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What I Learned From Doing Yoga in the Bali Sea That Will Get You out of Trouble

At the time of of this writing, it’s my 3rd day in Bali now. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not one to plan every minute of my vacation… even though I did, at one point, create a personal travel brochure for Lawrence’s bestie, who was joining us in Asia the last time we went. It may have included a loose schedule in 15 minute increments. Nevertheless, this trip saw none of that. In fact I left much of the activity planning to my brother in law, whom I discovered, loves doing research about travel. Last night, he came up with the idea that we ought to try out ‘SUP yoga.’

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s when you do yoga on a paddle-board in the middle of the ocean.”

Something you have to know about me is that I don’t swim. Technically, I can… swim, that is, to save my life. However, water and me don’t usually get along. I’m like a cat. No pun intended.

My immediate thought was “Ok, well, see ya after!” to which he responded, “Come on, when else would you get the chance to do yoga on the ocean?”

Something else you should know about me: when I am faced with a challenge, I will first shrink back. Then I mull it over in my head. 15 – 30 minutes later, I’ve wrapped my mind around it, and
I’m ready. Bring it on.

(Later on, I realized that SUP yoga, which is what this is called “Stand Up Paddleboard” Yoga is widely available even in Edmonton. Check out The City of Edmonton’s Kinsmen classes for SUP Yoga.)

The next day, a 45 minute Uber ride later and $35USD, I found myself navigating gingerly along the morning ocean water on my paddleboard with my siblings. As the experience unfolded, I realized that there are a lot of parallels as to how we can navigate not only through the Indonesin ocean, but also the next time you find yourself in a potentially life threatening situation (or at least that’s what your mind is telling you).

1. Focus and Breathe

Panic set in as I set foot in the ocean with my paddleboard and oar. While I”m not deathly afraid of water, memories from my first sea-doo experience in Mexico came flooding back. We had registered for a private 4 hour Sea-doo Whale watching tour in Cabo. It ended up being the two of us because no one else wanted to come. I quickly discovered why. It was intense! Wave after wave hit my face, as I white-knuckled the handlebars. In the distance, I saw Lawrence and our instructor getting smaller and smaller as they zoomed off a good 100m ahead of me. Man.. if I fell overboard no one would notice at all. Then all of a sudden, they stopped. Less than 20m away, a collosal tail emerged out of the water and splashed down just beside our tiny water-crafts. I looked around the vastness of the bottomless ocean and felt absolutely miniscule.

Back to the Bali Sea.. This paddleboarding experience wasn’t remotely as scarring. But still I felt the nerves. I buckled down my mind, and took a deep breath. Slowly, I lifted one knee, then the other to standing. Core completely engaged to the point where my knees shook, I paddled slowly. It worked! I was upright and moving around in the water! As I took mental inventory of my surroundings, I quickly caught up with my siblings and we practiced navigating our board a little more before anchoring to a line. The yoga class was to begin.

2. You have to be able to Help Yourself First

There were three of us that morning. Both my siblings were way more than proficient swimmers. One was even competitive early in her childhood. But here’s the rub: No matter how much my champion swimmer siblings assured me that they would save me if I fell in the water, I first and foremost would rather save myself. No. even before that, I would rather not even be a situation where I needed saving. If I did fall over, despte their good intentions, no one would ever be faster, more responsive to my emergency than myself. Even though we were side by side trying to get into our Warrior I poses, if I fell overboard, it’s on me to figure out which way is up, to hold my breath and come up to the surface until more proficient help arrived.

Applying this to the journey of career, and really to anything new and scary in your life, the first person on whome you need to be able to rely is yourself. You have to be able to do the basics. You can’t rely on anyone else to do the core fundamentals. It’s a sure way to drown.

Many of us engage in coaches, or we build a team or even have partners to support us in building our business. Where a lot of us falter is that we tend to start relying on other people to do the work for us. But the thing is that no one is going to care more about our business, our career, our life than ourselves. If we farm out the core fundamentals to our business, and hence our survival, we lose control of … Worse case scenario, we die because help didn’t arrive adequately, or in time, or at all.

3. Eye on the Prize

When I focused on the each minor ripple and wave around me, I got dizzy. I got disoriented. I lost my balance. I felt like I was going to fall. Eventually I discovered that if I focused on a boat that was anchored off far into the distance, suddenly, I no longer felt the movement of the waves as much. They were still present, but I aws able to gain control of my balance. This isn’t unlike the goals that we set for the year and beyond. When we set out what we want to accomplish (ideally before the year begins), we do so on paper (or digitally). Everything is theoretical. It’s still. There are no waves. Then life happens.

This happens in a project at work as well. In fact, this actaully happend on my most recent project. The architect designs the techncial solution in a vacuum, where everything is perfect. It seems easy; it seems doable. It was all rosy. But when we actually executed, all of the hiccups came out of the woodwork. Occasionally our focus detracted from the overall goal and onto the little things that didn’t work. It made it seem like entire project was going south.

Like the ripples and waves in the water, focus on them hard enough, and you will lose balance and fall overboard. The key, therefore, is to keep you eye far off at a (somewhat) stable point in the distance. In a project setting, it would be the go live date, or remembering that you have a solid team in place whose sole job is to collaborate and get across the finish line, or that “this too shall pass,” and in a hundred years, no one will care.

4. Fatigue isn’t Just a Physical Sensation

I’m pretty fit, even when I haven’t worked out in a couple weeks while on vacation. So doing yoga on wobbly water, though it was intense on core, didn’t tire me. Plus I’ve done a lot of yoga in my lifetime, albeit on land (albeit I still fall over.) Today’s yoga was only an hour long, if that. But by the time we were done, I was mentally drained. Mental exhaustion was definitely the hardest part for me.

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In our real life, it’s not unlike the stress of being amidst a project in progress. When things are going right, we want so much to get out of the situation. But what happens is this: what we resist persists.’ I remember that exact feeling on my most recent project. It’s easily the hardest project I’d ever been on. I wished for it to be over. Yet the more I wished for that, the longer it became. It matters less how strong or fit you are, everyone gets mental stress.

Often we don’t see the effect of mental fatigue until much later. It’s obvious to us that we need physical rest when we are tired from doing physical activity. When we experience mental stress, we also need to rest. It may come in different forms: escape literature, working on our passion project, even sleeping. My point is that it’s important to be kind to our minds in addition to our bodies. If either side falters, we don’t operate well.

5. Fear of the Unknown Immobilizes Progress

Though we were in the ocean, we were in water shallow enough that I touch the bottom if I wanted. My greatest fear wasn’t that I would drown. I just did’nt like the feeling of losing control and falling into the water. So everything I did, I did conservatively to eiminate the possibility of losing control and falling into the water. At one point, my sister yells out, “just jump in!”… to get over the fear of falling. As it turned out, I declined her advice and progressed onto the subsequent yoga postures with utmost control and core. Looking back, had I loosened up a bit, and heeded her advice, I may have been more willing to try the more advanced postures. In any case, I was still feel pretty accomplished with my performance in my first water yoga class.

Would I do it again? Definitely. Next time we go to Bali, I’ll be the first to sign up for water yoga. Next time, I’ll probably be able to graduate from sheer fear and surviving the hour to “hey.. this is actaully kinda fun!”