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Interview with Soul Seater Vish Chatterji

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We always like to hear of the creative seating hacks our customers have turned to before finding the Soul Seat.  In the case of Vish Chatterji, he took it a step further.  Coming to the project with a background in corporate product development for the likes of Belkin and Chrysler, he applied his considerable maker chops to roughing out his own Soul Seat.

Based in Southern California, Vish is an executive coach, software startup founder, certified Yoga instructor and a product development specialist.  His consulting firm, Head and Heart Insights provides executive level coaching with broad areas of expertise from product development to organizational culture change. You will get a taste of how Vish deftly integrates his many areas of expertise to help his clients thrive as our conversation moves from yoga, to product hacking, to business strategy to the microbiome and the benefits of squatting to poo.

 The following transcript from a Facetime session was edited for clarity.

Finding The Soul Seat

Pack Matthews:  You and I first met in Hermosa Beach didn’t we?

Vish Chatterji:  Yes, at the South Bay Yoga Festival, September 2016.  That year I was invited to teach at the Festival, but at that time I wasn’t quite in the place to do that, so I just went to the festival to meet the organizers and wander around. And as I was wandering around, I noticed your booth’s banner. It had somebody sitting on this contraption in all sorts of different directions.

I thought, “Wait a minute. That’s how I sit at home, but I can’t do that at the office.”  And so, I wandered over, and I met you, and you had a nice personality, and you had a demo model, and said, “Hey, try it out.” And I sat on it, and I just felt great. I thought, “Oh, wow. This is made for me.” And then I switched to a few different positions, and – in fact the way I’m sitting right now, the Perch is raised up about 3 or 4 inches, and my feet are sort of in a posture, almost like a meditation posture, and I’m sitting ready to work. This is how I would sit normally.

Pack: Are you on your Soul Seat now?

Vish: I am.  It’s my daily chair. The way I’m sitting right now is exactly the way I sat at your booth at the South Bay Yoga Festival. I used to never be able to sit this way at the office, and this Soul Seat allows me to sit the way I normally do at home in my office as well. So, it’s been amazing.

I’m a product guy, so that day in your booth I thought, “Wow, that thing is fantastic.” The Soul Seat is a major investment. So after the festival I went looking on the web for something where I could sit someway like this.  And I did an extensive search.

Pack:  What did you find?

Vish: There’s nothing out there. There’s literally nothing that comes close to what the Soul Seat is. And then I got adventurous. I’ve got a bunch of wood lying in the garage, and somebody left a base of an office chair out on the curb down the street from me. And so, I grabbed the wood, and I kind of mocked up my own little chair to see what it would be like, and it was good. I kind of got the feeling of it, but it wasn’t the same as what I felt in your booth. Wasn’t the same.

Pack: I’m impressed! So you roughed out the basic principle?

Vish: But I didn’t have the same details, and understanding of the angles, and the spring-loading, and the mechanism, and all that, and the right cushioning. So then I went to your website and purchased my  own Soul Seat.

It fits everything the way it’s supposed to. It’s the right size; it’s not too big; it’s not clunky; it’s got the right amount of surface area for my knees to rest, for my legs to rest.  It allows for  adjustability, which I’m using all the time for different situations depending on how I feel that day; It has the springs under the Perch that allows me to tilt a little bit for where I need to be; all of that.

You’ve done the groundwork of thinking through all the possible requirements for the office environment, which clearly would have taken me years to figure out. You’ve put in the necessary effort and time.

Pack: Given your expertise in product design, what you just described is a great compliment. As a product developer, I’m glad you have an appreciation for everything that goes into the tools we use. The many hours of prototyping, the testing, and all the versions that didn't work.   

Head and Heart Insights

Pack:  Tell us about your latest creation,  Head and Heart Insights.

Vish: I started this executive coaching practice a little less than a year ago. I’m providing a mix of business advising, executive coaching, as well as some integrative life coaching. It’s built on a  holistic approach to health, bringing mind-body medicine, meditation – all that together to counsel people on healthy living, an effective mix of those things.

Pack: It must be gratifying to see people make the connections, that everything is interrelated. Do folks have trouble de-compartmentalizing? Or are the folks coming to you already heading that way?

Vish: Sometimes I’ll have a small business owner or an executive start out with, “I need to work on the business stuff,” and they’ll say, “Let’s look at this spreadsheet.”  So we dive into the realm of Excel, where we’re trying to figure out the P&L, and trying to understand, “What’s going on with the margin structure here?” you know, “The business,” and, “Where’s the revenue opportunities?” and, “What’s the product mix?”

