In the year ahead

Dense fog a head on a highway
Will forgiveness, kindness, and gentleness lift the fog ahead?

2019 was a rough year for me. I felt out of place, uncertain, overwhelmed—like my life had been uprooted. A plant yanked out of the ground rather than a seedling pre-emptively watered, carefully dug up, padded in burlap, with the root structure lovingly secured for replanting.

Our resettling from Copenhagen to Zürich was not gentle for me. It was fast and I felt like I shouldered the brunt of the work—especially as my husband started his new job before both his contractual start date and his official last day at the Danish office. It still feels like I’m expending more emotional effort making Zürich feel like home, but at least the husband and the dog are fairly settled and happy. Their contentment makes it a little easier to believe that leaving Denmark might not be the worst thing ever.

This time last year I had just given notice at a job I liked and was good at. Where I was surrounded by supportive colleagues who believed in my abilities, sought out my input, and occasionally got drunk alongside me at Friday bar. I was about to announce my departure to the co-operative yoga studio where I’d found (and helped create) a beautiful, welcoming community. We had started to break the news to our friends and extracted promises to come visit. I’d hurriedly met with a relocation consultant about the logistics of moving our stuff. I was strategising how to transport our dog and ensuring her veterinary requirements were in place. My visa application was underway and I was waiting to hear when I’d have to travel to Stockholm to submit all the documentation at the Swiss Regional Consular Centre for the Nordic and Baltic Countries. I was also preparing to meet my teenage niece in London for her first European trip as well her first time alone on an airplane.

January 2019 was full of frenzy. January 2020 is much quieter, with much more time to ruminate. It’s nice to have a breather and the opportunity for contemplation, but it’s also letting my brain fill with ‘what-ifs’ and ‘what-nows’—and the sense that life is incomplete, imperfect, and a little uncomfortable in Switzerland. That comes along with the feeling that I’m doing everything wrong. My mind tells me that not feeling ‘at home’ in Zürich is clearly all my fault. I was able to build a happy, fulfilling life in Copenhagen with lots of support and connections and a strong sense of worth. Why haven’t I been able to make that happen here?

As I contemplate the year past and the year to come, one line in Neil Gaiman’s annual New Year’s blog post rings particularly true:

I hope that, for all of us, in the year ahead, kindness will prevail and that gentleness and humanity and forgiveness will be there for us if and when we need them.

From A NEW YEAR’S THOUGHT… posted on January 31, 2019 by Neil Gaiman

I need the reminder to be kind and gentle with myself and my new city and all the people and experiences that come my way. And being able to forgive to the universe (and probably my husband, too) for a premature Danish departure would likely lift some the fog and allow me to enjoy the Swiss sunshine—and perhaps make this place feel more like home.

Gaiman specifically talks about the refugee experience in his last post of 2019 (he’s a tremendous supporter of UNHCR) and I cannot possibly compare my plight to that of millions of forcibly displaced people around the world. But these hopes for the year ahead—kindness, gentleness, humanity, forgiveness—are universal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve resettled, are long-settled, or something in between we could all use the reassurance and optimism these words bring.


Photo by unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske

Darkness inspires deep relaxation

This coming Saturday I’m teaching a special extra-long yoga class at Younion Yoga to mark the Winter Solstice. It’s the third year I’ve led this seasonally-driven session and I particularly love using yoga to embrace darkness on this longest night of the year. The inspiration for the practice fits perfectly with my teaching style: deliberately slow, purposely restful, mindfully self-centred, well-supported—and with a bonus literary touch. 

Slow yoga is advanced yoga

I did my first yoga teacher training with Shakti Mhi in Vancouver (she’s now in Tel Aviv). Her 200-hour training follows traditional hatha lines and Shakti was never a fan of sweating profusely during a practice. An overall sense of peace, comfort, ease (often known as sukha in Sanskrit) underlies Shakti’s asana teaching style and she focused on maintaining relaxed, natural breath—no huffing or puffing here! Well, unless it’s part of pranayama (breathing exercises). 

