Practice the art of mindfulness. Become mindful when your brain loses its focus. Pay particular attention to your self talk in these moments. Do you scold yourself or treat yourself with loving kindness? The more aware you are of losing focus and how you treat yourself, the more likely it is that you’ll develop optimal focus over time.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Ridout.
Emily Ridout is an AstroYoga Specialist. Ridout teaches her clients and students how to understand the astrology of their physical and energetic bodies in a way that radically empowers them to heal trauma, move through illness, and create optimum mental/physical wellbeing. She has cultivated her AstroYoga techniques for over a decade and instructs classes, workshops, teacher trainings, and private sessions.
Ridout holds an M.A. in Folklore from the University of Oregon and a B.A. in Folklore and Ethnomusicology from Indiana University. She holds three yoga diplomas: University of Hyderabad, 2009 (first in class, high distinction); Freedom Yoga, 2015; and Two Birds Yoga School (300 hr), 2019. She offers continuing education in AstroYoga for yoga teachers working on advanced certification.
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?
Thanks for having me in your publication!
I grew up in Indiana, just outside of Louisville, Kentucky with my family, all of whom are avid readers. I grew up reading every day, and from a young age took a distinct liking to reading energetic books, spiritual texts, ideologies from around the world. I also spent a lot of time outside in the woods as well as learning and performing music and music theory.
My grandparents were a big influence on me. They taught me to do things like use tools and garden, to have practical skills, but also to think deeply and meet others where they are in order to serve them. At the time, I didn’t see how the various pieces of my life connected, I just thought I had deep interests in various areas of life.
In my early through mid twenties, I faced some challenges that caused me to see the deep wounds that exist in our culture and our world. It’s during this time that I saw what I wanted to contribute to the world, and began to put together how best to do it.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
It feels like the career pursued me! I stumbled backward, blindly, bit by bit. I remember living in India at age 21, taking an intensive yoga training, and learning about the physical and energetic connection of the human body to astrology.
At the time, I thought this field that I now work in was ridiculous! It sounded crazy to me, and in the course of trying to disprove the field, I wound up learning astrology and yoga deeply, disproving my original doubts through the course of several years.
In the end, I studied the combination of the fields in both a formal academic training, through mentorships, and through other fields of study. I suppose you could say I was inspired through disbelief!
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?
Yes! My graduate school advisor, Lisa Gilman, who not only helped me articulate my theoretical and academic ideas, but also through her example showed me how in your career, you can show up for and support people in radical, life affirming, and big-hearted ways. She also encouraged me to follow my vision to build my niche field of embodied astrology in a way that it could serve more people.
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?
I’m still *relatively* young, so I imagine I have many hilarious mistakes yet to come, but my most interesting mistake was assuming early on that because I deal with ancient mysteries that can take years to understand, that I couldn’t simplify them. I was so wrong. I had to trade in my academic, long winded sentences and research papers for something people could actually use! Not everyone wants to dive as deeply into these topics as I have, so I view myself as a translator of these useful, but esoteric languages.
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?
My advice is: be audacious! The path ahead of you is never clear if you are forging it yourself (and authentic paths are always forged!). Even though the way may not seem clear now, trust that by listening deep within and audaciously following your heart’s true desires, you’ll find a path that will serendipitously unfold, even as you grow more dedicated to your deep work.
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?
Wow, it’s hard to pick just one! I have to say The Alchemist. I read it as a teen and then again a few years ago. I love how simple the flow of the book is, yet it points to deep truths of the human spirit.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman
I read this quote as a teenager, and it sparked something inside me. Now, after years of studying tantric, yoga, and western mystery philosophies, I know that it points to a universal truth of the human spirit. There’s something in us and around us that is somehow divine. What truly lights us up teaches us to live in deeper alignment with ourselves as we truly are and with the world as it truly is. To me, this is the magic of being.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The project I’m most excited about right now is the release of my AstroYoga membership program. Before this program, people who wanted to learn my techniques had to do one-on-one sessions or take my advanced teacher training, and both of those can get expensive! I created memberships as a way to connect with more people at an affordable price point. The techniques I teach can be implemented into anyone’s life, if they engage with it. I’m hoping this new membership program will make conscientious, sustained engagement possible for more people.
