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“Flexibility is a must when it comes to focus”, Alessa Caridi of Jobu Fitness and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Flexibility is a must when it comes to focus. Pivoting between tasks is not easy, so taking a deep breath and knowing when to move on to the next task takes a lot of understanding — and flexibility. But, flexibility is not multitasking. Please don’t take a phone call and check your email while the person on […]

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Flexibility is a must when it comes to focus. Pivoting between tasks is not easy, so taking a deep breath and knowing when to move on to the next task takes a lot of understanding — and flexibility. But, flexibility is not multitasking. Please don’t take a phone call and check your email while the person on the other line talks. This will only diminish the quality of your work and your focus.


As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingAlessa Caridi of Jobu Fitness.

Alessa has a passion for perfecting her healthy self, fully understanding the wonderful machine we live in, and passing along her knowledge to anyone that will listen, no matter how large or small the audience: from zoom meetings in today’s modern working situations to stages at the United Nations to TV news segments. Alessa is a certified Pilates Instructor; she has taught Pilates and danced professionally on 3 continents and owned her own Pilates studio in two countries- including Japan where the idea for her company, JōbuFIT (jobufit.com) a workspace movement company, was born. With all the changes happening in our working and day-to-day living situations Alessa decided it was time to put all her favorite workspace hacks and exercises into one place, her book, The Ultimate Workspace Toolkit: Your Guide to Solving the Aches, Pains, and Productivity Problems of Your Workday. Now work-from-anywhere warriors can create sustainable high productivity the JōbuFIT way.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I come from a family of doctors. (I start there because that has really affected the way I examine everything.) As a young girl my father was still in medical school. And like many little girls, there were two things I loved: coloring and my papa. So, when I saw he had to color (the Gray’s Anatomy coloring book) for school I knew I needed to “do work” with him. My mother caught on to this desire very quickly and began copying pages from my father’s books so I wouldn’t destroy his studies. That is where my passion for understanding the human body came from.

Growing up in a family of doctors, I was taught to understand things like the quadricep has four muscles that cover the front and side of the femur, not just that my leg has muscles that move it. Also, I thought everyone knew where to find your clavicle, but when I went to university, I found I was in the minority.

I grew up on stage doing ballet, tap, and contemporary dance; this was the other major influence in my life. I learned to express myself through movement and challenge my body to do some truly amazing things. Throughout my childhood I danced over 20 hours per week and put my hard work to the test when my dance company traveled to compete and perform. It was through performance that my confidence was developed. On the opposite end, dance also taught me how to deal with rejection and how to persevere despite rejection. Most importantly — and most relevant to what I currently do- dance was my first introduction to the power of proper posture. It taught be how to command a room, reduce body pain, and overcome stage fright.

I am what my parents have deemed their “independent child” when I began looking for universities to apply to, my parents had one restriction: it had to be on the continental US. (They knew I wanted to go as far as possible- I always had the travel bug.) So, when I was accepted into the dance department at University of California, Los Angeles there was no question where I would go. I finished with a BA in World Arts and Cultures, Dance Concentration with a focus in anatomy. While in undergrad, I had the opportunity to study dance in Paris and Florence. This time abroad was what initially piqued my interest in the way other cultures live, work, and value their citizens’ time and lifestyles.

I finished undergrad with big plans of dancing all over the world, and instead the unthinkable happened, I broke my foot — okay my big toe- but that still meant no dancing until it healed. So I had to find a way to support myself and that’s where Pilates came into my life. Pilates was the perfect combination of movement, flow, and anatomy. It just made sense to me. And I quickly realized that I really enjoyed helping people perfect their healthy selves. We all need to move more!

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

For me, there is a who and a what answer to this question. I’ll begin with the who, my grandfather. My grandfather and his brothers owned a meat packing business together, called Kansas Meat Packing. I didn’t really understand what that meant when I was young, except I grew up trying all different kinds of meat and that it came from his work. There was one Christmas, I must have been about high school aged, when we finished Grandpa’s meat. My grandfather had retired some years before, but there were still steaks and other cuts in the deep freezer that we would enjoy at family gatherings. It just happened that this Christmas, as a family, we reached the bottom of the actual deep freezer. I know this is a funny memory to look back on, but it serves as a reminder to me: my grandfather and his brothers built something that provided for and actually fed their families completely. For my grandfather this meant his seven children, and 15 grandchildren were taken care of. The idea that a person could build something that could completely take care of their family inspires me.

