Interview with City Calm founder Cheryl Clarke

Find out how, when Cheryl Clarke became disillusioned with her career, she moved to Portugal to set up City Calm, a yoga and mindfulness retreat.

What’s your career background?

I spent seven years in online marketing working for big brands companies in the UK, eventually ending at a financial services company. I specialised in campaigns, analytics and data analysis.

Alongside this I was practising Ashtanga yoga and going through a huge personal transformation. I travelled and worked at retreats, and practised with some of the top teachers in London at my yoga school.

Why did you start City Calm?

Mindfulness has been the single most transformative and beneficial education I have ever received.

Like many others, I grew up in a single parent family. My mum is an extremely accomplished woman in her career and personal life. She believed that having children should not stand in the way of achieving all that a person can in life. She is a massive inspiration to me, and both my mum and my dad taught me “anything is possible” which has been a great positive influence on my life.

But there have also been some downsides, as there always is. In a single parent family with two hard working parents you end up feeling a lot of loneliness.

We had au pairs and childminders, but really they were just kids looking after kids. We also had some level of violence and anger directed towards us, as is also a common theme and this reflected up into young adulthood.

All the way through school, college and university I was a quiet and fairly lonely person. At parents evening the two most common comments were “Cheryl has good grades but she is never in class”, or “Cheryl never speaks up, she needs to raise her hand”.

In my life so far I haven’t make decisions based on what I felt was right but on what I thought was right and so I ended up as a digital analyst for a financial company, in the centre of London – one of the biggest yet loneliest cities in Europe.

At this point I was practising yoga more regularly. And as I did, I became a lot more sensitive to my own intuition. The internal knowing that we all have which tells us what we should or should not be doing with our lives. I became so sensitive that I would have to physically drag myself to work everyday.

Eventually I hated my job so much I couldn’t ignore the feeling that this is not where I should be, so I left my job to discover my own path.

I still believe anything is possible for anyone. But I also believe that sometimes we can be making decisions that aren’t in line with our true nature because of past events and we aren’t even aware of it. We feel it as loneliness, or great sadness or depression but really it’s a life that is out of line with our true nature.

Yoga and mindfulness bring us closer to our own truth – the practise is like a cleaning system for the inner body. So I set up City Calm to share this message and encourage others to practise or at least see if it’s something that can work for them.

What’s City Calm’s mission?

Our mission is to spread the techniques that mindfulness and yoga offer to help people develop and grow in their life and business. We believe the glass ceiling in society is not related to the financial backgrounds of individuals, but based on emotional and mindset imprints held in the subconscious and we want to help people smash through this invisible barrier.

We are very focused on working with entrepreneurs who want to set up their own passion based business, as well as people thinking about making a career change, or who want to connect with their deeper purpose.

How do you achieve it?

We help people to deepen their self-awareness and increase their emotional intelligence.

We use many techniques such as meditation, creative sessions, talks, hands-on workshops, outdoor activities and weekend retreats. We always encourage everyone who joins us on any of the sessions to take up a practise of mindfulness whether it be meditation or yoga.

We bring people together in our online communities and have developed an online course to help entrepreneurs use mindfulness to open up space in the day and allow themselves to breathe. We tend to get so caught up in the buzz of society that we don’t make space for our own wellbeing and this course is the first step towards making that space.

Where are you based and why?

We are based in Lisbon, Portugal because it is a beautiful and sunny country with low living costs. There is a lot of opportunity to work with people who haven’t had the chance to access these kind of techniques.

Portugal was in a dictatorship just a few generations ago, and even as recent as 15 years ago there were still some villages with no electricity. So many of the people here are still imprinted from those days and tend to think with tunnel vision about where their future is going.

Entrepreneurship is a huge opportunity for Portugal and the community is growing in Lisbon. Web Summit, the large technology conference, will be hosted here this year for example. There is a lot of innovation going on here and opportunity to work with the entrepreneurs and teach them mindfulness techniques.

Who is your ideal customer?

People who are thinking about or have just started their business. Someone who has found difficulty finding their voice and purpose, someone who has found their voice but is finding it difficult to make the right decisions for their business.

Perhaps they are putting a lot of energy into their business and not getting any results. Perhaps they are lost and confused about which direction to take and find that the same patterns keep repeating. Perhaps they find they are ‘doing’ a lot but not actually moving forwards or when they find themselves moving forwards they don’t like where they ended up.

All of these issues can be connected back to not being in tune with our true purpose and not in touch with the larger direction of our life. If we are connected to a guidance that is broken, or not connected to a guidance at all we often find ourselves going round in circles.

How do you help them?

We offer an online course in mindfulness for time management and productivity which is a great introduction to the practise and removes the first block we have which is usually that we don’t have enough time to commit to ourselves and grow ourselves.

This course aims to open up space and begin to establish a practise of daily reflection so that the client can begin to raise their self-awareness.

We also offer two communities for entrepreneurs to get involved in. Swap your expertise is a Facebook community where entrepreneurs can swap their skills with other entrepreneurs. It can be really lonely in the first stages and difficult with low budgets to find the talent needed to create a good product.

Entrepreneurs can swap their expertise every Monday, which leads to new and quality collaborations and connections.

Entrepreneurs in Lisbon can join our female entrepreneurs networking group and our creative mindfulness group. We have 650 people and growing every week, we offer workshops on goal setting, improving self-confidence, mindful journaling, mindful colouring and meditation classes.

