Sarah Vaynerman is the Founder and CEO of Work From Om, “a NYC-based workplace wellness company that brings yoga, meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques to the office and corporate events.” At this year’s techsytalk LIVE conference, Sarah led a short, guided meditation for the attendees, to give us a taste of what she does with her clients. Afterwards, she and I sat down for a chat about the benefits of meditation in our high-tech world:
Sarah - Especially with tech startups, anyone who's working in any sort of always-on environment, which is almost everybody these days, it helps so much. Even if it's just to take 1,2,3 minutes, when you're really feeling like you have a hundred million thoughts flying around your head, and you're reaching for one and before you know it you feel like you've gotta grab this one, and you're all over the place… if you just close your eyes and kind of forget about all of this, center yourself, all of a sudden you're able to prioritize - now that's what I gotta do, that's what I gotta do.
Deborah - Yeah, I love meditation for that, it's just great… Tell me a little about your company.
S - So Work from Om is a little over a year old, formally - the LLC was formed in the end of May, 2014… It started as a Pinterest page, believe it or not. So what happened was, I finished my yoga teacher training, I was doing marketing consulting at the time, I still do because I don't make enough money doing this yet…
D – Haha - nobody does. I mean yoga and meditation is a hard field to make a living at...
S - What I found is that after I did my yoga teacher training, I wasn't as stressed even at work. It just kind of translated to the way I was dealing with clients, and my output, my performance, my creativity. I just felt lighter, and I felt like things were easier.
I think in this day and age, people think you've got to be going 110% all the time, you've got to be up till midnight, you’ve got to wake up at 6, and you’ve got to hammer through everything. I found that as soon as I kind of switched perspectives, I actually started to do better work. And, when I noticed that, I started to Google online, I became really passionately curious about [finding] any research that shows… that this is what's happening. And sure enough, there was so much of it, but it was all kind of just starting to come into light. I think now you hear more about it. But a year and a half ago, last February, when I Iiterally started this Pinterest page, it was just starting to become really a popular concept.
Before I knew it, I was reading articles in the Wall Street Journal and in Psychology Today and in the NY Times and the Washington Post and the Economist and Financial Times, and very shortly after, the Dalai Lama was speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, and he started talking about the role of mindfulness and compassion in business. I think it was Jamie Dimon was there with him, and I'm like, I gotta learn more about this.
So I called my Pinterest page Work from Om, and I thought it was cute, and people were like, that's so clever. I'm 30 years old, I live in New York, and all my friends work 14-hour days. So I started to work with just referrals, people I knew, and before I knew it, I started to realize that this was bigger than teaching a private yoga session in a corner office. And that's kind of where I said OK, I'm going to make this into a real business. I started to package some offerings, and market myself...
D - So are you still doing your marketing work?
S - Yeah definitely, in a minimized capacity. I think I'll probably have to give it up entirely soon.
D - Good. It's a good sign, I think.
S - It's a good sign because I'm getting a lot of leads and I'm getting a lot of visibility. I've never been a sales person ever, and I'm not good with numbers, so that's been my biggest challenge, figuring out OK, I have this many contacts, I need to email them this many times a month, I need to do an offering, I need to do an event, and I have to keep doing it. Because I can't just say OK, I'm going to have one event, and I'm going to do one thing... you've gotta keep people's attention, you've gotta stay out there...
D - Do you have a team or is it just you operating by yourself right now?
S - So, I'm the sole owner of the company. I work with a few contractors - yoga teachers, meditation guides, life coaches...
D - Do you have an administrative team or are you just handling it all by yourself?
S - I'm handling it all by myself.
D - Yeah, you're like me - solo entrepreneur.
S - Yeah, for now.
D - It's challenging, isn't it?
S - It's really, really challenging, actually. I just saw somebody in the ladies room who had asked me how has the first year been going, and... not that I never really thought about it, but no stranger has ever asked me that, so I'm like, you know it's been a huge learning experience.
D - Yeah, huge learning curve, I know.
S - More than anything, it's been a huge learning experience. The thing that I've learned the most, and thank goodness that I'm a yogi, is that as long as I want the business to be successful, it's never going to end. There's always going to be a problem, every single day. Every single day I'm gonna have a problem. Maybe not a big problem, but that's just what happens.
D - That's the nature of business. And what a wonderful opportunity to be yogic in your approach to business, to apply those principles.
S - And that's been really helpful for me, because I don't get as stressed out about it as I think a lot of other people do. I can laugh things off.
