Stories

30 Days of Yoga

  Pictured here is Maile, owner of Tula Yoga Studio in Logan Square. (Photo from  tulayoga.net )

Pictured here is Maile, owner of Tula Yoga Studio in Logan Square. (Photo from tulayoga.net)

I've been practicing Yoga for about 10 years (on and off), and from the moment I stepped into my first yoga class, I knew I had found a component of my life that was going stay with me forever. I've moved around to several cities during these past 10 years and I have found yoga studios that I loved but have had to move on from. Since coming to Chicago, I tried out several Yoga studios to see where I felt at home - there were a lot of trial and errors, Groupons that allowed me to speed date studios with no commitment, referrals from others, but it wasn't until I found Tula Yoga Studio that I knew I wanted to commit to learning from the teachers who communed in its space.

Before I write about the 30 day challenge, I'd like to tell you a bit about why this studio is so special, and also why it captured my yoga spirit from the very first class I attended. 

Yoga is a spiritual activity to me, and my yoga mat is my personal sacred ground. It is during this time where my body becomes aware that it is breathing, alive, and able to reconnect with the fact that, at the end of the day, I am me. The reason I tell you this is because it has become increasingly more important to me to be around people who are spiritually aware of the universe, and my yoga practice is my highest priority to achieve this kind of surrounding. 

I have found the instructors at Tula studio to be extremely spiritually aware of their surroundings while thoroughly emotionally intelligent at the same time. It is a rare skill to be able to meet spiritual states with an appropriate emotional response, and Tula, I believe, has achieved that. I haven't encountered every single instructor just yet, but the ones I have communed with all possess this rare skill - and I make an extra effort to attend their classes. And let me tell you, it is a wonderful encounter with every single class. 

Maile, the owner of Tula, is also someone who I look up to. Her heart and vision for opening up a studio tailored to students who want to learn and grow in their yoga practice is unparalleled and she has single-handedly pushed forth a growing organism that Logan Square cannot ignore. Not only did she collect Tula's great instructors, but this lady has thought of everything when it comes to servicing yoga students, and I finally discovered why. She shares this on Tula's website:
 

"I purposely chose not to pursue a yoga teacher’s certification or training program before opening the studio because I wanted to make sure that I built the studio through my naïve eyes of a student, still open to many ideas and interpretations."
- Maile Wicklander


Many yoga studios have changing areas, cubes for personal storage, yoga storage, etc. but Maile also thought about the little things that make all the difference. The bathrooms have bobby pins and hair ties, the common area is always stocked with complimentary tea, there are spray bottles to clean your mats after class, complimentary towels and mats, and so much more - all of which I have used when needing them the most, and it is because of these things that make Tula so great. Could she be a service designer?! I'd say, "Yes."

Over the course of a few years of attending this studio, I saw students in past years take on the "30 day Challenge." Yoga every day for 30 days. "Are you crazy?" you ask? That's what I said. My mind couldn't grasp this idea and I had the utmost respect for those who I saw take on the challenge. "I could never do that," I thought. But in the 3rd year of watching students conquer their 30 days, something gave me the courage to want to try. So, I took the plunge. If not now, then when? Right?

"Alright, I'll do it," said I.

The first 5 days were really tough. My body was exhausted and I couldn't even think. On the 5th day, Rhiannon (the resident Yoga teacher), asked me how I was doing and I told her that it was pretty difficult - that my body was exhausted. She kindly told me that with every yoga class, I didn't have to push myself like I normally do, and that it was ok to rest - and then it hit me. I had been approaching every class like I usually do - by giving it my all. Except going everyday as opposed to 3 times a week should be entirely something else, right? This tidbit of wisdom set the stage for the next 25 days and I am so happy that I had that talk with her. It gave me a larger perspective of what I was trying to accomplish and that my body needed to be heard with more sensitivity than usual. So, I did as she said and it set me up for better game plan.

I could talk about the yoga itself but to tell you the truth, that part is the least interesting component of this experience. Yes, I had to make it to class every day. Yes, my entire schedule ran around making it to class. Yes, I had muscle cramps every now and then - but, these are all things we experience when we put our physical bodies through something like this. 
 

What was more magical to me than my body becoming freakishly strong was the community that was brought forth to me by just showing up.


Here are 10 beautiful moments that occurred during the challenge:

1) Re-encountering a friend who I had lost touch with for about 2 years.

2) Finding out that one of my Letterpress students is the roommate of one of the yoga instructors.

3) Re-connecting with an artist who I had worked on a project with a year ago and hadn't seen since.