We also organise hikes and self-development walks into the countryside as well as weekend retreats. Our first retreat for entrepreneurs is being held on the 26th – 28th of February in Tomar, Portugal.

Entrepreneurs will tap into their inner power so they are ready to make big breakthroughs with their business in 2016. They will learn tools they can practice at home, like mindful journaling to make sure they are taking care of their mindset and wellbeing whilst building their business.

The environment we are creating is geared towards making sure deep connections are formed between attendants so that they not only leave motivated and empowered, but having formed a strong network of other entrepreneurs to continue supporting one another.


What’s been your biggest challenge in establishing City Calm?

Although most people have heard of mindfulness, it is still not fully understood. The depth and the power of the practice needs to be experienced and is difficult to explain in mere words. Many people are also totally unaware that they have any kind of emotional or mindset blocks.

All of our imprints are in our subconscious mind and so we are totally unaware we are not living our truth. We may say “Well that is just how I am”, “That’s just me”, “That’s just how I behave”.

The subconscious dictates what we believe about ourselves, the habits we have, our model of the world and what we think is right and wrong. So, it really is at the fundamental root of what success or failure we have in life. It is even at the root of what we see as success or failure.

Working at this level is working on whether the beliefs and models you hold about yourself and the world are benefiting your life or not. And knowing that once we become aware of negative patterns, with the right methods we can retrain them into positive patterns.

But most people put up with depression, sadness, confusion or fear, not realising that many times these emotions are present because they are not living or moving in the direction of their true purpose. And that the choices they make that lead them to the results they receive.

And your proudest moment?

I have proud and grateful moments every single day. I feel proud that I have come so far personally and professionally and that I have this amazing opportunity to keep growing.

To see my business start to grow and develop and knowing from the inside that this is exactly where I should be feels amazing. Whenever I receive an email thanking me for a workshop or session that I’ve run, whenever I see the knock on impact and positive decisions that my customers start making after they begin to practise mindfulness.

When I look at the people that I have met, partnerships I have made and deep connections I am forming I feel proud that I have not repeated my pattern of my past and am surrounded by love and genuine connection.

Where would you like to see it in five years?

At the moment we are focused on teaching techniques and principles but we are looking for meditation and mindfulness experts to help us create a model to bring mindfulness into startups, incubators and co-working spaces.

I would like to see this model developed and beginning to be used in hubs and startups in major cities in Europe. I would like mindfulness to become something that is considered fundamental for an entrepreneurs development personally and professionally.

And I would like to see us supporting thousands of entrepreneurs on their journey through our website and communities in a meaningful way, both online and at our retreats.

I believe that entrepreneurship is hugely important for the future if our planet and that entrepreneurs who can connect to their inner world and intuition will have a massive advantage. So I would like to see some recognition about that in the community.

Who inspires you and why?

Richard Branson is hugely inspirational to me. As he will say he wasn’t academic at all, he left school at 15 yet he has built an empire. And not just any empire but one that enriches the lives of so many.

He uses his businesses to invest into areas that can really make our world a better place and I believe this is what commerce should be used for. I don’t understand why we have a sector of not-for-profits trying to fundraise in order to do their work. And then we have a ton of money in the corporate world that could be channeled into these projects.

Richard Branson believes that whether the capitalist model works depends on who is at the reins, and where money is channeled. This is inspiring to me. I also love his attitude towards life in general – he is all about having fun and enjoying every single moment and I believe this is the only way to live life.

I also connect with this rebellious streak because I’ve always had a bit of one as well!

What are your top three self-love tips for entrepreneurs?

1) Love your present

I believe every entrepreneur should practice coming in to the present moment regularly throughout their day. The act of asking these three questions; “Where am I?”, “What am I doing?” “How do I feel?” is so powerful. We tend to get very caught up in our heads, thinking about the meetings, workshops, emails, next strategy steps, worrying about budgets etc, etc. The list goes on!

Worrying and re-running thoughts is a waste of energy. If you have a task, sit down, do the task and move on. Without wasting energy on thoughts you don’t need you have more energy to execute to a higher level. Asking these questions also means we regularly check in our wellbeing. If you need a break, take a break. If you need to eat, eat.

2) Love your journey

I bet you didn’t create your business to have a boring, lonely and stressful time. Yet, that is what so many entrepreneurs end up doing, especially in the first year. Think about how you are running your business and make it fun.

In my first year of business I spent the whole time behind a laptop, secluded and isolated – BIG MISTAKE! I hated it and I didn’t make much money either. Since I have started to follow my joy and execute my business around what I enjoy doing I have made more money and I am a whole lot happier.

Just because someone else says they post three time a week on their blog, record two videos, post every day on social media and do a webinar doesn’t mean you have too. create your business for you and the life you want to live – this is your time on this precious planet.

3) Love your mind

Make friends with your mind! I encourage everyone to take up a practise of mindfulness, whether that’s meditation, yoga, reflective journalling. Anything which helps you to become more aware of the thoughts that run through your head and the behaviours and habits that you form as a result of them.

The better friends we can become the better we can work with our minds to get the results we desire. True, powerful, long lasting change takes time and consistency so it is important to establish a practice. Make it 10 minutes a day where it is just you time.

You can try our Mindfulness for Better Time Management course, which has been designed to help you build up this habit and find space in your day.

You can find out more about City Calm on their website.