The Power in the Pause with Cheyenne Ellis

Posted on June 24, 2020

Head shot of Cheyenne Ellis, who believes in the power of the pause.

What’s Your P.O.W.E.R. Move?

“Spoiler alert, we are all experiencing trauma, though at different levels and with access to varying levels of resources, we are all experiencing trauma.  If we don’t feel the trauma, we can’t heal from it.”

What’s your P.O.W.E.R.ful Advice?

“My P.O.W.E.R.ful advice is the same as before the pandemic. Pause. Take a deep breath. There is power in the pause.”

Hello P.O.W.E.R. community.

It’s been a while since our last post.

In the time between then and now, the world has changed.

Then, we worked from offices or coffee shops, our children went to school, we got together with friends for dinner. And for the most part, we did it without fear. 

Now, we are emerging from a moment in history, the likes of which haven’t been seen in a century. We have learned to think about interactions in terms of risk as well as reward. We have been forced to look around us and evaluate who and what we really need to survive. We have all made compromises, big and small. Many of us have mourned lost moments of joy: graduations, weddings, reunions. Many of us have grieved for lost loved ones, deprived of the rituals and companionship that offer so much comfort in times of stress.

Then, also, some of us felt like the Civil Rights Era was behind us. To some of us, it seemed that racism and systemic injustice were evils that were well on their way to being eradicated; evils which were unlikely to impact us in our day to day lives. Now, the anguish, despair, and hopelessness that have haunted generations in communities facing systemic barriers to achieving their dreams, have been laid bare around the world for all to see.

The inflection point that lead to this collective outcry took place after yet another string of violent acts targeting Black people. Perhaps the lack of distractions available forced us all to pay attention in a way we’d been able to avoid for far too long. Or maybe it was the experience of getting on with our lives in an unfamiliar world full of uncertainty, lack of control, and fear, that made us more empathetic towards those who experience such conditions all the time. 

At the time of this writing, much remains unknown and uncertain. Many of us are still in the thick of the experience of adjusting to the “new normal” in relation to both the rhythms of our lives, and our new perspectives on the work that needs to be done to heal our communities.These are hard things, and they won’t happen overnight. However, by a fortuitous twist of fate, the story that Cheyenne Ellis shared on March 4th, 2020 includes much that can help our readers as they process recent events and prepare for whatever comes next.

During her interview for this blog, Cheyenne Ellis, Founder and Chief Mover and Shaker at Make Movements, was asked “what is your P.O.W.E.R. move” as part of the standard Personal P.O.W.E.R. blog process.

After some consideration, she stated that her power move is to take a pause because “there is power in the pause.”

When she said it, she was referring to her own internal process and to the work she does with her company, Make Movements. But as we pick up the Personal P.O.W.E.R. blog series in this new and different world, it feels applicable in so many ways. 

Let’s explore. 

How does Cheyenne help folks find power in the pause? Her company, Make Movements, works with corporate clients who want to increase employee health, happiness, and productivity. Cheyenne works with her clients to design a customized series of movement and mindfulness exercises, and in pre-pandemic times, she’d work on site, creating a physical space for client employees to move their bodies and relax their minds. Just like everyone else, she’s had to adjust her process to accommodate social distancing, but despite the constraints of new formats, the value of the services she provides has been highlighted by the strain and stress that the pandemic has caused for so many people. 

 A very relevant example is the work Cheyenne does with physicians at Ochsner, a Make Movements client. Before the pandemic, Ochsner’s HR team engaged Make Movements’ services, because they recognized the importance of providing wellness tools to prevent physician burnout. When the pandemic hit, their leadership team quickly mobilized various departments to help build offerings to augment the stress of living and working on the front lines during the pandemic. “As we re-calibrate what work and life look like moving forward, companies are reexamining employee well-being and burnout through a new lens”, notes Cheyenne. 

During this time of collective stress and anxiety, it may give people hope to learn that the seed of Make Movements, a business that exists to cultivate health, happiness, and a sense of well-being, was planted in another highly stressful environment.

“One of my first jobs out of college” Cheyenne recalls, “was with the Department of State in DC, in the Office of Children’s Issues, I worked specifically on cases of international parental child abduction in the middle east and Asia, with a focus on India and Pakistan.”

As she adjusted to the constant state of emergency that permeated her job, Cheyenne recollects that “I noticed the office was intentionally structured to have people rotating in and out of it and I started quickly asking questions why that was because my first thought was wow, there’s a lack of institutional knowledge with these cases.” This lack of institutional knowledge not only made her job harder but also drew attention to the risk of burnout that is inevitable in jobs with such urgent stakes. 

In an effort to protect herself and cultivate resiliency, Cheyenne began to practice yoga nearly every day. “I started going to a yoga class after work about four days a week because I knew I needed to do something when I left the office to discharge the day. When I didn’t, I noticed that I’d be frustrated and annoyed the next day, and wouldn’t show up for those families, for those children, that needed me.”

The combination of experiencing both high-stakes stress and finding an outlet for it shaped Cheyenne’s future career trajectory, leading her down a path to where she is today. “I felt really fortunate that I was able to both see the potential danger caused by burnout, and find a solution to preventing it.”

The path from the state department to Make Movements was not a straight line. She detoured for a time to work as the Director of Internships at YouthForce NOLA, a job skills training nonprofit. In this role, she met with numerous human resource professionals managing the program’s participants as part of their internship experiences and became close with various HR leaders across multiple industries. Often, the topic of workplace culture, employee stress, and team happiness, would come up. “These discussions validated my hypotheses around workplace stress, and the unhealthy prioritization of the ‘grind.’ Pre-pandemic we held the grind as a badge of honor, and allowed the unrelenting pace to define the value of the work being done. The pandemic has forced us to hit pause and slow that pace down. We’re still in the midst of redefining what effective productivity looks like while we’re in the midst of societal shifts on multiple fronts.” 

Cheyenne’s conviction that workplace wellness is integral to both individual and organizational health is backed by a growing body of scientific research and data (for example this study titled “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being” and this one titled “Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training”.) “In my opinion, the increase in scientific data is what’s helping push the focus on wellness from a ‘woo-woo feel good’ thing into something fundamental” notes Cheyenne. With our eyes newly opened to the importance of prioritizing health, it seems likely that Cheyenne’s expertise and familiarity with these studies will be invaluable in helping us all identify healthier habits as individuals and as participants in our various communities.

“In the world of mindfulness, what I aim to do with clients is teach them how to weave mindfulness practices into life, into everything you do. It doesn’t need look like sitting on a cushion for 30 minutes, it can be 60 seconds of breathing. The pandemic has made us rethink the way we think of time, and there is now a new opportunity for us to flex and build our mental muscles. One way I define success is helping clients integrate mindfulness into every part of their day with short digestible exercises. Now we have an opportunity to rethink what that integration might feel like moving forward.” 

If you’re feeling stressed, here are some complementary tools Cheyenne created that can be used during a time of crisis. 

 

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