Yogic leadership

I’ve blogged a little a bit on here before about how I have been doing yoga every day for a while. Well, longer than a while, actually, on August 1st it will be two years. I can’t quite believe it and certainly if someone had said to me two years ago that I would still be doing yoga daily and getting up at 6am to do that, as well as meditate, I would have probably laughed for a long time. But here we are. One of the things that I am often asked when I tell people about this, or by my partner when he is wondering why I get up so early to do yoga or even do two sessions some days, is what is the point? Or perhaps, more politely, why? What do I get out of doing yoga every day?

“Pause” is my word for the year.

Other than the obvious benefits to my flexibility and health, one of the most startling things of a daily practice has been for me how the principles that I learn in yoga have become to resonance in other parts of my life. Or as the wonderful Adrienne says “what can you take off the mat?” I have been reflecting on this a lot in relation to leadership, particularly as I am experiencing a leadership transition – both in terms of my own role and in my working environment. There are probably three key principles from yoga that I have taken into my daily life and am trying to use to support others in my leadership practice:

This book saved me in January lockdown
  1. Trust the process – this has become an absolutely key mantra for me. I think I was first really exposed to the power of this when undertaking my Lego Serious Play training. There are so many times when we try to push and control things that are beyond our control and sometimes we have to just sit and let things unfold. This is not passive inaction, it is actively disengaging from what you cannot change, actively noticing and engaging with what you can. It is trusting that everything will work out and that you need to adapt and flow. In yoga, you have to trust that you may not know the outcome of a particular sequence or flow but that it will make a difference. You have to trust your body and your instructor. This links very much with the following principle….
  2. Sit with the discomfortPema Chodron in her book When things fall apart talks a lot about sitting with the bad “stuff”. I was brought up that when I fell over and hurt myself, I was given a sweet to take the pain away, which of course, it didn’t, it was just a distraction. This attitude that we can just erase pain is prevalent in so much of our culture that many of us will do anything to avoid pain. And when we experience inescapable pain we have no capacity or capability to deal with it, often with disastrous consequences. Whilst none of us want to suffer and it is heart-breaking to see others in pain, pain is an inevitable part of life. It is our human condition. There are obvious gradations of pain and suffering in our lives and we need to develop the tools to manage it, as well as knowing that it will pass. Sharing in other’s pain and also joy is integral to this. But wow this can be hard! Yoga has taught me that pain is ok, whether it is the pain of wrangling my body into various poses or just holding a pose for almost unbearable time. The pain will pass and only through knowing the pain can I experience the joy too. Leadership transitions involve a certain amount of pain – whether uncertainty, lack of clarity, chaos, imposter syndrome and lacking in confidence. This will pass. And you need to learn to sit with that discomfort, observe what is happening so that you can move forward.
  3. Show compassion – sounds easy? Of course we all want to be kinder to others and to ourselves but in reality…. we still moan about the person who shoved in front of us in the queue or was being inconsiderate about Covid rules. What about compassion to ourselves? I find it much easier to tell others around me to take care of themselves and look after themselves than I do myself. Yet I know, as a parent, and now as a nearly two-year practicing yoga-person, that if I am not looking after myself I cannot look after others. When a period of counselling I had ended last year, I committed to dedicating an hour a week – the same time as the counselling – for self care. I try to keep it like an appointment as I know it will make a huge difference to my health and wellbeing. My daily yoga practice is a non-negotiable now, again another part of my self-compassion. In leadership, compassion is vital. A friend and colleague wrote about how leadership compassion was often lacking during the pandemic, which is just tragic, yet when we are all stressed ourselves we may forget to show compassion for others. Yoga teaches you to be anchored in love and that we are all one. By recognising that connection to others, that we are all struggling and striving in many different ways, compassion can flow more easily. It’s still tough but such an important touchstone.
You look at your feet a lot in yoga!

There is so much I have gained through a daily yoga practice and I still am learning every day. I could probably find another 10 insights that I have gained yet what strikes me is how these resonate with leadership practice. At a recent away day, we were discussing the discomfort of difficult conversations and “leaning in” to that discomfort, as well as being able to sit with the chaos of change and transformation. Both these approaches reminded me of the principles above. We also discussed compassion and seeing others as connected, a key objective for the away days was to get to know each other as humans and “real people” after 18 months seeing everyone on Teams.

Yoga doesn’t teach me leadership, it reminds me what I already know and helps me see how to live that every day, as well as how to support others with this. It enables me to make connections and adapt. It humbles me and teaches me humility. And that is a key part of being a “yogic leader” (not sure that is a particularly catchy phrase!).

2 Replies to “Yogic leadership”

  1. Hi Susannah,
    Hope you are well. This is beautifully written and I can resonate with all three points… and many more as you say. Thank you for sharing the book, it’s next on my list:)

    • Thanks Rakhee. Lovely to hear from you and thank you for your kind words. When I started writing it I could think of lots more points too so maybe I’ll need to do yogic leadership part 2 😉 I definitely recommend the book, it really helped in those dark days of January and I come back to it often. Hope all good with you.

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