Summiting Volcan Cotopaxi – when there is a mountain in front of you, just take it one step at a time…

Hey fam – I know it’s been a while since my last post so thank you for being patient. The past two months have been full of travel. I had a close friend visit who had a rough year back at home so I wanted to make our time together fun and meaningful – we explored a lot of the country and met some amazing people along the way. For our last week together I wanted to end on a “high” note – I wanted to do something that would push us beyond our limits but if we accomplished it, would be unforgettable. What better way to do that than to climb the 3rd highest active volcano in the world, Volcan Cotopaxi?

Volvan Cotopaxi

The lead up:

When we decided that we would try to summit Cotopaxi, we didn’t know really what we were getting ourselves into. All we knew was that it was the 2nd highest mountain in Ecuador and the 3rd highest active volcano in the world – pretty badass. Once we decided that we were going to do it, we had to prep.

 

Although I’m a pretty physically active person, I knew this was going to be a challenge and called for a different type of fitness and training. Most of my training for the past 4 months had been spent at the beach surfing and doing yoga/explosive style workouts at sea level. Cotopaxi was going to be an uphill climb, battling the elements at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) up to the summit. So, we set out on a 2 week tour through Ecuador to acclimatize to the proper altitude, get our legs ready for some serious trekking, and of course enjoy Ecuador’s natural beauty along the way.

 

  • We spent about a week total between Cuenca (2560 meters but ~3,900 meters at Cajas National Park) and Banos (1,820 meters) which weren’t as much serious prep as it was living at a higher altitude and taking a few half-day hikes – still amazing (pics below)
  • When we left Banos, we headed to Latacunga to hike the Quilotoa loop – a 3 day, 30 mile trek through the mountains in some pretty tough terrain until we arrived at Laguna de Quilotoa (3,914 meters – pictures below). It was challenging but rewarding
  • Finally, for our last 2 days before the attempted summit, we stayed at Secret Garden Cotopaxi, an beautiful hostel where we could see the monstrosity that is Volcan Cotopaxi from every angle (beautiful but intimidating – also pictured below)
  • From Secret Garden, we were also able to hike up to the summit of Volcan Pasachoa (~4,200 meters)
summit of Volcan Pasachoa
Summit of Volcan Pasachoa
  • All of this was good training but to put it in context, Cotopaxi’s basecamp alone sits at 4,800 meters… so we knew that it was going to be a whole new kind of animal

 

 

The summit:

We arrived at basecamp (El Refugio) at 3 pm the day before the summit to settle in and get our gear ready. We would be heading out at 12:30 am the following morning so we ate a bit of dinner and tried to get some rest before the climb…needless to say I didn’t get much sleep.

 

The first couple hours of the climb were amazing – the sky was lit up by the moon and the stars and I felt fresh, strong, and grateful…

 

Then we hit the glaciers – pure snow and ice – we put on our crampons (metal spikes for the bottom of your boots) and grabbed our ice picks. This is where shit got real.

 

The glaciers were steep, like double black diamond steep and if you fell, you’d either be sliding down Cotopaxi forever or fall into one of the thousands of crevices that went 80 meters into the depths of the volcano. Pretty friggin scary for a kid who doesn’t enjoy heights (more specifically, ledges at high altitudes). Add to this our extreme altitude where the air is ~50% less dense and the air molecules are much farther apart. The result? Oxygen deprivation, fatigue, nausea, headaches, etc.

 

About 3.5 hours in (with about 3 more to go) the oxygen deprivation started hitting me, I was fatigued and nauseous. I’d look down and I’d see how far we climbed, but then I would look up to the summit and it didn’t look like we were getting any closer to it. At ~4 hours into the hike, I told my buddy and my guide that I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue, we were getting ready to turn around. As we were getting ready to head back, my mind flooded with voices – I could hear my dad’s last words to me before the climb “one step at a time, one foot in front of the other” and my mom saying “God will give you the strength to do all things”  and finally I recalled the 40% rule from my book Living With a Seal…more on the 40% rule later.

 

With this new inspiration, I stood up and started moving forward. Now, don’t be confused, this was not like I got a second wind and sped victoriously up the mountain. No, I took it slow, vomited twice, and slipped and stumbled intermittently for the next 2 hours to the summit.