And in the middle of that focus they’ll start saying, “We’re just not hitting the numbers we want to hit,” and they’ll say, “I dunno, some problem with sales.” And so, then from the spreadsheet, we start moving into the relationship dynamics. Sometimes that’s where it ends up – it ends up being a focus on coaching executive leadership; “How are you’re interacting in different situations and meetings, how are the team’s getting along, what might be a better way to come across to the teams.”

Every now and then, somebody might identify, especially senior leaders, that they have the same problem with the sales guy as they do at home with their wife or kid.

Pack:  Funny how that works.

Vish: Yeah, funny how that works, right? They come to that realization, and I start to ask questions like, “What’s going on that you end up in these situations over and over,” and sometimes at that point there’s sort of an opening into understanding their lifestyle choices, and they’re living very high stressed out lives, they’re not making time for themselves, they have no grounding practice, they’re sleep deprived and drinking a lot.

Depending on the need, there might be a few sessions that are actually more health counseling, lifestyle coaching sessions than business. I have a particular client right now, who’s working on how to present herself to clients, and she wants to come across as calm and confident, but she’s coming across completely stressed out. We started with a revenue goal and a business target, which then ended up being client about interactions, where the root of the problem was client interactions.

It turns out that the root of those client issues is related to lifestyle choices.  So now we’re stabilizing her daily routine. Like, what are the things you do in your life on a day to day basis? What’s your diet? What’s your exercise? We started her on a meditation routine, and she’s starting to get to a calmer state. With this new sort of persona that she’s presenting we can go back and revisit questions like, “How do we hit the numbers and the business?”  It’s been really interesting to explore both ends of the spectrum, from client dynamics all the way to Ayurvedic lifestyle health coaching.

Pack: Do you encounter much resistance?

Vish:  Yeah, I’ll have a few times where in a session, they’ll say, “Wait, I thought we were – let’s get back to the business stuff,” and they’re kind of getting uncomfortable with the lifestyle things. But they do implement them, and then a few sessions later I’ll notice a difference in their affect. I’ll ask about it, say, “Look, how are you coming across? Have you noticed this?” And they’ll say, “Oh yeah, I did this the other day,” and, “Oh, this is working really well for me,” or they’ll start making comments about people around them observing a change.

Once they’ve made that connection I can offer questions such as, “How do you think this is going to impact your business? What does this do for your client? What does this do for the goals that you set, for the revenue number, for instance?” So, it’s interesting. Initially, especially with business people, there seems to be a little bit of a pushback. And then after a few weeks, once they notice the change in their life, and other people pointing it out, they start to say, “Wow, this is great.”

Soul Seat in his work

Vish: I’m at a desk a lot doing administrative work, invoicing, and email, so I am in front of the computer for quite a lot of the day, and the Soul Seat is really great for that.

Pack:  Are you mostly coaching in person?

Vish:  Yeah, a lot of times I have clients come here in person.  It depends on the clients, but if it’s a client who’s paying premium rates, then I’m usually going to their office, and heavily discounted clients are coming into my office. So, I have a couch there, and then a couple of chairs and a whiteboard. And so, a lot of times, either way, I’ll sit on the Soul Seat, and then face them and coach from the Soul Seat itself. That way I’m able to turn, take notes where I have to, or enter some data, or look something up, and then just turn and face them again, while sitting on my Soul Seat.

The Soul Seat also has a role in how I’m actually interacting with a client, and feeling present. I’m not coming across in a commanding position to a client. If I was in a conventional office chair, while they’re on the couch or in one of these stool chairs, it would put me in a bit of a superior position.

I’m not a therapist or a doctor. I’m a coach, so I’m a collaborative partner in somebody’s goal-setting and work. To be a collaborative partner, I need to be at the same level. I feel sitting on a Soul Seat puts me at more of a collaborative level. I’m not solving the problem for you, I’m solving the problem with you. And so, the with you is expressed in the design ethos of the Soul Seat more than an office chair could.

Pack: I see. The Soul Seat has become part of the message and context you’re creating for the work you’re doing with clients.  What sort of comments (about the Soul Seat) do you get from clients?

