APU Business Careers & Learning Leading Forward Podcast

What You Focus on, You Find: How a Positive Mindset Guides You to Success

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Podcast featuring Dr. Marie Gould Harper, Dean, Wallace E. Boston School of Business and
Christine Shaw, YES, Yoga for Emotional Support

Keeping up with work and life responsibilities can be stressful and overwhelming. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Marie Gould Harper talks to Christine Shaw with YES, Yoga for Emotional Support, about self-care practices including yoga and meditation that can improve your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Learn how managers can be more mindful of the stress and mental health issues of employees. Also learn some of the effective practices anyone can do to have and maintain a positive mindset, express more gratitude, and be happier and less stressed in their lives.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Welcome to our podcast today. I’m your host Marie Gould Harper. Today, we are going to talk about wellness and positivity as it relates to yoga techniques. My guest is Christine Shaw. I want to take a moment to provide some background information on her.

Christine is an enthusiastic innovator and entrepreneur, always looking to guide people to trust their intuition and heal from stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and life situations so they can thrive in life. She has over 40 years of experience in the wellness and fitness industry and thousands of hours teaching yoga. She is the owner of Liberty Yoga studio since 2012. Christine created YES – Yoga for Emotional Support after experiencing painful and challenging emotional situations when her daughter struggled with substance use disorder from the age of 12 to 19 and when she married a man who lived with the effects of unresolved childhood trauma.

She turned to yoga to help navigate and relieve her pain and stress and it has helped her to move forward and thrive in the face of difficult life situations. She delights in sharing ways for others to heal and be happy with YES classes that incorporate techniques like gentle and restorative yoga postures, sound and aroma therapy, chakra balancing, breathing, meditation and visualization practices, and much more.

These tools guide people to be their best selves in a welcoming and safe environment and to thrive in life. Christine is the owner of Liberty Yoga studio in Newark, Delaware, and welcomes all people to her and her team for yoga classes and YES classes in person and on Zoom. Christine, welcome to our podcast and thank you for joining me.

Christine Shaw: Hi, Marie. Thank you so much for having me today.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: We have a lot to cover, but first of all, so many people are experiencing difficult emotional situations since the beginning of the pandemic. Do you believe we have people walking around suffering from some level of emotional issues and requiring support?

Christine Shaw: Oh, absolutely. I really felt the need to share this yoga for emotional support with people way before the pandemic. And that just really heightened any people’s feelings of stress, anxiety, feeling like they can’t get out and especially not being able to communicate and interact with people, which is such a crucial part of every life.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yeah. I completely understand. One of the things that we have seen in the past, sometimes we have people who are hurting, but they don’t want to admit that they are hurting. How do you get people to open up to you so you can customize the right approach for what they are experiencing?

Christine Shaw: People hurt in so many different ways. One person might have anxiety that expresses it in one way and another person in another way. So it is challenging to understand, but I think the best way that I do that is just really listening to people. Listening to their story, and really that’s what many people just want is to be heard and understood.

So we start there by just allowing someone to be who they are and what they’re experiencing and accepting them just as they are in that moment. And from that place, we can delve a little deeper and find out what things might help, what tools, techniques, what practices that I can help them with to help them to feel more balanced and just feel better, day-to-day.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Now I’ve seen you in action. What I want you to share with our audience is, with people going through so many different things and you being one instructor, when you have a class, how do you meet the needs of everyone that’s present?

Christine Shaw: Well, that’s a great question. So yoga practices in general, help with stress and anxiety. Breathing deeply, focusing the mind, relaxing the body, and those practices can help for numerous mental health and wellbeing. They have numerous benefits for everybody. So everybody can get practices to help them no matter if they have grief, anxiety, trauma, depression—breathing, and relaxation practices. The best ones are really restorative. Being able to tune into your body. And for many people that can be unnerving. They don’t want to tune in because that’s a scary place to be.

But I help them to feel like it’s a safe space where they can relax and tune in. And then I guide them to being able to do that for them to come to this homeostasis or balance, harmony. Harmony is a good word, but it doesn’t happen in one little session. Continually coming and learning some new practices each time. Not only those practice of breathing and relaxing, but different practices to feel your energy in your body. There’s things called “tapping” and even aroma therapy helps. So there’s so many practices that I guide people to try and then they can see which ones will help them in their particular needs.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I know, and sometimes you have to be a part of the process to see that it really works because I know there have been times and I’ve been at conferences because this study and these techniques have become very popular to get people to relax at conferences as well so they can enjoy it a little bit more. And a lot of different things I’ve learned through different sessions, but one time when the instructor asked us to put the aromatherapy on our wrist and everything, I noticed it did make a big difference and I wasn’t sure why. But one of the things that you just stated, it’s being educated on the process as well. How many different levels do you usually deal with in a class and how do you make sure that everyone understands what they need to understand while you’re going through the process?