 

But guess what… I still made it. As we reached the summit I could see the sun just rising up above the clouds. I was overcome with emotion and gratitude and just wept. The grueling process to get to the top and witness the beauty was overwhelming for me and I have never felt closer to God than I did at that moment. A moment I will never forget.

 

What I learned:

Through this experience, I learned a lot, but I want to share 3 quick insights that apply to our lives in almost everything we do:

 

 

  • When you are attempting a challenging endeavor, set an intention
  • Have a sense for where you are headed, but take it one step at a time
  • When you are pushing yourself, remember the 40% rule

 

 

  • Set an intention: Setting out on this endeavor, I knew it would be a challenge. I learned a while ago how important it is to set an intention to focus on during a rigorous challenge – it helps keep you focused and committed to your cause. The interesting insight for me however, was how quickly my intention changed. At first, my intention was set around myself. I wanted this achievement to be a symbol for me to represent future challenges that came my way – remembering the grit that it takes to overcome them. My intention however, quickly shifted… As we were trekking, I became filled with gratitude. I was thankful to God for the legs that were carrying me up the face of the volcano, for my lungs that were pumping hard to get limited oxygen into my body. I was thankful that I had one of my best friends next to me to share the experience with. I started to think about my mentors at work who supported me 100% to make this sabbatical opportunity possible, and finally I was thankful for my family who stood by me for my entire life up to this point – giving me the courage and confidence to take on this entire adventure in the first place. So what started out as something for me, quickly became a dedication climb – to the people that made this all possible, to show that I didn’t take this for granted. What I learned was that by setting my intention on others, I was able to access a new source of energy to keep pushing forward – if it was just for me, I think I would have stopped before the summit. 

 

  • Take it one step at a time: Before leaving for base camp, I was talking to my dad and I mentioned that while I felt confident, looking at that Volcano everyday was a bit intimidating. My dad responded with simple but powerful advice, “you know where you are headed, now just take it one step at a time, put one foot in front of the other.” As we were ascending, the air was getting thinner, and I was losing steam. I’d look back down from where we came and see how far we had climbed but then I would look up to the summit and it looked like we barely made any progress and that defeated feeling of “we’ll never get there” started to settle in. At that point I had sat down on the ice and told my guide I didn’t think I’d be able to continue – we were getting ready to turn around when my dad’s words came back into my mind “One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.” And for the next 3 hours up to the summit, that’s exactly what I did, I put all of my focus towards locking in each step, putting one foot in front of the other, only seldom taking a glance at the summit. In life, when we are facing a goal/challenge, getting to the other side can seem daunting and so far away. In these moments, the best thing you can do is break it down and focus on taking one step at a time towards your goal. What I learned is that success for any goal/challenge is not about the one big decision of “I’m going to summit Cotopaxi” but the thousands of small choices you make to continue to push forward until you finally arrive at your destination.

 

  • Remember the 40% Rule: About a year ago I read a really great book called Living With a Seal. In the book, serial entrepreneur, Jesse Itzler, hires a badass Navy Seal to come live with his family and teach him about mental and physical toughness. In the book, the Navy Seal reveals The 40% Rule.  The rule is simple: When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done. While I was sitting, ready to give up and my dad’s voice popped into my head, so did the 40% rule. I realized that my mind was being soft as a survival mechanism, and that my body had a lot more to give – so I pushed on. And yes, it was tough and at many points it sucked…but I still made it. So the next time you hit your known limits, just remember you still have 60% more to give and push on.

 

 

I’ll never forget this experience and I am so grateful to all of the people and events in my life that made it possible. I hope you enjoyed the read and remember it the next time you have a mountain (physical or metaphorical) in front of you. Climb on!

 

 

Cheers!

Matt

 

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10 days, Technology Free in the Galapagos – What I Learned…

sea lion

So I just got back from an incredible 10 days on the Galapagos Islands. The islands themselves were absolutely incredible – the people, the biodiversity, and the unique terrain were more remarkable than I could have ever imagined. I’ll eventually post in more detail about some of the specific moments/activities from the trip but today, I want to talk about a component of my trip that is not directly related to the Islands.