D - I think a lot of people get very bogged down by the annoyances and the problems, and they personalize them and they grind their guts about them. You know what, if you have a bigger picture, and you're really looking forward, you just... you have to pick and choose your battles and keep a perspective.
S - And like today, I'm having a great day! I'm so happy to be here, I'm so happy that I was able to do the meditation, so today is a good day. Another day is not gonna be a good day.
D - Today's a good day - great exposure, great industry, I mean the event industry is a great industry, not only for you as a practitioner to work with people directly, but also through their events, to do meditation demonstrations or meditation sessions as part of events, and let's say retreats, corporate retreats... there's so much possibility. This is a great crowd. I've known Liz for a number of years, and I've been attending this conference since it started, and I can tell you that the spirit of the LKE team just attracts great people.
S - Yeah, they are so amazing… I met Liz, Ed and Kelly a year and a half ago, before I started the business, because I work with Offsite, which is a meeting space.
D - Is that who you do marketing for?
S - Yeah.
D - I love it.
S - And they said to me, you know, this is an industry you might want to look at, for your yoga stuff, and I thought yeah, you're probably right, but I want to meet with Liz and Ed and Kelly first. I had drinks with them, and I said so here's what I'm into lately, what do you think?
D - And they were like...
S - They really, really, truly gave me that push, in all seriousness.
D - They're great, I love that story. That's sort of a testament to the power of networking. And relationship building, and really understanding just how much this industry is relationship driven, and really understanding when to move on the opportunities that we get presented... What is your philosophy about your work with relation to technology?
S - So, that's a really good question. I love technology. Before I ever took a yoga class, that is what I was about - social media, technology, content blogging. I was consulting, mostly in digital marketing, and I built my own website. I do my own marketing, I do my own social media to this day. So, I think it is really important. But I can also attest to how information overload and technology overload can be really detrimental to your mental, even physical health. I think it's so important to shut down an hour before you go to bed. And I know everyone knows that in theory, but nobody does it. I don't even always do it. But when I do? OMG, the difference it makes the next day. Even if I'm not in bed until midnight, but at 11:00 I turn off my TV and I put my phone on airplane mode. If I do that, and I get the same amount of sleep as if I was lying in bed there on Instagram, until I went cross-eyed and fell asleep - world of difference.
D - Huge.
S - And there's a lot of stats out there that talk about this. You know we're always multi-tasking, because it's like oh, I got an email, oh, I got a notification, oh, I got a call, and you're expected to be always on. Fifteen years ago, somebody would leave you a voicemail, you'd call them back, maybe the next day. Now you can text people, you can see if they read your message...
D - It's insane.
S - It's crazy, your brain is being pulled in a million different directions, and the truth is, we don't have any more time today than we had 20 years ago, but we have so much more demand for our attention. People say, oh, I'm a good multitasker. No you're not.
D - Nobody is.
S - Nobody is a good multitasker, and actually, multitasking is a collective delusion. We task switch, and you can lose up to 40% of your productivity that way than if you just stick to one thing and follow through. What I like to recommend is, alright you have a project that you think will take two hours to do, you really don't think you can do all of it in two hours, ok give it a half hour. Turn off your email. Give it a half hour - focus, focus, focus, then take three minutes, do a little breathing meditation, and then take a 20 minute break, catch up on your emails, do another very quick meditation, and go back to your project.
D - That makes sense.
S - Because our brains can't handle all of this ding, ding, ding, ding... You know, every time you get a notification, it's actually a chemical reaction that happens in our brain. Our dopamine receptors are being triggered. Because what happens is, oh, I got a Like, oh, I got an email, and then what we do is we sit there waiting for it, like on edge, because it quite literally messes with our serotonin levels and our dopamine levels, because we're waiting for that response.
D - That satisfaction.
S - Yeah, and it's a totally false sense of fulfillment, you know, and it's really bad.
D - This is really important, the stuff you’re talking about. Nobody else here is talking about this, because this is your wheelhouse, but I think it's a very important thing for people to understand. I was thinking about that this week for myself, that it's gotten worse, and I feel almost like I need to go to AA for social media or something.
S - Yeah!
D - That's what it feels like, at times. I blog and post in different places, and I'm involved in different platforms, not only for my own work but for clients, and it's just like, jumping around, and at a certain point I just feel like a crazy person.
