Handling jealousy

I got an interesting question from someone this week:
How you handle jealousy?
There is only this one person that makes me jealous. She seems to have amazing luck and everything lines up for her so easily.  I work just as hard as she does, and I know for a fact that she is no better than I am as a designer and she has gotten everything I ever wanted. Of course, I appreciate what I’ve learned along the way, and the amazing people I’ve met, but I just can’t stop feeling jealous.
Envy is one of the top killers of compassion.  When people feel jealous of what others have, they want it for themselves and/or they think the other doesn’t deserve what they have.  Envy can be dangerous if it grows into hopelessness; when people reach a point where they don’t think they can get something, anger rises.
Envy comes from comparison, and comparison is all about conformity and competition.  When we compare, we want to see who or what is best out of a collection of “alike things” or “alike outcomes”.   When we compare, we want to be the best out or have the best of our group.  Comparison pushes us to fit in to an established set of what is considered “successful”, while standing out amongst the crowd.  It doesn’t lead to a mindset of self-acceptance, belonging, and authenticity.  It doesn’t allow us to be true to who we really are, but to conform to a preconceived notion of what is “best”.
When we spend energy conforming and competing, we lose the opportunity to devote that energy to creativity, gratitude, joy, and authenticity.  Comparison (and the envy that goes with it) is the thief to happiness.

Here are some thoughts on how to deal with jealousy:

  • Cultivate gratitude for what you have. Someone else may have more than you, but you have more than someone else.  One of my favorite TED talks is by David Steindl-Rast on gratitude.
  • Redirect envy into emulation.  When the Dalai Lama spoke at Santa Clara University earlier this year, he spoke about competition, compassion, and business ethics.  Competition can be healthy if it inspires you, but not if it’s seen with a scarcity mentality (e.g. there is not enough “of the good stuff” to go around for everyone).  Instead of seeing her as a competitor, see her as someone whose presence inspires you to be better. If she is getting promoted faster or is paid more than you, in a way, her success validates your endeavors, because it means that this kind of work is valued!  Also: what is it about her that makes her more “successful”? Is there something about her that she is doing or how she is being that you can learn from and use to improve yourself?  How can you become lucky like she is?
  • On the outside, she may seem more “successful” because it looks like she has everything you’ve ever wanted, but that is not true success. She may not be any happier than you. True success is when you are happy on the inside, authentic to yourself, without attachment to final outcomes.
How do you handle jealousy?

The Lazy Bodhisattva

I discovered this lovely poem by my friend Chade-Meng Tan, in his book Search Inside Yourself:

The Lazy Bodhisattva

With deep inner peace,
And great compassion,
Aspire daily to save the world.
But do not strive to achieve it.
Just do whatever comes naturally.
Because when aspiration is strong
And compassion blossoms,
Whatever comes most naturally,
Is also the right thing to do.
Thus you,
The wise compassionate being,
Save the world while having fun.

Tales from the trenches: Lessons learned from Netscape, Yahoo!, and Google

Note: This is a transcript of my opening keynote speech for the 2014 IA Summit.  #ias14

There has never been a better time to be in the UX profession. Design jobs are on the rise. Companies, large and small, can’t hire designers fast enough. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job outlook for web design and development to be 20% through 2022.

Even though more people than ever are trying to enter the UX profession, hiring managers will tell you how incredibly hard it is to hire great designers these days.

On the flip side, I get asked a lot by people for career advice. A lot of the questions center around getting to some destination, such as “How do I get promoted to the next level?” or “What kinds of career paths are available for designers?” In other words,

“Where am I going, and how do I level up?”

As a yoga teacher, to me “path” refers to a way of being in the world, like a code of conduct. In this sense, the way you are in the world informs how you do your work. In turn, through your work you can learn some of life’s greatest lessons. So it’s no surprise that when I get asked for career advice the conversation inevitably turns to how we deal with our own internal challenges in the face of adversity. For example, if you don’t have the right skills, what is keeping you from learning the skills you need? If you have the skills but don’t get the job, why do you keep getting rejected? If you have been in the same job for years but want to get promoted, why do you feel so stuck?