 

During my trip I took a 10 day technology fast. While I still brought my phone for pictures, the fast consisted of:

  • Airplane mode at all times
  • No texts or calls
  • No social media
  • No emails
  • No computer
  • No searching the internet

 

Before talking about what I experienced and what I learned during the technology fast, I’ll start with why I committed to doing this in the first place.

 

Why the technology fast?

 

While a 10 day trip to the Galapagos is the perfect opportunity to unplug and fully immerse yourself into the island experience, that was not the main impetus for me to abstain from technology during this trip, just a nice little perk.

 

My primary interest in the technology fast can be expressed, in-part, by a real AF verse on Drake’s new album, Scorpion, in a song called Emotionless.

 

Missin’ out on my days

Scrollin’ through life and fishin’ for praise

Opinions from total strangers take me out of my ways

I try and see who’s there on the other end of the shade

….

I know a girl whose one goal was to visit Rome

Then she finally got to Rome

And all she did was post pictures for people at home

‘Cause all that mattered was impressin’ everybody she’s known

I know another girl that’s cryin’ out for help

But her latest caption is “Leave me alone”

I know a girl happily married ’til she puts down her phone

I know a girl that saves pictures from places she’s flown

To post later and make it look like she still on the go”

 

(Side note. ANOTHER Drake song says “I’m living inside the moment, not taking pictures to save it” – which also hits home for me. Go Drake)

 

When I heard those verses they struck a chord with me. While its not a direct match, the lyrics express many of the challenges I (and I’ll be so bold to say we) face with social media and staying connected.

 

Exhibit A:

 

Since I’ve been on this trip, while I certainly feel that I have deepened my mindfulness practice and have been much more present, there were a lot of things I’d catch myself doing that didn’t align with my values:

 

  • Once I got access to WiFi, I became too connected to my phone  – perhaps it was due to some of the intermittent loneliness that can  come with solo travel – but all the same, it was too much.
  • I would catch myself aimlessly scrolling through Instagram, liking every picture I saw – NOT necessarily because I liked the pictures (sorry) but because I subconsciously wanted to exchange likes for likes – thinking about it now seems so self-serving and honestly it’s tough to write about on a public platform.
  • I would post a picture and would constantly open my Instagram to see how many more likes I got and sometimes, who liked the pictures – as if I had any control over it and as if it truly mattered – and I’d use those likes to put value on my own personal experiences and the quality of what I was sharing.

 

As a result, I started to get tangled up. I’d catch myself in the middle of a conversation with an urge to check my phone, I’d find myself enjoying something beautiful but then thinking about how I could turn it into a post. This little black mirror (phone) had power over me – full stop.

 

I understand why I was doing what I was doing. When I started this blog, I put my personal story on a public platform. It’s like public speaking – you put yourself out there and open yourself up to judgement from the audience with the chance that they dislike what you have to say. I talk about things that are personal and important to me so of course I want it to be received well – and I think that’s healthy. But with this healthy desire to do well, comes the danger of the ego getting in the way. When the ego gets in the way, you lose that feeling of empowerment because you are under the control of the audience – where each like, from people you know and people you don’t, becomes a little ping of validation that you are doing the right thing and when you don’t get those likes, you start to question yourself and the value of the message you were trying to convey or the content you put out.

 

That is why, once I heard those Drake lyrics, I was like “Bruh…” and I decided to go tech free for a nice reset in the Galapagos.

 

What was it like?

 

This 10 day technology fast went pretty much like most of my previous technology-free experiences (yes I have done things like this before) and, I imagine, shares many of the same traits of stopping many habits cold turkey.

 

  • First, came the ego. It started off pretty rough. I think it’s because I posted on Instagram and then immediately shut my phone (maybe not the best idea). I wanted to check my phone so bad! Who liked it? Were people supportive of this technology fast? Did anyone care that I was going to be in the Galapagos?
    • This feeling persisted for a couple of days and then tapered off when I finally let go and said “who cares, it just is what it is.”
  • Then, the conditioning. I’d wake up in the morning and would want to go for my phone to see what messages or alerts had come through overnight. I’d go to the bathroom and felt so lost without having a phone to check. I’d lay in bed before going to sleep and would feel the urge to check my phone or do a bit of scrolling to lull myself to sleep.
  • Finally, the associative aspects. Social situations with an awkward silence would trigger my hand to reach towards my pocket to grab my phone. I’d go sit somewhere by myself and would find myself wanting to check my phone to make it seem like I was doing something important…lol.

