On March 14th, 2020, before the social distancing orders, we went out to dinner with friends for the last time. That night I couldn’t sleep. I had a gut feeling that gnawed at me so intensely, it stopped my breath several times. I finally gave up on sleeping and hopped out of bed at 4am to start making plans to temporarily close Mind the Mat to the public. I waited until a decent hour to call Sara, my yoga-side business partner. My heart sank as she said hello. The next words that came out of my mouth were unthinkable, “I think it’s time to close the studio.” I paused not knowing how my partner of over 12 years would answer. I was nervous. A pause I imagined could have lasted forever, ended abruptly with a definitive “I agree.” And from that moment on we got to work on saving a vessel we’d built over the past 12 years.
Immediately, we started making important decisions; decisions we’d never made before and we had to make them fast. We brainstormed on the best and clearest way to transition quickly (literally overnight) to a digital platform while assuring our members and instructors that we could still provide our quality instruction. We weren’t going anywhere, and we’d ride this together from the safety of our homes. But in the chaos of navigating a new normal and a global health crisis, there were questions. Questions from instructors, questions from clients, questions from friends, questions from family. I literally couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t produce and clarify the new normal fast enough. We knew where we were going, but we literally didn’t have the manpower to set sail quickly enough for all of our passengers.
Rewind to the summer of 1987. We had just moved to Bermuda for my father’s new position in the Navy. We’d been there for a few months when vague warnings surfaced that a storm or hurricane, Emily, was possibly tracking for our 20 square mile island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Technology was nowhere near today’s when it comes to tracking hurricanes and the warnings were wrong, but this storm turned out to be one for the history books. Since Hurricane Emily was unpredictable, meteorologists had taken Bermuda out of the cone. We thought we were safe, so we went to bed that night.
And oh what a night! It was beautiful, calm, serene. But at around 4am, my mother woke me up. She wasn’t panicked, but I’d never seen that look before, that stoic yet scared presence. She calmly asked me to get up and help move all the patio furniture inside and barricade all the doors. “Hurricane Emily is heading straight for us and she’s coming fast.”
“Where’s Dad?” I asked.
“He’s already gone to base operations to help evacuate.”
“Yes, people could die.”
Hurricane Emily was an anomaly and still, to this day, the fastest moving storm in recorded history. As it raced directly towards our tiny island of Bermuda at 45 miles per hour, my dad had to make important decisions quickly. One of those decisions was to evacuate the base barracks which housed over 250 people. They also evacuated certain family housing units. All of this in the middle of the night…a calm, serene, beautiful night. As security tried to warn people and take them to cover, many families would not leave their homes. So the security personnel, sounding the alarms and knocking on doors, had to return to base operations. ”Some won’t leave sir, they say it’s a beautiful night and this is ridiculous, there’s no hurricane.” More decisions…
“Go back and order them to leave, and if they don’t, arrest them.”
Those particular housing complexes could only sustain winds of up to 65 mph. Their lives were in danger.
Emily hit around 7am that same morning. The fastest hurricane in history tore off roofs, uprooted trees, and destroyed bridges, cars, and planes with winds of up to 112 mph. That fragile base housing? Many units were destroyed, as in, nothing was left. Are you wondering how many people died? Zero. All were evacuated safely to our very own school gym.
And as I realize Mind the Mat is no Naval Air Station in the middle of the ocean during a Cold War, when all this started, I frequently found myself thinking, “What would my father do?” as we made big decisions. So on Sunday, March 15th, as we prepared to close the studios to the public, I called him:
“I need your help. During Emily you made decisions you’d never made before. How did you know they were the right decisions?”
He replied simply, “You have to just keep the ship in the channel. Your vessel will veer in all directions, it will hit rough seas, it may almost run aground. Your job is to focus on staying the course, hold your hands tight on the wheel and keep the ship in the channel.”
That’s been my mantra these past several weeks. When I find myself in a panic I repeat it. And you can too. Whether you have a small business, you’ve been laid off, you’re homeschooling, or working from home for the first time…you will veer off course. It’s inevitable. Instead of looking far ahead toward our destination, our uncertain future, focus on your ship and its path. Your vessel will take on water, it may almost run aground, it will hit rough seas. Keep the ship in the channel.
If you are struggling, take this minute by minute, hour by hour. Whatever you are navigating, don’t get too close to the shoreline. Just be present, show up, and keep your hands on the wheel. Allow yourself time to feel bad. Find time to cry. It’s ok to cry and break down. But keep your hands on the wheel. Stay the course. Keep the ship in the channel and you’ll make it to your destination safely.
Author’s note: Curious about this historic hurricane? See this L.A. Times article from 1987.
Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga was founded in 2008 by Megan Brown, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Polestar Certified Practitioner of Pilates for Rehabilitation and Sara VanderGoot, Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 200, RYT 500). In their private practices as physical therapist and massage therapist respectively Megan and Sara observed that many of their clients were coming in with similar needs: relief for neck and shoulder tension and low back pain as well as a desire for more flexibility in hips and legs, stability in joints, and core strength.
Together Megan and Sara carefully crafted a curriculum of Pilates and yoga classes to address needs for clients who are pregnant, postpartum, have injuries or limitations, who are new to Pilates and yoga, and for those who are advanced students and are looking for an extra challenge.