I have been climbing the corporate ladder in various marketing and design-related roles since mid-2005, and therefore, I feel the best way to begin this article is by being incredibly honest:
For those of your who do not speak “American” english:
noun VULGAR SLANG•US a situation marked by chaos or controversy.
Well, because marketing professionals often find themselves to be the conduits between two opposing worlds — the logic-driven world of business, and the blue-sky world of creative.
As a result, we are constantly made to explain our intuitive output to hardline thinkers, justify budgets and prove the value of our contributions — which are often considered “soft” and intangible, but likely also the single most important vehicle for driving brand recognition, customer acquisition and therefore, well, profit.
On top of that, the marketing industry is incredibly competitive. To be a good “marketer” one must be multi-dimensional, think with both sides of the brain, have enough resilience to gracefully handle a multitude of setbacks, and spend several years doing incredibly tedious “grunt work” in order to rise up through the ranks.
I truly love my chosen professional… but it can be taxing. In fact, most well-paid, upwardly-mobile careers — as mentally, emotionally, and financially rewarding as they may be — are likely intensive and stressful at times.
So what’s a professional to do? Opt-out of the business world? Give up financial security? Move to a hut in Sri Lanka and weave baskets out of straw to sell on the internet?
If leaving or taking a break from the business world suits you — go for it! I’ve taken short breaks throughout my career, and they’ve done wonders for growing my mind. However, I’m also one of those people who values financial security and upward mobility, so leaving the first world for a low-cost life permanently simply isn’t an option for me. Therefore, I do a lot of yoga.
I first discovered “the practice” at a traditional studio in Manhattan in 2004. By 2017, I had been practicing fairly regularly for 13 years and even sometimes teaching on the side as a “counter-balance” to my high-stress day job. That year, I was feeling a lot of corporate burnout — and quite frankly, even more life burnout from the madness that had recently ensued with America’s 2016 presidential election.
This is the part of the story where — much to the chagrin of every Australian or British person reading this article — many Americans may say something like, “I needed to go find myself.” I’m not quite sure about repeating that well-worn statement, but I can confidently say I needed to spend some time in a place where no one was talking about gun laws or Donald Trump.
So, I decided to take some time out from the land of the free and study to earn my international teaching certification in Ashtanga yoga at a shala in Goa, India.
Ashtanga is a highly-structured, alignment-based form of yoga practice based upon the ancient Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. It was the first form of yoga popularized in the western world and developed in such a way that even mastering even the initial Primary Series could involve a lifetime of study.
I had been practicing Ashtanga for the better part of my 13-year tenure as a yogi, so my movements were fluid, and my body was fairly flexible and strong. That spring, I left for Goa feeling confident that I was ready for the fervor of an every-day, hours-long practice in a humid 38℃ heat.
After a few travel-related mishaps getting there and recovering from the healthy dose of shock that comes with one’s first stint in a third-world country, I eventually settled into my little, air-conditionless hut on the Arabian Sea and my training routine. The practice was harder than expected, sure. My body began to thin out and I spent many “rest hours” wondering if I might actually die from heat exhaustion. But it wasn’t the Primary Series’ sixty Chaturanga Dandasanas, or the completely elusive Supta Kurmasana or even the daredevil Pincha Mayurasanas that got me. The physical stuff — that was easy. I found something else entirely more difficult.
As it turns out, simply “sitting in one spot without moving” spawned a personal inner struggle for me. When asked to sit still and do nothing amongst the serene sea of other students seated just so under the delightfully colorful Indian draperies of our shala, I had a series of silent, mind-boggling, full-out mental panic attacks.
It all started out well and good enough. I would grab a fluffy bolster, smile at my friends as we all took our places, find a comfortable, seated position, and will myself to focus on the sound of the Arabian Sea lapping rhythmically next to our meditation platform. And then, I would mentally freak the fuck out.
In fact, while my meditation teacher was asking us all to focus on our breathing and let go of our thoughts, my mind went something like this:
“Wow. Everyone else is quite good at this.”
“Fuck, was that another mosquito?”
“What was the rate of Malaria in India again?”
“God I’m hungry. I wonder if my iron is low because the shala is vegan.”
“What was that? Another monkey? It sounds like he’s trying to crack a coconut.” “Ahh, focus. Whyeeeee can’t I just focus?”
“Okay. I can’t do this anymore.”
“I’ll give it twelve more breaths.”
“Okay I gave it fourteen more breaths and she still hasn’t rung the gong for lunch I mean good god this is torture. How. Many. More. Minutes. Of. Meditation. Could. There. Possibly. Be.”
You get the picture. I totally sucked at sitting still. Unluckily and then luckily for me, the meditation portion of the course was compulsory. After about a month of absolute hell, I actually began to enjoy it. Two years later, I voluntarily practice guided meditation whenever I can, and learning how to “sit still” has bestowed upon me a calmer approach to work, decision-making, relationships — many areas of my life.
I’m not alone. According to this site, the number of adults in the U.S. who practice meditation has risen from 4% to 14% from 2012 - 2017.
You will be amazed at the difference between a $70 yoga mat and the cheap $5 foam ones you find at Target. It’s a worthwhile investment. Here is the one I use. Also, a yoga block or bolster to sit on can do wonders for your posture and/or lower back.
