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Getting An Upgrade; How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus

While modern medicine is a miracle, one of its shortcomings is a cultural consequence that I call “fix me.” We have become accustomed to the idea of having bad habits and then, when things start falling apart, we expect modern medicine to fix us with pills or surgery. Too often, these “fixes” are only short-term and can lead to other problems since everything in the body is connected.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sytera Field. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Sytera Field began practicing yoga in 1994 to recover from breaking both bones in her lower right leg in a rock-climbing accident. The first in her family to graduate from college, Sytera began teaching yoga in 2001 and went on to study Thai Yoga Massage. She launched SyteraYoga in 2018 with help from a Kickstarter campaign, and grew her business during the pandemic, opening a second studio in November 2020. Sytera is the founder of the Nadi Ball Method for myofascial release and produces her own line of yoga massage balls, called Nadi Balls.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, and grew up with two younger brothers. My mother was a bus driver and my dad was a carpenter, and they both struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. We had a very modest and, at times, difficult upbringing.

In the environment I grew up in there was no talk of college or planning for the future. Most of the validation I received from my family was around my physical appearance. My mother enrolled me in pageants as a pre-teen. When I was 12 years old, I won Miss Pre-Teen Texas and then traveled to Disney World in Orlando for the Miss Pre-Teen USA contest. Ironically, this helped me realize that I didn’t want to play the part of being a pretty girl. I started to recognize that I could do more, but I had no clue what that might be. No one in my extended family had ever gone to college.

Like a lot of Gen X’ers, my parents divorced when I was young, so I was a typical “latchkey kid.” When I was 17 I left home and lived with friends. I didn’t have any good role models or much adult supervision, so as a teenager I spent most of my time doing stupid things. For half of my friends, it ended poorly — in death, drug addiction, eating disorders, teen pregnancy. For the other half of us, surviving all that crap made us stronger.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

In 1994, when I was 19, I fell off a cliff while rock climbing and broke both bones in my lower right leg. I spent months in a thigh-high cast. I had grown up dancing and had a lot of confidence in my body. So, breaking my leg and being in a wheelchair really shook me, both physically and mentally.

I had to find a way to regain my confidence and learn to trust my body again. With no money for physical therapy, I tried yoga as a means of redeveloping strength and mobility. Yoga quickly became more than just a means of healing. I saw it as a way I could take control of my life. It provided me with a framework of ideas and values that I did not have growing up. It was the first time that I felt like I knew who I was and what I wanted to do.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

That’s easy: my husband. We met when I was 17 and have been together for 28 years. He was the first and often the only person to believe in me. We’ve been through the roller coaster of life together, partners every step of the way.

We moved together from Austin to Washington, D.C. in 1996. He encouraged me to go to college, so I enrolled at the University of Maryland and became the first person in my family to graduate from college. Right after we were married in November 2000, I decided I wanted to study art history in Italy for a semester, and he was 100% supportive and helped me figure out how we could finance it. It was the first time that I was truly on my own — in a foreign country with no family or friends. I learned a lot about myself. During that time abroad I decided that, when I returned home, I wanted to become a yoga teacher. Again, my husband was very supportive. I remember clearing out all of the furniture from our small living room so I could start teaching classes to my friends; it was the only space I had access to that was big enough for a yoga class.

In 2017, with our three kids finally old enough to be more independent, I started thinking about opening my own yoga studio. My husband loved the idea, and we both jumped into it. He’s always up for making unconventional decisions and taking risks together.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I first started doing yoga to recover from my broken leg, I didn’t know anything about yoga, so I tried different classes and styles. As you might imagine, yoga in Austin (home of Whole Foods and many alternative health trends) in the early 1990s could be weird and wild. So, my very first introduction to yoga just happened to be a “clothing optional” class! After the first few moments of being behind someone while they were doing Downward Dog, I took my fully-clothed self out of the class. I then found an Iyengar yoga class that was very therapeutic, and it gave me an introduction to “real yoga.” However, after a few months, the teacher started hitting on me, hiding behind his guru status; and this was while my now-husband was attending class with me!