These principles underlie how I teach so-called ‘regular’ yoga and perfectly fit my favourite styles: yin and restorative. I give lots of space for rebounds between poses, encourage students to move slowly, and suggest relaxed, long holds. Many yogis love an athletic, quick-paced flow (think vinyasa), but that’s not my style. Shakti spread the gospel that slow yoga is advanced yoga—and I’m definitely a convert!

Supervised almost-napping

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that an ideal savasana (meaning resting in corpse pose) is at least 10% of the total practice. So seven and a half minutes for a fairly standard-length yoga class and nine for a longer 90-minute session (but why not round up to 10?). That might seem counterproductive (after all, isn’t the purpose of doing yoga asana to move?!?), but I really believe that this intentional, conscious rest is where we soak up most of the benefits. It’s a way to press pause and reset.

For a tiny fraction of the day we’re allowed to be in a space where there’s nothing to do, nowhere to be. Isn’t that a powerful method of self-care? To be suspended in that state just before slumber, where the mind drifts and wanders. To put your everyday worries and anxieties on hold and simply float. 

I often encourage this suspended animation by leading students through a yoga nidra practice before leaving them in quiet repose. Moving through the physical self, directing attention to different body parts (up to 108 distinct points), yoga nidra helps release tension throughout the physical being. I’ve been told that my voice has a hypnotic quality during yoga nidra that lulls students into a deep peace—or allows listeners to tune out and let the words simply wash over them.

Holding the space

To my mind, every yoga teacher exists for a singular purpose: to create an environment where students can surrender to their yoga practice. I think of this as holding space for my students: taking on a bit of their burden and supporting them in ways that allow them to discover what they need. 

I always have a plan for what postures to teach and in which sequence, but often the class pulls that framework in a different direction. Students might feel unwilling to leave a particularly juicy pose and we stay for an extra minute or two, maybe it takes three times as long to get everyone sunk into their props, or perhaps the asana I was thinking of simply isn’t suitable for a class filled with students who have knee problems. Whatever my original intention is for the class, I am willing to end up wherever the students need to go that day.

As an active teacher, it’s important for me to give my full attention to each student. Seeking out clues in a pinched expression or a twitch in a limb. Offering additional props or a gentle touch. Actively encouraging students to express any discomfort or uncertainty. And inviting silence in the room to help quell the noise in their minds. 

When I teach, I am fully present. Completely engaged with the class unfolding around me. Always thinking about how to support the people who have chosen to practice with me. I bring that tranquil focus to the room—letting students immerse themselves in their own experience and recover their own energy. 

My way is not the highway

While I want to take care of each and every student, I also know that they are responsible for their own practice and, ultimately, they are their own best teacher. I can yammer on about a pose, but it’s most important how it feels for them. It doesn’t matter what I observe externally or intuitively, what counts is students being aware of how the poses impact them—and adjusting to suit them.  

Bernie Clark, author of the amazing Your Body, Your Yoga, has a great metaphor about students as pilots: 

“Ground control is full of helpful advisors: your doctor, dentist, accountant, lawyer, yoga teacher… They want to help, but you’re the one flying the plane.“

Taken from Jodi Dodd’s interview with Bernie Clark on Shut Up and Yoga 

When students are mindfully self-centred, they aren’t worried about offending me by refusing a suggestion or modifying the posture to suit their own unique needs. They are concious of fitting the pose to the person, not forcing themselves into something just because that’s how someone else thinks it’s supposed to look. 

Adding a little bit of storytelling

The first time I led a Solstice yoga session I was inspired by a beautiful composition from Margaret Atwood (well-known for dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood is a superb poet as well). Her Solstice Poem conjures up all the darkness and brooding of the longest night—and hints at the promise of the days to come.

This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.

A portion of ‘Shapechangers in Winter’ by Margaret Atwood

The poem evokes the power of this longest night and I’ll read the whole thing aloud during one of the long-held restorative poses of the session. 

