Calibration in AcroYoga and Yoga

For the last three days, I’ve been at an AcroYoga intensive, doing "impossible" things with people I've never worked with before. At one point, I see my partner take a deep breath on a last attempt to do some crazy maneuver. The moment strikes me, and I breathe with her. We move together, finally succeeding. This is the moment that stuck with me after the event, a moment where I deeply understood the “Yoga” in AcroYoga.

AcroYoga is partner yoga. It is yoga with the added dimension of another human being. 

In partner yoga, we can practice yoga with the added challenges of working with another person. Like Yoga, AcroYoga is a physical practice. Unlike more traditional yoga, partner yoga is a social practice, giving up some deepness of internal exploration but adding richness from interacting with others.


Photo Copyright 2016 Earl McGehee

Photo Copyright 2016 Earl McGehee

One of my favorite terms in AcroYoga is “calibration”. We talk of how well calibrated we are to our partner. While there is a kind of initial “chemistry” you can have with a partner, calibration is something you develop. Partners often practice together over a long period of time developing subtle calibrations, their bodies understanding each other in ways their minds often cannot express. 

Wikipedia defines Calibration as: "the process of finding a relationship between two quantities that are unknown”. [ref] In AcroYoga we learn how to tune ourselves to another person with the focus of a set of movements and postures. AcroYoga is a yoga of relationships. With repeated practice in AcroYoga, partners calibrate, disconnect, reconnect, recalibrate. In calibration we tune to each other, as repeated movement and counter-movements turn into instinctive reactions. 

With repeated practice in Yoga, we self-calibrate. We connect our mind with our body via our breath over physical challenges. The practice of yoga brings us into an honest relationship with ourselves. We see our frustrations from determination and physical stress. We accept our physical limits and our emotional limits. We use our mind to understand and as our bodies express a posture. We tune our internal and external reactions using the repetition of a practice that refines us.

Photo Copyright 2016 Earl McGehee

Photo Copyright 2016 Earl McGehee

Traditionally, yoga ends with a period of rest in Savasana. There’s a peculiar feeling of peace that is often felt here. This is the feeling of self-calibration: the mind and body having been tuned together as a whole. In AcroYoga, you feel this from the inside out. Having been tuned to a partner, you experience yourself as a individual yet one that is part of a bigger dynamic.

On the final day, after a dozen hours of intense AcroYoga practice with someone I only recently met, I experienced a singular moment of calibration: a simple breath that connected the whole of myself to another person that allowed us to do something nearly impossible. Even with all of the kinds of crazy and impressive physical moves we did in AcroGasm, it is this single breath that meant the most.

Tomorrow, I begin another “traditional” yoga intensive, with a focus on Anatomy. In it, we will learn an intellectual understanding of the body, and apply it as "experiential anatomy" as a particular way of connecting the mind with a body. I’ll take with me a deeper understanding of what it means to tune my body, intellect, emotions and ultimately spirit into a well-calibrated self. 

Many thanks to my partner Brooke, the Acrogasm team (Jason, Lux & Chelsey) and the San Marcos School of Yoga (Christina, Gioconda & guest Joseph) along with all my other friends, partners & teachers.

Photo Copyright 2016 Earl McGehee

Photo Copyright 2016 Earl McGehee

Spending Time: 1,000 Hours in 2016



Five years ago, I turned thirty and felt the whoosh of life flying by. My late twenties involved a dramatic shift in priorities and scenery, dropping me in Austin, Texas with a new outlook forced upon me. I had to figure out how to get more of what mattered from my life in my 30’s than I had been able to in my 20’s. I had to figure out how to spend time like it’s the most valuable thing in the world.


One Year = 8,760 Hours


Each year is the same: we get 8,760 hours to spend. That sounds like a lot, but we burn through most of that time fast. Roughly 1/3 of our lives (~3,000 hours a year) are spent sleeping, and there’s no good reason to sleep less. 