Now for the what: Traveling has always been eye-opening to me. I studied in Paris and Florence during undergrad and got to see firsthand what their lifestyles do for the body and mind- I mean come on who wouldn’t like everyday wine at lunch to be culturally acceptable. But my three years in Okinawa, Japan changed the way I view and approach daily health. Every morning I was able to witness the Japanese healthy habit, Radio Taiso or Radio Workout. I was amazed that this routine was completed daily by people of all ages in every type of industry and, most amazingly, wherever they were. It was a regular occurrence for me to pass construction on the sea wall while out for my morning walk with my dog and see the construction workers lined up next to and elderly local -also out walking her dog- doing this morning routine. The Pilates instructor in me knew this kind of movement needed to come back to the states. So, I began to ask my Pilates clients (I owned and operated my own studio on the island) what kind of pains they experienced in their day-to-day lives. The Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, DoD personnel, stay-at-home-moms, and other support staff I trained had a few different answers to the pain question, but there was a common theme: backpain and physical/mental fatigue. I started looking into this movement routine, the time of day it is performed, where it is done, and just why it is done by a whole country. The more research I did, the more it became clear to me that some form of this needed to be shared with professionals in other countries. That is where the idea for JōbuFIT was conceived.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

There isn’t one person, but different people at different points of my life. At university there were two professors, one that taught me to question my artistic choices. Not to make me uncertain, but instead to give me the confidence to make conscious, deliberate decisions in everything I created. The other professor gave me a platform to explore what I am good at and then helped me hone my skills.

The next isn’t positive encouragement, but I still think it is worth mentioning:

After graduation I moved back to New York City, I actually broke my foot and needed to find some way to pay the bills so I became a certified Pilates Instructor. With my strong anatomy background, I was quickly hired by the studio that certified me and started working there 3 days a week. This is where things started going south. The studio owner began acting a bit weird towards me saying things like, “when I was your age I had two masters degrees and was putting together my own company”. I didn’t really think anything of it because I was 22 years old at the time, and she clearly didn’t know that. I just knew I liked helping people achieve their health goals, so I kept my head down and focused on the classes I was teaching because my clients seemed to like my classes. Then the fateful firing day came; I arrived at work and tried to log in to the computer to see how many people were scheduled into my classes and the log-in didn’t work. So, I tried a few things because the computer was known to act up. This whole time the studio owner is sitting across the small room not saying anything to me. My coworker finally came over and logged in to her account. That’s when I walked over to the owner to see why she wasn’t acknowledging this issue. She didn’t say anything except, “you can teach your scheduled classes today if you’d like, but then that’s it.” This was a major learning experience for me. Not only did this teach me what NOT to do and how NOT to interact with others, but it also became a major motivator for me. I wanted to be better than that, and I knew if I was ever in the position of decision making that I would be better.

To finish this question on a positive note, I’ll fast forward to a few months into running my new company. I was networking to do some initial outreach and offer my services to people and companies that might be interested in what I do. I came across a few public speakers and tried to pick their brains; one female in particular told me that I was too forward and that companies would be offput by my confidence. I found this a bit odd because of who I am- growing up dancing on stages all over the world, coming from an educated family that valued strong women and believe that we could achieve anything we set our minds to- but it came from a seasoned public speaker so I thought I’d change my approach a bit to see if something more passive could work. Well, you probably guessed it didn’t work, but this pushed me to attend a talk at Murray Hill Institute, a women’s mentorship organization in NYC, on body language in the workplace because I was really stuck now, I wasn’t getting my message out at all. This talk covered everything: standing, gestures, dressing, how to enter a room full of men, things that shouldn’t be issue anymore but are. Anyway, as soon as this talk ended, I ran up to the speaker and told her about the interaction I had with the public speaker, she laughed at me. And told me I needed to go back to being myself. She even went as far to tell me that the fact that I ran up to her to make sure I was first in line showed that I have the confidence and the right people would be accepting and open to what I am offering as long as I come from a value perspective. To this day this woman is a sounding board for many of my company’s “next steps”.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Something that I can laugh about now… remember when Facebook Live was at its peak? JōbuFIT was very new to the market so I was really looking to get the word out and thousands of people were tuning in to watch Marie Claire’s Facebook Live show The Fix every week. For whatever reason, the host believed in me, my business, and wanted to have me on. I was pumped! The interview is live and going great! Then we take live questions from actual people in real time. There were a couple of easy ones and we made some cute jokes and were having fun with it. Then the fateful question gets tossed my way, “do I need you to stay fit and healthy at work or is this something that I can do on my own?” I SHOULD HAVE OWNED THIS ONE. I should have answered “YES! Yes, you need me, no one is doing this the way I am. No one has my skills or understanding of what your body needs in the one place it needs it the most- your workspace. Together we are going to get rid of the statue lifestyle and kick the sitting is the new smoking epidemic to the curb” But what actually came out of my mouth sounded more like a stuttering, faltering, “no”. True story. The last time I checked it was still up on Facebook and it still makes me queasy all this time later. Life lesson: take one from the comedy improv handbook, always answer, “yes, and…”