 

Having done technology fasts before, I had a sense for what I could expect and was ready for it, but the feelings still came and initially were still hard to ignore. Over time however, the habitual urges started to dissipate and pleasant experiences took their place.

 

  • No longer was I looking at situations or experiences as a moment to capture and later post about, but instead they became moments to simply experience, nothing more.
  • Instead of reaching for my phone in the morning, I’d lay in bed thinking about the previous day and would feel intense gratitude for all I was able to experience. In the bathroom (lol but seriously, the bathroom is prime time for phone scrolling) or when sitting down in general, instead of mindlessly scrolling, I’d tune into my body and observe how it was feeling –  pleasant soreness in my muscles from the previous day’s hike or surf, warm skin from a day out in the sun, everything.
  • In social situations, I was able to fully immerse myself in the conversations. Silence was no longer awkward, but a chance to take a moment to reset, collect, and continue. Conversations became more enriched and went from brief conversations about the weather on the islands to deep meaningful connections.

 

All of these positive effects could be categorized as increased presence and an increased ability to tune into each moment I was experiencing.

 

So what?

 

While the technology fast was pleasant, it isn’t something I can do all of the time and I assume, neither can most of you. Like it or not, technology is an integral part of most of our lives and being completely “off the grid” is not a realistic solution. Technology is also a gift, it provides us with access to information and connects us to our loved ones. It’s an amazing tool and can tremendously improve the quality of our lives when used appropriately. Conversely, it can also lead to negative outcomes and pull us out of the present moment. So the question becomes – what do we do about the inherent conflict that comes in our relationship with technology?

 

In the past, I’ve done things such as delete social media (which I really enjoyed) however, I understand that in order for my blog to reach others (which is a goal) social media is a necessity and deleting it is not a feasible option. What I can do though, is incorporate a few guidelines that will keep me in check. Disclaimer – I have no guarantees on the efficacy of any of these guidelines as I am only one week into them but here is what I have decided to experiment with:

 

  • Set the right mindset:
    • It may seem like a silly guideline but I think an important component is setting the right mindset for approaching technology and social media.
    • If you don’t have a stance/mindset, its easy to get caught up without even realizing. For me, I didn’t realize how much my ego played into my relationship with social media. I’ve now set the mindset that social media is a platform for me to log my journey and share it with whoever is interested. It’s not a place for me to boast, be nosey, or to compare my situation with others. By establishing this mindset, I am giving myself a baseline to check myself.
  • Be intentional:
    • Very closely related to setting the right mindset is being intentional about maintaining your mindset. Technology and social media are never ending floods of information, there is always something new or something to check. If you fail to be intentional about why, when, and how you use your technology, it can easily lead to compulsive behavior.
    • While I continue my trip, I will be intentional in my technology use by designating specific hours where I can be connected – either to check social media, send an email, make a call, etc. By designating a specific time and place to be connected I don’t  need to be concerned with constantly checking my phone every time I hear an alert. Setting time in both the morning and the evening enable me to make sure I am not off the grid for an extended period of time.
  • Observe and respond:
    • By setting the right mindset and being intentional about how I use technology and social media, my hope is that I will be much more aware as I am using them. This will enable me to observe if my thoughts/behaviors are in line with the mindset I set for myself – if they are, great. If not, back to the drawing board to come up with some new ideas.

 

 

I am looking forward to seeing how these little tweaks will work out for me. I think it’s going to be a matter of constant reflection and adaptation that will get me to my ideal relationship with technology.  When it comes to this subject matter, I am certainly no expert and have limited experience. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve experienced any of the things I described and if/how you’ve been able to mitigate the negative impacts. Please let me know by commenting below or sending me a message directly.

 

Thanks fam! ❤

 

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Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face…learn to roll with the punches

ocean meditation

I’ll start with an excerpt from my second blog post ever, as I was heading into the first day of my sabbatical…

 

— So, there you have it – that’s my general plan for the next 6 months – but as Mr. Mike Tyson would say…“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face (or…the fathe).”And I am sure there are a few left hooks waiting around a few corners for me – so stay tuned! —

 

Well, the other day I took my first hook and boy was it a doozie… BUT, like everything in life, there is a lesson to be learned from it.

