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Can Yoga Make You a Better Leader?

By Lisa Hunter

SUN AUG 02, 2020

There are many benefits of incorporating a regular yoga practice into your daily life. Those benefits generally fall into the categories of physical, mental, and emotional. Of course, if we experience pain relief, stress relief, and overall greater ease in our bodies, we are going to carry that with us into our leadership roles. Something else, beyond the benefits we can quantify, can also happen.

These benefits of yoga off the mat can be hard to describe. Still, I wanted to capture them so that those of you who are curious could get a better idea of what experienced yogis are talking about. Below, I take you through my reflection on a single yoga pose that has been a regular part of my practice since I began practicing yoga about 10 years ago.

I think you can experience some pretty profound leadership lessons in many other ways outside yoga, but I also believe what yoga has to offer is unique (especially when there is a strong teacher/student alignment). I taught group fitness classes for years, trained for 100-mile long bike rides, and did other forms of intense exercise. Those offerings taught me about grit, resilience, and my own strength, but in a very different way than yoga.

One misconception or stereotype of yoga is that it is all about getting “the pose.” Through informed self-exploration or with guidance from a trained and skilled teacher, you learn that yoga is more profound than the pose itself. It is not about how flexible you are or about how long you can hold a particular pose. Yoga means “union.” It’s about listening, awareness, consciousness, and exploration using a physical practice to unite the mind and body, and learn more about ourselves.

The good news is that to reap the benefits or leadership lessons of yoga, all you need to do is show up and practice. The rest will unfold through the practice.

Leadership Lessons from Plank Pose
Leadership Lessons from Plank Pose

This is plank pose or dandasana in Sanskrit. This pose is very challenging, physically demanding, and more complicated than it looks. I could not do this pose (and breathe while in it) when I first started practicing yoga. I had to incorporate variations (placing knees down as needed) until I was strong enough. I also experienced a variety of negative emotions and thoughts when starting to incorporate this pose into my practice.

I learned patience and that “pushing harder” isn’t always the answer. I learned that you can’t (or shouldn’t) always muscle your way through something to achieve it. Building strength and endurance take time.

I learned how to be with and breathe through the discomfort. That discomfort includes the disconnect between what I want to do and what I am physically capable of doing.

I learned how to be with my thoughts and emotions, not judge them, or myself. On many occasions, I observed that my thoughts were getting in my way, not my physical strength.

I learned that just because I’m strong one day, doesn’t mean I’m strong the next day.

I learned how to strengthen and soften at the same time. We often over function, especially in times of challenge.

I learned how to listen to what my body needs - sometimes. Understanding what your body requires at any given moment seems like it should be simple, but just try it. “What do you need right now?” That’s an incredibly complex question that requires daily attention for me.

Over time, I could see these lessons take root in my leadership. I increased my patience for discomfort and tension. I am able to lead with strength while still softening and feeling vulnerable. I am able to see the role of my thoughts and emotions during times of conflict, and asking what I need as a leader has been transformative.

Do you want to talk more about how yoga or wellness coaching might support your leadership and help you lead with heart? Use the contact form on my website or message me through Facebook or Instagram to set up an appointment. I would love to hear from you!