It all comes together for the longest night

The Relaxing Winter Solstice Yoga on Saturday, December 21st starts with a short welcoming meditation, then a handful of yin yoga poses (well-propped, but still with a bit of intensity and held for around five minutes) that lead into a couple comfortable, long restorative yoga positions. We’ll then find a supremely-supported corpse pose and bask in around 20 minutes of rest. I’ll do three readings during the practice and kick off savasana with a mesmerising yoga nidra, recalling childhood bedtime stories and my own introduction to guided relaxation at summer camp

And in 2020 I’ll continue teaching a 75-minute Yin Yoga class at Younion Yoga every Tuesday evening, the occasional Restorative Yoga class on Fridays, and probably subbing a few classes here and there.

Rejoice that the days will slowly start getting longer soon (well, in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) and channel the darkness into deep relaxation!

The season of hygge

An open book in front of a fireplace - it must be hygge

My three winters in Copenhagen taught me the true value of hygge for coping with the long winter nights. A pop culture buzzword a few years ago, the Danish concept of hygge is hard to translate—despite many books valiantly making the attempt. The literal rendering of the word is being cosy, but the Danes embrace hygge as much more than woolly sweaters and an Instagramable wood fire. It’s about creating a sense of happiness and belonging, feeling content and safe and comfortable.

Yes, watching Netflix in your pyjamas can certainly be cosy, but solo binging the newest season of The Crown (how great is Olivia Colman?) misses out on the communal aspect of the Danish concept. Hygge is not just lighting candles for a gloom-busting glow, it’s sharing that glow with friends, family, and sometimes even strangers. It’s huddling around a Weihnachtsmarkt stall with a mug of something warm. Sharing a table at a quaint café or luxuriating in the warmth of a sauna. It might even be joining an event at Literatur Haus or relaxing with a slow-moving yoga class (perhaps with me at Younion Yoga in Kreis 6?). And yes, it’s sometimes drinking far too much and dealing with the jackhammers in your head the next morning—or at least that’s how the Danes do it!

With almost a month until the days start to get longer again and rain in the forecast (at least in Zürich) let hygge be your secret weapon to escape the darkness—without needing to get on a plane. Create a warm, welcoming atmosphere where ever you are, let yourself get snuggy, and make the most of the people and events around you to bring out those feelings of happiness and belonging.

No matter how you embrace the dark season, stay warm, stay dry—and enjoy the hygge!


Adapted from my original post at Impromptue.ch


Creative convergence

I started a creative writing course in September and our first assignment was to write a 500-word story with only one primary character and one primary setting—not a heck of a lot of space to develop anything. Thankfully walking the dog (or more accurately standing around while she wanders slowly from sniff to sniff) gives me lots of time to mull over story ideas. That slow-paced dog walking was the genesis of the fictionalised episode I created for the assignment and have included below.

Imagine my surprise when my cousin Kelsey posted a similarly-themed photo on Instagram the day after the assignment was due. Eerily appropriate. And I’m delighted that Kelsey has given me permission to use that image to accompany the story here.

That creative convergence is just one of the wonderful things that has arisen from this creative writing course. The course is giving me confidence in my writing ability, making me think about the mechanics of storytelling, and encouraging me to push my creativity—I certainly wouldn’t have plotted out an Instagram influencer-inspired spin on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ otherwise! 😆Nor would I have actually read Kipling—I’m very much out of practice with the whole required reading part of schoolwork.

My plan is to post more of my creative writing here and to actively pursue publication in the year to come. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please send them along! And I hope you enjoy both the writing and imagery Kelsey and I have created.


Natural habitat

Heron standing in the mist
Into the Mist
Photo courtesy Kelsey Kushneryk © 2019

I stand watching the long-legged bird at the water’s edge, running through the possible names for it in English, German, French, Danish. Heron. Der Reiher. La grue. Crane. Kranen. I’m uncertain whether this sharply-pointed beak belongs to a heron or a crane, but the voice of my bird-watching mother in my brain pushes me to settle on ‘grey heron.’

