“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain his greatest enemy” ~Bhagavad Gita 6.6
What makes an effective leader? Empathy? Courage? Motivation?
A review of the literature and evidence reveals that each of the key traits of a good leader are the very same qualities we foster daily on the yoga mat. Below are just three of the most apparent. As our yoga practice deepens, we become comfortable with uncertainty, compassionate with limitations, dedicated to growth and increasingly flexible. This wisdom can’t fail to make us stronger leaders – in the workplace and in our lives.
Yoga Teaches Self Awareness
Self-Awareness is vital for an effective leader. It is one of the five key traits of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), perhaps the most important for leadership.
Emotional Intelligence relates to our ability to acknowledge, assess and adjust emotions in ourselves and others and to use that awareness to maximise social interactions. Self-awareness is, as it sounds, the degree to which we are aware of our selves – strengths, weaknesses, habits, beliefs, emotions and values. A leader out of touch with how he is perceived by others will fail to garner support when it’s most needed. Learning to move the attention inwards is one of the central, and most powerful teachings of yoga.
Yoga Regulates Emotions
Another key aspect of EQ is self-regulation, the ability to control our emotions rather than allow them to control us.
When we are competent at regulating our feelings, we are more resilient and less likely to be thrown off course by change or adversity. Yoga and meditation retrain the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotional responses. We are taught to recognise what we are feeling each moment (Self Awareness) then to process the emotion as a passive observer. This ability to think before acting creates mindful and effective leaders. Many of the errors made by leaders in the spotlight can be attributed to a lack of self-awareness.
Yoga Reduces Stress
Stress is more contagious than the flu and a stressed leader will spread this epidemic throughout his organisation.
Yoga effectively inhibits the stress response, moving us out of the ‘fight or flight’ state that many of us dwell in as standard. There are numerous emotional, mental and physical health risks associated with prolonged stress including depression, insomnia, hair loss, weight gain and a reduction in sex drive. As well as this, stress inhibits creative thinking and effective decision making, drawing energy to ‘firefighting’ rather than growth and innovation. Integrating yoga into our routine might just be the best leadership training we will ever do. Try this simple exercise today, seated or lying down:
• Close your eyes and focus attention on the breath. Notice where in the body you feel the breath. The length and depth of each inhale and exhale
• Move attention to the brow, the point between the eyebrows and imagine softening this area, releasing tension
• Now to your jaw. Allow your jaw to soften and the tongue to drop away from the roof of your mouth. Imagine the entire throat softening
• Next notice your shoulders and allow them to drop away from your ears
• Allow your belly to be soft, freely rising and falling with each breath
• Relax your thighs and release any feeling of holding the legs up, let them sink down into the chair or the floor
• Let your feet become heavy and supported by the floor. Completely relax
• Continue to rest your attention easily on the physical sensations of breathing for up to 10 minutes
• Visualize yourself sitting or lying in the room and slowly open your eyes
• Carry on with your day, bringing a heightened sense of self-awareness to every action, reaction and interaction