 

To fully appreciate this post, I encourage you to take 5 minutes and read my second post (if you haven’t already). Basically, I thought I had the next 6 months of my life all figured out. I spent almost a year prepping for this adventure – making sure I had the timing lined up, deciding how I wanted to spend my time, researching and interviewing multiple organizations to find the right spot, and once decided, spending a good bit of time working with their owners to design an experience that we were both excited about. I was ready for 6 months of surf, yoga, and some good work in Nicaragua.

 

But sometimes God has a different plan for us…

 

For those of you who don’t know, Nicaragua is currently going through a challenging time politically. The people of Nicaragua want change. Their current president, Daniel Ortega, is essentially acting as a dictator and the people are tired of it. They want him and his wife (the Vice President) out of office and are demanding a fair democracy (I am oversimplifying the situation very much because this isn’t meant to be a post about the current political situation in Nica.) What you need to know is that since 4/19/2018, there have been over 100 deaths and just as many disappearances. The Nicaraguan government has ordered a shoot to kill policy on protesters (many of whom are peacefully protesting) and the situation has become extremely delicate. While life at the beach is still peaceful, the situation has become too uncertain and I had to leave Nica, about 5 months earlier than expected…

 

When I first discovered that I would need to cut my trip short, I felt like my world was turned upside down. This wasn’t part of the plan, this was supposed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. My immediate reaction was:

  • “I can’t believe this is happening to me”
  • “This isn’t fair”
  • “What am I going to do?”

Fortunately, writing this blog has been a great way to keep myself accountable to practice what I preach, so I grabbed my board and hit the water for some meditation. As I sat in the water, caught a few waves, and started to breathe, I had a couple of revelations that completely changed my perspective – and ultimately, the outcome of this situation:

 

  • First off, how dare I take the situation in Nicaragua and make it about me. This is about the people of Nicaragua and the change they need (and deserve) as a country. Despite what this means for my sabbatical, I am glad that Nicaragua is pushing for change and I hope and pray that it can happen more peacefully, without a full blown revolution.
  • Second, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There isn’t much I can do to change the situation in Nicaragua, that will need to run its course. What I can change, is how I respond to it. Rather than freak out, get upset, and call it quits. I can stay calm, focus, and make moves to keep my sabbatical alive and well.
  • Finally, when I look back at my life, in every situation where things get rough and it feels as though hope is lost, there is always something bigger at play.
    • When I tried to scale my personal training company and failed I thought all of the effort was for nothing – but It was that failure which led me to Deloitte where I have so many opportunities to grow and develop – meeting lifelong friends and mentors along the way.
    • When I  was turned away after making it to the final round interview for Product Manager at Facebook, I felt terrible. I had poured my heart into the interview process and they just said “no.” In hindsight, it’s clear that the job would have been a terrible fit for me. I only became attached to the image of the job title and what I thought that would mean. If I had gotten the job, I would have had to move to San Fran and miss all the time I’ve been able to spend with my 2 beautiful nieces AND this 6 month sabbatical would have never been an option.
    • Thinking back to my “dark ages”, it would be easy to beat myself up over that phase of my life, but it’s my past that has made me who I am today and has given me a story to share with others. I believe that our lives are our message to the world and I am proud that I’ve now been able to share mine in settings such as church, juvenile detention programs, and everyday conversations to inspire and encourage others.

 

When I came out of the water, I felt brand new – I was full of gratitude for my fresh new perspective. It was time to get to work. I got on the computer and hit the phones and sure enough, it soon became clear that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us… as long as we let it.

 

I ended up getting connected with another Surf and Yoga wellness retreat in Ecuador, my mom’s motherland! This retreat incorporates all of the elements that I had in Nicaragua and also provides opportunities for structured Spanish lessons and mixed martial arts training. I’m not saying either spot is better or worse, I am just  grateful that the biggest trade-off is a Nicaragua beach sunset vs. an Ecuador beach sunset.