Christine Shaw: So when you say levels, what do you mean?

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Some people may be new to this, some may have been around for a while and doing yoga for a couple years or so. So when at different levels from their experience with the process.

Christine Shaw: Well in the Yoga for Emotional Support, it’s a different type, it’s a very unique class that I created because I thought, “Well, what is it that’s helped me in all my years of practicing yoga postures, and also doing these other yoga modalities?” And it’s not all about just yoga postures.

Of course, in the class we do that. But every person, no matter what level they are can do the practices. So that’s a great part of it because you can come and feel secure that you’re not going to have to be in these bendy pretzely shapes. The kind yoga postures that we do are restorative, lying down on your side, on your back with lots of props and just letting yourself go.

And I think many people don’t do that. They run around, they’re in a busy life and when they are ready at the end of the day to crash, that’s what they do and then they’re just unconscious, sleeping. And they’re not used to getting into a place where they can be conscious and relax. Some people that’s very unfamiliar to them.

So then the other practices that they do, they also don’t have to know anything about it because I’m there teaching them, and we work together to learn other parts of your energy system. So we work with the chakras, we learn about tapping and how just tapping your body informs your whole system, because that’s why yoga is mind and body and spirit. We do spiritual practices like chanting and learning mantras and affirmations. So there’s a lot more to this class than simply yoga postures.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: And you’re talking about the YES program. Correct?

Christine Shaw: Yes.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Okay. My next question, through conversations we’ve talked about potential audiences that you can attract and we were definitely discussing the workplace, different organizations. There’s a lot of articles out there talking about people being very stressful, trying to balance their life with their work life. Now that some people are still working remotely, trying to draw boundaries so that they do have a personal life. Why do you think this particular program would be valuable to employees in the workplace as well as in their communities?

Christine Shaw: Well, I believe that people in the workplace are there and they’re doing their job and they have this job to do and they have to focus on that and do what their boss says and there’s a lot of stress just in the job and all the deadlines they have to do. But in the background, there’s always other things that are going on. Whether it’s, they’re struggling with their relationship with their spouse or their children like I was.

I had a daughter who was struggling with addiction and I could barely function in my other life, which I had to. I had to be able to go to the yoga studio and teach people deep breathing and things. And I did do it, but I know there was things going on in the background.

So at the workplace we can address stresses that happen actually at the workplace but also, what are the other things that you’re bringing table that you probably don’t address? You’re not sharing it with your colleagues, your boss, because you think, “Oh, well I can’t talk about my personal stresses or griefs in the workplace.” So the practices that we do will help them to find that harmony in both places.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I’m glad you brought that up. When I was a HR executive, that was a topic that came up and it’s been a while since I was in that particular environment. And that’s the whole question of, is it appropriate to talk about your personal life in the workforce? I’ve always fallen on the line of, I don’t think it’s appropriate that you pry into a person’s business. However, if a person is trying to share some information with you to give you a feel where they are emotionally and mentally, I think that’s helpful because when we had situations such as violence in the workplace, which was a hot topic for a number of years and given the stress that people are in today, I’m seeing that come back, a person may be going through something and you are not aware as the leader of a particular department.

However, the organization may be planning on doing something where one or more of the actions acts as a trigger point and then you may have a reaction that you were not ready for in the workplace. If you had the opportunity to do a workshop for different leaders, whether they’re HR leaders or just frontline, supervisors and managers, how would you use your techniques to help them become alert to an employee who may not be okay emotionally?

Christine Shaw: One thing I say a lot when people come to yoga classes is I say, “Just imagine that everybody’s walking around with an invisible sign on their head that says handle with care. And we do not know what other people are experiencing day to day going around. And just a little kindness, just a little I care.” Somebody wants to feel like they have support. Everybody, like I said, wants be heard.

So, in the workplace, I would say, start there in allowing people a safe place to be a little vulnerable, share a little. They don’t have to share their whole thing. Just, “Hey, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed from…,” and they can tell you like a general. And then we can go from that place to give these techniques of what you can do especially, like you used the word “trigger.” There might be triggers happening all the time and we don’t know that.

