Along with meditation, yoga has come out of the patchouli wearing, tree-hugging, hippy realms to take its rightful place in the mainstream – and more importantly, the workplace.
If you’re a leader who is yet to acknowledge the positive impact practicing mindfulness can have on stress reduction AND productivity, read this.
At first glance, you might think meditation and yoga have no place in conversations about leadership. But when Harvard and INSEAD say the two most powerful tools for modern leaders are intuition and meditation, it’s time to perk up and take note.
I have to admit, despite coming across increasingly compelling reasons to make like a yogi and get my mindful mojo on, it was taking me a while to stretch my limbs onto the yoga mat.
Until I met this woman…
And yes. Yeah. I have to admit I have just the teensiet ‘girl-crush’ on this yoga teacher from Brazil.
But Marina is a leader of a different kind. If you think leadership is about inspiring others to take positive action, then this 28 year-old Brazilian yoga teacher has LEADER tattooed right across her forehead.
She’s got me meditating, doing my breathing exercises and saluting the sun most mornings.
Here’s what she had to say about what leaders can gain from striking a child’s pose, doing the down dog, meditating and just noticing your breath.
Top tip: Adopt a sexy Brazilian accent when you read her bit 🙂
How did you first discover yoga?
My dad started going to yoga classes at a local yoga centre near where we lived in Brazil. The more he did yoga, the more we noticed positive changes in him – not drinking every night etc. I thought to myself, “I’m going to try this yoga thing out too!”
It wasn’t until later we worked out that the reason he started going was that he was trying to impress a younger woman. But if it wasn’t for his affair with her, I probably wouldn’t have discovered yoga.
What do you love about yoga?
At first, it was the physical aspect that I loved – the strength and flexibility that yoga gives my body. But even that very first time I went to the yoga studio in Brazil, I noticed that there was something about the people who taught there – they were so happy. So at ease.
There was a brightness, they were so alive. They were so uplifting – and uplifted. I knew there was something more going on than just the physical side.
What I now love about yoga is how it teaches to shift my perception at any given moment/situation, simply by tuning into my breath and reminding myself constantly that “at ease” is my natural state, and any decisions made from that state are much more powerful and genuine.
It’s what yoga brings to you beyond the mat that is so fascinating.
What about when you came to New Zealand?
When I first came to New Zealand I struggled without my family, acclimatizing and with the language – it was a bit chaotic. My yoga practice was a bit “on and off” – not a strong practice at all.
But then a Brazilian girl/angel, Milca, became my flatmate and reawakened my passion for yoga. She introduced me to the book “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, which reminded me why I loved yoga in the first place. That book is now my bible!
(The value of yoga) all came back to me. I asked myself, “Why did I stop practicing yoga? Why did I lose my way?” But even as I started asking myself these questions, I completely knew the answer.
Yoga could have helped in those early years in New Zealand but I was just not ready, you know? So everything happened at the right time.
In retrospect, everything happens at the right time, when you are ready for it.
So after that, I started to get stronger with my yoga practice again.
What does yoga do for your mind and well-being, beyond just the physical?
The main thing for me was realising how much I was letting myself worry every single moment of the day – about the smallest things (and even the big things)! I was getting caught up in my moods and in strong emotions. I was turning little things into big problems, I was ‘all in my head’.
I was never HERE – in the present moment.
I was either worrying about or trying to fix something that had happened in the past, or I was trying to guess what was going to happen in the future – mostly with a negative or anxious slant. I was really living like that!
Because I came back to my mat, to yoga, things changed. Whether I only had 5 minutes to do my favourite pose or one hour, it was good. The physical practice of yoga and doing a bit of breathing every day and a bit of meditation every day helped so much.
Even if I took a walk in the park, I took a different approach. I decided that I was going to concentrate on my steps – make my walk my meditation. Notice the faces of people, the nature that surrounds me. Do something in a really mindful way. This mindful approach made (and still does make) such a positive difference to my life.
How can we become more mindful if we don’t have lots of time or if we are not sure if ‘meditation is for us’?
When you do something soothing for yourself – like making and having a cup of tea (Suzi – for me it’s lighting a candle), do it in a mindful way.
Just do one thing at a time – be present.
If you are making the tea – make the tea, smell the tea, look at the tea, imagine you are a child and you are doing it for the first time.
And like anything in life, it takes practice. You might be tempted to have the tea while reading a book, or checking your e-mails, or simply day dreaming in your thoughts. Practice, ONE THING AT A TIME. It’s a simple approach, and many people doubt simplicity. I say, embrace it. No equipment needed, no memberships, no small print, only your (amazing) self and your willingness to live a fuller, more meaningful life, every single day.
It’s about seeing the wonder in the ordinary (Suzi – I totally get this, read my blog post on why leaders should value the ordinary).
We can forget what magic there is in the ordinary.
What other advice would you give to leaders who might want to give yoga a go but are not sure where to start?
Well, if you do have the time/chance to go to a yoga class near you, do so. Find a teacher that inspires you and give yourself at least three classes to have a good feel for it. Don’t be shy to ask about their qualifications, experience and anything else you would like to know before you are guided into your first down dog.
If the thought of going to a yoga class gives you a mini heart attack (because you are not flexible enough, not strong enough, not hippie enough…) there are some amazing online tools. Yogaglo is my absolute favourite! The internet is a vast ocean, and I’m sure there are many other great options out there – I can only speak from personal experience. If you have little or lots of time, if you want to move and sweat, or breathe better, or learn how to meditate, you will find something that meets your needs there.
Yoga translates as union. It’s a link between body, mind and spirit.
We breathe everyday, every moment.
But how often do you pay attention to your breath?
How often do you listen to it?
How often you recognise that your simple act of breathing keeps you alive?
The breath is the teacher. The breath is what brings body, mind and spirit into harmony. The breath is the yoga.
If not yoga class, if not online yoga, then close your eyes and listen, feel, experience your breath. One minute in the morning, ten deep breaths before that meeting, one minute while waiting in a queue. The opportunities are endless. There is no need to complicate things – nature provided you with the best tool ever. Breathe (mindfully) and all is good.
Do you have a question for Marina? Please leave your comments below.