Learning To Listen

Do I want you to read this? Yes. Does it have anything to do with yoga? Um… kinda, sorta, well, you’ll see.

This short memoir is currently published in a writing contest hosted by an on-line audiophile magazine. An audiophile, if you’re not familiar with the psychosis, defines a music-loving individual with a rather strong predilection for buying expensive stereo equipment. Expensive means different things to different people, so, if you’re worried, take this quick test:

Clue # 1. If you’ve spent more on your audio equipment than, say, your car… chances are you’re afflicted (in which case, call me for support, we’re forming a 12-step group).

As yogis and yoginis, we constantly listen to our bodies. This keeps us safe from injury and allows us to assess our progress in this life-sustaining practice. Pronounced pains and aches are fairly obvious –– but for most new students, it is more difficult to hear the quiet, subtle messages that eventually become our primary guidance as our practice matures. Maybe it was second nature to you, but I took my first yoga class in my mid-twenties. And as a life-long, testosterone-soaked soccer player, in terms of listening to my body, I was clinically deaf.

Over the years, my saving grace was that caring, tuned-in yoga teachers had taken the time to teach me how to listen. See, I told you there was a connection! Once I heard more of what was actually going on in there, these inner newscasts informed all my decisions of when to hold, when to breathe, when to dial it back a notch, and when to stop trying to impress the cute brunette in the next row and focus on what I really needed in that moment…

Whereas the subject matter may not be familiar, I believe there’s an outside chance you may actually enjoy this short story. The checklist instruction sheet at the very end is very cool old-school guidance which has been downloaded by untold numbers of enthusiastic readers. If you’ve read this far, you pretty much have to go for it… so, enjoy. And please, write a comment with your impressions. 


Learning To Listen

by Alón Sagee

My audiophile life began in adolescence, which of course added to my parents’ concerns about my turning out at least close to “normal.” No doubt their mounting fears were justified, as I was known to hang what my wife calls “audio-porn” on my bedroom walls at 14 years old. It’s not that I didn’t have the hots for Farah Fawcett, I did—but the pin-up I remember most was a cool, slinky Sansui receiver with a lit-up dial that made me drool. I would stare at it often, fantasizing about one day owning such a thing of beauty. At the time, both the Sansui and Farah seemed equally unattainable.

As a semi-normal, cash poor but fairly resourceful youngster, I embarked on my first DIY project, which entailed enhancing the sound of my crappy red plastic all-in-one stereo by reinstalling the speakers in empty one-gallon cardboard milk containers. There was no question…they still looked crappy, but they sounded much better. By 15, I was completely hooked on all things audio.

At 20, I bought my first audiophile gear at HiFi Haven, a high-end audio dealer in my college neighborhood in New Jersey. This was definitely not a part of town you’d expect to find an expensive audio store. On its left was a raunchy strip club and on its right was Greasy Tony’s, purveyor of questionable cheese steaks to students, vagrants and felons alike. This infamous establishment was open all night, every night and was staffed by the shadiest, crustiest characters you can imagine. While some of my friends frequented one or both of these paragons of local culture, I found more excitement wandering around expensive stereo systems. Names like Dahlquist, DCM Time Windows, Nakamichi, Linn and Mark Levinson populated my daydreams.

One day, as I was wandering through the store, a salesman named Peter Cuddy noticed the hungry look in my eyes as I ogled the gear on display. He seemed to enjoy my enthusiasm, and without any hesitation or pressure to buy anything, took it upon himself to teach me how to listen, not just hear.

At those fortunate times (for me, anyway) when the store wasn’t busy with actual paying customers, my new mentor taught me how to listen deeply into the music he selected, revealing to my attention new layers of nuance and subtlety that I completely missed before his instruction. Soon, I was beginning to discern not only whether the gear in question had the ability to place me in the recording venue and involve me emotionally in the musical event, but whether it could also reveal the intent of its composer and/or performer. Once again, I was completely enthralled by this new world that was unfolding before my ears.

