07/06/2014 09:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Things Yoga Taught Me About Succeeding in Business


Anyone who knows me, knows my obsession with yoga. I like to say that I started before Madonna got on the bandwagon, not that pop culture should be measured against Madonna, but you know what I mean. I recently took up Yin which is the opposite of Yang, or active practices which resulted in an overzealous chaturanga (pronounced sha-ta-run-ga) flows that shattered my rotator cuff. As a self-admitted Type A, I dreaded the slow pace and what felt like endless holds of each pose. Someone wise once said, "what you resist most, is likely what you also need the most." Here's what I learned what I needed and to do more of at work in order to succeed:

1. Find Your Edge
People are often horrified at the pretzel-like positions that yogis are able to achieve. "I'm not that flexible!" They forget that yoga is a practice not a destination. The biggest mistake we make is working toward what we believe the outcome should look like, as opposed to focusing on getting there. "Finding your edge" is a wonderful way to describe the practice of continually setting the bar high for one's performance. Being comfortably uncomfortable is the perfect "edge." In your practice and in the office, being comfortable means that you'll never advance further than where you are right now. Whereas pushing yourself just a little bit further each time, will lead you to somewhere that you might not have expected you'll ever get to. Your self-development plan consist of big goals but a few muscles that you commit to flex more so that you can find your edge.

2. Observe Then Adjust
In yin, you can hold a pose for up to five minutes. What feels "ok" in the first minute, can be very awkward as you approach the third minute, and then mind-bending post minute four. My yoga teacher reminds us to observe our bodies prior to adjusting. Why? Chi is described as the energy flow in the body, which can feel like a slight tingle. Whenever we get feelings in our bodies, we feel like we have to move. We may not need to in order to access the energy that a pose is providing us. Organizations are not buildings, processes, procedures but a culmination of resources or energies that pulsate every second of every minute of every hour, through conversations, interactions, presentations, decisions, changes. When a "tingle" comes your way that makes you a little uncomfortable, take the time to observe before you move, you may just need to make some adjustments to get the benefit of something that is unexpected.

3. Let Go of What Doesn't Serve You
There's the term "monkey brain" in yoga, which describes the thoughts that jump around in your head. The visual of someone meditating in a seemingly suspended state of stillness, is the result of not learning how to shut down thoughts, ideas, worries but to simply acknowledge them, then let them go. Acknowledging is a very powerful verb but when used in business, can sound dismissive. The truth is that by acknowledging something, you recognize its value but also that it doesn't serve you at this time or at this place. The practice of mindfulness has found popularity in developing leadership skills. It is simply the ability to focus on the present, given irrelevant inputs, past assumptions and future concerns. So when you find yourself on a conference call, distracted by incoming emails or in a meeting, when your mind starts to wander, practice acknowledging and letting go so that you can maximize your performance on the here and now.

4. Pause to Integrate
After coming out of a particularly challenging pose, you may want to want to a neutral or resting pose. To get the benefits however, there are "receiving poses" that allow you to integrate what you've done. At work, we often face challenge and rarely give ourselves time to pause to reflect, understand or least of all, feel what just transpired. We pride ourselves on jumping on the next task, next meeting, next call. Take control of your calendar and give yourself time to pause, especially after important interactions at the office. Also, take the time to implement journaling at the end of the day to help you integrate everything that you've been engaged in and its implications to the next day, next week, next month. You may uncover that what you get out of pausing is as important as what's transpired prior to that.

5. Breathe
Breathing is what we do to stay alive naturally, right? So why do we learn to breathe in yoga? Breathing is the very life force of survival but it is also as a tool to centre oneself. Controlling and observing your breath can bring awareness and focus on what is important. The challenge to optimizing work productivity is being able to manage distractions and demands. In the most difficult of postures, your mind almost seeks distractions to cope with what your body is dealing with. Breathing is the tool you use to focus your mind and body. Leading successfully is having the toolkit to manage through unexpected or difficult times. Others sense trust in the stability and calm that you create. Breathing as a tool to manage stress and develop mindfulness can be pivotal in critical times in business and over the long haul in your career.