Nina Butler is a fascinating woman. She exudes positivity and exuberance, has the most amazing wardrobe of yoga clothing and is one of the best listeners I've met. We got to know one another at the Villa de Zoysa in Sri Lanka, where she led the 10-day yoga retreat. It was an honour to get this vibrant lady to sit down for a chat, so without further delay, I'd love to invite you to join our conversation.
Nina, thanks so much for this opportunity! I'd love to start by hearing how you'd describe yourself.
That is the hardest question! I’m moved, driven and motivated from the heart, so my yoga teaching, interaction with clients, my ability to add value in a retreat is led from the heart. If I don’t have the mental focus and energy to fully lead from the heart, then I feel I’m not contributing adequately to my environment. That’s always my primary focus and intention—I’m somebody who leads and speaks from the heart.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
Lots of things! My first obsession was to be a marine biologist, then a medical doctor, an architect, a chef - the list is long and varied. From the age about ten, I knew I was creative and the subjects that interested me reflected this. I left school when I was about 14 and, of course, my parents weren’t very happy with that. I made a pact with them to finish school through correspondence and that allowed me to choose and streamline my education. I’ve always had a lot of wanderlust so travel has always been at the heart of what I envisioned—combined with the creative. And that's exactly what I seem to be doing a lot of!
How would you describe your personal philosophy?
I haven’t ever specifically thought about this, but it would centre around my intention to lead from the heart. It’s important to combine that with a sense of awareness, though, in order not to unknowingly cause hurt or harm. In short: heart-centred mindfulness.
What piece of advice that you’ve received (business, personal or life!) has had a profound impact on you?
There’s been a few. In terms of business, it was that everything comes down to the numbers. This sounds so obvious, but whilst I was running my business, I put all my energy into creative part, which is what comes most easily to me. However, I learned from a close family friend that to keep my doors open, I needed to know what the finances are like and pay lots of attention to them. It was hard to digest but also really useful and has made me take what I would consider a very grown-up approach to the finances of my business.
Another bit of advice that I keep returning to is embracing uncomfortable moments instead of running away from them. When I encounter difficulty or darkness, I try not to push it away or fight it. I acknowledge it, lean into it and sit with it and this turns a difficult situation into a springboard. It becomes the groundwork for incredible personal power and growth. You see all aspects of yourself in a situation you don’t like and that’s empowering. It really moves you forward.
How do you bounce back or reset when you’ve suffered a setback?
I find fluidity and change quite easy to navigate. What I’m less good at is sticking things out. When I’m met with obstruction or a surprising circumstance, I’m very quick to change things up. This isn't always the best strategy, though, because there are times when you just need to be still. I’m learning to identify which approach is better when, through listening with greater mindfulness and patience.
How do you maintain your energy levels and keep yourself positive?
That’s a question that’s especially relevant this year, because of the amount of travel I’ve done. I try recognise the subtle changes in myself before I lose my energy. If I’m on a retreat and have low energy levels, I’m at risk of negatively impacting the entire group and so I take preventive measures. I privilege sleep (which isn’t the easiest thing for me). I’m also embracing compassion and tenderness toward myself—something I talk about a lot in my yoga teaching. It's not always easy to practice though! I’m working on letting go of expectations of myself and being more gentle. I also find silence very restorative for my energy.
What trait in yourself are you most proud of?
I've been working on being very conscious in my communication. When I connect with someone, I try to bring my full attention to them, disassociating any judgements and associations I might have, and listening fully and presently. I’ve learnt that our judgements and prejudices of others are actually reflections of self-limiting beliefs and thought patterns we have about ourselves. So judging others harshly is actually doubly damaging. In the course of my job, people share personal stories and so I'm proud of creating a space where they feel safe enough to be themselves fully.
What do you love most about your job?
The one thing that really inspires me is the change that I see, particularly in women, over a retreat. They arrive with excitement, but there’s still a weighted dullness, an exhaustion to them. Over the period of the retreat, through the combination of yoga, enough reflection and silence, good food and the wonder of being in Nature, a transformation starts to happen. At the end of the experience it’s like an energy boost—there’s a sparkling freshness to them. That’s the most rewarding thing.
How does one go about finding that dream job?
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or where I would fit into the world. Even after finishing my PhD, I didn’t really have much clarity regarding this. So I focused on what I wanted in my life: time to focus on my health and wellbeing, being able to a positive impact, travel as part of my job and being in close contact with Nature. These became my four pillars.
I stopped focusing on the job title and tried to start implementing my pillars in my life— and amazingly, my job has sort of formed around them. I meet so many young women facing a similar dilemma, and this is the lesson I’d love to share. First, define the pillars of the lifestyle you want and then find the job that fulfils them.
Are there women that have been a source of inspiration to you?
My grandmother was a huge influence on me and I was incredibly close to her. She passed away when I was 12, which was very difficult. However, I continue to feel her presence and to call on her when I feel the need. Another is my mother, who moves through life with amazing grace, elegance and generosity of spirit. No matter what she’s dealing with, she always has time and is the best listener I’ve ever come across.
My current employers are women (it’s a women-only business!) and they’re incredibly strong, smart and inspirational women. I look up to them and feel very proud to be part of such an amazing business.
Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful philosophy with us Nina.