With somebody like what someone said, even a sight, or a sound, or words are really important, the way that we speak to people. So some person could be triggered and now are they going to be as effective in the workplace with this heightened anxiety feeling in their body from something that happened?

So, I give practices like breathing practices and opportunities for you to go in a little bit to set your boundaries. We talk a lot about boundary setting and what’s your responsibility and what’s not. And it all has to do with relationships. So there’s a lot that we can share, that I can share with people to help them to manage those things.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: You mentioned setting boundaries, I’m very big on setting boundaries and I am very adamant about not allowing people to cross lines, but some people are new to this particular way of thinking.

What is your advice from a positive standpoint on how individuals can communicate to coworkers or even family members about the boundaries that they have established for themselves? How do they get other people to accept them?

Christine Shaw: Well, I would first start by saying, this sentence, “What do I need to do to take care of me?” So a boundary is not about telling another person what they need change, but it’s about you setting that, this is what I will or I will not accept and then setting a consequence.

So if this does happen again, here’s what I will do. I won’t be able to be in that meeting with you now, if this does happen again. Or we’re going to have to communicate in a different way. We’ll to communicate through emails, versus in-person, so I could take time to think about it. Whatever the scenario might be. So I think those are the two main things, taking care of you, saying it clearly with just a few words and also setting that consequence.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I like that. That sounds very healthy and positive, but it also brings to mind, I’m of the belief that some of the behaviors that we are seeing and experiencing today are not necessarily a result of the pandemic alone.

I think social media, the rise of social media, is also a factor as well. For example, when people are very safe and comfortable in their own space with no one there and when they’re typing their comments on different social media platforms, there’s no one there to have, I want to call it sense of control, to keep them within boundaries.

And I think individuals have gotten to the point where they believe that, one, whatever they say is gospel. Two, there are no consequences for their behavior. And three, my favorite thing that I like to say is for every action, there’s a reaction and that people tend not to be ready for the reaction because when they’ve been on social media, they’ve just been putting out what they think and what they think in their mind is the right thing or the right way.

Based on your experience, what would you say to someone who, I’m thinking of the word deprogram, or just step back? And I’ve seen a number of people who have said, “We just need to step back from social media for a while, because everything is not healthy.” Have you had any individuals come into your sessions that will bring up other forces that have created distress for them?

Christine Shaw: Not necessarily in the social media realm, but sure. What I tend to do is get onto the social media, the Facebook pages that are positive. We don’t need any more negativity in our lives and it’s not like you’re turning a blind eye to it. There are things out there that are important issues and needs to be addressed, women’s rights and all of the things that are pressing right now. Certainly we don’t have to get in there and be, one thing that I like is this little phrase, before you speak, “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?”

So we can always go into any kind of conversation or whatever we’re going to do on there and just say, “Is this necessary?” If you feel it’s necessary, then “Is it kind?” And the word true just might be like relating to talking about other people. You mentioned who’s right and who’s wrong, whenever you’re trying to figure that out, there’s no winners there.

So we’re not trying to do that. And I think mostly people wish to just be heard. Again, I’m going to come back to that because we want to be heard and as long as we’re not, we’re practicing ahimsa, which is a yoga term, meaning kindness and non-harming, then it’s okay if we say our opinion. Everyone is entitled to having their opinion.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes. And with that, with the kindness, I want to share an example of one of your YES classes. One time I went to your studio and I was looking for someone else and, as usual, I was in a hurry. I had a million things going on and I had my little priority list and you stopped me and you invited me into the class. And I know my original thought was like, “Do I have time to do this? And I haven’t seen Christine for a while. I guess I should.” And there were different things going on.

And I remember the particular exercise that you were on. It was very relevant to how I was feeling about a situation that I had pushed back in my head. And I remember how you were able to get the different people in the class to identify a situation. And then you went through the process of talking about how to release it.

Now I will be honest, when I left there I felt a lot better, but what I wanted to share for our audience was it didn’t take long. It was about 5 or 10 minutes. It was towards the end. So can you speak to that?

You have a nice flow. And for people who are always on the go and busy like myself to allow them to know that it doesn’t always take a lot of time, but how effective some of the techniques you use can go up to the cognitive level and switch your situation around very quickly. So can you spend a few minutes just talking about that because I found that very helpful and I am a witness that can say that it does work.

Christine Shaw: Well. You know what? I created the class because I wanted it to be a place where it was welcoming and inviting so that we start out in this little circle when we come in. And we just share, we’re not trying to share all our problems or anything like that. The purpose is solutions. The purpose of coming to class is solutions. I’m feeling this overwhelm, this anxiety, this stress, or I’m just feeling life stuff. It doesn’t have to be a giant emotional thing that’s happening.