 

While I am excited for Ecuador, the transition is still bittersweet. The location, the work, and the people I met in Nicaragua have been amazing and I’m sad that we need to cut our time short. For now however, I am keeping my sails open to the winds of change (that’s nautical speak, bruh) and I truly believe that the best chapters of this journey have yet to be written. I’m stoked to see what’s in store.

 

The moral of this story is simply that shit happens… and when you’re in the shit, it’s easy to become laser focused on the shit and miss the bigger picture (for those of you who are offended by my analogy, think of it as missing the forest for the trees.) Sometimes, the bigger picture is quick and easy to identify, you miss your flight but meet the love of your life on the next plane. Sometimes, the bigger picture doesn’t emerge for a long time, it could be years. That’s why you gotta have some faith. Faith that everything is going to be okay, faith that this too shall pass, faith that in the end it will be worth it, faith that no matter what you may be going through God doesn’t give anyone a challenge that they can’t handle. Faith has made all of the difference in my life and without it, I definitely wouldn’t be where/who I am today.

 

The last thing I need to add is that for this to work, you have learn to surrender and go with the flow. If something hits you out of left field and it sucks, acknowledge it but then breathe, stretch, shake, and let it go. Take my example of missing your flight…you missed it because your Uber driver took a wrong turn on the way to the airport. You now have a choice – you can continue to fume, write a nasty letter to Uber, and post about that “a-hole” on social media…OR you can breathe, accept it, and move on. If you take the former route (the route of resistance), its highly doubtful that you will meet that love of your life because you won’t be open to receiving – you will be too busy writing that Facebook rant. If you learn to use your energy to flow with the intelligence of the universe instead of waste your energy trying to resist it, you will be amazed to see how things start to fall into place.

 

I’ve included a fun little African proverb below – it does a good job articulating the “bigger picture” if you have an extra minute, take a look.

 

Cheers Fam!

Matt

 

P.S. If you have stories for how this has shown up in your life, I’d love to hear it! Feel free to message me or comment below and as always, if you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it via Facebook or LinkedIn 🙂

 

Proverb:

The story is told of a African King who had a close friend with whom he grew up.

 

The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, “This is good!”

 

One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off.

 

Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, “This is good!” To which the king replied – “No, this is not good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail.

 

About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake, and bound him to the stake. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way.

 

As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. “You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened.

 

“And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.” “No,” his friend replied, “This was good!” “What do you mean, ‘This was good’? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?” “If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you, and they would have ate ME instead”

“Who you are on your mat is who you are in your life” – a quote to live by…

updog

“Who you are on your [yoga] mat is who you are in your life…”

 

I remember the first time I heard that quote (in my yoga teacher training course), I didn’t really appreciate how deep it really ran. It’s only after years of hindsight that I fully recognize the implications of this quote – and the power behind it.

 

First, let’s break the quote down a bit to make sure we understand it. “Who you are on the mat is who you are in your life.” What this is saying is; how you show up and progress through a yoga class is pretty indicative of how you approach life more broadly. For those of you who may not be too familiar with yoga, the concept follows the same principle of a similar quote “How you do anything is how you do everything” and can definitely be applied beyond yoga. For me, I like using yoga because your “stuff” shows up on the yoga mat as clear as day. I think this is because yoga challenges you physically mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and quite often you don’t have earbuds in to distract your focus – so you have the presence of mind to truly feel burn and fatigue across each dimension.

 

Looking back, it’s almost funny how this has shown up for me…

  • What I’ve done: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself in the middle of a yoga class seething because my instructor won’t stop with the damn leg work when I just did squats yesterday. I’d start to rationalize in my head how wrong they are and how “they clearly have no idea what they are doing, this sequence is borderline dangerous and someone is going to get hurt.”
  • What it tells me: This indicates an “it’s my world and you all just live in it” mentality. For me to knock a teachers class because my legs are sore (for reasons that have nothing to do with the teacher) is just plain self-centered, full stop.

