While yoga’s benefits are well documented, I was a bit resistant to try it — I didn’t start practicing regularly until I turned 40 a few years ago. I now enjoy the practice so much that yoga has become one of my essentials. Like most yogis and yoginis, I have seen its benefits to my overall flexibility, focus and health. And, as my regular readers might guess, I’ve also discovered a number of parallels between yoga and career success. Here are some similarities I’ve found…
You can learn something new at any age
My daughter just finished kindergarten, and it’s been fascinating to watch her progress day by day as she learns to read. It’s so rare as an adult to learn something completely new like that, and with yoga I’ve found that “beginner’s mind” experience. I admit that before taking up yoga, it had been a long time since I’d tried doing something totally new and different.
Maybe I was too scared that I would be terrible or fail or hurt myself. Well, I’ve done all of those things with yoga, and I haven’t minded a bit because the learning has been so incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.
We all have those things we just “know” about ourselves and our talents. “I’m a lousy public speaker.” Or “I can’t manage budgets.” Or, “I’m too shy to be a good networker.”
But the truth it that it’s never too late to master something new. Maybe your company was acquired or your job description changed, and all of a sudden you’re tasked with something that scares you. Don’t let the fear get in the way of the opportunity to learn something new. Take a class, read a book on the subject, listen to a how-to podcast or find a mentor who excels at that skill. You might be surprised how much you can enjoy something you didn’t think you’d be good at.
By the way, it’s never too late to learn something new. Consider this reminder from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron:
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano / act / paint / write a decent play?’
“Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.”
Amazing things happen when you just listen.
My absolute favorite thing about yoga — and why it helps me de-stress so thoroughly — is that my only responsibility while I’m on the mat is to do what I’m told. As someone who is often giving directions — as a speaker, leader, parent and volunteer — it is incredibly relaxing to be a follower and listener with no obligations to manage anyone but myself.
I’ve found this makes me a better listener off the mat, too. As Anne Lamott wrote, “Rule 1: When all else fails, follow instructions.”
When you truly listen to a colleague’s comments during a conversation (or a conversation with anyone, for that matter), your mind can stop racing to what you want to say next, and you can really focus on what the other person is saying. How many good ideas have been missed because they were talked over? We can all benefit from listening a little bit more.
Hard stuff takes time
That headstand you see in the photo for this blog post? It’s really hard. It took me two years to achieve this pose, and I still can’t do it all the time.
The first time I heard a yoga teacher say that certain poses will take years to master, I didn’t want to believe it. But she also reminded us that we make progress every time we get on the mat, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Your core strengthens a tiny bit; your stamina improves a baby step; and all of a sudden you’re accomplishing a tricky balance that once seemed unattainable.
As I’ve written about before, there are very, very few career shortcuts: Success in any field takes time and experience. And that’s why it’s important not to just celebrate the touchdowns, but also to acknowledge all the first downs and other small, daily accomplishments along the way.
You are always perfecting the basics
Every yoga teacher will tell you, “Yoga is a practice.” No one is perfect and even the greatest yoga masters work on the most basic poses. (In every yoga class we literally practice breathing — breathing!) The basics of any field are the building blocks to the highest levels of achievement. It’s the same reason that Yo-Yo Ma still does scales or talk show host Andy Cohen still studies Johnny Carson interviews online.
What “basic” professional activity have you let slide a bit lately? Maybe it’s time to add it back to your routine. I love hearing about companies that regularly have the boss work behind the counter or on the manufacturing line, because being in your employees’ shoes will help you make better decisions as a leader.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated
There is a lot of buzz about mindfulness these days. And I’ll be honest: Part of my hesitation to do yoga was the “mindful” part. I’m a natural overthinker. But something about ending every class by just lying still and breathing in and out (Savasana) simplified the whole concept of “mindfulness” for me. And it’s reminded me that I don’t have to devote an hour to mediation to reap the benefits of mindfulness. I can just stop and breathe for a few moments — anytime.
Take some deep breaths — at your desk, on a client conference call, during a high-stakes presentation. Whenever you feel stressed, take a moment to breathe in and breathe out. Don’t make it complicated. Just breathe.
Fellow yogis and yoginis, do you find any of my takeaways ring true? Or do you have another hobby with career parallels? I’d love to hear below about any unexpected places you find career inspiration.
Lindsey Pollak is the leading expert on millennials and the multigenerational workplace, trusted by global companies, universities and the world’s top media outlets. A New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her presentations have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.