6 Leadership Learnings from My Yoga Teacher

pic yogaTwo or three times each week a group of ten to fifteen of us file into a small mirrored room with a hardwood floor and soft ambient lighting. We claim our usual spaces, roll out our mats, and begin the process of warming our muscles, loosening our joints and preparing our minds for the workout that will soon begin.

Our teacher on this and most days is Loan (pronounced Low-on). She is a Vietnamese immigrant with a young family, a friendly smile, and a work ethic that brings many “workout warriors” to their knees.

Over the next 60 minutes, Loan leads the group through a series of moves (called poses), focusing on increasing flexibility, balance, and strength. We follow her visual and verbal instructions the best our bodies allow. Half way through I am drenched with sweat but continue. She leads us by example, with energy, encouragement, and subtle challenges.

At the end of the practice we enjoy a few moments of relaxation in a pose called Shavasana (dead-man’s pose). This is the time to relax, reset – to clear one’s mind.

Of course my mind finds it hard to stop – so yesterday during Shavasana, I was thinking about how to become a better leader. As my body cooled and my mind wandered, I thought about how Loan guides us through the practice and the key leadership tools that she uses.

Make a Connection: Each class Loan finds a way to connect with every student through a friendly hello, a smile, or a comment about the day. She walks through the room during the practice making adjustments to our posture, correcting a misaligned pose, or gently helping us to stretch further. These are small gestures that make you feel there is a connection, and gives you motivation to want to follow, to achieve, to excel. Business leaders need to do the same – not just walking around observing, but by interacting, finding common ground, and showing an interest in their people. Loan knows all our names, the names of our spouses or partners, and a little something about each one of us. How many business leaders can say the same?

Push Hard But Know When to Pull Back: The mission of yoga is to strengthen our bodies (and minds). This is not always easy – resistance is often evident. So we have to be challenged to explore our boundaries and limits but not so much that we lose our spirit. There is a fine line here that all leaders must walk – how to get the best out of people, push them to explore their maximum capabilities, but not turn them off to the message and methods. This requires being attentive, observant, and able to read body-language and other non-verbal clues. A great leader can see when “enough is enough,” and pull-back as needed.

Use Your Breath to Calm Your Mind: In leadership positions we are often faced with conflict, debate, stress, and fatigue. The true character of people often shows in the “heat of the battle.” We need to learn to step back, breathe, and collect our thoughts before we face the challenge.

Focus on Yourself: At work, we spend a lot of wasteful time worrying about others. We are strivers who work in competitive environments. We constantly compare ourselves to others in how we manage, look, feel – even how much we earn. Wouldn’t it be more effective long-term to use this wasted time to better ourselves? We need to focus on us (our own practice) and not worry about others. We can only control what we do, how we act, and what we feel – this is a great responsibility.

Focus on the Opportunity: Good leaders help you see the possibilities. During each yoga class, Loan always finds the time to demonstrate a pose that few of us can do – but, with enough practice might be possible to one day achieve. Leaders show the dream – and make you feel that if you work hard enough and with conviction, the dream can become a reality.

It is OK to Take a Break Once in a While: We are wired to step forward, to take charge, to overcome our physical limitations. Our foundation is our bodies, and sometimes they need a break. We are not Superman/Superwoman. Sometimes we need to step back, rest and let others lead. After a short rest we return refreshed and refocused, ready to take our earned spot at the front.

Well, it’s time to finish the practice – Loan says at the end of Shavasana that it is time to, “bring your mind back into your body.” I think I learned a lot today; maybe yoga is good for my body, mind, and my career. I am looking forward to my next yoga class to see what else I can learn. Namaste.

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About Dale Myers

A San Francisco Bay Area Project and Program Expert
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16 Responses to 6 Leadership Learnings from My Yoga Teacher

  1. Lisa Kanarek says:

    I started taking Yoga last month and I love it! I like the way you applied what you’re learning in Yoga, to business. There definitely is a strong connection. It’s interesting but 10 years ago I took a few Yoga classes and hated it. I was so busy with my kids and businesss, that I couldn’t relax during class. My kids are older and my business is in a good place where I can focus on other interests at the same time and now I look forward to Yoga class.

    • Dale Myers says:

      Lisa,
      Funny that I also found Yoga a little later in my life. Always thought I needed a more “manly” type of exercise routine (weights, running, etc..). But I can now see what a great workout you can get from a good Yoga teacher. I hope my body allows me to continue – will just have to see. Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I appreciate it! Best always! Dale M.

  2. Dee says:

    New Years resolution…rediscover the benefits of Yoga – great post ty.

  3. Amy says:

    I enjoyed your description of successful leadership. I think you hit the nail on the head. Business is shifting, and the companies and management more in tune to their people, processes and overall corporate direction will sustain and grow. You may enjoy reading, ‘The Art of Power’. It’s, in my opinion, a fabulous book by Thich Nhat Hahn. He describes power in corporations, governments, etc. and the CEO/Owner of Patagonia has a great excerpt at the end. Thanks for sharing and Happy New Year!

  4. Cynthia Bennett says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have been a yoga practitioner all of my adult life and have been a serial entrepreneur since my first lemonade stand. Yoga a business can go together and can make contributions to each other.

    • Dale Myers says:

      One of my key learnings while writing this piece is that there are learning opportunities to be found everywhere. We just have to be open and receptive to the learnings. Also, yoga and teaching requires discipline and commitment that few can master. I congratulate you on this accomplishment. Namaste.

  5. Dennis N Irizarry says:

    I enjoyed the article. I found it through LinkedIn. Since I am a yogi as well the reading is a sort of validation for my need and want to lead in a positive manner with confidence, balance and acceptance. Cheers.

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you for reading Dennis – I appreciate you spending the time on my post. I had a lot of fun writing this piece. My key learning – there are great people everywhere in our lives that we can learn from – whether yoga, work, family, friends. We just have to be open to the learning, and aware of the messages being passed. I had to near passed-out and exhausted before I realized that my Yoga teacher used leadership techniques that I could identify and qualify. Anyway, thanks so much – have a great week!

  6. karen dorst says:

    What a wonderful essay–both because of your insights about leadership and for using my well-loved sister-in-law as your example. She is certainly an example to me and I am so glad you see her great spirit.
    karen

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you very much Karen for taking the time to read and comment on my post. Loan speaks often about her family and the importance it has in her life. It is clear from her comments that much of her strength is derived from her family, and also much of her joy. Maybe that should have been my 7th yoga learning. I will save this for next time. Thanks again and best wishes!

  7. Jennifer Dail says:

    Great blog post Dale. I am finding that Yoga is helping to calm me in other situations too. I remember to just breathe! I am really enjoying the little yoga community I’m going to, all of the teachers are amazing and different. Glad you are enjoying it as well. j

    • Dale Myers says:

      Thank you Jennifer. The power and strength of a community is another learning that I could have added in this post. We are stronger when working together in a group or team. Thanks again – glad you are enjoying your yoga group.

  8. Gustavo says:

    Your description of your yoga teacher makes me want to become her student, Dale. Great tips! Always good to remember that we can only control what we do, how we act, and what we feel.

    • Dale Myers says:

      Gustavo,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post. It was a lot of fun for me to write about my yoga teacher (Loan). Funny how inspiration is all around us – we just have to be in the right conditions (or mindset).
      I just got back from a yoga class tonight and Loan just about killed me. I don’t think that I will be writing about this yoga class anytime soon.
      Thanks again – good day from Northern California, USA.

  9. Yoga Doc says:

    This is a topic that is close to my heart… Best wishes! Exactly where are your contact details though?

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