 

  • What I’ve done: I’ve been blessed with strength and balance which I’ve continued to cultivate over time. This enables me to pull off some difficult press-ups and hand balances. At the same time, my hip flexibility needs a ton of work which makes things like sitting comfortably in a cross-legged position feel more daunting than wrestling a bear. Because of this, I’d often dread parts of the class, such as centering, and love the parts of class where we could pop handstands. I’ve also caught myself “recovering” from a pose that is challenging for me by getting into a pose that is challenging for most others.
  • What it tells me: Ego and insecurity. There was clearly a desire to “be good at yoga” and when I was unable to do that, rather than recognize it’s a personal practice and that I have my whole life to continue to work and improve – instead I would feel uncomfortable/vulnerable because others can see my flaws – and would need to validate it by doing something that made me feel secure.

 

  • What I’ve done: Sometimes, if I was running a bit late (I’m talking a matter of minutes where I still had a chance to arrive on time), if I was stressing about something, or if my shoulders felt a bit tired when I woke up, I would skip class altogether.
  • What it tells me: I had a tendency to want things to be perfect before I began and didn’t want to give up control of the situation. My mentality was “if my shoulders are sore, I might not nail my handstand” and “I’m going to be thinking about this presentation throughout class and I’m never going to get into the right headspace today, so what’s the point?” Instead, it should have been “Man, I am stressed. I especially need yoga today” or “Since my shoulders are tired, I can focus on hip mobility today.”

 

I put these examples in past tense because after years of working on them, I’m proud to say that I have swapped out many of these shitty automatic responses for better ones. But it didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t always easy and sometimes, when I am not being mindful, these ugly reactions will still show up every once in a while. For the most part however, it’s no longer my norm. Don’t worry though, I have plenty of other stuff I still need to work on – on and off the mat.

 

So, what is it for you?

  • Are you courageous/carefree enough to try and pop that handstand in a yoga class even though you haven’t mastered it yet? Or do you go home and practice it in secret, waiting until it’s perfect before finally unveil your masterpiece?
  • Do you start mentally cussing out your yoga teacher when they hold you in your least favorite pose for 10 seconds? Or do you step into the discomfort with a smile because you know you will be stronger for it in the end?

 

What does your practice tell you about yourself?

 

For you non-yogi’s… you’re not getting off that easy…what’s your  yoga?

  • Maybe it’s the gym, and you’re so regimented in your current program that you bash the new guy who’s taking up “your squat rack”  – when in reality, he’s just following his program and happened to beat you to the rack today.
  • Maybe it’s your club basketball team where the rest of your team “doesn’t know wtf they are doing” and they are cramping your game – when in reality, you haven’t hit a shot all day and the team you are facing is objectively better than you. It happens.
  • Think about it…is it really your team that’s messing you up? Or should you go and work on your shot? Is that guy/girl really an ass for taking your squat rack? Or should you relax and go do some damn lunges instead of criticizing their form or the amount of weight they are using?

 

As amusing (or alarming) as these discoveries may be, think of them as opportunities that can be used to diagnose your current-state tendencies and, more importantly, can be used as levers to make broader change across your life.

 

Using this as a tool to change your life

These moments are gifts –  they aren’t just moments of physical challenge, they are telling you something more and bringing up things you may need to work on in your life beyond just yoga. Whether it’s your ego, teaming skills, fear, or  insecurities, these moments of adversity can become your training ground to improve yourself.

 

How?

  • What if the next time you feel yourself getting frustrated during a difficult pose, you force yourself to dig in an smile because you acknowledge that “this too shall pass.”
  • Or the next time you go through your vinyasa flow, you silence your inner-cynic and pop up into that handstand because the worst thing that can happens is that you fall on your face – I’ve done it 1000 times and I’m still breathing 🙂 (Pro tip: set yourself up for success and grab a spot in the front or back corner of the room so when the time comes, you can’t use the “I don’t want to hit my neighbor excuse”)

 

At the end of the day, you can’t control the stimulus (aka you can’t control what happens to you), but you can control how you respond. When you notice your triggers and consciously choose to transcend them, you are literally rewiring your brain patterns – which means that overtime you can change your natural response to these triggers!

 

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor captured the essence of this so beautifully:

 

“Between stimulus and response there is space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

 

So, the next time you are faced with one of those triggers – be it in the yoga studio or workplace – remember that you have a choice for how you will respond and each time, an opportunity to take control of your life and become closer to the person you want to be.

 

Pretty dope if you ask me…

 

Stay up fam!

