#42: Gigi & Kayla Falk, Founders of The Art of Human Being

Gigi Falk has been practicing mindfulness meditation for 3 years and teaching for almost 2 years. Her meditation journey began during her sophomore year of college, and since then she has undergone intensive meditation training while living at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery and on silent retreats at Insight Meditation Society. She began teaching meditation while serving as the President of the Buddhist Meditation Community at Duke and continues to teach through workshops around New York City. After graduating Duke with a degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, she went on to Columbia University to study Clinical Psychology with a concentration in spirituality and mind-body practices.

Kayla Falk spent 2 years working at the forefront of health-tech at IBM Watson in the Health division, while simultaneously pursuing a 200-hour yoga teacher training. She is now pursuing her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with a concentration in Spirituality & Mind-Body Practice at Columbia University.

Together Gigi and Kayla founded The Art of Human Being, an organization dedicated to teaching the philosophy, science, and practice of living a meaningful life. They offer an ongoing workshop series that incorporates tools and wisdom from Eastern practices and Western science. Through community, contemplative practice, creative expression, and evidence-based practices in psychological wellbeing and positive psychology, they explore the art of living each moment with passion and presence by cultivating an awakened heart and mind.

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What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

Our top 3 core values are authenticity, presence, and empowerment.

Living an authentic life means being true to yourself. It means waking up every morning and courageously asking yourself who you are and what you want, even when there are thousands of voices telling you who you should be and what you should want. It means taking the time and having the courage to listen to the subtle sound of your soul because only you have the power to create a life of meaning and purpose. When we’re facilitating workshops, we have the incredible honor to share the value of authenticity with others, and we do this by bringing our authentic selves into every moment and encouraging others to do the same. Our workshops are filled with meditations, thought experiments, and discussions aimed at helping people uncover who they really are and how they want to be in this world.

As much as we can, we live in the awareness that all we have is the present moment, and this is our second core value. To be present, truly present, is to really know that right now is the only reality there is. When we’re connected with this truth, we are grateful, courageous, and endlessly powerful. Throughout every moment of our workshops, we help people tap into the the joy and ease of present moment awareness.

Finally, our third core value is empowerment. With effort, practice, and patience, each of us has the power within ourselves to live a beautiful, meaningful life. This isn’t just our personal opinion—research over the past few decades on meditation, neuroplasticity, and positive psychology supports this too—and one of our goals as workshop facilitators is to give people the knowledge and tools they need to feel empowered in every moment of their lives.

Authenticity, presence, and empowerment are values that we explore personally, that we teach during our workshops, and that we bring into our relationship with each other as we navigate the fun and exciting territory of being best friends, sisters, and business partners.

Can you share a time you either thought you failed, or actually did fail? How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

It was one week before the start of our first workshop series. We’d been teaching meditation and yoga to friends and through free community classes for a few years, but we finally felt ready to take things to the next level and design an 8-week workshop on our own to teach the practices and tools that have transformed our lives. After dozens of brainstorming sessions and months of preparation, we designed a curriculum we loved and we called the series The Art of Human Being. Everyone we spoke to about the workshop showered us in support, so the idea of filling up a class seemed like a piece of cake. But one week before our first session, we only had two participants signed up. We had been marketing for over a month and were aiming to have at least 15 people in the class. It was our first time trying something like this and we knew there would be many teaching moments, but this really felt like a failure. Would those two participants even show up? Would they feel too uncomfortable with such a small group? We were determined to see this project through, and so we agreed that even if only one person showed up on that first Tuesday, we’d still run the series. But in those last few days before the workshop began, we decided to do a final marketing push. We reached out to friends and friends of friends. We adjusted some ticketing options, and we invited folks to come for a free drop-in session before committing to the full 8 weeks. When we finally met on that first Tuesday, we were relieved and elated to see 12 people walk through the door, some friends, some strangers. By the fourth week, we were rearranging the cafe to squeeze in the 20 people who showed up. And by the end of the series, we had about 30 participants rotating through each week. What originally felt like a massive failure turned into our greatest success—a wonderful community of inspiring and brilliant souls who will always have a special place in our hearts.

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

We’ve partnered with Creative Mornings NYC to run a workshop for their community on April 30th. We’ve also been invited to host a couple daylong workshops this summer, and in the fall we’ll run another 8-week Art of Human Being Series.  We’re currently developing a series fully devoted to the “what”, “why”, and “how” of different meditation practices, which we’re calling Four Weeks & Four Techniques. And we’re super excited for the AoHB Podcast, which we’ll be launching in the next few months!