Leadership Tips from a Yogi
In March of 2016, I began practicing yoga as a way to center myself in times of stress and self-doubt. I remember vividly the emotional and psychological turmoil I was experiencing as it pertained to how I viewed myself. I was deeply unhappy and had difficulties loving myself. Having dealt with mental self-destruction for a number of years, I decided to try something different in my life to gain perspective. As a result of the influence of the hip hop icon Russell Simmons, I decided to practice yoga. Since then, yoga has provided me a space and an opportunity to practice self-love. This unabashed awareness then shaped the way I engaged people in loving and gentle ways. I have learned through yoga that you cannot love others well until you first love yourself unapologetically.
As I was diving deeper into the practice of yoga, I found myself led into tight, uncomfortable, and seemingly impossible positions. I remember the first time I was led to do a balancing stance which is commonly known as warrior 3. In this position, one foot will slowly begin to float in the air while the upper body leans forward, forming a capital “T” letter. As I leaned into this position, I began to have thoughts of falling down because of the lack of balance that was evident within my posture. The inner me (while using strong language) informed me that I couldn’t execute the position, but my yoga instructor, who was in sync with her class, coached us through the balancing position. As we gently entered into the warrior 3 position, she invited us to consider three principles that I believe are applicable to leaders and life.
“Yogis,” said the yoga instructor, “breathe—you will be just fine.” As the class braced themselves to maneuver into a warrior 3 position, we were invited to spend time paying attention to our breath. “Inhale,” said the yoga instructor, “pause for three seconds, then exhale. Spend the next few moments paying attention to your breath without making any changes. The key to performing balancing positions is learning to breathe and allowing the breath to keep you calm.”
As leaders, it is a constant struggle to find balance in life. Many of us are finding creative ways to love self, family, important relationships, ministry, business, health, and more. Yet one of the keys to navigating moments of balance and imbalance is learning to breathe and to trust your breath. A daily intentional practice of inhaling and exhaling will assist you in developing a zen persona as you engage various situations. As oil lubricates an auto engine and absorbs heat, which allows the internal parts to work together effectively without overheating, so does breathing do to the internal being. The breath is the soundtrack that keeps our rhythms and sanity intact.
“Yogis,” said the yoga instructor, “before we move into warrior 3, find a focal point to center your gaze.” Finding a focal point to center one’s gaze eliminates many distractions that will derail one from finding a sense of balance in their practice. A positive breath cycle, coupled with a laser beam visual focus, helps one to maintain a tremendous amount of power and perseverance that is internalized.
Frequently, leaders find themselves distracted by a wide range of occurrences happening around them. Whether watching someone lose their balance, struggling to find balance, or discovering awe in a perfect balance … lack of focus will lead them to consistently lose track of their own intention to find balance. Leaders then must be aware of their distractions and find outlets like yoga to help them practice focus.
For example, New York City is known for having both parades that celebrate diverse cultures and protests that fight against injustice or governmental/corporate corruption. Whether it is a parade or protest, law enforcement are always on guard to maintain civility. Often, police officers ride horses, which help create space and promote order. With the mass amount of people gathering in a location, horses are liable to be defensive and lose control, yet they seldom do in these parades and protests because they wear blinders that limit their vision. Blinders protect horses from noticing the threats that are approaching them from their sides. Like horses, we must find our focal point and put on our blinders as we pursue balance in life.
“Wherever you are in this balance pose, learn to be okay with yourself, and commit to practice,” said my yoga instructor. You will not always succeed in finding balance in yoga or in life. There will be wobbling and moments where you will fall out of place. Those moments are all a part of the process. So, as you lean into your yoga practice, embrace the wobbling and the moments when you fall out of place. Every wobble, every moment you fall out of the position, brings you closer to your balance. The more you practice, the more your capacity to endure tight circumstance in life will expand. When you practice breathing with a laser focus, you will become like a walking meditation in any situation. Practice is the key to moving forward in life. For life is a beautiful practice of progress.
Breathe. Focus. Practice.