A 40 hour a week job takes 2,000 hours a year, in theory. Add another 500 hours for overtime and commute. Or more. Then there’s eating, errands, fun, friends and family, all of which are very important things. In a blur of doing all the things, often driven by immediate needs and short term desires, time passes by too fast. I started wondering how much time I actually have left, and what can I do with it that is meaningful?


I frequently see a reference to the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a subject. To get an idea of 10,000 hours, that is how much time you work, at 40 hours a week for five years. A college degree is around 5,000 hours of class and study. Many of us know what it feels like to be at ‘master-level’ since we’ve put in that time in our career.


Spending time at Age 30


I didn’t feel the need to be the ‘master’ of anything new, and I certainly didn’t have an extra 10,000 hours to spend. Fortunately, it takes much less time to make real accomplishments. In a college degree, only around 2,500 hours are spent in your core field of study. In about the same amount of time, a native English speaker can do the seemingly impossible thing of learning conversational Chinese [via US Department of State]. It takes much, much less time to learn something like Spanish. Even 100 hours is a lot. With 100 hours of walking, and no other changes in your life, you would lose 10 pounds in theory. [There's 35,000 calories in 10 pounds; 100 hours of walking 3.75 mph will burn 35,000 calories] One hundred hours in a year is just fifteen minutes a day for a year. 


At age 30 I wanted to see what it felt like to spend 1,000 hours “being a photographer”, whatever that meant. I didn’t track my time in numbers on a spreadsheet, but reflected back each week or month. I knew roughly how much I studied, and how much work goes into each snapshot. It’s easy to make a good-enough estimate. I worked hard and put in around 500 - 750 hours in 2010. During those first hundreds of hours, my life wrapped around the world of photography. As new friends came into my life, they were often "photography friends” making it easy for simple things like "hanging out” turn into great photography projects. In 2011, probably around the 1,000 hour mark, I had my first art show.


Lessons learned from age 30 - 35


I’ve taken this approach of simply of reflecting on time spent with me over the last five years. It helped me get the most out of a half-year of traveling as a photographer around Southeast Asia in 2013. It pushed me to get up for sunrise instead of sleeping in. When I returned in 2014, I struggled to achieve a new balance in my life while working a demanding and frustrating job and then acquiring a severe shoulder injury. My plans for the year were interrupted. I learned how much time physical injury costs, and how much a bad environment at work drains time from everything else.


In 2015, I added a daily practice, recording where my time was actually spent. At first, I just recorded hours spent at work and hours of physical exercise and meditation. My goal was to keep work demands in check with personal well being. As time went on, I experimented keeping track of other pieces of information. This all resulted in my first effort at writing an article, which was published in the Elephant Journal and discussed the interplay of social drinking with yoga. When I finally left my job, I insisted on finding a company to work for that didn’t have 'morning mimosa meetings', kegs of beer and a liquor cabinet in the office.


With this kind of personal data being recorded, I began noticing interesting patterns in my life. Mondays do actually suck, but they are made better when I took care on Sunday evening to prepare for the week. Saturday mornings are amazing, but only when I spend Friday night doing yoga. I now had concrete data on the personal cost of Austin’s allergy season, and I now knew how well various remedies actually worked.


I began seeing the tangible effects of ‘energy levels’ in the data. I go through periods of time of low productivity where I need more sleep. If I fight that, I’m miserable and don’t actually accomplish more. Drugs (caffeine, alcohol, cannabis and so on) are useful in specific ways, but in general will lock you in for the worse. Mornings are incredible the very few days of my life I’ve been free from caffeine’s effects. A single drink at night will prevent me from meditating in the morning. I now can see clearly how I get more out of life when I balance physical work with intellectual work, and now plan for recovery periods of days after long sustained intense efforts.


I know how to look at a week, or a month, or a year, and know what I can expect of myself. I know the time cost of catastrophe and adventure, and how many I can afford in a year.


Budgeting Time


I manage my time in a specific way. I hate being overly analytical, despite finding value in the analysis. 


