Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe dedicated.
I tried to find to whom this quote is attributable but so far, no luck. (If you know, shout out!)
Anyway, I really love this quote and one of the things I’m obsessed about – sorry, dedicated – is yoga. It’s really fashionable now, right? It’s something that all A-type professionals should be doing, isn’t it? There’s a certain cachet to ending a day at work and smugly announcing to colleagues that you’re off to ‘the studio’ to not only take care of your truly rocking body (you didn’t think I looked like this from sitting at a desk all day did you?!) but also your mind and your soul (oh yes, a class CAN perfect all three my friends!). Coconut water in hand – obviously.
Joking aside, yoga has transformed my life. I’m not the first – wouldn’t be surprised if tyrannosaurus-rexy things were busting out some postures – and I certainly won’t be the last. Millions have reaped the benefits of practicing yoga so it is no wonder that many have sought to monetize it and make it accessible to people who have disposable income. In the modern workplace, yoga classes have begun to become a staple part of the benefits offer along with gym memberships, massage therapists and even, as I heard recently from peers, spray tanning (!) Of course, it’s all about taking care of staff and providing an attractive reward package to secure and retain the best talent, but there are other reasons why I think it is a good idea for there to be close links between the practice of business and the practice of yoga.
I want to talk about what I have learnt in my yoga practice and why I think these are good lessons to apply in the workplace.
Progress, Not Perfection.
In yoga, your postures are your own. You learn to listen to your body and you take a posture as far as you can go. In attending to your own thoughts and physical sensations, you’re discouraged from trying to copy the annoying flexible person in front of you. You come to realize when you are at the edge and when you might be able to push a little further. Over time, the edge moves as you develop greater flexibility, stamina and strength. And so, your aim is to progress, not to achieve the most beautiful posture but to go further than you did before. I’m not saying that in the workplace we should abandon all sense of competition or lose an eye-for-detail, but the valuable take-home from yoga is that great things happen when you focus on your own behavior and work to improve rather than constantly looking around at others.
See It In Your Mind
One of the most inspirational moments I had in a yoga class when we had just finished quite a challenging posture. The teacher asked a student, “did you see your foot go over your head?” and the student replied, “no” sheepishly. The teacher replied, “you should always see your foot going over your head – first with your heart, then you with your mind and then with your eyes”. The message here is that when working towards any goal you should first want to achieve it (your heart), then you should think about how you should achieve it or what it looks like to achieve it (your mind) and then you will actually see the results. I wouldn’t be the first to wax lyrical about the power of visualization but what struck me with this particular learning was the emphasis on ensuring your commitment to a course of action and continually thinking about the end result and how it might be achieved – even in the face of the current reality.
The Will to Endure
While yoga can be a relaxing activity, many forms of yoga involve quite physically challenging postures and through your practice you develop mental fortitude. You fall out of a balancing posture? You’re encouraged to begin again. You find it tough? You breathe and keep trying. You don’t give up. You focus on the one important thing – making the posture you’re working on happen in this moment. That can be uncomfortable. And then you breathe, and let it go. If you do hot yoga, you have the added discomfort of heat and humidity. You eventually train your mind to ignore all the little annoying voices in your head that tell you that you can’t do it, that it’s too hot, that you’re sweaty, that you feel rough and hone in on doing what you need to do, right now. You increase your will power and your determination. You learn to endure the discomfort. Drive, determination, perseverance, resilience – all good behaviors in the workplace.
I could draw parallels between the kind of alignment you get in yoga (where all parts of your body are in the correct position for the posture for maximum effectiveness and the avoidance of injury) and benefits of alignment of business systems or practices. That would be obvious and boring. My ‘take home’ from yoga’s obsession with alignment is really that it is important to focus on your practice or your craft and doing it in a technically proficient manner. It is not about how quickly you can get into the posture or how deep you can go. It’s not about how bendy you are or whether you can get your leg high enough. It’s about doing it properly. If you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself. I like this learning from yoga because I believe it is important to hone and perfect your craft (in my case, as an HR professional) and often in the day-to-day busyness of business, the pressure to just get the job done can lead you to regularly cutting corners, thus blunting your profession.
Leave your ego at the door
That’s another popular mantra among yoga teachers. Yoga is different to other forms of exercise which can often get competitive, evoke all kinds of self-esteem-related behavior. (Please don’t ask me how much I bench at the gym again). You’re told to leave your ego at the door when you enter a yoga studio. And when you do, you realize how damaging ego can be. Ego makes us compare ourselves with others. Ego makes us put others down. Ego makes us put ourselves first. Ego raises our own voice to deafening levels so we block out any other noise. The practice of yoga requires that you think about your practice and technique, not that you judge yourself. Over time you learn to acknowledge feelings and sensations and avoid labeling a class as “good” or “bad”. You suddenly realize you accept yourself so much more. And others. You learn to enjoy the progress you make balanced with the reality that tomorrow you may not be able to do what you did today. Leaving your ego at the door also enables you to try and fail – you don’t stay in your comfort zone. You’re not scared to look stupid or to try something that doesn’t work. You’re happy to push yourself that little bit further because the studio is a safe place. How often can we say the same about our working lives?
The power of a single focus
Multi-tasking is fashionable. It’s right up there with ‘good team player’ and ‘prioritization’ as some of the most over-used CV fodder, oft asked for qualities in an employee. In yoga, you make great effort to clear your mind and focus on a single thing. That can often be balancing on one leg (or rather, “trying not to fall over”). In savasana – the dead boy pose – your objective is to clear your mind and enter a state of complete relaxation, focusing only breathing. Any yogi knows what can be achieved if you concentrate and concentrate on one thing for short periods of time. This is something that takes work and takes practice. Sure, some people are pre-disposed to being ‘good’ at it but the regular practice of focus in yoga allows you to transfer this skill into other areas of your life. See what it does for you.
By the way, if you’re in London or South East England and want to explore what yoga can do for you, I thoroughly recommend: Hot Bikram Yoga, Naomi Clark, Vivien Row at the Yoga Den, Anna Lempriere and Kim Peacock – all responsible in part for my love of yoga. Check them out and tell them Xander sent you. (I don’t get a kick back for referrals but they might give me a hug or something and hugs are nice).