Matt

 

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Nature: Recharge Your Spirit

Wachuma Lake

Well – I just touched down in Nicaragua after a week of R&R in Peru and what a week it was. I spent my week at an eco-lodge in the Sacred Valley and I can honestly say the trip was a life-changing experience (in many more ways than one). I had the opportunity to look inward but was also able to connect with the local Andes culture and I learned so much from them. For now, I am going to focus on my two biggest learnings in the following posts:

  1. The importance of connecting with nature to recharge and cultivate a sense of gratitude and wonder
  2. Using symbolism/rituals as tools to renew the mind and refresh the spirit

This post will cover the nature component

 

While in Peru, one thing that immediately stood out to me about the local culture was their relationship with “Mother Earth” aka Pacha Mama. Their relationship with the Earth (both plants and animals) is sacred and they take it very seriously. This comes from the fact that for generations, they’ve relied on nature for survival (i.e., using animal behavior to predict the weather and to determine which crops should be planted that year) and for wisdom – seeing nature as an intelligent problem solver and pulling lessons from it. When speaking with some of the locals, I began to understand this symbiotic relationship and the deep gratitude (for the food, for the rain, for the sun, etc.) that comes with it – you take care of the Earth and nurture the relationship and the Earth in turn takes care of and nurtures you. There was also a sensitivity to the different stimuli within nature, with locals constantly pointing out the sound of birds chirping, the warmth of the sun and the wind cooling our skin – there is a consistent mindfulness that they carry, which most of the time we only experience while on our yoga mat or in our meditation chair (if we’re lucky).

 

As I immersed myself in the culture, I started to think about life back at home and realized how far much of our culture has gone from this place of gratitude and sensitivity toward nature. In many of our daily environments – highly populated cities, high-demand jobs – we are bombarded with intense stimuli. To deal with this, our brain, over time, learns to tune out many of these stimuli to keep us sane (if we were hyper aware of every stimulus going during our commute in NYC, it wouldn’t be long before our brain blew a few circuits.) While this desensitizing is a gift, there is also a downside…our brains also desensitize to stimuli that foster a wonder and appreciation for our world which keeps our spirits charged.

 

There is something deeply human about connecting with nature – there was once a time where all of our ancestors shared a similarly dependent relationship with the Earth but in many developed cultures, that relationship has been long forgotten. While in many cases we’ve removed ourselves from nature, I believe we are deeply wired to connect with it and by callusing ourselves over time, we inadvertently suppress our spirit. Just think about the countless studies showing the impact of windowless offices or the studies on the difference between offices with or without plants. More importantly, think back to a time where you’ve witnessed a beautiful sunset or listened to the sound of waves on the beach and felt a deep sense of gratitude and wonder – I’d bet that if you dig deep, you can all recall a memory like that. Why should we limit ourselves to that feeling only once a year on vacation? Albert Einstein said it best, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

 

For those of you thinking “easy for you to say on a 6 month sabbatical…” I get it. I understand that opportunities to go deep into nature for an extended period of time are not always within our control – but that’s not what I am suggesting. I do however, believe there is something we all can learn from this and apply in our daily life. To me, the lesson is more about cultivating a daily mindset of wonder and gratitude than heading to a specific place in nature. Think of the things that you do have control over in your day to day:

  • How you set up the space in your office
  • Where you take your lunch/coffee breaks
  • Your mindset toward nature the food it produces

Setting up a few succulents or air plants around your office is a simple and low maintenance way to bring some nature into your daily life. Taking lunch or coffee breaks outside when possible is a great way to connect with nature as well. More importantly however, is the mindset in which you approach these small treasures. Having plants at your desk or taking a walk outside is not going to do much for you if you are not approaching these things mindfully – with this sense of gratitude and wonder. When you set up your desk plants or take your lunch break outside, take a moment to appreciate these things. Be grateful for the food that you are putting into your body which nourishes you and provides you with energy for the day. Each morning when you arrive at your desk, take a minute to appreciate natures beauty and intelligence. Just watch how your mindset changes over time. And finally, when you do get the chance, take a trip deep into nature to immerse yourself and reconnect/recharge those precious batteries of yours.

 

Cheers Fam!

Matt

Peru face