Changing your living environment, trying out a new physical activity and/or even recovering from an injury can spark your brains neural pathways into action creating better tools for survival and growth. This means that at any age we have the capacity to change our brains firing patterns to assimilate new things that stimulate us and keep us going.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emilie Perz.
Emilie Perz is widely known for her strong, creative and educational vinyasa flow classes. Voted one of Los Angeles’ best yoga instructors, Emilie’s detail-oriented teachings reveal how yoga asana mirrors the practical movements we make in life and how learning to align the body precisely can create energy and equanimity in the body and mind.
Thank you for joining us! Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Sadly, my father passed away while I was transitioning from high school to college. Shortly after I began suffering from stress induced panic attacks that left me in the hospital. Months of heavy antidepressants only made matters worse, so at the advice of a friend I tried my first yoga class. The breath techniques (pranyama) practiced at the end immediately sedated my anxiousness and gave me a feeling of power over my mind and body connection. I made a promise to carry on with yoga everyday and ten years later it led to a full-time career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Every aspect of this career route has been both interesting and inspiring. However, I think a standout story is working with my favorite family from Saudi Arabia. When I first met them there was a disconnect between everyone. Even though they were living under the same roof, the communication between children and parents was strained. Through yoga I was able to see each of their vulnerabilities and foster social and physical connection again. Miraculous things happen when you allow intimacy and acceptance into your life. Presently one of the daughters is now the first ever Saudi female race car driver and the first Saudi woman ever to hold a racing license.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Allowing people to assume my last name was Perez and never correcting them. Quite honestly, I didn’t care due to the similar spelling. But neglecting that one little thing led to years of confusion for people who would address me as it. First off, people can’t find you through google if your name is incorrect which means they can’t find your website or look up your teaching schedule!
Also, this is a network referral type of business so that means if clients are referring you to other clients and giving the wrong information then that person might never find you or hear of your good work when talking to someone else. Over the years, I realized that this little issue lost me valuable connections, private clients and events and is still something I have to clarify continuously.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to give credit to Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, for having an enormous influence on my career. Tiffany hired me early on as the YM Community Builder and offered me the opportunity to go on several teacher training retreats a year to work on my education and teaching skills. Through her, I was able to fine-tune my public speaking and lecturing techniques while learning creative ways to work with injured and ill clients. I transferred that education into working at Urban med, a rehabilitation center in Los Angeles where I treated patients through yoga therapy programs.
I currently still treat a number of severely ill and recovering clients in Los Angeles and am proud grateful for my education under Cruikshank for enabling me the tools and awareness to do so.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
You can’t give optimally if you aren’t your optimal self. That means taking time to rest and recover your body, mind and spirit. Yoga teachers are generally care-givers who overextend to students. It’s imperative to not allow the needs of your community to inundate your own personal well-being. It’s great to get excited about the community you build, but it’s another to allow it to overwhelm you and become a distraction from your actual life. Yoga teachers need to continuously practice mindful tools that create equanimity for their emotions, time and energy.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Practice mutual respect. In order to flourish energetically there has to be mutual respect for everyone. Creating healthy boundaries and ideal working conditions requires both respect and appreciation. I truly believe that I’ve been successful because I value the experience, wisdom and character of each emissary and student that comes my way. You will endlessly thrive if you treat people with the utmost integrity.
Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
Synchronized movement — mindful movement has been shown to decrease the symptoms of depression and synchronized movement has been shown to increase self-esteem. A study by Harvard found that “When subjects intentionally synchronized their movement with the recording, they had higher self-esteem than when they did not. Prior studies had shown that synchronizing your movement with others makes you like them more. You also cooperate more with them and feel more charitable toward them.”
Practicing gratitude — my favorite virtue verb, simply put, you must practice gratitude like a muscle in order to see gains/results. gratitude is a very special energy that can transform your life. if you take a moment to pause and feel the emotion of gratitude you will allow a sense of harmony to come over the body, creating a feeling of equilibrium. When we practice this regularly we create the possibility (through neuroplasticity) of coming back to it more easily. the more we tune into gratitude the more things bother us less and less and the happier we become.