Vish: I don’t know why, but the topic just rolls in naturally.  When somebody sees it, they just go, “Oh, yeah, it’s a chair. No big deal.” Maybe it isn’t as controversial a chair as I thought.  I remember I said to a new client, “You know, I’m on this chair,” and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I noticed. That’s kind of interesting. It seems like a good way to sit.” So, I think people look at it, they think to themselves, “Oh, that looks comfortable,” but I don’t think they start to think, “Oh, wow, that’s odd,” or, “That’s different,” or, “That’s unique.” I think it’s just sort of normal.

Pack:  You’re so obviously comfy on it, and you’ve clearly mastered it yourself. Probably nothing occurs to them that’s strange. Would you ever recommend a Soul Seat to your consulting customers?

Vish: That’s a good question. For me personally, I’ve had a lot less back pain with the Soul Seat than I did with a regular seat, and I think I’m also strengthening my core muscles. I don’t know if that’s an intention, but when I hold Boat Pose now, I can hold it a lot longer than I did before. And I haven’t been doing anything different in terms of my practice. So, I’m thinking that just sitting on a Soul Seat’s giving me some core support. And then, of course, if I squat on it, it’s doing a really nice stretch as well.

I feel like I’m sitting in a greater variety of positions during the day, and I’m feeling less back pain and muscular strain in using the mouse and keyboard, all of that. So, if somebody told me that, “Look, I’m sitting in a desk all day, and I’m having these aches and pains,” I might suggest the Soul Seat as a way to strengthen the core muscles and strengthen the overall sitting. And yeah, for me it’s a much more natural and healthier way to sit than sitting on a typical office chair.

Yoga In his Work

Pack  Did you grow up doing Yoga?

Vish: Well, I grew up watching my dad do Yoga so it was in the household, but it wasn’t something that I necessarily did. After I graduated from college, I travelled to India, and while I was trekking in the Himalayas I had an accident. I found myself recovering in a Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh, where I met my teacher. You could say that’s where my intentional practice began. I’ve been practicing Yoga now for about 18 years.

I would say that for most of my career, Yoga was mostly a stress reduction practice. I would do my Yoga practice in the morning to reduce stress, and then go out there and conquer the business world, and start divisions, and start product groups. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I started to notice a convergence, that my path was more connected to mind-body healing and medicine more than just purely business.  As that shift started to happen, I started to bring the Yogic teachings and the meditation teachings as a tool to help businesspeople in the business community.  

That shift made Yoga a lot more important for me, not just as a stress reduction tool, but as part of my work. So, in a coaching session, my success depends on being present. Am I really there for the client? Am I really sensing them? Am I hearing them? And I sensing their energy? And all that is cultivated through the Yoga practice.

Pack:  Has your practice changed as a result? Do you notice that?

Vish: Yeah, it’s a lot deeper practice. It’s a lot deeper and more in-tune practice, and it’s more energetic in nature than before. Before it was more of a body practice, whereas now it’s more of an energetic center practice. And so, I actually went back to India this last February and got my Yoga teacher training certification. I’m a certified Yoga teacher now, and I’m actually using it as part of my coaching toolkit.

Every now and then in a coaching session I might do a little bit of Yoga therapy.  I also have senior executive clients that I teach private Yoga classes for. When clients are too busy to go to Yoga class or they don’t feel comfortable going to Yoga studio, and it doesn’t fit their schedule, I’ll actually do a private class with them. So yeah, it’s become an offering as well as part of my own work.

Soul Seat, Squat and colon health

Vish: I know you’re a microbiome guy, and I’ve done a lot of studying about our microbiome as part of my health training. One recommendation for better elimination, is the squatting position. For most of the world, squatting is what most people do in the morning. And if you don’t mind me getting a little personal, I actually have a squatting toilet.

Pack:  You do? Like the Squatty Potty?

Vish:  I built one.

Pack:  Oh, you built your own. Of course.

Vish: For people who have digestive issues, or constipation, it improves it. So, the Soul Seat naturally allows you to do that. If I were – I’m not now – but if I were having digestive issues, I could literally sit on the Soul Seat, and do my work, and in an hour or two it would move things along. It helps.

Pack:  Excellent advice.

Vish:  Being in a squat, supports digestive health as well. And you’ll see, if you walk around a train station in China or India, people just hang around squatting because it’s healthy as well as a relaxing way to wait. Squatting is so good for all the muscles of the pelvis, opening the hps, opening the knee joints. 

By incorporating squatting for a little while in your daily routine, it stimulates the colon to start doing its proper function. By sitting on a Soul Seat, you  may be able to cut out a couple cups of coffee a day.