As a cynical optimist and avid runner, I long resisted the enthusiastic yoga movement here, expecting to find nothing but clouds of incense (sometimes true), lots of hippie new-agey talk (often true), and a frustratingly slow and boring excuse for a workout (with the right teacher, never ever true.) Very quickly, the addictive qualities of yoga took hold, and seven years later I get a little itchy if I can’t get to one or two 90-minute classes each week at my favorite yoga studio in town. The benefits to my health, both physical and mental, are immeasurable.
|"Ommmm..." Author Sarah Mitchell in her practice|
I’m not alone – according to Yoga Journal, 20.4 million Americans are practicing yoga, or 8.7 percent of US adults. And that number keeps growing, as it has shot up by nearly 30 percent from just four years ago. And if I can judge by the packed classes that I take in San Francisco, a lot of these practitioners are rushing from their corporate jobs to get on the mat and slow down. But how relevant and useful could these teachings possibly be to the competitive corporate world? And how can we incorporate them in the year ahead and beyond?
1. Morals Matter. The first “moral principle” of yoga is based on the idea of non-violence. In other words, do no harm to yourself or to others. Broadly interpreted, provide the best possible service and product to your client, act within the law, and act with integrity. In yoga, the idea is raised frequently when we are approaching a challenging pose, and the instructor notes that the most important thing is to find your edge physically, but do not push past it if it means you will harm yourself with a pulled muscle or fall on top of your neighbor in a packed class. (I’ve seen it. It’s ugly.) (I didn’t start it.) Interpreted for the workplace, yes, push yourself to take on that challenging assignment, or pull an 80-hour week every now and then to reach a challenging but exciting goal that benefits your company and/or client. But don’t push so hard that you harm others by neglecting your commitments to them, stomp over someone in a political move, or pull so many 80 hour weeks that you burn out or get sick.
2. Seize the Moment. One common refrain I hear from my instructors is, “This is YOUR practice.” This is one of those really simple statements that can be interpreted in as many ways as there are yoga students. The one I like and find most helpful is this: You can muster up the strength at the end of an exhausting class to do that third full backbend, or not. Whatever is right for you. But don’t miss it if you have it in you, because this is your only shot, and it’s up to you and you only. Put into the context of the office: there are all kinds of external factors that we can’t control that can have an effect on your career path, but when you have the opportunity to go for that promotion, or accept an offer from an exciting new employer with great upside but a little bit of risk, it’s up to you. Why not go for it if you can? Don’t miss it. It’s YOUR practice.
3. Say What You Mean, and Don’t Say It Mean. One idea that my favorite teacher discussed last weekend was the idea of truth intertwined with kindness. Always be truthful in your words, but say them in the kindest possible way that allows others to stay open and receptive to even the hardest truths. On the flip side, always be kind, but do not say something that is perhaps “nice” but not truthful. Those will be empty and wasted words. When you have disappointing news for a client, or difficult feedback to give an employee about their performance, state it in a way that is constructive, kind, and leaves room for discussion. And again, on the flip side, don’t rely on false praise to puff up a decision maker on that deal you are hoping to land, or worse, make promises you can’t keep. It will not serve you, or them, in the long run.
|The author's favorite studio, Urban Flow in San Francisco|
4. Keep an Eye on the Competition. Here’s one I hear a lot: don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing, what pose he or she is fully expressing but is making you wobble like the Bay Bridge in an earthquake, or what snazzy and very expensive yoga gear they are sporting today. Acknowledge that you thought it, try to not judge that thought, and then put it aside. This might be where life on the mat and life at the office diverge. While it doesn’t serve you to be competitive in the yoga studio, knowing what your competition and your clients are up to in business is one of the keys to growing, excelling, and staying relevant. While there is no room for competition when it comes to a perfect vertical split up to a handstand (it still eludes me), there is definitely room for healthy competition with the peers on your team and with others in your industry.
Perhaps you’ll join me on the mat (well, get your own mat—it’s easier that way) this year, or you’ll just put these thoughts in your toolkit and pull them out as needed. Either way, there is a lot to learn from the yoginis of the world and from the inner yogini in you.