Urban Wellness with Deb Burkman


  • Being healthy is about about prioritizing in such a way that makes time for you to tend to yourself so that you can be more productive.
  • Our minds are much better at processing information subconsciously than consciously
  • It’s easy to get over stimulated and start reaching for your phone or checking your email just to “fill” time
  • You have more time than you think.  Find ways to disconnect on a daily basis:
    • Take lunch away from your desk for 15 minutes
    • Think twice before reaching for your phone when you have some downtime
    • Take the time to think about what you’re ordering when you eat out
    • Check your email twice a day and that’s it
    • Do one thing at a time.  if you’re walking somewhere, just walk and appreciate what is around you


Deb Burkman has been teaching yoga for 11 years and currently teaches at The Mindful Body yoga studio in San Francisco.  She’s the person who first introduced me to the term “urban wellness.”  We got together to talk about what urban wellness really means and how to find optimal health in an urban setting.

It’s easy to go on a retreat or a vacation and develop a sense of well being only to come right back into your hectic life and lose it.  The reality is that most people lead really busy lives.  You have deadlines to meet, children to take care of, relationships to attend to.  Often you’ve been telling yourself the same story about being too busy for so long that this story has become truth.

In Sanskrit this is called Samskara – an event stored in the subconscious mind which will generate pre-determined thought patterns, desires, and behavior.  These patterns become your reality.  If you take the time to step back and reexamine this truth though, you may find that by re-prioritizing your life you can tend to yourself and get more done.  By slowing down you can actually become more productive.  You can feel better, be more focused, make better decisions, and use your time more efficiently while having more time to take care of yourself.  This sense of well being will, in turn, free your mind.

Most people think they’re most productive when they’re actively working on a problem, but your brain processes information much more efficiently on a subconscious level.   Try to multiply 82 by 24.  For most people that would be almost impossible without a calculator.  But your brain handles much more complex problems just figuring out how to walk and calculating the exact amount of pressure for each muscle to apply.  Research by David Rock consistently shows that true insight arrives suddenly – when you’re about to fall asleep, when you’re exercising, showering, walking, doing yoga, etc – when you’re brain is actively disengaged.

Deb noticed her own life suddenly get much more stressful when she got her first cellphone last August after lots of pressure from her friends (you might say she’s a technology “late adopter”).  All her free time was now taken up with phone calls.  Instead of just walking and being present in her environment, seeing the trees and the sky, she was on her phone being busy.  This took time away from her subconscious mind to creatively solve problems.  The phone didn’t reduce the things she had to do, sometimes it created more things for her to do!  As she found herself becoming more manic, she made a conscious decision to put the phone away and just do one thing at a time.

Our culture thrives on over stimulation.  People live a global “do more” story where your values and your self image are tied up in how many hours a day you spend actively working and multi-tasking.  You lose sight of the true value of your actions and the quality of your output.  You don’t think about WHY you’re reaching for the phone.  Is it because you really want to talk to somebody or is it because you’re feeling anxious and just want to fill time?  By becoming aware of the underlying reasons for your actions you can begin to interrupt recurring patterns in behavior.

As social technology becomes an inevitable part of modern living, there’s a movement towards mindful technology use – to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being.  The recent Wisdom 2.0 conference included thought leaders from Google, Twitter, Zynga, and a host of top startups and organizations discussing positive technology use.

Technology itself is neither good nor bad.  Think of a buffet dinner.  With so many food options, everything looks awesome so you pile up your plate with things that don’t necessarily go together.  Individually, each item might be fine.  But you overstuff yourself.  Similarly our tech oriented culture over fills us with too many inputs.  It’s the difference between walking away from a buffet feeling like you just gorged yourself with a bunch of generic food or simply enjoying one well prepared meal mindfully.

Yoga helps cultivate mindful use – building awareness around the underlying reasons for the actions that we take.  That’s why it’s important to slow down.  To meditate and see what arises.  To observe yourself so that you can better understand what motivates the decisions you make.  Any action can be performed yogically (I believe Deb just invented this term!).  In yoga you’re using your muscles and bones and you’re paying attention to your thoughts and how you feel.

As you try to make time for yourself, don’t get overwhelmed.  You have to meet yourself to understand where you are.  In yoga, you start slowly and build a strong core.  In life, you start small and build a strong foundation.  Be willing to be new to something and enjoy the beginning.  Over time you’ll start to notice all the random thoughts in your head.  You learn to pay attention to how every movement makes your body feel.  This awareness translates directly to your life off the yoga mat.  Think of it as practice for modern mindfulness.


2 thoughts on “Urban Wellness with Deb Burkman”

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