Whatever its scientific classification or common name, I feel a kinship with this gangly silvery-toned bird. Ardea cinerea, or something very close to it, is common both in the dyke-bound suburb of Vancouver where I was born and in the outskirts of San Francisco where I first lived outside my home country. It waded into the boggy heath of a former tank training ground near my flat outside Munich, stalked the shores of lakes I hiked around on weekends in Southern Alberta, tromped through the snow of my local park during the sole winter I lived in Brussels, and paraded along the moat of a medieval fortress I passed by on my way to work in Copenhagen. Now it lands along the banks of the square-edged, man-made lake within a stone’s throw of the Swiss Alps, in this place I currently attempt to call home.

The grey heron has been a constant everywhere I’ve lived, whereas the feeling of belonging, the sense of being settled, has been far less reliable. There’s some intangible alchemy that made Calgary feel like home, but California not. A magical calibration that allowed life in Denmark to slot into place, but keeps Zürich unwieldy, unpleasant, unwelcoming. Maybe my migratory adaptation stops short of the 37th parallel.

To the right I catch a glimpse of movement through the low-lying morning fog. Barking a hello or perhaps a warning, a dog lopes towards the water, encroaching on the grey heron’s territory. With a screech, the stationary bird frees its massive wings and rises into the air. There is something prehistoric, primordial about its flight. The pterodactyl-like quality of its movement speaking to the timelessness of this bird, its elegant ability to adapt.

The heron’s movements are graceful, but its distinct “Frarnk” call leaves no doubt as to its displeasure at being moved on. Through that single, universal sound the bird conveys everything necessary. Would I possess that same eloquence in any of the languages that flit through my mind?

The heron will blithely move on to its next perch. It will not question whether it belongs in its new location, but rather fixate on practicalities—finding food, avoiding dogs, staying alive. My worries are vapid in comparison, decidedly human.

I have to believe that both the grey heron and I will comfortably resettle. That unfamiliarity and foreign languages do not create an insurmountable barrier. Both this ubiquitous feathered creature and I will find stillness and contentment—and a landing place near to the water.

An original story by Laura Matheson © 2019

A sense of savasana

“Hari om, tat sat. Hari om, tat sat. The practice of yoga nidra concludes.” 

Satisfied that the class has surrendered to the spell of my voice, I sink down to the bolster, knees out to the side, ankles crossed. From this so-called easy pose, I observe my prone students enjoying their supervised nap—but hopefully without the actual REM state. 

From the depths of the candlelit studio I hear, “Snork.” Ah. Who has succumbed? I scan shadowed faces, looking for the tell-tale droop of slumber. There! The parent who earlier complained of sleeplessness, lips moving with each noisy exhale. 

Up I creep, deliberately placing each step, skirting around arms, legs, and squeaky floorboards. Holding my breath, I move through the kaleidoscope of yoga mats until I am next to the slumbering student. I crouch down and gently reach out a hand. With a touch, I bring the snorer back from dreamland. Eyes fly open in response and I nod reassuringly. A sheepish smile and the student’s eyelids descend once more.  

Another careful dance through the yoga mats and I am re-seated. Again I look out over the darkened room, hearing a few deep exhales, but no further clattering breaths. 

The silence of savasana continues.

Why I resolve to ask for help more

Writing can feel like a very solitary task – and it often doesn’t provide much opportunity to ask for help. But at both cylindr BBN, the Copenhagen content creation agency where I work, and in our larger community of BBN, people are always open to lending a hand – and there are tremendous resources to draw on.

My New Year’s resolution is to draw on those resources more often. To both ask people for help and to turn to the wealth of case studies, best practices and other guidance available through BBN. 

Getting lost in translation

Content creation is somewhat a solo activity, but it doesn’t need to be a lonely one.

For example, I’ve worked on several dozen Danish-to-English translations for a company with a stable of lifestyle brands. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what the Danish text means or if a turn of phrase is universally understood. (Local context can be everything!)

