Provision #728: Yoga Matters

Laser Provision

We think of leaders as doers, as well we should, but great leaders are also thinkers. Great leaders take time, on a regular basis, to step back from the frey in order to reflect on what is happening, to revive our energy, and to realign our engagement with what must be done. Although there are many ways to do this, a common pattern of great leaders is to engage the body as well as the mind. Some leaders may prefer the golf course, but Yoga offers a more time-tested and focused way of raising consciousness and balancing energy. Read on to see if this practice might be for you.

LifeTrek Provision

High-altitude Provisions, started or written in airplanes, are becoming more of a rule than an exception. This past week, my wife, Megan, and I had an opportunity to present and network with about 75 school leaders in the state of California thanks to the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). It was truly marvelous to share our work with them and to learn more about how they might integrate evocative coaching • our signature method for school transformation • into their schools back home around the State.

Many principals expressed an interest in taking our 20-hour evocative coaching training program, which starts in early September. It was especially gratifying to hear them talk about recruiting others in their buildings and districts to go through the training with them. They recognized the value of a committed and capable cadre of school leaders and coaches when it comes to sustaining the practice and transforming the work of schools.

Thanks to ACSA and other early adopters, we anticipate a large group of trainees to go through the program this fall. You can find out more and sign up yourself, or recommend it to others, by visiting the Training Tab at Register before August 10, 2011 to qualify for a $100 early-bird discount, which brings the cost of the training program down to less than $40 per training hour.

We stayed in California two extra days to celebrate our daughter’s completion of her four-year medical residency. When Bryn was four years old she first proclaimed that she wanted to be a doctor. Over the course of 26 years, she never lost sight of the commitment. Now she’s done, with a mix of emotions and a high sense of anticipation for what comes next. We salute her dedication and look forward to her continued contribution to the health and well-being of others.

That mix of emotions is related to leaving the good work and community of practice she has been affiliated with in Los Angeles for the past four years. Those things are hard to set aside because they reflect so many of her core commitments and values. One thing that will not be hard to set aside, however, is the still grueling pace and at-times inhumane requirements of being a medical resident. Over work and overwhelm are still part of the experience, and she is looking forward to taking a few months off before assuming a hospitalist position in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Such breaks are an essential part of great leadership. Leaders who push ourselves all the time are not only risking premature death or disability on a physical level, we are also risking premature termination and ineffectiveness on a leadership level. Great leadership is an integral practice, and those leaders who lack integration will soon find ourselves to be no leaders at all.

So I appreciated hearing my daughter describe what she wants to do with her time off: she wants to experience a total makeover. Healthy eating, regular running to increase her speed and fitness, sleeping at night (what a concept!), and chilling out • as she studies for her medical boards, of course (like leaders everywhere, she’s never been one for doing nothing).

That sounds like a good formula for me, especially since she is going to do a month of that at our home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Why our home rather than the hot town of Los Angeles, with her new husband? Our home has two essential qualities: it’s supportive and it’s boring. She knows she can count on us to help create a happy environment for her goals and she also knows that there are not many distractions in our small town, where she hardly knows anyone.

I wish every leader could take that kind of time. Three months to recharge, reshape, renew, revive, realign, restore, rebuild, and rejuvenate our body, mind, and spirit. Such opportunities don’t come often enough, if at all, for most people and yet their importance cannot be overstated when it comes to great leadership. Such opportunities give us the perspective as well as the power to make things work well.

In lieu of and in addition to such long stops on the trek of life it is important for leaders to take shorter stops on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I’ve written about that periodically in this series on evocative leadership. In April of last year, I wrote about this in terms of rituals: great leaders have great rituals of work and rest, of action and reflection. In that Provision I gave a few examples of excellent, stepping-back rituals, including journal writing, napping, and visualization.

I returned to that theme a few months later, in my Provisions on Serenity and Zen. Serenity, I noted, can be facilitated by sleep, melatonin, breathwork, biofeedback, and exercise. I even pointed readers of that Provision to specific online sources for supplemental melatonin and biofeedback devices. In my Provision on Zen, a Buddhist practice of meditation and dialogue, I wrote about the connection between performance momentum and stress. Unless we stimulate the “relaxation response” through mindful, meditative practices, both health and leadership problems are sure to follow.