4) Spending quality time with Tula's fellow yogis while putting together care packages for Syrian refugees during my first yoga happy hour.

5) Demoing a pose for the first time which made me panic inside but I accomplished without fainting (whew!).

6) Discovering the most wonderful camomile tea blend that Maile brings in from the Logan Square farmer's market. It is that good.

7) Understanding what "Restorative Yoga" is and realizing how much training my mind needs while practicing yoga. (I found another favorite yoga teacher because of this class!)

8) Learning about Maile's vision for the studio when creating it - which made me appreciate it even more (you can read about it here).

9) Miraculously accomplishing yoga poses I have struggled with for years.

10) Communing with the people of Logan Square.


I've mentioned this before but I am an extreme introvert who has learned to survive in an extrovert world, and part of what I've been learning to do is to just go and be. During this challenge, I had to go and be, and the universe graciously met me there. Overall, this challenge opened my eyes to see more than what my body can physically handle - and to focus in on what it's trying to tell me everyday. It let me see the beauty of a community space that encourages communing with each other on the premise of just existing. Will I do it again? Absolutely. 

I'm now back to my schedule of 3-4 times a week but it's different now when I go to Tula. Each class is more intentional. I have a better understanding of what I'm doing and what my body requires of me. I also feel more confident in my yoga practice than I have ever been while knowing that there is still so much more to learn - and I think I'm ready for it. For this I am extremely grateful.

I chatted about this challenge to some folks I work with and conversations began to arise about micro-challenges - which is the idea of creating little 30 day challenges for yourself that are small, but are still based on commitment. I'm wondering what I should do for that... tweet everyday for 30 days? I'm so bad with social media... maybe I'll just stick to just writing more. :)



UX Notes: I'm going to mention a little bit of a feedback engine that was given to us 30 day yogis. We had a calendar on the wall where we could put a colored star every day we participated. So small and tiny but such a great way to feel accomplished everyday. No wonder this works in a classroom setting with kids, right? I cannot stress how important it is for product designers to make sure that small rewards are given towards users while completing a task. Make it as cheesy as you want but it will keep your user fueled to achieve their end goal. 

Service Design Notes: How might we learn from what Maile created in her yoga studio? It is clear that her empathy for a yoga student stemmed from her own experiences, and it is this empathy that drove creative solutions and services that builds loyal students who keep coming back for more. Let's make sure we participate in the services we are designing so that we can have this kind of empathy for the users who use our designs!

A New Year = Clear Your Cache

Our traditional New Year's Day meal. (Photo courtesy of my sister, Ashley Cho)

It begins. A new year. A new outlook. A new life... blah blah blah. It went from a Thursday to a Friday - but somehow, the last digit of the year changed, which will inevitably beckon weeks of crossing out 5's to replace with 6's. Ok, World. Let's do this.

Although I was born and raised in California, I have participated heavily, and sometimes not so heavily, in Korean traditions. In Los Angeles, you will be able to find a huge Korean population. My family, along with others around us, became pretty Americanized early on and therefore began to pick and choose from both cultures what we wanted to participate in. The one tradition that was never on the table for discussion was New Years Day. 

This tradition occurs on the first day of the year (Captain Obvious...) and it consists of traditional bowing rituals to elders who then beckon/proclaim the things that I, as a younger individual, should focus on for this upcoming year. The main phrase said repeatedly throughout the day sounds like this, "Sae Hae Bhok Man Hee Badh Uh Sae Yo." It means, "Many blessings for you this upcoming year!"

So, this is what happens.

You wake up, get dressed, and depending on your family, you either begin the day with the ritual or you can wait until the evening. Extended families are encouraged to get together to participate as one unit and the cycle begins. For my family, there are a handful of relatives who live in Los Angeles with us and the rest are in Korea - for this, you send digital blessings (such that of my adorable nephew in the video below). Kakao is the application of choice for this type of communication. I kid you not, the entire Korean population in this universe runs on this app. 

The eldest is the first to receive the ritual bows, starting from the second oldest down to the youngest, and then the second oldest is next to receive bows from those who are younger than her/him. If you're married, you receive them together as one unit. If you're around the same age, you bow towards each other at the same time to show respect and there is usually no exchange of wisdom and wishes for the upcoming year. However, there is a cut off point - even if there are little kids flooding the room, you can't just receive these bows until you're either married or at an age (generally around 35-40) where you would have some wisdom to impart. Those are the rules. They have never changed. 

My adorable niece who is second to last when it comes to order of birth.

My nephew sending digital, adorable blessings. 