So gathering together to say “hi” and greet everyone and then thinking of what we want to let go of. What are things in our lives you could probably think right now of things that you could let go of? Worry or tension or whatever it is. And we actually, at the end, we’ll do a burning ritual with fire and words so that we can really let go of these things that are standing in our way of being happy and thriving.

So, we start there and then we move to saying what we are grateful for, what energy we want to invite in. We choose these little angel cards that have positive focus. So what we focus on, we’re going to find. I love to think about that. What I focus on, I’m going to find. So if I focus on something I don’t want, I’m still going to find that thing. It’s going to show up in my life. So that’s a really important thing that we highlight a lot in class.

So after the circle time, now we go over to your individual yoga mat, rest in a restorative posture. We may use essential oils, we might use singing bowls, which I do that in class, and any kind of other sound that’s relaxing, like theta brain wave sounds. And then we go on to learning a few techniques. I mentioned a few here, like tapping.

I think the one that you’re describing, Marie, might be Byron Katie. So guess what? I haven’t created and invented new stuff. All the stuff that I’m sharing with people is already out there. So Byron Katie does this thing called The Work and it’s about the “should” that we put on other people like this person should and shouldn’t do that. And raise your hand how many of you do that?

We have some judgments we can go around with and they end up making us feel crappy or angry. Can I say crappy? We just say it like it is. Sometimes we can bring our own self down by just trying to figure out what other people should do. So, anyway, I think we did that practice and very quickly, when we say, “How is this making me feel when I judge I other people? What if I didn’t have that thought?”

And then we could be like, “Oh gosh, if I didn’t have that thought, I would feel more relaxed. I would feel more at peace.” So that’s just one of the things we teach. So there’s many techniques based on, like I said, energy and spiritual practices, meditation, walking meditation.

Ways to soothe and calm, but also little techniques like I really love the book by don Miguel Ruiz and it’s called “The Four Agreements” and I will teach those too. So the four agreements are be impeccable with your word. We’re just talking about that. Whatever we say, is it kind, is it truthful is it necessary?

The second one is don’t take anything personally. Again, how many of us can take things personally? Don’t make assumptions. We can end up assuming that people say, are saying things about us or me have a certain meaning to what they are saying. And the final one is always do your best.

So these are some of the practices that I’ve researched and learned and that have helped me so much that I share them in the YES class. So finally we do these restorative postures. We do some gentle yoga movement and breathing techniques.

And then at the end, we will end by coming around and doing this burning ritual, and then we leave with a quote of inspiration. So like you said, it doesn’t take a long time, but in this time, everybody that has come has said, “I really learned so much and it’s so helpful to come back time and again to keep practicing these techniques and learning new ones.”

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Exactly. And the one thing that I like, the ownership is on the person. We can only change ourselves, we can’t worry about others around us. They may do things that cause reaction on us, but we are only responsible for changing ourselves.

Christine Shaw: That’s right. And I start the sessions always saying, “Think of an affirmation, positive affirmations that you can say to yourself,” and we take a deep breath and we say, “The more I love myself, the more love I have to offer to others.” That’s just one of my favorite, but everyone comes up with their own affirmations. And then I say, “And take a deep breath. And as you exhale, remind yourself that this time is solely for you and your self-care.” So, like you said, it’s important that we know we’re nurturing ourselves so that we can be the best person that we can be as we go out into the world.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I totally agree. Well, Christine, I want to thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise. Are there any closing words of wisdom that you would like to share with the audience?

Christine Shaw: Well, I think as you and I are going to do a little series here and I would love to share, so if everyone tunes back in, a practice you can do and you can see like Marie was saying how quickly it is to just put this simple practice into place. So I would love to share some of the actual practices that you can learn and incorporate in your life and class.

And I just want to end by saying that you can practice this one, what you focus on, you find. And this positive mindset that we can, it’s a choice. Having a positive mindset, it’s choice. We can say, “I find myself sometimes going to a little dark place or a little thought that’s like, I can tell if I keep that thought going, it’s not going to serve me in any way.” So I switch it and I say, “What would be a more positive thought?” Here’s one of them. “I live in a sea of positivity and gratitude.” And I have that thought going on. And that’s what I want to focus on.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes, you are what you think.

Christine Shaw: You are what you think. That’s right.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: And I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. Christine and I plan to do a series as she mentioned on this topic. So stay tuned and have an amazing day.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of experience.

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