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Two things: find your tribe and always over provide in value. This may actually be harder than it seems, and I realize they are two totally separate concepts, but I wish someone told me both of these things as soon as I started this journey. When it comes to finding your tribe: the whole world is living off someone’s popularity on social media these days, making real life connections is harder than ever. And making real connection to be a real sounding board or support system is even harder. But success, no matter how small, deserves to be encouraged and celebrated and that’s where your tribe comes it. A tribe is also a great tool to keep you in check and call you out on your slip ups.

When it comes to over delivering: in just about every aspect of life we want to be necessary, so why would it be any different professionally? But we are bombarded constantly with buy this to do this, or take this and it will help with that; how do you cut through the noise? The best way I have found is to over deliver. Give them what they came for and then some- just make sure it is nothing but top quality, your very best.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am really such a nerd. When I read it is to brush up on a skill or learn something new. I believe that we should always be learning, so I frequently open my anatomy books and read short stories (or children’s books) in Italian so I can keep working on my vocabulary.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

If you don’t use it, you will lose it! It applies to every aspect of life! For [most] professionals, use your vacation days or you will forfeit them in the new year. For public speakers, if you don’t work on your craft constantly, your skillset will drop. Growing up dancing, for every week off I had, it took me two weeks to get back into it. For mothers do your kegels- need I say more! (😉) And in health: If you don’t use your range of motion, you will lose it! I can’t tell you how many in-office talks I’ve given and there were professionals in their 40s and 50s that could not extend their arms “up to the lights” <- that’s what our current work environments are doing to our bodies!

The last awesome example I will give here: my great-grandmother lived to 104 years old (Mediterranean blood and diet aside) and every single day until she was 97 years old she would walk around the block, using her own two feet. My grandmother always talked about when her mother stopped her daily walks something changed. I’m not saying walking will get to you live to 104 or even that you would want to live that long, but come on, this is the ultimate use it or lose it!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’ve been doing a bunch of research into another Japanese idea, Kaizen, the idea of improving yourself 1% daily. I’ve read about using this concept to decrease the amount of coffee one drinks per day or even quitting smoking, but I’ve been exploring how to implement this for workspace movement and health. I’ve put together a short program (8 weeks) so work-from-anywhere professionals can try it out. The program is rolling out in January 2021, I’m very excited to see just how much people benefit from tiny bits of movement that fit into their workday, minutes at a time. My goal is to change the way people look at their health in their workspaces.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

As previously mentioned, if you don’t use it you lose it — see I told you it applies to most everything. But also, and as importantly…

As animals we live off our habits. Most start off as well-meaning, good, and even useful. One of the earliest examples of health habits can be found in babies when they are learning to use their bodies to sit up, crawl, and walk. There is a reason you crawl before you walk and sit up before you crawl; your body is learning which muscles will support the bulk of your core/torso/trunk. Their muscles are learning postural habits- it is amazing to watch. But for some reason (and putting aside injury) as we age and are required to sit, walk, and run more and more our good body habits get replaced with things that don’t serve our bodies well.

I see these bad habits everywhere, walking the city streets, in gyms, and heck, that is why I go into offices to share my knowledge. I teach hardworking bodies how to undo these bad habits and create strong movement and posture habits that will create sustainable high productivity and decrease injury and illness.