I’d like to share the story of my career with you and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. By sharing my own challenges and lessons learned, I hope to give you insight into how you can face your own challenges. I’ll share one story each from Netscape, Yahoo, and Google.


In 1996, I landed my first full-time job, at Netscape as an interaction designer. That time during Netscape was so intoxicating. We were making the viewfinder to the internet and bringing the web to everyone! The engineers were the most amazing, opinionated, passionate, talented engineers I would ever encounter in my life, only to see many of them again later at Google.

I remember one engineer in particular, I’ll call him John. John had few friends and a strong opinion about everything, most of which was negative. One day he got particularly upset by a spec I had published; he was so livid he went to my team lead to complain about me.

I was a 23 year old woman going head to head with a much more experienced former Apple engineer twice my age, so this was a pretty scary experience for me. I wasn’t used to people complaining about me to my bosses so I wasn’t sure if I was going to get fired. I felt like a failure for coming up with a spec that was worth complaining about.

This wasn’t even a spec that required incredible engineering cooperation to execute. It was a spec for the design of the menu structures for the client software. Most of the lead engineers were happy to have a designer make decisions about the front end. I considered my next steps. I fantasized about telling the engineer that since I didn’t tell him how to code, he didn’t need to tell me how to design. Or alternatively I could deny him power over the spec by ignoring him.

Instead, I sat down with him for a couple of hours as we worked through the design spec together. To show my good faith in him, I put him in the driver’s seat; I let him edit the document. I made sure he knew I heard him. In the end, we ended up with exactly what I had originally spec’ed out. But, we both got what we wanted: I got the design I wanted, and he felt heard, and he got the design he thought he wanted.

That experience taught me how to listen and negotiate and practice compassion for others. Sometimes, what’s important is not the arguments or the content of the discussion or who is right, but the feeling one is left with at the end of an interaction.

After this experience, John became a great ally, and one of my biggest advocates. I started to build a reputation for dealing with difficult situations so much that Netscape gave me the “Jump Into the Fire” award. Eventually, I was named to lead the design of Netscape 5.0 because of the strength of the relationships I had formed with my engineering colleagues.
Netscape “Jump Into the Fire Award”

Lesson 1: Form bridges and connections with people, even if they don’t like you. Cultivate the capacity to develop relationships with people who are very different from you.

As a designer, your ability to get anything done rests crucially on how much decision makers trust you. The more you can build relationships, especially amongst those who are different from you, the better able you are to make design decisions that stick, to convince others on the right process, and to make people want to cooperate with you in achieving a shared goal. Moreover, the more relationships you have with diverse networks of people, the more connected to the world you will be, and will be more likely to receive important information about ideas, threats, and opportunities in time to respond to them.


When Netscape decided to open source the browser code and form Mozilla, I decided to leave the company. I felt that the most interesting design challenges of the time were emerging around content, and not the viewfinder in which it was displayed. Among many options, I chose to go to Yahoo! This was in 1998 when the site was entirely blue underlined text against the browser’s default background color.

My colleagues at Netscape, who were much more experienced than I, snickered

“Why would you want to go to Yahoo? What kind of design is happening there?”

These colleagues were designers with a capital D. They had amazing portfolios and would never dream of being associated with anything visually ugly; they felt like it was a career killer.

At that time, Yahoo! was largely text based and by most standards ugly. It was mostly a directory with little interaction design. Most designers chided at the opportunity to work on a website that looked like this:

Yahoo! circa 1998

Their reaction left a lot of doubt in my mind about whether I had a viable career there and what it would do for my future.

I saw a little more beyond this directory. My Yahoo! had just launched, and Yahoo! had just acquired Four11 which developed RocketMail which meant Yahoo! would soon offer web based email. Yahoo! was just starting to develop interactive products. My background in Human-Computer Interaction would allow me to help shape the way products were designed and developed at Yahoo! (or any other web company) completely differently than they had been. I knew that I could contribute in a meaningful way and that it would be a lot of fun. Where other designers saw Yahoo! as ugly, I saw a blank slate that I could make great.

