Zen and the art of selling real estate

‘Nixa’ DeBellis, a longtime yoga instructor, brings Eastern philosophy to brokering sales
By Guelda Voien | August 31, 2012 03:30PM

Many New York sales agents have come to the business of real estate from a wide range of other professions. In an ongoing series, TheRealDeal.com will profile brokers for whom selling properties represents a major career transition.
About three years ago Barbara “Nixa” DeBellis, an Anusara yoga instructor for more than a decade, was looking for an apartment, when her broker told her something that she never expected to hear: “You’d make a really great real estate broker.” Shortly thereafter, she decided to give it a shot — and did so without giving up her passion for practicing and teaching yoga. (She still teaches six classes a week at Exhale on the Upper East Side.)  She spoke recently with The Real Deal  about balancing yoga and real estate, the yogi mindset that she brings to selling homes and what the future holds for her.

How did you decide to make this transition into real estate?
Well, I had been practicing yoga for 28 years…

But you look like you’re 28.
It’s a lot of standing on my head. … I started practicing yoga as a college student, and I loved it immediately. It was so affirmative — everything was ‘yes.’ … At some point when I went to get a mortgage and buy a house I was unable to do so because my income from yoga wasn’t really enough, so I had to do something that was more lucrative, and one of the people I trained was Victoria Logvinsky , whose team I’m now part of at Elliman.

For years I was her yoga guru and guide, and now she’s my real estate guru. I went to Victoria because I admire her and I find her really invested in her yoga. She isn’t a teacher, although she is certified to be one, but she studies yoga philosophy deeply.

So have you taken more steps to buying your own home?
Yes, I’m socking it away. … I want to pay cash, so I’m waiting on that.

Well there are some reasons to do that, but what are yours?
The state of the mortgage industry.

If you had a yoga appointment and a real estate appointment, which would you choose?
Real estate. I’d get a substitute. I have a lot of private clients who would be understanding. I teach private lessons in people’s homes. Actually a lot of my yoga clients are my real estate clients. Most people would think yoga and real estate are disparate, on opposite ends of the spectrum, but I think that that’s untrue.

There is a misconception in Western culture that yoga is as physical practice, but really it’s a mind practice for creating intention and awareness. A lot of yoga is thought to be an ascetical practice, people think yogis leave society and go off to an ashram, but that is a small minority of yogis who are actually choosing that path. Majority of practitioners actually do what is known as “householder yoga.” [encompassing more casual practitioners]. Householder yoga is actually very real estate-oriented [laughs].

What can you take from yoga practice and use in real estate?
Attention. Service. Being of value to the world. Developing maximum strength [in tandem] with maximum sensitivity. This type of sensitivity from mindfulness practice is something that is consistently used when people are making the life-changing decisions [involved in real estate].

I think most people have heard of the Bhagavad Gita [a Hindu scripture]. It’s about a warrior prince in a war over property. It’s kind of a freeze frame on the battlefield. And the counsel the despondent prince is given about this war over property is that you have to practice yoga, in three forms; you have to think, emote and act. And that’s what yoga is. That thinking, which is about creating understanding … is the same in real estate. So I actually see real estate as yoga.

When have you needed to think, emote and act in real estate?
This summer these students of mine have three children and it was time for them to expand, and I think they chose me because they know the source of my integrity is really from wanting to be of service, which is one of the main tenets of yoga.

Do you plan to be in real estate long term?
Yes, when I started I thought I’d give it three to five years. Now, going on my third year, I love it.

Where did you grow up?
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

When did you move here?
1995. I moved from Santa Cruz, Calif. where I taught in a private school. I came here for love. It didn’t’ work out, but I stayed. It’s been 17 years now.

Anything you look for in a home or neighborhood as a yogi?
I look for natural elements in a place to live. Some people do that subconsciously. I think everyone does it with light. For me, I’d rather be [on a lower floor] and see green.

Where do you live?
On the Upper East Side. The park is of paramount importance for my ability to stay in this city.

You chose your apartment based on green?
Absolutely. [My broker] mentioned that I would be a good broker, saying I see a place as a living place.  It’s crucial that it be a sanctuary for you. Whatever that particular buyer finds of importance to them, I want to find that for them.

Where did you get your name?
I chose Nixa as a spiritual name in, maybe, 1992 and then once when I moved I realized that after I chose this spiritual [path] and kept hearing [my given name],Barbara. [Nix]a comes from the Greek, she is queen of the water nymphs and they carry souls from the physical world to the spiritual world. I’m always called Nixa, and I wanted to go by that, because all my students call me that, but of course the firm needed me to go by my legal name, so … it’s a little like I. Dolly Lenz.