I still use the ones that can be found on the Alo Moves app today. You can find the Alo Moves App here. (We’re not being paid by Alo in any way shape or form to say that — I just love it.) My recommended guided favorites to get you going? From Fear to Love by Aubry Marie. Find yourself a nice little cove by the water and a pair of comfy headphones and give it a try.
When you begin, you’re going to have a hard time focusing. You’re likely going to have pain somewhere in your body. You may even convince yourself that you are the worst meditator in the history of human beings. But if you can find it within yourself to just chill out and commit to trying it — maybe three times a week for four or five weeks — these problems will likely subside.
Well, I have no idea what will unfold for you or how it will unfold, but I can confidently say that for me, the first thing that my meditation practice handed me was a heap of frustration. After I willed myself to work through that, however, I was able to enjoy the benefits.
They might even increase your chance of success in work, school, and life.
Meditation is about letting go. The objective of your practice is to detach yourself from the thoughts that arise and allow them to separate themselves from your being. Your guide will encourage this, and after practicing, you’ll learn how to let go more easily — and this essential skill has no choice but to filter into your daily life.
On the train home from work one day and the last, brutal conversation you had with your ex pops into your head? Attach it to the brick wall blurred by the passing boxcars and watch yourself zoom away. You are not a slave to your thoughts — and meditation will teach you just that.
Has your iPhone ever just gone on the fritz? You’re just Instagramming away, filtering photos, answering group chats, what have you, and then all of the sudden the screen freezes up and refuses to move. How frustrating is that?
Your body is a living, breathing machine — entirely dependant upon your brain to move, make decisions and function. If your iPhone freezes up without a reset, why wouldn’t your brain? With the daily overstimulation involved in modern life, meditation is a great way to provide this moment of clarity. This is why the practice is often linked to an increase in short-term memory, as well as greater focus; meditation makes the space needed for heightened function.
If you’re a corporate warrior, you likely live in a million different directions, on a very tight schedule, with very high expectations for yourself. One little upset in your routine — like leaving your iPhone on the ledge of a self-checkout station while buying a protein bar at Woolworth’s on the way to work, for example — can upset your entire morning routine.
The thing about these little upsets, however, is that they happen. You are human and life is life. Several times a week, in a small way at least, shit is going to hit the fan. The key to success is being able to roll with it, resist reacting emotionally, recover quickly and stay in the swing of things.
Fortunately, you can become a calmer, less reactive person by practicing being calm — which is why meditation is often linked with a greater authority over your ability to react logically and keep your emotions at bay.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Everyone is the hero of their own story?” The phrase, originally used in John Barth’s short story titled “The Remobilization of Jacob Horner,” describes how each of our realities and recollections are skewed by our own perspectives. We each hold a narrative about ourselves and our experiences which often blurs our view of who we really are.
Humans tend to judge themselves by their intentions and others by their actions — and in that light, of course we’re the ones who come out on top. The truth is, very few of us are really heroes, and very few of us are villains. The world isn’t black and white, and most of us lie somewhere in between.
Because of our innate need to see ourselves in the best light, our stories often do not match up. No two people experience the same event in the same way —even when the event was a shared experience. Two people can be standing side by side, and they will still interpret the same experience completely differently.
Meditation works to break down this barrier. Because it calms the mind and detaches your existence from the circumstances around you, meditation encourages a decreased need to build narratives to protect or justify yourself, and therefore, a greater capacity to see yourself and others as the flawed but beautiful beings you really are.
To conceptualize this, first think of a community or organization that you belong to. It can be your team at work, an athletic club, a group or other parents at your kids’ school. Now think about the person (or people) in that group that are the easiest to get along with. What traits do they have?
My guess is that they are somewhat calm, easy-going, open, and rarely seem stressed or high-strung. They may even be so comfortable with themselves and around others that they often crack jokes or make light of the situation when the group is facing a challenge or something goes wrong.
Regardless of your genetics, capacity for empathy or natural charisma, meditation has a way of opening people up to become the best versions of themselves. In that way, it increases the likelihood that other people will find you an easier person to engage with and want to be around you.
Meditation will likely increase your capacity to focus. It will most definitely help you learn to let go, and react with more measured calmness and less unbridled emotion. You could become more self-aware, and have an increased ability to understand and relate to others. In that way, it is very likely to make you more successful. But the act of regular meditation and living mindfully extends far beyond financial success.
One of my favorite Rumi quotes speaks of a free spirit, able to bend and change with an open mind, who feels wealthy simply for the fact that life exists at all:
“Take someone who doesn’t keep score, who’s not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing, who has not the slightest interest even in his own personality: he’s free.”
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Nat is an American expat, obsessive world traveler, yoga instructor, aspiring author and the Marketing and Content Lead here at Zuper. Prior to coming to Zuper, Nat created campaigns for the retirement division of Fortune 100's Nationwide Financial in the States, along with a number of start-ups, bootstrapped organizations and nationally-known brands. When she isn't at the helm of Zuper's creative team, Nat can typically be found bopping around Bondi or hiking Sydney's national parks.