Not long after he took me under his wing, Mr. Cuddy handed me a photocopied sheet that would serve as my main reference throughout my education. That single page of roughly typed but timeless questions cut through to the heart of what is meaningful to audiophiles—namely, how closely does what I’m hearing resemble live music?

For 32 years, this document was in a file with all my old owner’s manuals. I came across it recently when I was looking for the original paperwork for my Thiel CS2s, which I had put up for sale in our local community.

Surprisingly, a 15-year-old responded, and soon came over for a demo of the speakers. He had never seen an LP or turntable up close before. Sitting somewhat self-consciously in the sweet spot, I watched his jaw unhinge as the first seconds of analogue, tube-driven music came to life in the room. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. We played track after track, until he was saturated with a new sense of how amazing reproduced music can sound.

I assured him that although the Thiels would not sound quite like this in his system, I would come out to voice his room, and over time, help him pick out components that would sound great with these wonderful speakers. He left quite excited.

When he came over the next day with his Mom to pick them up, she quipped, “I hope you know he’ll never be the same again… and that sounds very expensive!” Yeah, sorry about that… right on both counts, my friend.

Although he doesn’t know it yet, this budding audiophile is getting a copy of this Critical Listening document. Peter Cuddy’s legacy will live on in this young man, and one day, I imagine him passing it on to another wide-eyed kid who is ready to discover the wonders of music through high-end audio.

Wherever you are, Peter Cuddy… thank you.

p.s. If you are interested in a copy of this Critical Listening document, click the link below. And if you are moved, please share it freely with your friends.


Creative Solutions, Epiphanies and Downloads During Yoga

As long as we’re admitting that we can’t always sustain being rooted to the present moment, even during yoga… let’s have some fun with it!

Does this sound familiar? You’re in a certain asana, your eyes fixed on your drishti, you’re totally focused… and without any warning, your mind pops open in a flash of brilliance and hands you the name of that person whose name you couldn’t recall for days and it was driving you crazy!  Or maybe an idea for a book, or a business, or an art piece––complete and thought-out, like you’ve been working on it forever. Wait, how about this one: a clear, totally plausible solution to a question, puzzling situation or problem you’ve been stewing over for weeks?

Mine was a solution to a question that was hanging around me for years! There I was, completely engaged in supta virasana, when a reasonable answer to why the years go by faster as we get older flooded my consciousness. Whether or not the answer is correct is another issue… but it sure felt right when it was instantly downloaded into my brain. Oh, the answer, right…. What I received is that when we were, say, 4 years old, every year is 25% of our entire life experience––with so many new experiences, it felt like a lot of new  and wondrous information, so the year seems to go forever!  Ergo, if you’ve just turned 40-thirteen, each year is one 40-13th of your full life’s experience, with many, if not most of the experiences being ones you’ve experienced before––which feels like a lot less information, therefore it feels like it goes by really fast. Makes sense to me.

Are these some sort of gift from our yoga practice? I can’t be the only one who experiences this! So, pray-tell, what has downloaded itself into you during yoga? Share your anecdotes by posting a comment (scroll down) and consider subscribing to this thread to read all the great ideas that yogis have had when we’re totally (or supposedly) focused.

Promotions, Hype and Yoga

As Seen on TV - Old Fashioned TelevisionFor a vendor offering warm clothing on a foggy summer day in San Francisco, or those selling umbrellas during a torrential downpour in London, not much promotion is necessary to move product… the need is obvious and immediate.While yoga has made tremendous inroads into western culture — attracting students is not yet as easy as selling cold lemonade in the Sahara. Until yoga becomes a need to the masses (like it is for us), we’ll continue to use promotions to build our businesses.

Promoting your business can be fun, if you get creative. Here in North America, we’ve all laughed at ridiculous late night TV promotions that shout “order before midnight tonight to get an extra super special wizbop absolutely FREE!”  Admit it, there was a time you saw those Ginsu knives cutting through copper pennies and thought they might do a pretty good job on broccoli.