This is often how I had learned lessons in life up to that point: discovering who I did not want to be from the adults in my life. In this case, I learned that the “hippie” or “guru” idea of yoga wasn’t for me. Over time, I learned that I wanted to practice and ultimately teach a style of yoga that was modern, fun, and therapeutic, but without sacrificing the profound spiritual and community benefits of yoga. Realizing that mix in today’s yoga industry has been a big challenge.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Find someone, such as a studio owner or a teacher, who is doing something you admire and then do their trainings, go to their classes, ask them to mentor you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for their advice. Don’t sit on the sidelines, and don’t try to do it all yourself.

Don’t just do a generic yoga teacher training. Yoga is a craft, so if you want to be successful you need to find the right person to study with. People are too focused on credentials instead of who they actually want to learn from.

Also, make sure this person you admire is successful in other areas of life. For example, do you see yourself with a family? If so, find out if this person you admire has had success with that. Yes, the person you admire might have the kind of career you covet, but at what price? No one is perfect, of course. But look for evidence of a well-rounded, healthy individual who has achieved something admirable and has not done it at the expense of everything else. It has to be sustainable and ethical.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Darren John Main’s Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic. I read this book in the early 2000s, at a time when very few people were talking about how the principles of yoga can apply to the daily life of a person living in a modern society. Yoga in the west had always been about escaping from or even rejecting modern society. But you don’t have to live in a cave and be a mystic to realize the benefits of yoga. I studied with Darren as part of my teacher training.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Life is like a sticky mat; each circumstance in which we find ourselves is like a pose. Some poses are hard to hold; others are pleasant. But it is how we hold the pose that determines whether or not we will suffer or grow, and whether or not we will listen to the drama of the ego or the wisdom of our Spirit.”

― Darren Main, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic

This idea is the reason why I practice yoga — not to honor the pose, but to honor the lesson that you learn about yourself on the yoga mat. It’s one of the reasons why I have an urban theme (brick and graffiti) in my yoga studios, because we’re not looking to escape our modern lives by doing yoga, but rather we do yoga to be happier and healthier within our modern lives.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Right now, I’m completely immersed in growing and refining a practice I developed called the Nadi Ball Method, which is a mix of yoga and myofascial massage, inspired by my study of Thai Yoga Massage. The method targets the fascia or energy lines (called “nadis” in yoga), the body’s scaffolding of connective tissue surrounding the muscles and organs. The technique uses smooth, pliable balls that I developed, called Nadi Balls (pronounced “nah-dee”), to target specific areas of the body and to serve as a vital source of biofeedback during yoga. The balls substitute for the connection we all need in a yoga practice: human touch. I launched the method shortly before Covid hit, and it’s one of the main reasons my business survived the pandemic.

The practice of the Nadi Method is a practice of understanding how to regulate your own nervous system. When you start to understand your relationship to holding tension in your body, you can start to modulate your response to stressful stimuli. Then you understand that you have a choice in how to react in any particular situation. This is when you start to see real, positive shifts in your body, health, and life overall. First, know that we get addicted to our tension. Your pattern and habits of holding that tension keep you distracted from dealing with the real issue. We have “issues in our tissues,” as I like to say. It’s when you allow yourself to really look at the tension that you can start to slowly dismantle it. What is left is space — space in the body and space in the mind to react to life in a way that serves you, not in a way that enslaves you.

Our minds and bodies can do amazing things, like run marathons, pull an all-nighter studying for a test — all feats that really push us to our limit. Our society admires this. But, what you cannot do is force your body to relax. And those of us burning the candle at both ends have a really hard time relaxing. In fact, you will never hear me say “relax” in my yoga classes. Of course, you don’t know how to relax! That is why you need yoga! The key is to shift your mind from “monkey mind” to “body time.” It’s like this: have you ever been to a tropical island where everything just takes longer, and they tell you to be patient because you are on “island time.”