As much as my boss embraced what I had to offer, it was not an easy ride at Yahoo! My entry into the team created a sort of existential crisis among the producers, who were used to defining the product and designing the user experience, and the graphic designers, who were used to designing the UI. They didn’t understand what interaction designers or user researchers did; usability studies were referred to as “focus groups”. I hired a team of three people, and we strategically chose to work on a few projects where we believed the conditions were ripe for us to add value without much of an uphill battle. Over time, we bootstrapped off the success of the projects we worked on which created more demand for our expertise. Instead of spreading ourselves thin across too many projects, we went deep into a smaller set of projects and did those really well. With that strategy, we were able to create a high quality internal brand for the team, which led to further investment in the team and enthusiastic stakeholders ready to work with us. What started out as an odd, non-obvious place for designers to work at has become one of the largest employers of UX talent in Silicon Valley to this day.

Lesson 2: Instead of being heads-down and going with what’s been done before, be willing to see around corners. If it’s not great, make it great. Shape your future, instead of just reacting to it.

Too often we go through life with a plan, a fixed idea of where we want to be and how to get there. When we’re heads down going forth on our plan, we don’t leave a lot of room for serendipity and flexibility. Instead, when we are present, we are more able to see opportunities when they arise. Moreover, when we are present, we are more able to trust our gut instincts and seize opportunities when we see them.

Eight years after I first joined Yahoo!, Google came knocking on my door, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity. Even though it was basically the same role I had at Yahoo, I knew it would challenge me and push me to grow in ways that I needed to grow.

The challenges of running design at Google were pretty well known in the industry at the time. I remember telling a former colleague at Yahoo! that I was taking the top design job at Google, she laughed and said,

“Oh, you took that job!”

as if to say,

“You are stupid and crazy enough to take that job!”

That laugh was a foreboding warning of what I was to face.

I could not have imagined what I would encounter at Google at that time in 2006. By this time, I thought I knew how to do the job. I knew the culture was different, but I had enough experience under my belt to have a strong vision for what needed to be done and how to do it. But, there were all kinds of factors I had not accounted for. Managers at Google typically had 50-100 direct reports so that they were burdened with so much people management responsibilities they couldn’t actually get involved with any projects and lead anything. When I joined Google, I had 60 direct reports, and had to write performance reviews for all of them within my first three months on the job. With its bottom-up, engineering dominated culture, and everything run by committee, I found myself in a role that seemed impossible. As a manager at Google, you couldn’t tell anyone what to do; as a designer at Google, you really couldn’t tell anyone what to do.

It was rumored that all designers who were being hired for design roles at Google were required by Larry Page to have computer science degrees or at least know how to code. When I started to hire designers with capital D’s who did not have CS degrees, in an effort to make Google more beautiful, Larry would not allow me to hire them, and rejected the offers we wanted to extend.

For the first couple of years there I resisted the environment I was in, wanting to change it. I thought that’s what leadership was all about: leading change and not accepting the status quo. Eventually I realized that in order for me to lead effectively I needed to be a better follower.

I ended up starting over from scratch. I embraced Larry’s coding requirements for designers. I introduced a code interview for designers who had coding skills, to help bring in more designers who could code, and to show that I was listening to Larry. Interestingly, by bringing in more designers who could code, I then gained more latitude to hire designers who didn’t code.

When I left Yahoo! for Google, everything I thought I knew about running a large design team inside a large consumer internet company wasn’t relevant anymore. I had to abandon prior experience and knowledge, and start over.

Lesson 3: Find the courage to abandon practices that made you successful in the past. What is familiar and comfortable may not work for you anymore. Keep a beginner’s mind, so that everything is always new. This is a concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin.

Our tendency as people is to feel like we know the answers once we’ve learned or experienced something. We think, “I have achieved this.” When we feel like we’ve achieved something, we have a “been there, done that” attitude. We have an inflated sense of self-importance. We then experience life with a skewed focus and look at things with an ever-present bias. We all do this.