Technical things you should know:

1) Females and Males have different bowing positions, and the performance of these bows are carefully watched throughout the experience. You can either bow really gracefully or clunk-ily. Elders never hold back on how one has performed and even note your progress based on years past. You must perform well - while everyone in the room is watching and ever so silent. 

2) After your bow, there is a position you must take in front of the elder(s) you are showing respect to. It is basically a kneel with your calves and feet tucked in to show humility. You must sit in this position until the elders are finished speaking to you. This is where they evaluate the life you led this past year, and then proceed to give you their blessings and hope for the upcoming year.

3) Once they are finished, they give you money. Yup - that's right. They give you cash which is rationed out based on your age. The older you are, the more money you get. This fact is partly why children look forward to this day because you start out the year with the prospect of what you could do with that cash. More often than not, it is used for candy. (Sometimes, cash is replaced with a gift designed specifically for the recipient.)

4) After everyone has cycled through, you eat Dduk gook (rice cake soup) that seals the deal. One of my favorite meals. Ever.

After all of this, I began to wonder...

... who the heck thought of this system? How is it that everyone knows and understands the rules even without ever explicitly writing them down? What would happen if we introduced another bowing schematic to throw the entire thing off? Will this last past my lifetime and beyond?

I guess time will tell whether or not this ritual lasts but I'm pretty sure it will. There is so much deep rooted history in the Korean part of my culture that I can't deny its existence nor can I reduce my level of participation even if I wanted to. It actually makes me happy that I'm part of a tradition that I can partake it year after year - that's what makes us human. This is what gives us culture. It also gives us something to do, right? 

This is all to say, "Sae Hae Bhok Man Hee Badh Uh Sae Yo!" (Many blessings for you this upcoming year!)

Happy New Year, everyone. There will be no digital bowing rituals between you and I but my wisdom to impart to you would be to clear your cache. You'll thank me later.


Service Design Notes: When designing services, benchmarking off of traditional rituals may be a great idea for innovative services. There are so many rituals out there that have vast ecosystems supporting its existence. Perhaps we should educate those interested in Service Design by teaching the theory and practice of traditional rituals. Immersive education is, in my opinion, the best way to teach anything. Think about it.

Abandon Ship

I've been in NYC for a week now and my relationship with this city is alarmingly still alive and well. I fell in love with its energy at the age of 18 and can confidently say that it is the one city that continues to romance me. When I resided here for a summer while working on a project, I felt ever so present and confident with myself, and every year that I come back, I experience new happenings (and, of course, food) that also somehow reflects the relationships that encompass me during that particular time. This is a place where being independent is everyone's core, but it's also a place where you're allowed to cry in the midst of strangers. (Google it. Tumblrs galore.) I love it.

When I was living here a few years ago, I loved having permission to be independent and free. I read a record amount of books during my daily commute, nomadically wandered around the city without a care in the world, and felt strangely communal with total strangers who were also happy to be given permission to just be themselves. I grew strong.

Since I left and have been residing in Chicago for the past few years, I feel as though that I may have lost some of that strength. I'm not sure if I still have the pillars I built for myself while I was here - or, they just might not be as foundational to how I operate right now. I'm also strangely not panicking about this realization. 


Carnegie Hall

The other night, I went to Carnegie Hall to see a piano recital. The pianist happened to be a Korean girl who graduated from the same college that my mother graduated from so that was something. She was going to be playing music from 3 different composers that I am fond of so I was ecstatic for an evening of sound.

I got there a bit early so that I could sit in Carnegie Hall's presence. It's a gorgeous place that is majestic in its existence, and you should try and pay a visit if you're ever in NYC. I took some photos and waited for her to begin. 

The first half of the performance went well. I could tell she was a bit nervous but I could also tell that she had been training herself to fall into the music with honest artistry while performing. She was good. Everyone else in the room thought so as well. 

But the second half of the recital was what I was really excited about. It was separated into two pieces: Richard Cornell's Lutine Bell and Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.6 in A Major, Op.82. During Cornell's piece, she played her heart out and was able to express her tone through the piece that is different from other performers. It was quite beautiful and the audience was pleased. 

And then it went silent. For 3 straight minutes. 

The room started to stir tension and began to look to others in the audience for some sort of affirmation of the confusion that was flooding the room. She then looked at us and stated:
 

"Thank you for coming to my recital. I really appreciate it. At this time, I cannot finish my performance. Thank you, again, for coming."

She walked off stage, the lights came on, and the room trickled out.