S - And I started feeling that way too, and I think that's part of the reason... you know I started yoga not as an accident. I started yoga because I was extremely stressed out. And I didn't know why I was stressed out. I didn't. I mean I wasn't blaming work or home or anything. I was just, OMG I'm going nuts, and only after I realized that yoga was helping me with stress did I realize why. It was because when I go into a yoga class, I put my phone away. People go to the gym and they’re on their iPads. You go into a yoga class, nobody's on their phone.
D - It's a phone free zone. It makes a difference.
S - I mean it really, really, truly does.
D - I know, I always feel altered after I take a yoga class. It's like oh, this is how I want to be. And I'm sure you can relate to this. There's been so many times when I've just gotten on that mat, and I've practically cried with relief.
S - Because you feel like you're in a box, and nobody can see you, nobody can bother you, you're in a safe place, and that's it.
D - And you can just be with yourself and hear your own thoughts and feelings and feel your heartbeat and just be with yourself. It's a nice thing to have. What's next for you at this point? Have there been any mistakes you've learned from and what about new directions you want to go in?
S - So the thing we were just talking about with the idea of a digital detox, I am so passionate about.
D - I love that idea.
S - And it's not that that's where I see myself going, but I see that as being a cornerstone of what we offer to businesses, because I think it's starting to really come into light that employees are just too stressed out, and that being always on is actually not good for us.
D - That's a real need. That service would be filling a real need, I think.
S - And I think to teach people how to do that, and that it's OK… I mean people are afraid to be without their phone for five minutes.
D - Tell me about it.
S - Now there is so much research coming out that shows just how problematic our lifestyles are, and how beneficial even taking small steps to counteract that constant influx of information [can be]. How do you organize that in your head, and how do you deal with it, and how do you prioritize it? There's so much research now saying that honestly, meditate. Meditate. It'll lower your blood pressure. It'll increase your relaxation response. It'll help you think more clearly.
You know I mentioned it in our session, but there was this study where they went for eight weeks, I think it was 10 minutes a day, that may even be more than what the study showed, but they had a non-meditating group and a meditating group, and the meditating group, the parts of their brain that are responsible for focus, attention, decision making… became much, much thicker.
D - That makes total sense to me.
S - It's like a nap for your brain. You're strengthening your focus muscle, because if you're sitting there and you're breathing, and you're saying ok, I'm really thinking about how this air feels coming into my nose, and I'm really feeling the energy of my skin here, and you're able to focus without anything else, you're essentially strengthening your focus muscle. Just like anything else, it's like going to the gym for your brain. And I think that's really important for people, because I think communication is obviously so important, I mean it's not going anywhere, but there has to be an antidote to it. And for me - I have my eye on that.
D - Good. I'm glad to hear that. Any big mistakes or big lessons you've learned?
S - Yes, a lot of lessons and definitely a lot of mistakes.
D - Give me one in particular that stands out as teaching you something really important.
S - Well, I think that... it's funny, because as I say all this stuff, I think that for me, I need to become a stronger businessperson. I give so much away for free, and it's fine, and my contracts aren't airtight, and I'm not easy to push around, and I'm a pretty assertive person, but it's funny because ever since I got really into yoga and meditation, I don't want anyone stressing me out, so I'm like ok, whatever, whatever, whatever. And so that's a lesson I learned that even with the om, there still has to be a time where you put your business hat on and you say no, I insist this way.
You know somebody called me the other day from a really, really trendy startup, and so excited, and she wants to work with us, da da da, and how does it work? Do I get a complimentary session to start with? And I've given a lot of complimentary sessions to start with - I've never been asked for a complimentary session. It's always been something I offer when I feel like somebody is maybe on the fence. And I said no, I can give you an introductory rate, and after I hung up, I thought, OMG, I'm never going to get that business, and I still might not, but I felt like good, that's what I should have done. And it's what I'm going to do every time somebody asks me, so how does it work, do you give everybody a free session?
D - No, this isn't about freebies... People who ask for freebies aren't interested in paying. They demonstrate right from the beginning that they just are looking for something for free. They want a free taste. That's like when you walk into the frozen yogurt place and you want a free taste. You really mostly want a free taste, you're not necessarily buying.
S - Right.
D - Let's just be honest about it.
S - And I think the lesson there is to know, to feel confident in what my service is and what it's worth.
D - Absolutely.
S - I know it's worth something.
And so, in the true spirit of yoga and meditation, Sarah demonstrated the need to maintain the balance between a spirit of generosity and giving, and the exigencies of running a smart business. The kind of self-care and nourishing that we require to maintain our own internal balance is essential, if we are to keep up with our fast-paced professional lives. Thank goodness we have people like Sarah with services like Work From Om to help keep us on track.