by Stephanie Given, Zuna Yoga 200 hour yoga teacher training graduate
At the restaurant where I work, I constantly receive the same comments from coworkers, managers, kitchen staff, and customers. “How do you stay so happy?” “What do you drink in the morning?” How are you always smiling?” My answer is always the same. “Why not?”
In my job, like many work environments, it may seem difficult to continue with positivity. But through the practice of patience through yoga, you can learn to observe, accept, and train the way your mind perceives reality. I work in the busiest restaurant in a bustling tourist town in New England. We’re blessed that even during the slower months, business is still steady due to locals. But during the steamiest and stickiest season of the year, tourists are packed like sardines everywhere downtown. Forget about driving—it’s difficult enough to find room walking down a sidewalk.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. Heck, I’ve been here for 10 years. I love talking to people, I love meeting them, I love hearing their stories, and I love that I’m able to add an extra flare to a special occasion or vacation. I find that working in a restaurant allows you to see and constantly be reminded that there are more kind people in the world than negative ones. It’s amazing to see a table of strangers secretly pick up another table’s drinks or entire bill, sometimes because the unknowing recipients are in the military, sometimes because they’re celebrating, other times simply because the other table is paying an act of kindness forward.
The team I work with also supports each other through any ordeal, always having each other’s back during work and outside of it. We see each other as family—and I think we’re seen by rival restaurants as a cult.
But when it’s a swampy 95 degrees outside, there’s a two-hour wait for atable, children are screaming, and everyone is hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, many customers turn into different creatures. During this time, the wait staff, kitchen staff, and bartenders are buried in the weeds, and when the computer system goes down, you quickly learn a new side of your coworkers.
Working in a restaurant—and working in many challenging environments—will take an extreme mental and physical stress on your well-being unless you learn how to take care of yourself. It’s at these times that it takes the same, if not more, dedication, discipline and strength to have a consistent yoga practice on your mat as it does to take that practice off the mat and into stressful situations.
Throughout the years, I’ve become more mindful of how I can enhance each day at my job by integrating certain yogic principles. It came first without conscious thought, but now I consistently rely on reminding myself the following…especially when the you-know-what hits the fan.
You are what you practice to be
Before I start my shift, I set an affirmation or intention for my day, just like I set an intention for my asana practice or meditation. “I am compassionate” may be the most helpful when you work as wait staff. There are many instances where this comes into play, but the true test is when mistakes are made during the busy night rush the kitchen staff or any of the wait staff, including myself. If the kitchen forgot to make one dinner out of the order for your table of ten, and you already have the foundation of empathy, it will completely change how you react. The trickle effect doesn’t only continue onto how the rest of the night continues, but the next time you forget to ring in an order, they will most likely show you the same compassion back.
Attitude is everything
Where your mind goes, energy follows. Just like in my yoga practice, when I tell myself I’m not going to have a good practice, I don’t. If I have one bad customer who was rude and didn’t tip well, I don’t brew over it. If I do, the rest of my night is absolutely going to continue in the same fashion. Changing my outlook on the situation, and knowing that this customer was having a bad night—and that it’s not me who’s having a bad night—will change the type of interactions that I have with customers for the rest of the night.
To know yourself is to know your environment
To know your environment, is to understand the people around you. Sometimes I come up to a table with a big smile about to ask, “How is everyone doing…?” but am quickly cut short, without eye contact, and orders of “Chowder.” Instead of instantly resorting to thinking “How rude!”, I remind myself that these people have been waiting for 45 minutes with crying children, they’re hungry, and they’re not at their best. If I can get some sort of food—and, usually, some sort of adult beverage—in front of them as soon as possible, they may end up being my favorite customers of the day.
The Value of the Pause
During meditation and asana practice, knowing how to watch when thoughts and judgements arise rather than become attached to them or let them define you will bring your practice to a higher level and closer to your true self. This applies to any moment in your life, especially in a difficult situation like a coworker mouthing off to you. Learning how to continue the practice of pausing before reacting and not becoming attached to the anger will entirely enhance your life.
We have the memories of the past, but we can clear the emotions of the past
This may be my favorite quote throughout my yoga teacher training with Zuna Yoga. Not every day is a good one and that’s okay. Some days, after 13 hours on my feet, not being tipped well, poked often and, often, being emotionally abused, I always remind myself before going to bed about the good things that happened throughout my day. If even that is difficult (it happens sometimes), I always remind myself that I am thankful for my job and the beautiful people I work with. It truly helps me get out of bed the next morning, and begin the day again.