On my way home I thought about what she did and why she did it. I also wondered, if I were in her situation, "Would I be able to do that? Just walk off stage and quit?" It was bold, embarrassing, human, and a litter of other adjectives that would take a while to list off. "Did she forget? Did she panic? Was she feeling like she performed her last piece so well that she wanted to walk out on top?" I literally have no clue.

I know I've written my analysis on a lot of situations but this experience is beyond me. I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it and I'm not sure I care to. It was strange and puzzling.

I grabbed a slice of pizza and shrugged it off. Have you ever abandoned ship like that?
 

Wonderfully Weird

  Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film,  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory . Photo Credit:  Mirror.co.uk

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Photo Credit: Mirror.co.uk

I recently read an article written by James Victore about "The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird," and it made me think about all of the times I felt so weird amongst my peers growing up. Have I suppressed this weirdness as an adult? Many times, yes. Have I released this weirdness without a care in the world throughout moments in my life? When I had the courage, absolutely.
 

That’s when others are inspired by your cause. That’s when you find those people, that audience, who accept you not because you’re weird or different, but for whom you really are. You create the potential for shared humanity, and allow others to see their struggle reflected in yours. Ultimately you hear that glorious refrain; “Oh, you’re weird? I thought I was the only one!” This is how businesses are formed. This is how relationships are formed. This is how you find your people.
- James Victore


This paragraph is truth. I have a story to prove that it is.

At my previous job, I was required to use the software product, Trello. Ugh... I hated it. I was the only one on my team who hated it. They pointed and giggled at me every time I rolled my eyes while using the product that "we, as a team," decided to use to manage our projects. Just thinking about it makes me twitch. When it came to Trello, I was weird - and I thought I was the only one. 

Until... [Pause Button] I wrote previously about the Service Design Conference I attended a few months ago and I mention this because this is where the Trello hater meet the other Trello hater. [Ok, Play Button]... I met Erik Flowers. This is how the meet cute played out:
 

Erik: "Service Design [blah, blah, blah]... ugh, I hate Trello."
Me: [gasp]
Erik: [head turns towards me because my gasp was so loud]
Me: "Omg... seriously? I hate Trello! I thought I was the only one who hated Trello!"
Erik: "HA"

 

Like James Victore stated, I had found another one of 'my people' in this one connection of weirdness. I made a new friend to be weird with and oh man, has it been an adventure. 😱

This is Erik at Blue Bottle Coffee in Palo Alto, CA where we hung out and got to tell each other our stories.

I was in NorCal about a month ago and was able to schedule some time with Erik. He wanted to meet at Blue Bottle Coffee because of a specific waffle that they sell. When he told me this, I thought, "Whoa. That's exactly what I do. Go to destinations with delicious food I've been craving... he is SO cool." It made me wonder if there was anything else we had in common.

It turns out that the list of similarities runs quite long - to the point where both of us were sort of shocked at what we were both pursuing in the near future. We had similar backgrounds of studies, philosophically aligned when it came to topics like "theoretical design," and his humor was on par with the many comedians I appreciate. I couldn't believe it. The universe is so weird.

Erik has since become a good friend of mine and has also encouraged me to make this blog public and available to the internet. (If you're liking this blog, thank Erik! Check out his blog too - great topics executed with pristine writing.) He recently spoke at the Service Design Conference that took place in SF a few weeks ago, launched a website called Practical Service Design with Megan Miller, and is pretty much taking the Service Design world by storm. 

It's important to have a support system around you and to also be a support system towards others - this is survival at its most basic definition. I'm looking forward to seeing more great things from Erik as time goes on. I'm also looking forward to his thoughts on the things I produce in the near future. I wondered today what would've happened if I didn't expose my weirdness about Trello. I deleted that thought and replaced it with a 'thank you' to the awful Trello for bringing Erik into my life.

So, I encourage you to release your weird. You will find your people this way and feel human connections you very well may have missed but oh so deeply need in your life. Who would've thought that being a Trello hating weirdo would serendipitously bring a wonderful friendship into my life? Even that thought is just so wonderfully weird.


(A note about the waffle: Right when we got to the counter, they said they stopped serving food 5 minutes before we got there. Hearts were broken. We will return.)

UX/Service Design Notes: Putting wonderfully weird quirks into your product/service can create extended human connections based on what certain people find enjoyable and memorable. When people get together to share their experiences, products and services are often on the top of the list. If you want to create excitement and have a competitive edge over others, add a little weirdness to the mix - it's like free marketing.

 

And Then A Hero Comes Along

Amos Kennedy in his studio reviewing a test print.