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?
Habits are behaviors that you do unconsciously. The nature of what I do is to grow more conscious in every area of life. A fully enlightened being would have no need of habits, because they would do everything consciously, but for most of us (myself included, of course!), habits are essential because they allow us to operate at a high level while directing our conscious energy to the areas of our lives that hold the most depth and meaning in a particular moment.
For example, your wellbeing is one of the most fundamental pieces of your existence. If your wellbeing is maintained through positive physical, mental, and emotional habits, you’ll have wellbeing on lock. If your wellness habits are not in place, the lack of your wellbeing will force you to direct most if not all your attention toward creating wellbeing (or dealing with the effects of lacking wellbeing). If instead of having good wellness habits, you have to direct all your energy toward it, then those projects, ideas, and goals that truly light you up won’t be fully engaged.
Good habits can truly make the difference between following your soul’s highest purpose and disowning yourself and your inner power.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Habits have been a huge part of my success. Honestly, I think the thing that separates people who feel successful from those who don’t is happiness. Even if appearances show that you have everything, if you’re not happy, you won’t be successful. And even if you didn’t get the award or the job or the salary you wanted, if you’re happy, you’ll be successful, and chances are that you might get something better in the long term.
My top habits that support me are therefore automatic happiness-infusers. I try to do something for my body, mind, and spirit every day. For me, these are: 1. Moving my body, even for a short time (yoga, dog-walks, hikes with friends); 2. Engaging my brain, curiosity, and creativity (I journal, write short stories, read interesting books, play with color or music or light); 3. Connecting to my highest self, which I do by meditating and moving through my spiritual/yoga practice.
When these things are in place, I am so much more capable of attending a meeting, showing up for my clients/students, or fixing technical problems that pop up in my business. Even though on the surface, these habits take time, ultimately they ramp up my productivity, and add a depth of motivation to my working life.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
Because habits are behaviors that happen without active consciousness, the best way to create habits is to use your conscious mind and behaviors to program your subconsciousness. What lies beneath the conscious mind often controls us without our being aware.
Whether most people like it or not, the depth of past experience, culture, world view, and (yes!) habits play a big role in how we behave. And how we behave, what we do, is what makes or breaks us in life.
Here are the steps I suggest taking to program your subconscious to either break unhelpful habits or create helpful habits:
- Become aware of the behavior you’d like to create or cease. Why would you like to make this change? Do you see negative outcomes from old behaviors or the possibility for positive outcomes for this new behavior? How will sustained engagement in this new habit help you? If you’re breaking an old habit, what new behavior can you replace it with? How would you like to feel?
- Visualize: visualize yourself doing the new habit that you’ve decided is right for yourself. See yourself enjoying the benefits of the sustained engagement with this habit. Experience the positive emotions and outcomes of the habit.
- Take accountability: Become aware that you are choosing something for yourself. Acknowledge the various and conflicting parts of yourself. Is there some small part of you that wants to hold on to an old habit, or that is scared of the newfound freedom and successes a new habit might offer you? Acknowledge the fears and resistance within you, but also take note that you as a cohesive being are choosing a particular path of action from here on out
- Take consistent action. Until the new habit is built (or the old habit is broken), you’ll need to engage in the behavior consciously. Do what it takes to remind yourself that you are choosing this, every day. Notes to yourself, calendar reminders, having the proper tools at hand, and telling your friends and family might all be helpful as you build yourself up.
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.
Wellness: I work in the wellness industry, so I know that there are lots of people out there who like to make things complicated. For me, the best habits you can create are the simplest. Wellness generally indicates two things: a lack of illness and a high level of operation mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, etc. Optimal wellbeing occurs when we allow it by clearing away those things that aren’t optimal. For this reason, I’d suggest purifying your body, mind, and life. You can do this simply: drink clean water; allow yourself an occasional fast; breathe deeply when in natural, clean air; limit your intake of chemical-foods; limit mindless media consumption.
For me, I combine a lot of these by getting myself out into the mountains for the occasional hike. Activities that you find naturally pleasurable before, during, and after doing them tend to lead to optimal wellness.