With a beginner’s mind, you don’t think “I have achieved this.” You free yourself from any notion of success or failure. Instead, you are curious about the world with no preconceived notions about anything. “With a beginner’s mind, we see many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.”

Leaving Google

In 2011, when Larry became CEO, he suddenly embraced beautiful design. He started talking about how important beauty was in company all-hands meetings. Many of us wondered if this was the same Larry Page we had been working with for many years before. After years of insisting that all designers at Google have computer science degrees, he now wanted great visual design. Around the same time, Larry decided to decentralize all functions, which left me without a clear role. For me, this was infuriating and hurtful. I felt betrayed, discarded, and disrespected.
It took a while for me to embrace the realization that the only reason why decentralizing the UX team at Google was viable was because of how far the organization had come over the years I was there. After the reorg, I had the option to invent a new role for myself or join a team. Instead, I chose to spend the following year reflecting and exploring instead of eagerly jumping back into the fray. I took the time to deepen my yoga practice which enriched my life beyond my imagination. From that experience, I emerged completely transformed. I learned how to not attach my happiness to final outcomes; to be happy in spite of things that were beyond my control; to let go of my anger, bitterness, and grief; and to shed my sense of identity and worth from the professional role I had before. I became grateful for being unencumbered with any role or responsibilities, because it meant I was free to explore whatever my heart desired.

My yoga practice helped me understand my best path forward. Yoga gave me the courage to do what my heart wanted. Yoga has allowed me to find myself as I enter my 40s, and allows me to bring my best self to the table with a calm and focused mind.

The decision to leave Google was one of the hardest choices I’ve made. Google is an amazing company that many people would love to be part of. The prestige of being part of Google, the mental stimulation, the amazing people, the ambitious projects, the benefits, the food are trappings that are hard to let go. To this day, I still get questions from people about leaving Google. Even the TSA guy who processed by Global Entry application asked me
“Why would you ever leave Google for another job at a place no one has ever heard of?”

Entering the market as a yoga teacher is another journey onto itself. After a long career in design I once again find myself in the beginner’s seat, with no opportunity that can be taken for granted.

In this world, I am reminded of the sum of the lessons I had learned during my design career: What you know matters a lot less than how you do your work. Whether it’s design or yoga, everyone learns the same skills and curriculum; the attitude means so much more. Careers are made by how you deal with your challenging job situations and make it work for you.

Adversity and Listening

Looking back at my career, the most pivotal, significant moments of growth were all borne out of adversity: the cranky engineer at Netscape who hated my spec; the designers with capital Ds who snickered at the ugliness of Yahoo!; the engineering-driven culture at Google that was adverse to design; and eventually, my own struggle with leaving Google and the corporate world.

In each instance, what got me through the adversity I faced was the ability to listen deeply. I listened and built relationships with people who were against me, such as John. I saw something great in Yahoo! and listened to my gut instinct. I listened to Larry and adopted a beginner’s mind. And then I listened to myself and honored what would bring me true, meaningful happiness.

With that, take a moment to pause and tune in to the world. Close the eyes, take a deep breath, and just be with yourself for a moment. Maybe reflect on something related to your work or personal life that you are struggling with, or want to improve on, or are trying to move forward. What is needed in this moment from you?

Putting it into practice

Since this is the opening keynote for the IA Summit, let’s put these lessons into practice at this conference. Here are three things you can do:

1. Make at least three connections each day at this conference. Not as if you’re trying to collect people so you can use them later, but truly make a connection and listen to each other.

2. For the whole day, realize that you are a lucky person, and hold onto that feeling all day long. Open your mind to opportunities and be free of restricted thinking. Listen to your gut instincts and be bold, ready to seize a good opportunity when you see it.

3. Approach something old and tired with a beginner’s mind. Be willing to listen and receive feedback. Don’t fear failure and don’t get discouraged by it. And never lose your sense of humor and playfulness.

A career path is not about getting to a particular destination. It’s not about leveling up or getting some job title or managing a bunch of people. It’s about the journey you take, the lessons you learn along the way, and connecting with yourself to find true happiness.