Our mind is not anchored; it can jump from thought to thought instantaneously. However, our body is anchored to the physical world. Our physical body and tissues just have a different timeline than our minds do. So, we hold a pose that illuminates a strong sensation in the body. Then we stay with it and breathe. As you do this your mind will do what it does best: jump from one narrative or dialogue to the next until you can’t even remember your first thought. The key is to consciously fill the lungs, then empty the lungs slowly and completely until you start to notice the rhythms of your body starting to slow down. Heartbeat, pulse, breath. And then again. Now you are on “body time.”

Here is an example of our “monkey mind.” Many years ago, when my son was much younger, I was late getting him to a doctor's appointment. As we were rushing into the medical building he grabbed my hand and said, “Mom, just clear your mind and think about bananas.” It knocked me back to reality knowing that, if I was a few moments late, it would be just fine. I recently told this story to a private client, knowing that this sweet, disarming statement would give her a chuckle and help illustrate how we are too hard on ourselves most of the time. The reaction I got from her, however, was totally not what I expected. She responded, “I’m so glad I was not there! My first thought would have been, were the bananas not ripe yet? Were they too ripe? I have some overripe bananas in my fridge that would be good for banana bread. My mom loves banana bread. I’d bring some to her except, we are estranged and it fills me with dread to think about the reason why…” You get the point!

A simple story that was supposed to stop her in her tracks to see the light and humor of the moment turns from bananas to “dread of my mother!” This is what we do all day every day. So, how do you stop this monkey mind from controlling your life? You practice on the yoga mat.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Our habits are our health. When we think about training our minds and bodies, what we tend to focus on are the exceptions and not the rule. The exceptions are: “I’m training my body for a marathon” or “I’m training my mind for the LSAT.” But it’s our day-to-day activities that are actually training our bodies. We sit too much. We go to the gym and work out in one-dimensional ways. Through these day-to-day habits, we’re teaching our bodies to have a limited number of patterns and shapes. Meanwhile, most of the other things our bodies are capable of are atrophying.

The same goes for your mind. It’s the narrative and dialogue, the self-messaging, that’s going on in our minds 24–7 that is dictating and therefore limiting what we’re capable of. We forget how to be present in the moment, to be creative and joyful. We lose flexibility in our thinking.

While modern medicine is a miracle, one of its shortcomings is a cultural consequence that I call “fix me.” We have become accustomed to the idea of having bad habits and then, when things start falling apart, we expect modern medicine to fix us with pills or surgery. Too often, these “fixes” are only short-term and can lead to other problems since everything in the body is connected. When folks come to me and say, “fix me,” I tell them that I can’t but I can help guide them in fixing themselves. And such “fixing” is really just them developing the right habits of self-care, with a little guidance, support, and accountability from others.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

I think of some limitations as boundaries, which can be healthy. A boundary is something you can and should recognize, and you can work with. You can have a relationship with that boundary, and it tells you something about yourself. Sometimes that boundary is useful to you and needs to be honored, and sometimes it’s just yourself getting in your own way.

Through the practice of yoga, I have been able to keep perspective, to keep focused and on track with what really matters for my personal and professional growth. It’s a philosophy of “inner body bright, outer body soft.” The inner body has the drive, will, and energy that serves as the power or fuel behind what we do, while the outer body is pliable, can adapt, and let go of the small stuff. So, it’s a balance between an internal intensity and an external resilience. Yoga shows you that you can “bend without breaking.” You can recognize your boundaries and make adjustments accordingly without extinguishing your fire and drive.

What a good yoga teacher does is create tension. When I mentioned that in a podcast some years back to another yoga teacher, she challenged me, “Aren’t we trying to help people release tension?” I explained that I set up situations where I know the client is going to feel a bit of stress in the body. Then I guide them through the process of making friends with that physical boundary (known as an “energetic block” in your nadi system). That physical boundary has a narrative to tell you. So, you pause, breathe, and listen. Then and only then will the tension leave. This is the relationship you have with your tension. You have stored it away from a previous incident, injury, stress, whatever. (Because who has time to really feel in our everyday life?) Then, just like a friend who had something major going on in life and just needs you to be present with her, the body will start to let go of the tension.