- Breathe deeply and drink clean water. Air nourishes us and water cleans out toxins and cells that aren’t functioning properly. If you breathe deeply, you’ll give yourself nourishment for wellness, and if you drink clean water, you’ll start to clear anything inhibiting optimal wellness.
- Take away your mental blocks. The natural state of a human being is wellness, joy, and fulfillment. Usually, what’s stopping wellness is not something that’s lacking so much as it is an excess of what’s blocking wellness from naturally occurring. The main blocks I see for people these days are excessive media/social media consumption and excessive or ruminative thinking on past traumas. Let your mind process through these with your friends, your journal, or a therapist, and then allow yourself to create healthy narratives surrounding where you are now, as well as where you’re going.
- Lay your burdens down. Often, what stops us from doing those wellness activities like mindfulness, exercise, and healthy nutrition, is simply our excessive mental/emotional/physical workload. Allow yourself to let things go that are holding you up. Not cooking healthy food because you don’t want to throw out that unhealthy snack food you bought? Let it go. Not exercising or focused because you feel the weight of a messy house? Clear out the clutter, spend less time cleaning, and go on a walk.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Absolutely! Start small. You don’t have to go on a ten-day silent retreat to learn meditation, and you don’t have to overhaul life as you know it to create wellness habits. Think about small changes you can make to infuse your life with better habits. Can you start with a ten minute guided meditation a day? Or perhaps when you’re in a challenging situation, remind yourself to breathe deeply.
Whatever your ultimate goal, figure out what is holding you back from experiencing that result in the present moment. Then take small, consistent actions that remove your obstacles and build yourself up in order to reach your desired outcome.
Remember that what is right for you might not be what was right for someone else you know. A big part of what I do with my clients is finding actions, goals, and habits specific to them and their astrology charts that will be suitable. Listen to yourself to know what habits are best for you to form.
Always remember: small actions, taken consistently over time create lasting and sustained results.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
Performance: I sincerely believe that nothing worth doing is worth doing under stress. When I think about performance, I think of high-stakes moments: the big public speaking event; the big game; the big pitch; the big opportunity. Of course, those are the moments when our brains chime in with the never helpful advice ‘don’t mess this up!’. Our brains love to stress us out in this way.
For me, I developed habits that help me reframe these moments from stressors to moments of joy. I remember several years ago when I was faced with a public speaking opportunity that made me both excited and nervous because of its topic and the size of the audience. I was stressed! Considering I am a yoga and embodied astrology expert, it seemed ironic, but luckily I had a few tricks in my tool belt. As I was driving to the event, I returned to my breath. I checked in with my body and was reminded that the stress was due to excitement, and not due to some catastrophe. It may sound elementary, but those deep breaths (and there were several) helped me remain relaxed, joyful, and generous during my public talk rather than in a place of focus solely on myself and my nerves.
There’s a bonus here because breath is one of the most tangible ways that we connect our insides with our atmosphere and with those around us. When you’re focused on deep breathing, you’re better able to connect with others and the task at hand because you are quite literally connected via your physiology.
- Take breaks. Whether it’s a vacation or a short walk away from your computer, taking a break is one of the best things you can do to increase your productivity and add zest to your work. It may sound counter-productive, but there are real studies that folklorists conducted examining how catering to our own humanity in our work actively makes us more powerful thinkers and better at our work, productivity, and performance.
- Set boundaries. Most people highly value their careers, and will sometimes sacrifice sleep, healthy eating, and family/social time to reach new heights. Close your eyes and imagine the life you’d really like to have. Chances are, you’re healthy, happy, and have access to loved ones. You have the potential to create that life now, but not if you’re consistently answering emails at midnight or skipping your family holiday meal to work on launching a product. Work hard, yes, but also make sleep, loving social relationships, and your own wellbeing a non-negotiable priority.