Balancing our hormones — when hormones go arise so do our emotions. I recently did an instagram story poll asking who suffers from insomnia, mood swings and weight gain. Of over 2,000 people that voted, an astounding 82% said yes. This goes to show that something is out of whack. Balancing our bodies from the inside out is key for optimal wellbeing. When our hormones are in balance they are sending clear messages throughout our system and we feel energetic and happy. Regrettably, modern life stressors can inhibit our hormone functioning properly and leave us feeling terrible. Giving love to our hormones is crucial for our overall health.
Meditation — meditation is a key component for handling modern day stressors. Our heavy agenda filled lives need to be shut off every once in a while in order for our mind body connection to re-calibrate. Think about what happens to your car when the oil is low and or the brakes are worn out. If you keep grinding on your gears for long enough you’ll eventually burn the car out. Same goes for our minds ability to process and make accurate decisions. Meditation is the best tool for bringing your awareness and concentration back into the present moment allowing you to witness things without reacting to them.
Breathing techniques — the best medicine for stress is a deep breath. Breathing techniques are widely researched in having a number of medicinal benefits on our bodies. anxious people are exposed to physiological changes they fear such as a rapid heartbeat. Breathing tools can assist with the down regulation of the sympathetic nervous system allowing them to control and develop a tolerance over the symptoms if and when they should occur. Breathing techniques can also be energizing for those who suffer from depression symptoms or soothing for those who suffer from insomnia.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
I live part-time in Palm Springs where I encounter many retirees who have moved here for a healthier lifestyle. My number one rule for anyone is to always stay active. Research shows us that the brain is like a muscle that needs new things to continuously build it. Changing your living environment, trying out a new physical activity and/or even recovering from an injury can spark your brains neural pathways into action creating better tools for survival and growth. This means that at any age we have the capacity to change our brains firing patterns to assimilate new things that stimulate us and keep us going. Look around, retirees are active, healthy, vibrant adults these days due to lifestyle changes that support their brains optimal functioning.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Adding in mindful activities such as partner yoga, silent walking meditations, breathing techniques and learning about the yoga philosophy are all effective tools for improving overall academic performance and social emotional capacity. I have taught continuously at Los Angeles Unifided Schools and have witnessed the profound affects a yoga practice can have on teens. From laughter, to tears, to feeling they are in a safe space for sharing their feelings; mindful activities such as this address the underlying concerns teenagers are going through and provide them healthy tools of expression and management.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Bhagavad Gita is an absolute must read for any leader as it contains philosophical concepts still relevant to modern living. The main theme of the book is about finding and following one’s dharma (individual purpose, mission or gift in life). The Gita is beautifully depicted as a poem based on the three Gunas (spiritual laws of energy) of action, compassion and darkness. The opening places Arjuna heading into war with his family but refusing to fight his own blood. Lord Krishna appears and explains the three paths of salvation which are Karma Yoga, the path of action, Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge and Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion. Through this depiction many life questions begin to be answered such as the law of attraction, impermanence, non-attachment and acceptance.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My present hope is for yoga teachers to be recognized globally as medical specialists in optimal well-being. I strive, and will succeed, at seeing insurance providers allocate yoga therapy to their coverage in the very near future. Yoga teachers are a crucial component to helping patients heal and can provide many holistic treatment plans that empower patients to take care of themselves without the use of heavy medication or numerous doctor appointments.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ― Mary Oliver
For over a decade after my father’s death I questioned whether or not I was capable to ever be happy again. Then one day, out of nowhere, I decided to take a leap of faith and become a yoga teacher. When I finally took the plunge my life completely. I decided to leave my eleven year relationship, I quit my high-end corporate job, and I got very real with myself on what was holding me back from success. The fact is that my lack of courage truly was to blame. Taking that leap of faith allowed me to see that my father’s death inevitably lead me to my dharma; which is the greatest gift I could have ever received.