This month’s expert interview is with Kayla Kurin, who I met in Barcelona last year when we were both speaking at the 7in7 Digital Nomad conference. We’re continuing on the topic of wellbeing, as not only is Kayla a yoga instructor who works with people who are living with chronic illness but she also chose to become an entrepreneur – and a location-independent one, at that – precisely to make better choices for herself and her health.
Kayla touches on a number of points that really fit with what I’ve been sharing around prioritising your wellbeing and doing this in the broadest sense: considering the environment in which you’ll thrive, finding work that will inspire you, and creating the freedom and flexibility that you want and need. (If you’re interested in how to put wellbeing first, get the free wellbeing strategy guide that talks through these different levels of wellbeing.)
You can watch the full interview with Kayla below or read on for an abridged version.
Managing a chronic illness as an entrepreneur
What does ‘success’ mean to you?
I think that success to me means freedom – and I often think of that in terms of my chronic illness. When I was really ill, I went through phases of being mostly bedbound through to being able to get through the day and do normal things. It wasn’t fun, I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do, I couldn’t do the sports I loved. I had no idea what would happen with my career, if I would be able to live independently or anything like that. I think that made me really, really value freedom, especially now that I’m in recovery and I get to do all these amazing things that I really love. I’m very aware of how I almost didn’t do all those things and how many people are not able to do those things that they love and that they’re passionate about.
What are the specific challenges that you and your clients have faced with chronic illness?
I suffered specifically from chronic fatigue syndrome, which is a very, very, debilitating fatigue. It can also cause a lot of pain, and it’s not just physical fatigue, it’s also brain fog. So I was in university at the time, and I just remember sometimes trying to write papers and I would write a sentence and then realise, “That didn’t make any sense.” I’d try again and I could spend an hour trying to write a sentence that would make sense.
I now work with people with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and Lyme disease, and a few others. The symptoms vary, but basically there is unexplained and extreme pain or fatigue, where nobody knows what caused it or how to make it better.
Stress plays a key role in every single illness in my opinion, and I think that’s one of the reasons yoga and meditation are so effective; it really helps you find a way to manage stress. For me, that was important when I was thinking about what I could do, as I wanted to do something that wasn’t going to be a very high-intensity career. I remember I went backpacking, and then I moved to London and I was looking at normal jobs and realised, “I can’t read one more posting that says, ‘thrives in a fast-paced environment’! I’m not going to thrive in a fast-paced environment.”
I knew that I needed something that was going to be better suited to me, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to find that in London – so I decided to start my own business. I had had in my head that I wanted to be a yoga teacher but I didn’t have my credentials yet so I started freelancing to pay for the yoga teacher training. It was a difficult decision because I didn’t know if I would be able to start my own business; I didn’t really know at that point how I would find clients and things like that. So that part was hard, but choosing to not work for someone else was pretty easy! At university, I had run my own business and I had always liked the idea of it. It was something I had thought I might do in the future, and so it just happened sooner than expected.
What’s it like to run your own business while managing your chronic illness?
I have made a lot of decisions in business because of my health. For example, I never use the word ‘hustle’. I like to take things slow and wait until I find clients or students that are a right fit for me. I’m not very aggressive in my business acquisition because that can be very draining and takes a lot of time and energy. I’m happier to just go slow and wait to find the right fit. It can still be stressful, though, because you’re responsible for everything.
When I was launching my online course for the first time, I was in Greece and there was a freak snowstorm. The power went out as I was uploading these huge files to YouTube – people were starting to email me asking, “Is it up yet? Is it uploaded? We’re looking for it!” That was very stressful. I had to call my boyfriend who was back in London, “Can you access these through my computer and upload them for me?” So there definitely can be stressful things that I wouldn’t necessarily have to deal with if I was just working for someone else. Overall, though, it lets me have a lot more freedom. If I need to take a Wednesday off, I can do that without asking anyone. I can schedule meetings and stuff like that in times that work for me.
Also teaching yoga, even though it’s different than doing my own practice, always leaves me feeling really good and calm and energised afterwards.
What are the strategies that you have found to be effective in managing your illness?
I do yoga and I do a lot of meditation as well. There are yoga/meditation techniques that don’t involve movement, which can be helpful for if you’re travelling, if you’re stuck on a long train or flight, or if you’re too ill to move that day. I’m also very mindful of what I eat and the kind of environments that I expose myself to. So London, again, was very, very hard for me, because of the pollution and the number of people that were there. Barcelona was a much better fit for me because there was such easy access to nature, it’s not quite as busy, it’s a bit easier to get fresh fruit and vegetables. So it’s important to really think about your environment, where you are and how those external factors can impact your health.
As for whether you can do this in a traditional desk job, I think it really depends on the person. If you have an office job that you hate and a boss that’s not very accommodating that would be very difficult. I’m a really big believer in the idea that doing something that you’re passionate about, that brings you joy, is going to be beneficial for your health, no matter what. So if you have a more traditional job in an office but one that you really love, then I think that it can work. You might just have to search for the right team environment so that people are accommodating for you, and maybe there are flex days where you can work from home; or, at least, people understand what you’re going through.
What’s one step that people can take to manage their health?
I think it would be to find one thing to do mindfully – it could be yoga and meditation, but it could be anything, like eating, showering, washing the dishes… – just do one thing today for at least two minutes where you’re really paying attention to what’s going on in your body, and inside you, and just see how that feels to be really aware. Starting with that awareness was integral for me to understand what made me feel better and what made me feel worse, and what was really going on. It helped me understand how all my systems were interconnected, how it wasn’t just one thing. So I’d say just take a few moments today to do something mindfully.
To help you get started, Kayla has a set of free videos available via subscription on her website. Videos include yoga for better sleep, yoga for chronic illness, and yoga for stress: find the videos here >>
Kayla has a book on yoga for chronic pain, the companion book to a mini-online course that she runs – 10 minutes for 10 days at 10 dollars – and the first in a series of four. You can find the course on her website and follow Aroga Yoga on YouTube, Twitter or Facebook.