondered that. You know, if you drove slower down the canyon, you could give folks a more comfortable ride, it would feel more safe, and you wouldn’t have to wait at the Magnolia stop.”

He replied with, “thanks for the feedback.”

I thought it went pretty well, but wasn’t sure if he was going to take my advice or not. I have had him as a driver twice since then. And both times he drove very safely all the way down the canyon and did not take an extended stop halfway down. And I got to read the whole way.

If you have experience giving/receiving feedback that you’d like to share, please do. I’d like to hear other suggestions and/or comments.