My Yoga Practice Changed my Work Practice

“Keep practicing. All is coming,” is a mantra I whisper to myself on and off the mat. Lately, I’ve needed it more to get through my day than to get into my next asana pose. While this may seem trite, it was a fairly big revelation for me, a visceral one. In the last year, I’ve discovered how the tiniest changes to my conscious behavior patterns have had a big impact on how I perceive my work and those I interact with.

For 13 years I’ve been practicing yoga of varying kinds. Last year, I was introduced to the traditional yoga style of Ashtanga (a traditional form that combines fixed asanas with breathing) for the first time and things changed. I dedicated myself to a daily practice, and started to see how my patience and seIf-discipline created tiny shifts in my life (and work). Like the kind of things people say happen if you stop worrying and start being present.

Here are three yoga practices that have been helpful in creating a happier work life:

1) Pause, self reflect, and look for connection.

I use my time on the mat to slow down, turn my judging off, and look for a feeling of connection in my body and breath between and in the poses. Garbha pindasana? No problem.

The trouble comes in when I have a challenging client say something in a workshop, “Did he really just say that?”, miscommunications in team meetings, “I don’t know how that decision was made”, or even misunderstandings in my personal relationship, “How is it that you’re going to turn that three-legged table you found on the sidewalk into a new million dollar business?”

It’s easy to get caught up in the behaviors of others. What other people are saying or doing that’s creating a riptide of reactions for me. Our brains are wired for laziness (some call it efficiency). It’s much easier to blame other people and our environment for how we’re feeling or reacting, than it is to slow down and notice what I might be contributing to the situation.

What can I learn from this person? Am I really listening? What do we share in common?

2) Appreciate the little changes.

I spent over a year practicing nearly daily to be able to grab my hand behind my back in marichyasana d. I spent a lot of time telling myself the story of how my body wasn’t built for this pose.

Eddie used to have to sit down next to me while I sat with one leg in lotus pose and the other knee bent straight up. We’d interlock our upper arms, I’d take a big inhale, and on the exhale he’d pull me forward and twist my arm around my back while I twisted as hard as I could in the opposite direction and tried to touch hands. That went on for months. But, then I started to notice smaller and smaller changes.

And one day, I could more easily reach around. Then, I didn’t need such a pull. And eventually, I was able to interlock my hands. Even now, there are days where my bind isn’t easy, and I need more help with the twist, but when I remember where I started, I’m so much more appreciative of where I am now.

We can create the change we wish to see in our world/relationships/work. It just may not happen overnight. I remind myself to focus on the little changes that I have control over now that might have bigger, long term results. If I want to improve my relationships at home or at work or if I want other people to get along, what changes can I make? What’s one small change I can make this week to improve myself?

I did this recently and noticed I wasn’t being as good of a listener or facilitator in workshops as I wanted. Someone would ask a question or make a comment, and I would respond with what I thought would be helpful, but I wasn’t addressing their concern, and a couple times they politely corrected me. How often does this happen to us all?

To improve, I started by focusing on the times I wasn’t listening well. What did that look like? What was I doing? What triggered me to go into that mode? And what were the results of me not listening well? Then, I imagined what I looked like when I was listening to someone. What created space for that? And what was the result of those behaviors?

I found that I was most triggered into bad listening mode when I had a judgment or opinion about the person or situation. Maybe I’d heard that question before or “knew” where they were going. And when I was in good listening mode, I was genuinely curious. So the small change I focused on making was to turn off my pattern spotting and problem solving switch and turn on my curiosity. In conversations, rather than focusing on my reactions to the person, I focused on what they were saying and the emotions and needs I was hearing from them. I would summarize that back to them to check that we were talking about and hearing the same thing. Sometimes we would both step into problem solving mode, sometimes we wouldn’t.

The little change I made might not save the world, but what if someone I talk to feels listened to? What if by listening more to other people’s feelings, I act more lovingly to a stranger who reminds me of that person? Is it so wild to think little by little we could all start listening a little more for connection rather than differences?

3) Breathe.

Above all else, pay attention to breath. In yoga, it’s the energy of life. When I need to calm myself or get back to the present on or off the mat, I focus my attention on my breath.

When I’m on the receiving end of a challenging question from a client or constructive criticism from a co-worker, my first reaction is to go internal to my breath. If I can focus on what’s going on there, even for 5 seconds, I’ve found it has a direct impact on how I handle external situations.

Specifically, I:

- exhale longer than I inhale. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and slows my heart rate.

- pay attention to the temperature of my breathing. It’s colder on the inhale then it is on the exhale.

- pay attention to where on my face I feel the breath. For me, I can feel the air flow through the inside bridge of my nose and on the outside of my nostrils.

Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, when it seems like the changes needed are so much bigger than me or that all is actually coming, I use these three techniques to get back into the present and shift my focus. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) is that if we want big change in ourselves or in the world, it’s possible. It starts small, and it starts with ourselves. Our inner work impacts our outer work.

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