Ask anyone, would you be there for a friend who needs you? Of course! Then why won’t you do that for yourself? If you have gratitude for your body, you will. We often say “my bad hip, foot, etc.” And I respond, I didn’t see you limp in here. That means that, despite your foot suffering from some issue, it is working double duty to support you. That is a gift and should be met with gratitude. Shift away from looking at your body like an enemy preventing you from achieving your goal to a friend who truly wants the same thing as you do: to be healthy, pain-free, and totally capable to do the things in life that bring you joy. The simple fact is that everything that happens to you, physically and mentally, makes a footprint on your physical body. Learning to deal with that is learning to deal with life.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

The way we create good habits is first to become aware and mindful of what our current habits are and whether they’re serving us well. Then we can modify or replace them. For example, you can take the stairs instead of the elevator half the time, to keep the muscles involved in climbing active and healthy. Diversifying your movement is essential, and doing so has the wonderful byproduct of also interrupting our thought patterns.

I find it easier and more productive to replace a bad habit with a new, better one, rather than just going cold turkey on the bad habit. I’m not an absolutist. I believe there’s an appropriate time and place for almost anything, but the key is to know when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. So, rather than being rigid about what I never do or always do, I try to have general rules, like eat dinner with my family every night or don’t eat pasta. I build those habits into my schedule, and I share those habits with my friends and family to help hold me accountable. But I also know there’s a time and place for exceptions to those rules.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

For optimal wellness, here are my top 3 habits:

  1. Move your body of course! This should be at least 30 minutes for women and 40 minutes for men five days a week. Think about it. Our bodies evolved over millions of years to move, not to be static. So, it is unavoidable and fundamental that we move regularly and thoughtfully. And movement is not just important for our physical wellness but, importantly, also for our mental health and clarity.

  2. Connect with others. Human beings are social creatures. At our core, we need to connect with family and friends, to laugh, to have fun together, to support one another. This is one of the reasons why my family and I have “family time” every night, to play games, do a puzzle, or go for a walk. Otherwise, the allure of work and screens (screens everywhere, all the time!) can easily lead us to be less socially connected and less mobile.

  3. Practice gratitude. The benefits of expressing gratitude regularly have been well-documented in recent years. And the amazing thing is, it doesn’t just help our wellness; it helps others’ wellness at the same time. And it helps keep us focused on what’s important.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

  1. Moving your body. Movement doesn’t have to be just walking or running. You can dance around your living room. Get outside and mow the yard. Throw a ball with your kid. Anything, really. The most important thing is moving diverse muscles and elevating your heart rate. I’m a big believer in scheduling out my week and days, so I simply mark an hour a day in which I’m going to go outside, do yoga, or some other activity to move my body. And if you’re “too busy,” which we all are, then try building the movement into your morning routine, before all of your other daily obligations kick in.

  2. Connecting with others. Of course, you can combine connecting with others with moving your body, such as running with a spouse or friend, playing tennis, etc. This is why community is such a big deal for yoga studios because people want to see and engage with others.

  3. Practicing gratitude. When you are relaxed in bed at night, take a deep breath and then bring to mind three things that you are grateful for from that day. Make them different every day. Then take the deepest breath you have had all day into the fullness of your lungs and allow yourself to feel that gratitude.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Stretch every day for 15 minutes. It boosts your energy and focus, and helps you feel calmer and more focused for the day. And, of course, it helps you prevent injuries. This simple, easy self-care practice is grossly underrated.

  2. Get massages. My typical private client is someone who is active and works hard, but then fails to provide time for recovery. Part of my recovery routine is getting a massage every other week, which helps me to de-stress and to keep my muscles and fascia supple.