Take a moment every day to listen to yourself and the world around you. That’s the key to the path ahead.

Check out these awesome sketchnotes from the conference (thank you Melinda, Nathan, Jason, and Veronica):

Sketchnotes by Melinda Miller
Sketchnotes by Nathan Rogers
Sketchnotes by Jason Alderman
Sketchnotes by Veronica Erb

"Not everything that counts can be counted"

In a test score- / metrics-obsessed world, remember some of the most important qualities cannot be measured:

  • Compassion 
  • Courage 
  • Creativity 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Curiosity 
  • Empathy
  • Endurance
  • Enthusiasm
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Leadership
  • Motivation 
  • Persistence
  • Reliability
  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Discipline 
  • Sense of Beauty 
  • Sense of Wonder 
  • Spontaneity 

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Albert Einstein

Want a job? Act as if you already have the job.

An acquaintance of mine reached out to me about landing an internship for her daughter in product design.  
What I told her, and what I’d like to tell all high school students aspiring to be a young Jony Ive, is this:

Even if you don’t get an internship working as a product designer, I highly recommend spending your summer engaging in endeavors as if you already have the job. For example, invent your own project in which you observe human behavior and try to design a solution that meets people’s needs. Learn how to code so you can build prototypes of your concepts.  Or, for physical products, hang out at a maker studio so you can start prototyping or building stuff with your hands. This experience helps you build a portfolio of projects that you can later show potential employers; it’s a great way to demonstrate your passion for learning and for this area of work. Going through such an experience will also be a good indicator to you as to whether this is truly something you want to do for your career — if you love it, that will be reassuring, and if you hate it, you’ll know early before you invest more energy in it.

Want a job?  Act as if you already have the job.  Invent projects for yourself, start making, start tinkering.

Recently I spent an afternoon mentoring a group of high school girls who are working on their Technovation Challenge.  In 10 weeks, they are tasked with understanding user needs, assessing market fit, sketching, designing, and building a prototype of a product idea for the identified need.  It’s an amazing experience that will help them gain tangible, employable skills and build a portfolio of project work.  From the perspective of an employer (like Google) who has their choice of candidates, students with straight-A transcripts from elite schools are easy to come by; what helps them identify great candidates worth hiring ultimately comes down to the portfolio.
As a hiring manager, I always look for passion in a candidate’s portfolio.  Where there is passion, creativity and grit come much more easily; passion is what we do when it’s inconvenient.  A high school student who actually has a portfolio demonstrates their willingness to learn on their own and their fearlessness in trying new things and iterating.
Towards the end of my graduate studies I applied for and interviewed for several jobs with high tech companies.  I sat through many interviews where hiring managers asked broad, high level questions that didn’t seem to help reveal whether I had what it took to do the job.  Interviewing students with no work experience is especially hard for managers because there isn’t prior work experience to ask about.  It was only when I pulled out my project work related to my master’s thesis that helped turn my fate around the corner.  As I walked interviewers through my work, they could assess how I solved problems, the tradeoffs I made, the determination I had to go through many iterations to find the best solution given the constraints and requirements.  Showing my project work is what helped me land my first dream job at Netscape.
Throughout my career as I’ve interviewed, hired, and rejected hundreds of design, research, and web developer candidates,  I always give candidates a chance to show their work.  Beyond asking for a link to their portfolio, I ask them to walk me through it, because hearing their story reveals so much more:  what was the opportunity they saw, how they framed the problem, how they approached solving the problem, the iterations they tried (or whether they iterated at all), the feedback they got and how they responded to it.  If they’ve thought further about how they would improve the project if they had more time, it’s a good sign that there is some self-awareness and introspection going on.
As I began teaching yoga, I found this advice “Act as if you already have the job” to be especially true.  You can’t get a job teaching at a yoga studio unless you have experience teaching.  How does one get experience teaching yoga if one cannot teach at a studio?  You have to invent reasons to teach.  My mentors talked about how they would offer free yoga in the park (on a donation basis) just to give themselves an opportunity to teach.  They would offer discounted private instruction to friends and family and build a network from there.  They would offer to substitute for absent teachers and assist teachers (for free) in their classes.
Want a job?  Act as if you already have the job.