- Feed your soul. You’ll be best at working if you feel fulfilled in your life. Your career can be a huge source of satisfaction in life, but remember that a well-rounded existence is also key. What would spark joy for you? Take the yoga, art, or music class you’re curious to try. Plan a visit to a friend’s or a weekend away. Go exploring in nature. You’ll perform better in your career.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Journaling is a great practice that can be used to develop these habits. Brain dump your inner thoughts, concerns, and dreams onto the page, and within a short time, you’ll realize what your various parts are craving. If you journal that you really want to start a new habit for weeks, chances are you will, and if you don’t, you’ll at least be able to identify what’s holding you back.
Journaling has the added benefit of helping you reframe negative, critical thought patterns (such as, I don’t deserve a break, or this project is more important than my sleep). When you take a look at critical thought patterns, they tend to fall apart, and you’ll be able to reframe them into healthier mental constructs.
Another great practice is physical, meditative movement. Yoga, meditation, and breath work can all come together to help you align your body, mind, and spirit in order to create optimum performance, focus, and wellbeing.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
Focus: Focus is one of the biggest skills you can learn in life! My main focus habit is meditation. In yoga, focus is actually a prerequisite to deep meditation! Having a consistent meditation practice is the number one habit you can instill in order to develop focus.
Through meditation, I’ve learned just how often my mind tends to wander (to challenges, relationships, grocery lists, just-remembered emails, etc). It’s not the wandering that matters so much as it is the focus that remains. If you can learn to allow your brain to have thoughts but to keep your focus in tact, then that’s the key.
A major bonus to meditation is that is infuses your life with more joy and wellness. A healthy and calm mind/spirit/body makes your experience of life so much richer.
- Just sit down and meditate! You don’t need to ‘know how to meditate’ to get started. Download an app, find a teacher, or simply sit and breathe for a few moments while you watch your own thoughts.
- Practice yoga or meditation with others. Practicing mindfulness habits builds focus, and when you’re with others on your path, you’ll learn from them, grow with them, and eventually be able to help others (which is proven to deepen your own knowledge and skills). Give it a try today.
- Practice the art of mindfulness. Become mindful when your brain loses its focus. Pay particular attention to your self talk in these moments. Do you scold yourself or treat yourself with loving kindness? The more aware you are of losing focus and how you treat yourself, the more likely it is that you’ll develop optimal focus over time.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
When it comes to focus, the best practice is to just get started. Begin to walk an inner journey of self-inquiry. What is it you’d like to focus upon? Why? What happens in your conscious thoughts when you try to focus?
If you can dive deeply here, you’ll soon find the exact moments when focus begins to slip, and you’ll begin to notice the intricate connection focus has with your body, emotions, and wellbeing practices.
Something I work with my clients on is to understand their focus style. Because I work in astrology, I teach people about the placement of Mercury in their chart. Mercury rules focus, attention, thoughts, and communication, and once my clients know where their Mercury is, it’s easy to cater specific focus habit-builders into their daily routines.
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?
Yes! Do the thing that you really want to do — the one that’s just a tad scary and exciting. Do it in a way that will help others when you’re done (or even while you’re doing it). Don’t be afraid to be too raw or too new for your own inner critic. Play at your projects with the zest and enthusiasm of a child.
I’ve been writing a book lately that has offered me a lot of time in the flow state. For me, it’s a bit nerve-inciting because it’s the book I really want to put out in the world, offering more depth than the beginner books I’ve put out before to help my students. This is the book that truly offers a map of how I do what I do. I find myself immersed in flow as I work on it, excited about the people who might benefit from it and also a bit excited/nervous about taking a leap into a work of this caliber.
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.
If I could urge the whole world to do one thing, it would be to look for answers within. A person lacking inner happiness, success, and prosperity, can never experience it in the outer world. So many times, we find ourselves arguing with each other over ideologies, opinions, etc, but ultimately the arguments can’t end until we experience ourselves in our truest nature, which is already and always whole. Winning or losing an argument, job, title, or anything else, can never take away or add anything to you. You already are, and when people truly realize this, peace, harmony, and compassion tends to predominate their lives at every level.
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 🙂
Oh wow, the world is full of so many amazing people. For me, it would be a toss up between one of my all-time favorite authors, Paulo Coelho, and Will Smith, whose world views inspire me, and whose Big Willie Style CD I listened to on repeat growing up.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.