I keep a journal. Each day, I reflect, writing down just a couple lines of notes on the day’s events. I write a one line summary of the day. I make some quick estimates of hours spent on various things. I note whether there were any notably good or bad things that happened, answering questions like: did I drink? did I eat well? Was I happy?


Each week, I summarize, using the same kind of process. And so on for each month. This whole process should cost roughly 100 hours in a year, just 15 minutes a day. With that investment of time, I receive massive dividends. 


Keeping a daily/weekly journal and reviewing it forces me to reflect on my life and where it's heading. This information becomes a mirror into the self. There’s no way to avoid seeing the patterns of success and failure that keep occurring. That reflection either turns into real change or real acceptance. I know in tangible terms what it takes to make a change in my life, and if I cannot afford that cost in my current place in life, I accept it and move on.



One Year = 1,000 Hours


When I look at a year, I can hope to put 1,000 hours to good use on important things in my life. That’s very hard. If I’m lucky and work really hard and efficiently, I think it’s possible to push that to 1,500 hours, even with a day job. I've made many changes in my life over the past years to make this work. Even so, I know if things get crazy, I can still find 500 hours in a year.


I break that 1,000 hours into two chunks: personal wellness and personal projects.

I spend a few hundred hours on wellness. In this category, I care most about journaling, meditation and yoga. I also include physical exercise, small art projects, reading, journaling and learning languages. These are the things I need to do regularly to be happy. 

I take another few hundred hours for big personal projects. In this category, I place anything that I want to work towards for the longer term. In previous years, my main personal projects have been in photography. Now I’m also working to become a yoga teacher.


In addition to my 1,000 hours of ‘personal time', I set aside 9 hours a day for rest, taking 3,250 hours. I know I’ll spend 2,000 hours or more in my day job, converting time into money. This leaves around 2,500 hours of time unplanned in a year, where all the things in life can happen without the concerns of analysis.


My own personal plan for 2016 looks something like this:

 - Wellness (yoga, meditation, etc): 250-500 hours

 - Photography: 250-500 hours

 - Yoga teacher training: 250-500 hours

I can take each of those efforts and break them down into daily practices, weekly sessions and the occasional multi-day project/intensive. 


When I look out over the next year, I can see how those blocks of time interlock like lego pieces. Each month, I keep an eye on my progress and re-prioritize based on what's actually happening in my life. As far as New Years Resolutions go, the only way to accomplish major changes in life, is to take simple steps each day along a very long path. 

Starting a Daily Practice (Yoga, Meditation & Journaling)

Daily Observation in 2015

Last year, I spent six months recording details about each day in my life. This was a kind of experiment in Applied Philosophy, a weird combination of my background in data analysis, philosophy and my spiritual/wellbeing pursuits. I wrote about one aspect of this for the Elephant Journal.

As days turned into weeks and months, I reviewed and summarized this personal data. It gave me deep information about the patterns in my life, my typical days and the effects of rare events. In 2016, I will be taking that experiment a step further. 


Lessons Learned in 2015 (time, energy levels and reoccurring patterns)

I began to understand three big aspects of my typical human life using this data:

1. There's only so much time in a day, and it's way less than 24 hours. The same is true for days in a year. I now have a good idea of what I can accomplish in a week or a year.

2. I get more out of a day when I live it a certain way. In particular, my mental and physical energy levels vary over time and with circumstances. I now know what my mind and body need to perform at a certain level.

3. I began to see how small, simple actions performed again and again can can give structure to the patterns of my life, making dramatic shifts in its course.


Daily Practice in 2016 (Yoga, Meditation and Journaling)

My plan for 2016 is simple: Each day on waking, I spend a short amount of time doing yoga, meditating and writing a journal. I may spend as little as 10 minutes, or as long as hours each morning. 

The practices of Yoga, Meditation and Writing connect me with the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of myself. As 2016 unfolds, with ups and downs and unexpected turns, I hope to see how well these simple daily actions can act as guardrails on my path forward.