Wherever you find yourself in today’s fast-paced culture, certainly you’ve experienced the feeling of thousands of offers and promotions vying for your attention. With yoga’s dramatic growth, the yoga business community has doled out its share. You’ve heard them all:

First class Free; Second class free; Bring a friend; Refer a friend; 10 Days for $10; 20 Days for $20; 3 Classes for the price of 2; Unlimited Plan Sign up specials; Intro packages; Summer specials (fleece included); Mother’s Day sales; National Fight Procrastination Day sale (which I never do get around to preparing for… It’s on June 6th, if you must know). And then of course, there is the method of delivery: Will you send out a postcard? Put up flyers? Advertise in the paper? Put brochures on cars in parking lots? Do it all through social media?

So many questions. How far should you go to promote your business? What works? What doesn’t? The clear answer to all these important inquiries is an emphatic “No one knows.” Because, as you’ll appreciate, it depends on some key factors that are unique to your business.

The frustrating thing is that a promotional program can succeed wildly at one studio and fail miserably at another. Why is that?Making a correct choice of how to promote depends on your studio’s personality, your community, the way you, the owner, think about your business, what the self-talk tapes running in the background of your mind are saying, and so many other factors that have more to do with your attitude than any cookie-cutter formula for successful promotions.

To me, the most important issue is resonance. Does the promotion you are considering feel like something your community will gravitate towards naturally, or will they consider it a cheesy annoyance? Will it support the feeling and philosophy that drives your business or detract from it?

Once again, the answer to this tricky business question lies in knowing your audience. Just because a yoga studio somewhere had success with a particular promotion does not insure you the same results.

Yoga entrepreneurs have asked my opinion on many of their promotional ideas. Before even assessing the merits of a particular idea, I ask: “Would you participate in this yourself if you were the student?” It’s amazing how many timessilence follows that question.

Make sure that every promotion you think of implementing is something that YOU would feel good about if you were the student! Never expect good results with an idea you yourself could not get excited about. Then, once you’re sure it’s something that would feel good to you, ask some of your students. Make sure what you have in mind matches your audience and only then spend the time, energy and money to implement it.

To help us all make better choices, post a comment or question here so that we can explore this issue in more depth with the help of many yoga entrepreneurs from our global community. If you have an anecdote, share your wisdom, experience, and stories of success (as well as outright disappointments). This should be interesting and informative.


Leading with Vision

BlackThis photo was taken during dinner at a unique San Francisco restaurant in celebration of my wife’s mumble mumbleth birthday. It was quite expensive, but worth every penny. More on this profound dining experience further down.

I share this with you because I’m always on the lookout for unique businesses who do things a little differently… businesses that are successful in marketing their products and services by having captured our attention with something different, something meaningful to us, as well as to its founders. It seems not to matter whether the offer is new technology, pizza, or yoga — what’s important is the meaning and how it upholds the vision. The more creatively and consistently this vision is presented to our audience, the more it is remembered and assimilated — which naturally gives rise to more buzz, more word-of-mouth and never-ending referrals.

When an owner’s vision for their business is clearly defined, and all decisions are informed by that vision, something amazing happens: the entire venture is imbued with what most of us yoga-types would call flow, harmony and maybe even sparkle. You know, businesses that seem like they can do no wrong– that grow almost effortlessly…

Well, it’s not just the owner’s skill and experience–that doesn’t guarantee anything. I’ve seen experienced entrepreneurs fall flat on their face in the yoga business. The rules are different for us denizens of yoga land. We require meaning. We move forward from the heart, in lock-step with our vision and our calling.

A powerful business vision inspires and galvanizes communities, acting as a beacon for an ongoing stream of new clients who naturally align with the vision and want to experience and participate in it themselves.

Many yoga entrepreneurs open their business with only a vague notion of what meaningful role their business can have in the world. How about you? Did you start your business to build a community you could lead? Maybe you were simply but powerfully called to share your love of yoga… or maybe you wanted to fund your Italian Sports Car habit. All answers are valid as long as they are important to you (we yogis try not to do the judgement thing too much).

A clear vision allows you to keep every policy, every promotion, every staff member and teacher aligned with the raison d’être of your business.