  3. Be held accountable. One of the key challenges with performance is sustaining our motivation. Unfortunately, we’re not good at keeping our commitments to ourselves. We tend to be a lot better at keeping our commitments to others, even to our pets! We don’t want to let others down, and we want to be seen as being capable and trustworthy. So, we can greatly improve our motivation and, therefore, our performance by simply making it a habit to share our goals with our colleagues, friends, and family, and asking them to hold us accountable.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

  1. Stretching. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier and make that the first thing you do every day. This is one of the reasons my studio offers a “15 minutes for 15 days” online challenge each month at 7:45am, to help people develop the habit of stretching every morning.

  2. Getting massages. The easiest way to do this is to pre-pay for a package of 10 or 20 massages, which will usually get you a good discount. Then schedule the massages for the same day and time every other week for months so that it becomes part of your routine and you don’t have to think about scheduling each appointment.

  3. Accountability. One practice, when appropriate, is to share your goal on social media. Then post regularly to share your progress. Your friends and family will cheer you on, and you’ll be more motivated to do your best.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Set your intention every day. We have finite time and infinite choice, so we have to be intentional if we want to stay focused on what’s most important. What if you knew each day what a homerun for your day looks like? Knowing that changes everything and helps us say “no” to the many things in life that can distract us from what we value most.

  2. Meditation and breathwork. The benefits of meditation or meditative breath are much better understood now. Most importantly, it calms our minds and our nerves so that we can move past the “monkey mind” that I described earlier and begin to gain greater awareness of our feelings and thoughts.

  3. Go outside. The sunshine, fresh air, and interruption of our work, which for many people is staring at a screen for hours, is essential. It’s not just the benefits of vitamin D and fresh oxygen; it’s the resetting of our mind, stretching of the body, and so much more.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

  1. Setting your intention every day. It’s important to do this from a place of comfort and grounding. Ideally, pause for a moment, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Think about what’s most important to you and what concrete thing you can do that day to honor it. I start every one of my yoga classes with intention setting.

  2. Meditation and breath-work. These days there are a ton of apps and free videos to help with developing and maintaining a meditation practice. So, I recommend starting there.

  3. Go outside. My husband used to make this a habit by going out for lunch every day instead of eating at his desk. It was a bit more expensive to eat out, but it forced him to move his body, get some fresh air and sunshine, and reset his brain.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

For me, I’m in a state of flow when I’m “body reading” — that is, seeing what people are feeling in their body. One day a contractor came to work on our house and while he was describing the work he was going to do that day I asked him, “When did your right hip start hurting?” He proceeded to tell me the details about his hip and then stopped and asked, “Wait, how did you know my hip was hurting?”

You know how in poker people have “tells” or unconscious clues that can provide clues about their hand. I can “read” people’s bodies that way and see where they have restrictions in their muscles and fascia, and I can guide them through a series of movements that will help unlock it. In those moments, I’m not being analytical but intuitive. Anyone, I believe, can tune into their intuition and let it guide them. It’s a creative process without distraction, where you can blur the edges of your mind and just be in the moment.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Self-care is the new healthcare! This is my mantra and the title of a book that I just started working on. Thankfully, as a society, we are beginning to shift from a mindset of “fix me” with drugs and surgery toward a less invasive mindset, which recognizes that we ourselves need to build habits of self-care in order to improve our wellness or “fitness,” which is defined as fit for life, not just physical fitness. But we’re only at the beginning.

Healthcare in the U.S., as pretty much everyone knows and has experienced, is extraordinarily expensive, time-consuming, and atomistic, too often failing to provide for our overall wellness and even compromising it at times. Being well, in a holistic sense, doesn’t have to be so difficult. We need to challenge the current culture of “fix me” and replace it with an “I’ve got this” movement in which individuals begin to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary power of self-care. We need to move toward a greater awareness and expectation of how relatively simple practices of regular movement, stretching, healthy sleep, and more can help us live much longer, healthier, and happier lives.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

Brené Brown. A lot of the advice she gives is consistent with yoga principles, but she’s coming from a scientific point of view, which is very helpful and empowering. And we’re both from Texas!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can visit and, and follow me on social media at and, or on Facebook at

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

This post was written by Ben Ari from Authority Magazine. The original post was published here.

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