Designer seeking advice…

Earlier this week I received a message from a young designer asking for advice on how to land her dream job.  With her permission, I’m reprinting it here (with some editing to not reveal her identity):

Hi Irene, How are you? Hope you are well 🙂 Sorry for the direct approach. My name is V. and I’m a Visual/UI/UX designer currently based in [city].  I’m a young designer in my mid-twentys [sic] aspiring to become a good UX designer. During the mean time I’m having a difficult time just to get started. It would be amazing if I could get some help on some career advise. I discovered [an opportunity] I really want to be part of, but as I’m not experienced enough for the highly skilled small team, I was not a great fit. The team lead has kindly given me some advise on what skills I need for the role.  Two years later, I’ve found myself not gaining the skills I wish to gain through my job. While working, I’m constantly reading blogs, books, and more in order try and improve my skills. I’m starting to get frustrated, since I’m not quite sure how to take my skills to the next level through work. Like most mid-twenty year olds trying to figure out ‘life’, I find myself so hungry for something, but I can’t quite pin point it out exactly. What I do know is that I do want to work on something meaningful, have contribution to the world through my skills. This is exactly why I find [this organization] so appealing, or you could say it was like love at first sight and the flame is still burning strong two years after. I strive for creating great user experiences through strategy, research and design. The only problem is, I have no idea on how to get there. Just yesterday I came across a design worksop that is going to be held at Google Headquarters – Mountain View. On the application it asks the applicant to explain one project that is in their portfolio that they are proud of. And I realised that I haven’t done any UX work that I’m proud of nor came across any major problem solving matters. I do love being a designer and I’m grateful that I have a design job in this economy. Thank you so much for reading this letter and I do apologise if this letter came across a little strong or intense. Have a lovely day! Best wishes, V.

A few years ago I would have responded with a reply naming my favorite UX books, authors, and consultants.  I would have given more blogs to read, specific workshops to take, and conferences to attend.  What I have observed over many years of mentoring and employing hundreds of designers is that it’s often not lack of skill but lack of an internal resource that limits them.  This is what I wrote to her:

Hi V., 

Since you asked for my advice, I will share my perspective with you, which has largely been shaped by my own career and studying and practicing the spiritual teachings of yoga. 

First, start where you are.  Stop worrying about the skills or expertise that you don’t have.  You already have a foundation and basket of skills to draw from.  When you worry about not having the skills or knowledge you need, you lose confidence, which undermines your ability to learn and be effective. 

Second, the best way to learn is by doing.  Get involved in projects that interest or inspire you. Maybe you will be lucky enough to engage in such projects that happen to also bring you income.  If not, find the time to engage in such projects on your own time.  Seek collaborators, or go on your own.  Make stuff, design stuff.  Invent projects for yourself to do that allow you to exercise your skills; you will learn a lot by practicing.  You will learn even more by seeking feedback, from mentors and users.  From the feedback, you will discover how you need to grow.  In your desire to make your product better, you will orient your energy toward activities that will help you grow. 

Third, notice and follow what brings you joy and energy.  If you are truly interested and passionate about the endeavors, your interests will guide you toward what you need to learn, and you will invest the time and energy into learning it.  You will also build a portfolio/body of work that you can later show to potential clients or employers; the joy you bring to your work will shine through and you will be able to see yourself more clearly — and people you talk to about hiring you will see that too.




This advice was inspired by three basic rules for practicing Hatha Yoga, which I wrote about last year.  In fact, these rules are relevant to almost any endeavor, whether starting a yoga practice or exercise regimen, advancing one’s career or beginning a new one, entering a new relationship, or creating a new product:

  1. Start where you are.  Stop worrying about what you don’t know or that others are further ahead than you.  Stop worrying about what the future holds.  Be in the present moment, and start with what you have, where you are, right now.
  2. Join movement and breath.  In other words, just do it.  Fear nothing.  The best way to learn is by doing and getting into it.
  3. Observe yourself.   Through self-study and observation we gain awareness and presence of mind.  We notice changes over time, understand cause-effect, and use that feedback to inform the future.
Hatha Yoga rules = Rules for Life

"I’m not good at yoga."