Why is it so important to go back and establish good postural body habits? Because good or bad, we habitually use and depend on our tech. In 2020 we have come to depend even more on tech, not only to keep us productive and producing in our workspaces, but also keep us connected with friends and family. We spend so much time swiping, clicking, stalking, hearting, liking, following, DMing, and so on that it is affecting our sleep schedules, eating habits, and social interactions. Also, our tech is constantly updating and changing in physical size, but OUR BODIES STAY THE SAME. We should be sitting tall with our shoulders back and our spine stacked properly, but instead we are hunching over our small computer and phone screens to get physically closer to an inanimate object. Not only do our body stay the same, but there are no body trade-ins like with our tech, we can’t turn in a shoulder like we do an iPhone every year or so, for the new version. I share with most every person that I come in contact with, I’m sending out my own SOS: Save Our Spines. Creating good sitting and standing habits can have HUGE impacts on every aspect of our lives.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

I’m a mompreneur, so the name of the game is success in small pieces. I am constantly making to do lists and knocking things off from quickest to complete to longest or most involved. When my kids nap, I work. When my kids eat lunch, I workout — this great entertainment I started with my 1st when he was in a highchair and I am continuing it with my twins now.

I am also an early to bed early to rise kind of woman. This habit has served me the best when it comes to professional success. I make my to do lists the night before, wake up before my household does and accomplish.

I also try to be as open as possible with clients and collaborators. I don’t always share the mompreneur thing, but I do share when there might be a delay in my responses. For example, if I get an email after 1PM, I usually respond with, “I see this and will get back to you by tomorrow morning.” This isn’t because I am slammed with work, it’s usually because I have to pick up my son from school and start homework and dinner and my daily crafted to do list is already long enough so the new emails will have to wait until the morning.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Creating a schedule and then actually sticking with it will help you develop good habits. Take away temptations — whatever they may be — to help keep you on track and stop bad habits. Keeping away from temptations could be as simple as not turning on the music when you are supposed to finish writing a briefing or making sure you clear snacks off your workspace if you are easy distracted by food.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

When I think of optimum wellness I focus on mental health. One thing I constantly share is the idea of a mantra. Approaching a task with the right mindset is key and using a mantra to aid our efforts- especially when our mental focus slips- I find is a fantastic way to get back on track, motivate us, and succeed.

Also, selfcare. I’m a woman, wife, mother, dog mom, business owner, household manager, chauffeur, chef, and more. (I think you see where I am going with this.) Selfcare can slip down the to do list and it becomes increasingly easier to skip altogether. Selfcare can also mean different things for different people. For me it is putting on makeup in the morning and washing my face and using night cream and lotion before I go to bed. It has become my way to acknowledge myself at the start and end of every day. It’s my way of saying I need to come first so that I can be everything to everyone else and do everything I need to get done for the day. (This also ties back into mental wellness.)

Then there is food. I grew up in an Italian household. Food was the way to say, “I love you”. This was never in a negative way. Food was always healthy and home cooked. (Except for Thursday dinners, we had Chinese. I don’t know why, that’s just what would happen.) As an adult running my own household, I try to make every meal I have say, “I love you” to my body and to my family. That doesn’t mean I don’t have cheat meals, but just taking into mind: will this help my body perform or will it hinder its normal functions?

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Don’t make decisions in haste. Take a step back before you choose the fast food and think about what you have at home.

Always create a schedule. It doesn’t matter if it is a meal plan, hourly work schedule, or something else that helps you process your week, just make things a bit easier for your wellbeing and take some of the in-the-moment decision making off of the to do list.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Optimizing performance is what I help hardworking professional bodies accomplish, so my examples would be to follow JōbuFIT and succeed! But more specifically, add movement to your workday. This may seem counter intuitive to some; how could movement allow you to accomplish when you really need to sit and concentrate? But, traditional fitness is not enough anymore and our focus is being pulled in every direction.

We don’t have the luxury of an end of business day anymore and our bodies and minds are suffering because of it. Our bodies need more than an hour of movement in a day when we work for 10+ hours. Our brains need a break from digital things- since the last thing many of us do before closing our eyes is read our emails.

Another good habit for performance is stretching. As I mentioned before, too many working professionals are losing the ability to reach their arms straight up. Stretching could be as simple as pressing your arms up to the lights and counting to ten or pointing and flexing your toes as you read this article. You are encouraging your body to increase blood flow to your extremities and using parts of your body that would otherwise be dormant all while you maintain your productivity!