I haven't written very much about my letterpress practice but it is a medium that found me a few years ago and I have committed to master everything that it has to offer. It is a very ambitious endeavor but I'm determined to do so. During my graduate studies, I ended my masters with a thesis about Human Centered Design but at the same time, I also produced some prints that have slowly gained some attention. 

The birth of these prints were grounded through research and were also directed by the political climate at the time - I graduated with Occupy Wall Street happening on Michigan Avenue right outside of my school. I'm writing about these prints though because during my research, there was a lot of work within the letterpress world that I came in contact with. One artist who inspired me in terms of the context of what my work would harvest from was work from a man named Amos Kennedy. Needless to say, he is a hero of mine.

You're not going to believe this, but I promise it happened. I have photos to prove it.

During my design residency in Detroit, I also served a letterpress studio by the name of Signal Return. They needed an extra hand for a fundraiser that was coming up, and I had one. On the Thursday before the party, I was in the studio printing - you know, just minding my own business - and then he walked in. 

Now, I'm from Los Angeles and I've grown up seeing celebrities. I don't really get starstruck very often, and I don't mean that statement to be pretentious in any way. I've just learned to understand that even the very famous are very human and would very much like to be treated just like another human. But when I saw Amos, I freaked. The rest of the studio went up to him to talk to him and introduce themselves but I couldn't even leave the Vandercook I was printing on. I just shut down and stared at what I was printing. I'm going to expose myself even more right now and say that there was some hyperventilating involved. OMG. 

After he left, the rest of my new studio mates made so much fun of me. I just couldn't keep my cool! Ugh. The regret I felt over what I had done was over the moon and my heart sank. Why couldn't I just take a breath and muster up the courage to introduce myself? WHY?! Luckily, he was going to be at the fundraiser so I made a promise to myself that I was going to introduce myself and say hello. 

I did it. 

Never have I ever felt jitters like that upon meeting someone who I looked up to so much. Who inspired me to make work that said something - who pushed me to consider the context of my work when it came to society and culture. Who had the same thoughts as I do about race and political structure. 

  Amos Kennedy and I. Please excuse me for I am obviously swooning.

Amos Kennedy and I. Please excuse me for I am obviously swooning.

The introduction was a dream. He was kind. He spoke but wanted to listen. I told him about how he inspired me in many ways, that he was a hero of mine, and that I had prints to prove it. He was encouraging and thoughtful. I had to excuse myself early from the conversation (I know... tragic) because I had printing duties, but I told him that I would love a picture with him before he left. He agreed. I wondered if he would remember and hoped that he would - and he did! We took a picture! 

I must sound like a crazy person right now but bear with me - the story gets better. 

The next day, I emailed him just to say 'thank you' for the brief conversation we had and that it was nice to finally meet him. You know - standard jargon that you delete multiple exclamation points from before sending to not look like a wacko - but I snuck in a request to visit his studio if he had time. And he said yes! (As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that it sounds like a proposal. Ha. I don't care. Carpe Diem!) 

My dream came true.

I spent the day in his studio and we talked about many things. Our pasts, views on politics, the condition of the city of Detroit, and so much more. I showed him my prints, read him the book I'm working on, and we talked about life as I tried to absorb all the wisdom he had to offer. He showed me his past prints as well as some that he was currently working on. He also showed me prints from other artists who inspired him.

When I referred to him as an artist, he said this:
 

"I don't like to be called an artist. It creates a barrier between me and other humans."
- Amos Kennedy


I understand the feeling. It took me quite a while to refer to myself as an artist and it is still something that I am uncomfortable with. What happens when you identity yourself as an artist to the outside world is that you absorb all of those definitions that human nature has created throughout history as well as the current landscape of what that word projects itself to be. There is wisdom in his statement - but there is also no denying that he is, in fact, in my opinion, an artist. 

I ended up printing in his studio because I was working on a print for the startup I was serving at the time. He guided the print and his style became very much part of what was produced. It's interesting how spending time with other makers exchanges energy and pivots production to encompass all parties involved. 

I'll stop gushing now and just tell you that Amos is now a dear friend of mine. He even drove me back to Chicago from Detroit and those hours of conversation are ones that I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

But I will leave you with this. We stopped by a bakery and I bought some scones. When we got in the car, I asked him if he wanted one. You know what he said?
 

"No. A scone is a waste of a biscuit."


UX Notes: Amos Kennedy used to be a coder before he found letterpress printing. There are a lot of similarities between technology and letterpress printing and I would encourage any UXers to explore what it means to produce language in a tactile manner. You may find yourself discovering a more advanced method of visuals and interaction. Sometimes, simple is greater than complex.

*Extra points for those who know which song the title of this post is derived from.


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