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Want to gain a better understanding and appreciation of your and your colleagues’ behaviours at work? Get out of your head and into your body. Here is what yoga has taught me about workplace dynamics:

People are at their best when they are in the flow

In yoga terms, flow is energetic movement with a sense of fluid physical motion. When in flow, people are moving in the same direction, following the same sequence. An onlooker would say it looks effortless. How do we enable our workers and teams to feel more “in the flow”? How can we ensure that they operate at their best, i.e., collaborate productively and “effortlessly”? According to a Google study, the NO. 1 characteristic of the perfect team is psychological safety, meaning “team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other”. A great leader, similar to a great yoga instructor, gives guidance but also space for failure, providing the psychological safety that individuals and teams need to take risks, fail, move forward and innovate.

Transitions are difficult

In yoga terms, a transition is moving, as gracefully as possible, from one pose to another. These are challenging moments in a practice and they tend to throw us off balance, increasing the risk of falling (more on this below). If we think about transitions in the workplace: from one company to another, from one role / team to another, etc., it is equally difficult to do gracefully. Why? Change, no matter how small, is hard. In this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world of work, where average tenure in a job is 4½ years and the half-life of a skill is 2½-5 years, transitions will increasingly become the norm. How can we reduce stress and avoid “losing our balance” each time? As leaders, “creating an environment where people feel safe to take risks and encouraging them to do so on a small scale at first helps to build confidence for when they are faced with bigger challenges”, advises Samara Zelniker, founder of Mindfulness Matters. Organizations like Allstate Insurance now offer resilience training to all workers, focusing on the science of stressing smarter, bouncing back faster and growing stronger. Specific skills and practices are taught including mindfulness, breathing and prioritization based on values.

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Falling is necessary for growth

An important part of practising yoga is becoming comfortable with vulnerability, with falling – sometimes in front of many people. At first it doesn’t feel great – almost humiliating. But then one quickly realizes that falling is a catalyst for growth. The same applies when we fall in front of our teams. We have created cultures of perfectionism in many organizations: If we fall or fail, we feel weak and ashamed. According to Brene Brown, author of Dare to Lead, “perfectionism is a 20-ton shield protecting ourselves from getting hurt or from being seen”. Vulnerability, by contrast, is a critical part of leadership in this new world of work: the more we can show others we are human, the more psychological safety we impart to our teams, leading to higher engagement and productivity. If we don’t fall, we don’t learn, we don’t evolve and we don’t innovate.

“Peak poses” require patience

In yoga terms, the “peak pose” is often the most challenging and rewarding of a practice. We would never get on our mats and go right into a peak pose – we need to warm up and build up to that point, or we risk hurting ourselves. Similarly, in our workplaces, we need to find balance and pace ourselves leading up to a “peak pose” (a deadline, deliverable, presentation, etc.) – we need to make sure we have the requisite endurance, before gunning it to the finish line. A simple mindfulness practice (e.g., breathing techniques, journaling, meditating) helps to focus on the present moment, the task at hand, and to ensure the peak pose is attained most effectively and efficiently.

Rest is critical to realizing full potential

“Savasana” or resting pose is touted as the most important point of a yoga practice. It is where all of the prior work is integrated into the body. Similarly, in the always-on society we live in, it is important to allow space and time for rest – not just because it is required for physical and mental health but also because creativity is sparked in those quiet moments: when we can tune in and listen to our intuition.

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