Last January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I joined a women's leadership dinner with Arianna Huffington as our host. As we introduced ourselves around the table, we shared bits and pieces of our own stories. I described how I had been one of the youngest vice presidents at MTV Networks and then found myself in the hospital one day near death. I had lost 20 pounds in a two week period.
I pushed my body to the brink by working too much, sleeping too little, exercising infrequently, eating processed foods, playing only occasionally, and not taking time to nurture myself. That's a deadly combination. It's not sustainable. The doctors said that if I had not been checked in that night my organs were going to shut down. By the 10th day, they diagnosed me with Crohn's Disease -- a severe digestive disorder. It was probably an underlying condition, but I'm sure my work habits brought it to the surface. It's an autoimmune disease. In other words, my body was attacking itself -- it didn't like my lifestyle.
The good news is that my mom had gotten into holistic living in the early '70s. She grew fruits and vegetables, had a composting pile, made fresh wheat grass juice, stored everything in glass bottles instead of plastic and even made her own yogurt. I started practicing yoga with her when I was four years old. So mom helped to heal me. She got me back into the habits I had grown up with -- habits I had left behind when I entered the corporate doors. The knowledge was still with me but I wasn't acting on it consistently. Does that sound familiar? It's one thing to know. It's another to do. Healthy living takes practice.
So, with mom as my inspiration, I started eating whole foods again. Even though I had been a vegetarian since I was 16, I needed to fine-tune my choices. I went gluten-free. I got back into yoga and meditation. Mom fed me -- physically and spiritually. I healed faster than the doctors thought possible and went back to MTVN. That experience of almost dying however changed my perspective on life. Two years later, I left the comfort of the executive suite and founded the first yoga studio in Harlem. I rolled up my sleeves and got involved in the community. People thought I had lost my mind but I was finding my path. What was my "thorn in the flesh" -- an unbalanced life -- is now the gift I offer through the lessons I learned. I coach people -- blending my Harvard MBA and business expertise with doctoral work in world religions and training in yoga, holistic health counseling and coaching. From this experience and my original gurus -- my parents -- I created a philosophy and system for managing life called Power Living.
At the dinner, Arianna used my story as the closing example of how women, in particular, can get caught up in the doing and forget how to be. She asked me to blog for her Healthy Living section on the topic of "Unplug and Recharge." I was delighted and talked to the editor to get started. Then, almost immediately, my life was redirected again with a triad of awful events: My Aunt Mary had a paralyzing stroke, my sister began a contentious divorce from her narcissistic husband (that's another blog entirely!), and my mom, who had always been the rock, was given a life-threatening diagnosis. It all took my breath away, particularly the thought of losing my mom. Over the last decade, we had lost five family members, including my dad.
Once again divine was giving me a sign. This time I knew what to do. I unplugged entirely. I put away my passport, put aside my writing, pared down my speaking engagements, put media projects on hold, didn't take on new coaching clients and, for the first time in 10 years, didn't even teach yoga. Instead, I recommitted to my own personal practice and focused on my family. I knew that in order to remain healthy as I have been for so many years, I had to keep my own stress level in check. We turned our family home into a holistic spa by juicing greens every day and cooking healing foods. My old self would have kept going, loading more on my plate. The "Type-A Yogi" -- as I'm now affectionately called -- knew it was time to retreat. I lost some revenue, but I gained another notch on my resilience belt.
It's like when the computer stalls. Sometimes you have to unplug it and start over. If you can't do a full reboot like I did then close some windows. In other words, say "No" to new commitments for a period of time or take that vacation you deserve. The intention is to make space so your own hard drive can function better. Now, after my year-long hiatus, I am recharged! I am back to writing, teaching, speaking and all the things that fuel me. The best news of all -- my mom has come through, healed and ready to start a new chapter at 75. Unfortunately, we lost my aunt in December and my sister's soon-to-be ex-husband is getting even more cruel in the divorce process. Nevertheless, we are grateful for our current blessings and strengthened for the next fight.
The main lesson: Life is indeed a journey. Like yoga, it is a daily practice. Here's what you do: When things get tough, exhale deeply. Approach life like you do the mat -- pushing hard and then easing up, keeping your gaze steady, flowing with each breath, always being in the moment. I hope you will join me here as I share my conversations, insights, events and this framework I call Power Living.