Yoga is another traditional practice for integrating body, mind, and spirit that commends itself to leaders. Developed first in India some 5,000 years ago, Yoga has proven to be an effective way for people to harmonize negative emotions, achieve mental clarity, and improve physical health. For many people, it is also a self-transforming spiritual practice that assists them to come to terms with the meaning and measure of life.

As a unitive or integrating discipline, Yoga helps people to connect the dots between our independent individuality and our collective commonality. There is a strong ethic of universal kinship in Yoga that fosters empathy, perspective, understanding, and peace. “Do no harm” may be part of the Hippocratic Oath for medical doctors, which my daughter recently recommitted herself to, but it is also a fundamental tenant of Yoga.

The best way to learn Yoga, which involves settling into a series of postures or poses designed to cultivate awareness and relaxation, is to participate in a class. Classes enable people to watch others do the poses and receive feedback from an instructor as we do those poses ourselves. I have taken Yoga classes on various occasions over many years and I have always found them to be beneficial and life-giving.

There are other ways to learn Yoga, of course, including online demonstrations, DVDs, and reading books. The key is to avoid pain, both physical and emotional, and to cultivate a sense of gracious concentration through the process of getting into and holding a Yoga pose. As a regular practice, sunrise and sunset are thought to be auspicious times for doing Yoga, but any time is better than no time.

That goes for the rhythm of doing Yoga itself: twice a day is better than once a day, once a day is better than once a week, once a week is better than once a month, and once a month is better than once a year. But it’s better to experience Yoga once in a lifetime than to have never experienced Yoga at all.

Before attempting to get into a Yoga posture, it often helps to visualize yourself in the posture. The more graphic and detailed the visualization, the more the visualization will help. That’s because visualizations stimulate “mirror neurons” in the brain such that we may as well be having the experience itself. Cognitive neuroscience would even suggest that visualizing ourselves in the posture can generate some of the same benefits as actually settling into the pose. Our minds and bodies are that interconnected.

After holding the visualization for as long as feels comfortable, it’s time to settle slowly into the posture itself. This should not be a stressful and contorted impossibility for our level of fitness and impossibility. Straining and trembling to hold a posture does not contribute to the peace of mind that Yoga is trying to create. Finding postures that we can do with relative steadiness and ease, postures that feel enjoyable and enlivening, is they key to not benefiting from Yoga but also to sustaining a Yoga practice over time.

All Yoga postures involve slow, disciplined breathwork. In this respect, Yoga is like other forms of meditative practice. Inhaling deeply through the nose and then exhaling slowly through the mouth increases mindful awareness and makes the postures more effective. A few of the more common Yoga postures have names such as the following:

These and other poses are then put together in a fluid sequence of postures to create movements, the most famous of which is probably the Sun Salutation. Facing east, practitioners move in and out of 12 postures, coordinating their breath as they go. A single round consists of two complete sequences, one for the right side of the body and one for the left.

It’s beyond the scope of this Provision to describe Yoga in any more detail. Suffice it to say, however, that regular integrative practices of body, mind, and spirit such as Yoga are essential practices for those who seek to be great leaders.

Coaching Inquiries: What are your stepping-back routines in life and work? How often do you allow yourself to engage in them? Daily? Weekly? Irregularly? What could assist you to develop life-giving patterns of consistency and renewal? Where could you go to find Yoga classes or other such life-giving practices? What’s keeping you from taking a deep breath and striking a pose right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

Once again your Provision, Yes Matters, seemed to have been written directly to me and to the situation I am facing with my new job. Thanks for helping me to clarify my thoughts as to what’s going on and next steps.

I enjoy your Provisions. For the first time since I began reading them years ago, I’ve been moved to write a response. When my mom was 87, she fell and shattered her wrist. She went through the same fearful moments as your mom has been experiencing. I got Mom focused on the power of “yes.” Her arm healed beautifully • and in record time. The doc removed her cast 10 days earlier than expected! So here’s to a full recovery and more mountain-top dancing for your mom.

Your mother’s injury sounds much like my father-in-law, who shattered his upper leg from a fall and had to have a rod placed in his leg. It gives him constant pain even 5 years later, and even now he finds it easy to complain. Yet I know those who have it worse. Growing old, as they say, is not for wimps!

I don’t know how to embody my wanting to be a coach here in China, just sometimes impacted by your Provisions, your articles are good and I often agree with your ideas. Just appreciate you all. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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