You may have already heard that yoga is good for you but will it make you a better leader?
It’s official. Yoga is now one of New Zealand’s most popular forms of exercise, with figures showing its practice has grown by more than 500 per cent in the last 10 years (Active New Zealand surveys 1998, 2007 and 2014,).
In my view, the key reason for this rising popularity is stress. Life has become busier, especially so for those leading their own businesses and holding leadership positions within large organisations. As a Leadership Coach I see clients who are way out of whack when it comes to work life balance, clients whose inboxes are insurmountable, clients who don’t have the resources to delegate, clients who’s bosses or Boards ‘need it now’, clients whose worry about what they need to get done keeps them from fully enjoying life, and clients who have lost touch with who they are/what they truly want and what they stand for.
In a nutshell, life is more stressful and yoga is becoming more important. I’ve been teaching yoga for ten years and I’m observing students who are sore physically, run ragged, tired, depleted, rushing, racing and desperate to be brought into balance. From my own embodied experience, here is the difference that yoga makes and how I think it will make you a better leader.
1. Yoga Grows Self-Awareness
Yoga helps you become more aware of the sensations of the body. Internationally renowned and respected neurobiologist Candace Pert, Ph.D. has proven that your body is your unconscious mind and it is trying to speak to you constantly – guiding you about what is right and wrong for you. Pert says, ‘your body never lies’ but the mind does. The mind tells ‘rational-lies’, justifies and defends. In yoga, you communicate with all parts of the body. You listen to what your ‘gut’ says is right for you. You listen for the wisdom of the ‘heart. You notice when your body becomes tense and rather than reach for a coffee or vino to ‘push’ through off the mat, you being to follow the lead of the body. Yoga helps leaders build self awareness, take greater care of themselves and in turn, be the sorts of role models that people want to follow.
2. Yoga Teaches you how to Breathe & Reduce Stress
Most people in the West are not breathing properly. We race around, addicted to adrenaline and our breathing is shallow. Yogis have long-ago discovered the breath as energy that can vitalise or calm you. Yoga helps you learn how to breathe so that you can soothe your nervous system when you’ve been rushing or panicking, and helps you to boost your energy when you are feeling bored or lethargic. When leaders learn to breathe, they can balance out their energy levels, calm themselves in the heat of the moment and vitalise themselves when they need a positive boost.
3. Yoga Increases your Ability to Focus
Every human being struggles at times to stay focussed on the task at hand and leaders are no exception. The thinking mind is constantly trying to hijack you into ruminating about the past and planning for the future, which brings you away from fully experiencing this moment. On the yoga mat, you are encouraged and constantly reminded to focus on your breath, your posture and to stay present. This practise is incredibly valuable if you are one of those leaders that takes the office (mentally) home with you.
4. Yoga Improves Strength, Endurance & Flexibility
In the practise of YIN Yoga where you hold the postures for 3-5 minutes to stimulate, unstick and hydrate the connective tissue of the body, you meet resistance. As you practise stillness, tension begins to increase and your monkey mind begins to chatter (and it’s been to throw the odd tantrum). This gives you the opportunity to meet yourself at the edge of your comfort zone and ‘handle it’. As you rest back into the position of the ‘observer’ of your internal dialogue, you begin to cultivate the awareness that ‘you are not our thoughts’, that you can ‘choose’ your mindset and you build strength, endurance and flexibility that are important qualities in leadership.
5. Yoga Encourages Compassionate
In yoga class, students are guided to ‘modify’ the asanas (postures) to suit their own level. This can be different every time you step on the mat. The idea is not to ‘force’ yourself to be like the bendy yogi in the corner and potentially traumatise your body but to challenge yourself to build from where you are at and enhance your overall feeling of wellness. You learn to be more compassionate towards yourself. Often taught is a meditation known as ‘loving kindness’. This meditation enables you to connect to the wisdom of the heart and to practise wishing yourself, others and even enemies forgiveness, health and greater happiness. It is incredibly empowering to step away from judgement into compassion, enabling leaders to connect with others more effectively.
6. Yoga Develops Your Intuition
In yoga, students are often asked to listen to their ‘inner-tutor’, a.k.a. their in-tuition. Yoga helps you to quieten the voices of the people around you and to discover the answers within. So often leaders need to extravert themselves to make presentations, to consult with others and to be engaging. It is important to listen to others but it is equally important that a leader can be decisive. As you learn to turn inward, you hone your intuition, your instinct, your intelligence and your ability to think strategically and you build confidence in trusting yourself.
7. Yoga Brings You More Grounded & Deeply Connected
When it comes to leadership, the mind is king. The role of leader involves thinking, analysing, strategising, planning, deciding, calculating, directing and guiding others. You might say that leaders live in their heads. Yoga helps you to come back down to earth to honour that you are a system of Mind, Body & Spirit and each of these need attention. When you practise yoga, you work the body, you strengthen your foundation, you feel more grounded and interestingly, that leads you to connect back in to that part of yourself that is greater than you are. You begin to recognise that you are more than just a body, you are unlimited potential; capable of greatness, courage and creativity. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Go along to a yoga class and check it out for yourself
… and for leaders who are interested in a self-empowering, nourishing, reconnecting, revitalising yoga immersion in Ubud, Bali 1-8 July 2018, follow this link.