A recommendation: no matter the size of your yoga endeavor, whether you’re a part-time teacher or owner of a chain of studios, consider incorporating into your vision this truth: your yoga business is changing the world. Yes, really. Everything is connected, and although we’ll never quite know the trickle-down effect that our helping even one person find peace, freedom or joy can have, we know we’re making a difference. How would embracing this truth change or enhance your relation to your business? How would you inspire your staff (even if you’re the only staff)? If you really knew that you’ve been called to change the world through your yoga, how would you align your marketing, your policies, your everything with that vision?

Most small studio owners tend to fall into the General Manager role, rather than the visionary leader role. Managers deal with operating the business, Leaders guide it to match the vision in every way possible. Even though you may have to wear both these hats in the early stages, what will be noticed by your audience is the way you’ve held the vision, and how apparent the reason you’re doing this shows up in your business.

Understandably, when you’re working long hard hours just to keep the doors open, it’s a little difficult to come up with creative new ideas that are aligned with your recently expanded vision, right? Being overwhelmed by minutia and maxutia (my word for when the studio’s heating system dies, for example), many overworked yoga entrepreneurs find themselves feeling like a slave to their business and don’t have time to do their practice let alone implement any #&@^<# (insert expletive) vision!

Well, good news and bad news: The bad news is that there’s really no other reasonable option.You must free up some time to regularly renew and refresh the way you present your vision–because, frankly, no matter how brilliantly you’ve done things so far, everything can get stale after some time… just like those affirmation post-it notes stuck on your fridge and bathroom mirror… after a while you just don’t see them anymore.

The good news is that once you’ve got your vision nailed down, creative and wildly effective ideas can be simple to implement. Yes, even great things can be achieved with ease. You know your community. What little things can you think of that would make them feel celebrated for their participation in your world-changing yoga business? What would make them feel all warm and fuzzified? What would make you feel that way?

So, clearing the path — how can you free up time to work on this? Can you delegate some of your manager minutia? Should you go on a strict email diet, limiting how much of your precious time you spend returning unimportant or at best, semi-important emails (ouch… that one hurt)? Bottom line, if we really set our intention to make space for what’s truly important, we’ll usually find the time.

In session, even the most creatively stuck clients will brainstorm with me and come up with lots of unique ideas that celebrate, surprise and delight their community while upholding the vision. This is so important to do on a regular basis and, in my opinion, should not be delegated. Delegate the other tasks, this one is for the visionary leader of your yoga community. Yes, you!  Even if you don’t quite feel like a visionary leader just yet, put your toe in the water… the response you’ll get from your community will give you a needed blast of energy and recognition that you’re on the right path.

If you’re still having brain freeze, grab a couple of your favorite teachers and take them out for a brainstorming lunch… together you’re bound to come up with a handful of vision nuggets to try out. If they don’t work, try some others… just don’t give up! The effort alone can start a buzz in your studio.

No matter what anyone else tells you, changing the world can be fun.

Now, back to the photo of my wife and I having her birthday dinner at that unique restaurant. Yes, I know it’s all black, that’s because the entire dinner was enjoyed in total darkness! Yes, really. For two hours, without a flicker of light, all senses but one were engaged in high attention.  As yogis, our awareness is usually more acute to begin with, so we were very tuned in to every nuance of our environment — the food, each other, and especially our delightful waitress, who, like all the wait staff, was completely blind.

Talk about a creative and meaningful vision: the profits from this unique restaurant are used to change the world by funding research to reverse blindness.

Wow. Being welcomed into a different world for an evening, allowing ourselves to be graciously guided and reoriented to living for a short time without the sense we trust the most, and participating in a restaurant’s world-changing vision… What an unforgettable and meaningful experience!


Happy Birthday G!

In celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 143rd birthday, the consistently creative team of MC Yogi and his wife Amanda put out this remarkable video. Please pass along this timeless message of peace. Watch it here.

Contest extended!

Our panel of judges informed me that due to thousands of you being so busy doing yoga this summer, it would be good to give you some more time to channel that perfect name for our blog mascot. I agree. The new deadline is August 31st 2012.

Looking forward  to reading your submission.