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Start small. The biggest way I see people fail when it comes to workplace health is taking on too much all at the same time. Sure, you can do whatever you set your mind to, but why make the process harder on your overworked body? Instead, challenge yourself to do ONE stretch at the same time every morning, Monday through Friday. Then, the next week do last week’s stretch and add ONE new move. That way you are building small blocks one on top of the other to make a solid, healthy, achievable workstyle. list, and be flexible.

AND

The key to success with movement, breathing, and healthy habits in your workspace is the 50–10 ratio. For every 50 minutes that you spend seated/focused/motionless spend 10 minutes moving. This is where building on one challenge per week and sticking with it is really important.

Please build movement and breathing into your workday as a preventative vitamin of sorts and not only as a response to tension, stress, or any other negative stimuli.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Work and business aren’t going to change any time soon, and the demand we put on ourselves to constantly outperform yesterday is not sustainable unless we change something. So, for optimal focus: make list to take things one step at a time, breathing to energzie, and be flexible.

I find focus to be the most challenging, personally. My days, for the most part, are not my own. I think many working families with young children can understand where I am coming from with this one. The way I achieve is to conquer tasks one step at a time. I make lists the night before. Mostly because I have so many thoughts going through my head at bedtime, I can’t get my brain to unwind and relax unless I get it all out. This also helps because the first thing I do in the morning is rate what I need to accomplish. There are two ratings, which tasks will be quickest and which tasks are most urgent. Keeping in mind quality of my work, if something can be completed quickly and is urgent it will be complete by 7AM most mornings. Then I work through my list one step at a time: my kids eat lunch at noon, so what can I get done between 11AM and 11.45AM? (Just as an example.)

Flexibility is a must when it comes to focus. Pivoting between tasks is not easy, so taking a deep breath and knowing when to move on to the next task takes a lot of understanding — and flexibility. But, flexibility is not multitasking. Please don’t take a phone call and check your email while the person on the other line talks. This will only diminish the quality of your work and your focus.

Then there is breathing. When you feel your energy dip or your focus slip, bring awareness to your breathing patterns. Breathe in through your nose, hold for a count of five, and then exhale out of your mouth with pursed lips (so you are force the air out of your body). This will take a passive action and make it active. I call this kind of breathing a little shot of espresso for your workspace. It will energize you without extra caffeine.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Setting up and organizing your workspace- keeping it clean. When you have to pivot, stay focus, and take things one step at a time, messy workspaces only make things harder. Don’t give your body or mind any excuse to fail.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

The biggest hinder to my flow is actually technology, funny I know. Tech is supposed to help us be more productive. Not to knock the Netflix and chill idea, but if I cut my TV watching time I find my days more productive as well. I don’t really understand this, but I think as I get older the distraction of entertainment for entertainments sake is what hinders my flow. I find myself thinking about watching something I can’t control instead of working on the project I can control and would really like to finish.

Also, I have always been a physical learner. So, when it comes to getting “it” all out I need to use the old school pencil and paper. Always pencil. I use blank paper not lined (that is too structured for me.) and just write. Many times, I will find papers from months or weeks before and I don’t know what most of it means, but at that time I needed to get it out. I know once I get it out I can move on to the next stage of planning and achieving and things just continue to flow.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Getting more hardworking professional bodies in all areas of work to understand the need and value of scheduling movement in their workspaces and begin to schedule it and complete their movement goals. #bejobu

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Arianna Huffington for sure. I was lucky enough to hear her speak at a THRIVE for Samsung event back in the beginning of 2018 in NYC. A major topic of the event was Technology vs. AND Humanity. I remember one of the attendees talking about how they didn’t feel the new feature of quieting the activity on their phone would completely help with their productivity and all the other pains that come from tech in our current work environments. To this day I wish I piped up and suggested my movements minutes at a time from your workspace. Do I think anything would have come of it? Probably not, she is such a powerhouse, and I was just standing in the balcony listening and taking it all in. It is just like one of the previous questions here, I want to affect the largest number of hardworking bodies possible, but instead I let an uncharacteristic moment of doubt keep me quiet. But sharing my ideas over a meal would be an awesome experience.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn (Alessa Caridi) and Instagram (@jobufit). I am constantly sharing workspace movement and health tips that are actionable and only take minutes of your day and I would love to see how other people are fitting fitness into their healthy workspaces.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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