What Yoga Taught Me about Being a Leader

Yoga - Boat in Amalfi

Have you ever read something that came at just the right time for you to fully absorb it because you were ready for its wisdom, something that opened you to a new perspective and shifted your thinking, providing a different way of being and inviting new possibilities? That’s what happened to me on December 16, 2005 when reading Day 14 in Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the path to yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison.

Yoga - Rest in the Posture

I was stuck in my career and didn’t feel like I was growing. I couldn’t find my way out of the work I was doing and into a new role. Then, when I read “Rest in the posture”, I saw it: I was in a perpetual cycle of resistance with my work. A light bulb went on: Maybe I could quit fighting and stop trying so darn hard to get away from where I was. When I noticed the fear of getting stuck or the pain of pushing for change, I acknowledged and accepted it, although it wasn’t easy and I didn’t just let go. I started by backing off just a little to relieve some of the tension.

Yoga - Mindset

The mindset that the book was shaping met up with the breath and body work of a local yoga class that I had started taking around the same time. Day by day as I practiced, the universe opened more and more, and soon the pathway seemed to be pulling me along. I was no longer pushing against the obstacles to pave the way. I was becoming a leader in my life – no longer a victim of my work place, nor a hero in trying go it alone to find a fulfilling job, or a villain beating myself up because I wasn’t making something happen quick enough. (Thanks to Therese Keinast and Radical Leadership for helping me see this!)

Yoga - Becoming A Leader

Here’s a quick list of 10 things I learned from yoga that enable me take each small graceful step in the direction of possibility.

  1. Self-awareness….awaken to our authentic selves, being present to that which is already within us and honoring our innate capacities (e.g., to love)
  2. Clarity… about what we believe, how we want to show up, and what we want to create in the world
  3. Presence…just showing up and opening to what we find there, recognizing that each moment offers choice and an opportunity to act with integrity
  4. Acceptance…opening to what is, without judging it, just embracing the mystery of the both dark and light
  5. Connection…knowing that we are not alone or separate from everything else
  6. Compassion…opening our hearts to ourselves and finding empathy
  7. Flow…being open and curious, letting go of control, and having a capacity to trust the brilliance of the universe
  8. Balance…being in action, an energized and inspired creator, and taking time to rest and rejuvenate
  9. Resilience… using the breath, the mind and the heart to find our way through challenge
  10. Celebration…pausing to appreciate simple joys, rather than just moving through to what’s next

Yoga - Celebration

Just how does it work, this yoga thing? You take time to just be, with all the fear and possibility that entails. You engage in practices that open you to noticing what is going on in your mind, in your heart, and in your body. You focus your attention as you move in particular ways. The movement of your body, mind, and attention creates awareness. You notice physical sensations (e.g., tension, energy, tiredness) and discover ways to make minor adjustments that support you in moving as powerfully as possible given where you are. For example, you’ve got your shoulders up around your ears and just a slight adjustment to the position of your shoulder blades creates a release. You notice your chattering mental voice and the endless stories it makes up, as well as your beautiful essence and the light that shines there.

Yoga - Be Yoga

You don’t need to make an elaborate plan to attend a yoga class or participate in a meditation retreat, although those are great ideas!  You can start right here, right now with a small step. Your daily life can be your yoga studio, and you can engage your mind, body and spirit in little ways during your day.

What is your yoga? Running, journaling, and gardening are other ways I create some of these beautiful possibilities for myself. Does this happen for you when you watch your child sleep, when you walk your dog, when you take in a beautiful new vista while on holiday? Maybe these exploratory questions will point you to something:

  • When do you simply sit with yourself, allowing yourself to look inside and see the amazing human being you are?
  • When do you pause to tune into your experience of the day – what you are thinking, what physical sensations are you having, what emotions are you experiencing?
  • How aware are you of the stories you tell yourself? What do you say in your head repeatedly that is not serving you? Do you explore what you might say instead?
  • When do you notice the miraculous-ness of your own breathing – how rejuvenating and healing it is, how it can focus you and give you clarity?

You’ll find some ideas for ways you might experiment in this blog series I’ve been writing with my colleague Megan Moyer (links to the previous blogs are in the post). Lean into your yoga, whatever form it might take, and discover the riches there.

Real life is right here, right now. Don’t miss it!

Yoga - Dress Rehearsal

* I took this photo off the Amalfi Coast of Italy, Summer 2015


Author: Vicki L Flaherty

I am most alive when I am creating, whether through writing, gardening, photography, cooking, crafting, sewing... Running and yoga enrich my being. I am happiest when I’m with my husband Jim. Travel opens me to new possibilities and greater awareness. I find a special joy when I’ve helped someone see their brilliance and express their full potential. As I've focused on living more mindfully, I've found special joy in expressing myself through poetry and photography, and in truly being in relationship with those I meet along my journey.

7 thoughts on “What Yoga Taught Me about Being a Leader”

  1. Great post Vicky!! Thank you for your insights!! It resonates incredibly for me these days!! Keep inspiring us with this blog, Dorota.

    1. Glad you like it, Dorota. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing! 🙂 Actually, I think I’ll keep writing even if no one’s reading since it always just feels like the right thing for me to be doing. Such clarity and catharsis come from making time to explore what I believe and how I see the world. Great to be here with you!

  2. Mark Nepo has nothing on you, my leadership guru. Well done – I always smile when people say “I am one person at work and another at home.” Gee, that must be a lot of work. What about just becoming and then being you all the time? That’s an idea. The blend of the internal with the external is so critical to the journey. Deny either at your own peril. You describe it all so well.

  3. Hi Vicki, I took up yoga for the first time ever in February this year. And the main reason was because I just felt so in-flexible and stiff. Just simple movements and mediation has helped me and my body loosen up. .
    But then, after I had joined, I thought that my brain and thinking was similar – stiff and in-flexible. Now I am relating my physical movements to my thinking capabilities, reducing stress, less worrisome times and “freer thinking” – not constraining myself or limiting my thoughts/ideas.
    I knew mediation is supposed to help, now I know it does. But it all takes time, especially at my age!!
    Always good to read your blog, we don’t always agree, but it is good to read .. thx gb

    1. Geoff – so great to have you stop by and share your personal story. I love how you are experiencing the mind-body connection. Awesome you have taken up yoga and mindfulness and things are loosening up and opening for you!

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