I could turn to Google and dive down the rabbit-hole of publicly-available opinions. Or I could simply ask for help from a real person.

I’m thankful to work with native-English speakers who can field the ‘Does this make sense?’ kind of requests for help – and even more grateful that a couple of them are Danish citizens and long-term residents. Getting their feedback saves me time, dramatically reduces confusion and delivers content that reflects the original Danish text – and makes sense to non-Danes around the globe.  

Check what tools are available

Seth Godin recently pointed out that rather than finding a ladder (or asking for help) we waste time and energy throwing ourselves at the wall, trying to find a solution on our own. Is re-inventing the wheel the best use of time and energy? Why not ask for help from others who have the tools you need?

For a recent pitch, one of my colleagues asked our BBN compatriots if any of them had experience with the same kind of branding quandary our potential client was experiencing. The quality of responses was impressive. Some of our partner agencies had worked with clients with almost precisely the same needs and they were happy to share their insights.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, we used our colleagues’s methodologies as inspiration – and put together a robust pitch that was filled with real-world examples.

The perks of not knowing it all

Asking for help might be a challenge. After all, who likes admitting that they don’t know something? But tapping into collective knowledge can speed up the process, provide an opportunity to incorporate varied perspectives – and create content that builds deeper connections with your customers.


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.

Five ways clear ‘opt-outs’ encourage subscribers to opt-in

Many companies are still reeling from the tightened requirements for subscriber consent in marketing. The turbulence that accompanied the full implementation of GDPR has prompted some less-than-ethical marketers to devise creative ways to prevent users from opting out or unsubscribing. The assumption being that un-willing subscribers are better than reduced list sizes.

But making it simple to leave is part of the equation for convincing people to stay.

Why bother?

Maybe your re-permissioning emails as part of GDPR compliance are still a work in progress. Perhaps you’re ready to re-build your email lists and attract interested subscribers. Or maybe you’re part of a new breed of marketers who are proactively asking customers who haven’t been active for a while if they actually want to hear from you.

Whatever the rationale for asking people to opt-in to your communications, you want to make sure that you’re getting the right message to the right audience – and ensure that only customers who want to stay in touch get your marketing messages.

Here’s why it’s advantageous to include a clear way to opt out or unsubscribe:

1.    Make your customer-focus clear

Companies that make it easy to unsubscribe or opt out of their mailings demonstrate transparency and respect for users. By indicating that you don’t want to make it difficult to stop receiving communications, you show that you value your customers’ desires – and customer centricity is key to better business performance.

2.    Show you’re worthy

Including an easy way to opt out or unsubscribe builds credibility with users. It reassures them that your company uses personal data appropriately – and is worthy of being entrusted with their own personal information.

3.    Keep the good vibes going

Any reader who opens a message from you has already demonstrated that they’re not hostile to your communications – otherwise that message would have been deleted, ignored or, even worse, marked as spam. Keep that likeability intact by behaving nicely.

4.    Avoid the spam sandwich

Having an easy unsubscribe or opt-out makes it less likely that recipients will mark your messages as spam. Garner enough clicks on ‘This message is spam’ and your email domain will be blocked by spam filters, lowering the likelihood that interested parties will actually receive your emails.

5.    Use opt-out to say ‘hello’

The landing page you send people to when they opt out is a great way to engage. Provide ways to re-join the conversation, perhaps pointing them to another of your other lists that may be more relevant or offering to deliver more targeting messaging. Giving users the option to change the frequency of messages is another common retention method. At the very least, give departing subscribers a fond farewell and direct them to your social media channels.

Opting out doesn’t have to mean saying good-bye

Instead of seeing an opt-out or unsubscribe as the end of a customer relationship, consider it a way to get to know your audience better and ensure you have clean subscription lists populated by people who are really interested in hearing from you.

There’s some evidence that companies who clearly offer opt-out and/or unsubscribe links actually retain more subscribers – now that’s a strong case for giving opt-out options right alongside any opt-in messaging!


This post was originally published on Integrated B2B.