You already know that yoga is useful for health and well-being. Yet what’s it got to do with being an effective leader? A lot!
I have been a practitioner of yoga for over 17 years. Because of its immense benefits, I have invited my leadership clients to consider beginning a practice of yoga. For those who were already practicing, I have invited them to deepen their practice. We are part of a national trend towards yoga as a “fitness that matters.” It is that and a leadership practice as well.
According to the latest Yoga in America study from Yoga Journal, the number of Americans who practice yoga has shot up by nearly 30 percent in the past four years. Their 2008 survey accounted for 15.8 million yoga practitioners, but the latest figure shows that 20.4 million Americans are now practicing — about 8.7 percent of U.S. adults.
Yoga is consistently touted and studied for its health and wellness benefits. Yet it is rarely connected to helping leaders become more effective and influential.
What is the connection between yoga and leadership?
Yoga helps deepen your awareness of sensations in your body; once you become attuned to your body’s natural language, you learn how it speaks to you. It has its own language — one that is non-verbal and powerful. Yoga (when practiced mindfully) trains you to pay attention to the sensations in your body. As you develop this skill, you will have access to invaluable guidance. As one of my teachers said, “your body never lies; the mind always does”. What this means is that ego mind uses its weapons of rationalization, justification and defense. The body knows none of that. It just “is.”
What you practice on the mat in yoga can translate to what happens off the mat at work. For example what happens when you are asked to get into a pose that is difficult for you? Does your mind race to negative thoughts and engage in chatter about level of difficulty, discomfort, and wanting it to be over, etc.?
When you are off the mat and at work, are you sometimes carried away by your repetitive thoughts? How difficult is it for you to relax and think clearly about your priorities? As with yoga, is your mind engaged in chatter?
What happens when you train your mind and body to relax?
When doing yoga, what happens if you breathe deeply and go to your “edge?” What if you can simply allow any discomfort to pass? You may experience a softening around the constricted edges– the body will relax and go deeper into the pose without the mind doing anything about it!
What happens when you train your mind and body to relax? Does your ability to focus improve? What about your ability to listen?
Yoga allows you to experience yourself in deeply relaxed states through movement and breath. Yoga trains you to be compassionate with yourself so you can be compassionate with others. Yoga trains you how to accept discomfort as part of learning. Yoga trains you for strength, endurance and flexibility, all of which are required qualities for leaders. Finally, yoga can teach you to become the observer that simply notices, without judging “what is as is.” Great leadership stems from the perspective of this “witness”.
Before long you may start to see how a small shift can lead to a big difference, both on and off the mat.