Now that I’m teaching yoga, the topic of yoga comes up in conversation from time to time.  A comment I hear often is “I don’t do yoga.  I’m not good at it.”  The irony of this comment fascinates me.  How come one rarely says, “I don’t go to strength training classes, because I’m not strong,” yet people say they don’t do yoga because they’re not flexible?

Perhaps what lies behind that statement is the perception that yoga is pretzel poses that only contortionists can do.  In fact, such poses are not part of the ancient tradition of yoga, and if one wants to better understand the history of yoga and its relationship to Western women’s gymnastics, I highly recommend “Yoga Body” by Mark Singleton.  Ancient yogic texts actually refer to only a few postures, intended for people to build strength and stamina to sit and meditate for long periods of time.

The term “yoga” means different things to different people.  The physical practice (referred to as “asana” which means “seat”) is one of eight limbs of the spiritual practice of yoga.  And yet to many, the term “yoga” is commonly associated with the physical practice.  Now there is a growing community of teachers and practitioners specializing in the discipline of yoga therapy.  While the definition of yoga therapy continues to evolve, to me it represents the integration of traditional yogic concepts and techniques with Western medical, physiological, and psychological knowledge.  In this emerging tradition, there is recognition of the human being as an integrated mind-body system, and yogic techniques are used both as preventative measures to keep the body functioning optimally as well as to treat spiritual, physical, or mental ailments.

With these perspectives, what exactly does it mean to be “good” at yoga?  There is no “good” or “bad”,  no judgment to be made.  In yoga, there are just three rules to guide the practice:

  1. Start where you are.  It doesn’t matter how flexible you are or whether you are or are not flexible.  If you can breathe, you can do yoga.  There is always something for everyone to do, and there is always somewhere to go, more to learn.
  2. Join movement and breath.  There is no posture without breath.
  3. Observe yourself.  Through self-study and observation we gain awareness and presence of mind.  We notice changes over time, understand cause-effect, and use that feedback to inform the future.
Ultimately the comment “I’m not good at yoga” comes down to ego.  Just making it to the mat requires surrender and letting go of the inner critic that judges oneself and worries about being judged by others.  And that is what yoga is about.  (As an aside, this is also a necessary step for any creative endeavor!)

"Grown-ups like numbers"

We are rereading “The Little Prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery during bedtime stories.  (Even though my kids are old enough to read to themselves, we still enjoy the nighttime ritual of having me read to them.)  As my children grow older, they are able to appreciate the book in new and different ways.  In their younger years they loved the whimsical pop-ups and illustrations.   Now that Charlotte is 10, she enjoys the wisdom the book brings to light.  Whether you have children or not, “The Little Prince”  is a must-read.  As an example, this passage from page 15 poignantly describes adults’ over-focus on data:

Grown-ups like numbers.  When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters.  They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?”  They ask: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father make?” Only then do they think they know him.  If you tell grown-ups, “I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof…,” they won’t be able to imagine such a house.  You have to tell them, “I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.”  Then they exclaim, “What a pretty house!”

(As I read this to Charlotte, she exclaimed, “This man is a GENIUS!”)

Children are born wise.  As we get older we gain knowledge but somehow lose our wisdom.  

Sophie’s wise thoughts

Wise thoughts from Sophie:

(1) The other day my parents came home bickering about an incident that occurred on their way home with Sophie.  Half an hour after returning home, they were still bickering.  Sophie looked at me and said earnestly, “Why are they still talking about this?  It happened in the past.  They should focus on what’s happening now.”

(2) Earlier this week, Sophie shared with me, “I don’t know why people don’t like the rain. I *love* the rain!”  Reminds me of the Arnold Beisser quote:  “The tragic or the humorous is a matter of one’s perspective.”