Leadership Lessons from Yoga: The Benefits of Staying in the Room November 29 2012

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been in one yoga class or another five or six days a week on average. That might sound like a lot, but it’s pretty much the only form of exercise I do anymore so it’s a good way for me to keep the lights on. As I’ve written here several times, I’ve made a number of connections between what I learn on the yoga mat and leadership development in general. This week, I’ve been thinking about another one. It’s the benefits of staying in the room.

When I’m in Northern Virginia, I go to a place called Down Dog Yoga. The studio is heated to around 96 degrees and humidified to about 50 percent. Needless to say, you sweat a lot in a 90 minute class in those conditions. It’s not exactly comfortable. Invariably, at the beginning of every class, the instructor will ask everyone to stay in the room for the full 90 minutes. She’ll remind you to take a break whenever you need one but to stay in the room as you take it. And, invariably, there will always be people that leave the room anyway.

There are a lot of reasons that aficionados call yoga a practice. One of the biggest is that it can be practice for the rest of your life. Staying in the room is an example of that. Whether it’s a 96 degree yoga classroom, a conference room where you’re hashing it out or a job that just got a lot harder, your life as a leader will regularly present choice points on whether or not you stay in the room.

Here are some of the benefits of staying in the room:

You reset your triggers: Last night, a guy left the room about 15 minutes before class ended. I was talking with the instructor afterward and she said he always leaves the room at that point. He has some sort of mental, physical or emotional trigger that makes him roll up his mat and leave 75 minutes into the class. If, one night, he decided to hang in and stay in the room past that point, he’d begin to reset his trigger.

You learn new things: If that guy stayed in the room, he might learn that the last 15 minutes are the best part of the class. If he stayed in the room, he might learn some new things about himself. If he stayed in the room, he might learn some new skills. If he stayed in the room, he might learn more about the people around him when he talked with them after class. Those same kinds of lessons are also available by staying in rooms that don’t have anything to do with yoga.

You make progress: If you stay in the room, you give yourself a better chance to make progress. If you stay in the room, you give yourself a better chance to finish something. If you stay in the room, you set the example for others and grow the capacity of your team. As they say at charity auctions, you must be present to win. That’s one more benefit of staying in the room.

What’s your take? What makes you stay in the room or leave? What patterns or lessons have you learned about staying in the room?

8 Responses to “Leadership Lessons from Yoga: The Benefits of Staying in the Room”

  1. Julnar Rizk says:

    Great post, Scott. We learn so much about leadership on the mat. I recall a Feldenkrais adage that states “the learning occurs in the rest” and the vital importance of a yogi’s final post of chavasana. For me, chavasana is the place I can finally let go of all the efforts for perfection, all the “almosts” in the poses not fully achieved, etc.

    As leaders, we must understand not only our own limitations, but where our control no longer has power or the situations that demand our simply “letting go”. As leaders, we learn to recognize when to rest the fight for another day or even when it’s time to ask for help.

  2. John Heller says:

    Nice way to visualize those tough spots and 'staying in the room'. I do have to wonder about another aspect of leadership in terms of seeking first to understand. Did the yoga instructor or you actually talk to the guy about his reason for leaving 15 minutes early? If his trigger is that he has to pick up his kids and so he cannot stay the entire 90 minutes, I think the leadership lesson falls short. What about being a leader in the sense of understanding first and then empowering people to be able to stay in the room. Shouldn't the leader be the one that helps people stay, not criticize those that leave?

  3. jag says:

    The practice of bikram yoga or whatever version you experienced (true bikram yoga is in a room at 105 deg F and 70-80% humidity) is an individual effort. There are a lot of imitators. Yoga is not a competition with others. Who cares if someone leaves early. If leadership is a skill derived from enduring a 90 minute hot yoga session then concentrating on the quality of your own practice should be paramount to your success.

    • ENVNMN says:

      I am myself a big fan of Yoga; however, the article seems to miss the basics of Yoga. As Jag notes, Yoga isn't any competition; instead, as mu Guru would put it, "Yoga teaches to compete within oneself". Besides as Heller points out, the story on the guy leaving early is not a good example. There could be more reasons for his early departure. Not to 'sweat' little things like this is yet another virtue that an Yogi is supposed to learn.

  4. Al Davis says:

    While I understand the point trying to be made, any form of exercise is not an enduance contest — and neither should leadership be. The person in question might have health issues that limit his time in that environemnt (I can't be in a hot tub for more than 7 minutes — as much as I love it — and many leadership discussions take place in this venue). Certain leadership "situations" sometimes become potentially toxic — or at least too intesne to get meaningful resolution. On those occasions, leaving the room maight be the right thing to do. The WRONG thing would be if the leader never returned.

  5. Hi everyone –

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree with many of the points you raised – particularly those about yoga not being a competition. Just to clarify, there are norms in the studio where I practice in Virginia, a couple of which are you stay through the end of class or let the instructor know if you can't.

    My practice on this blog is to draw connections between things that are going in the world – more broadly or in my own life – and the practice of leadership. Apologies if this post came across as judgmental. That was certainly not my intent.

    Cheers –


  6. Kate says:

    Your comparison between staying in the room and leadership was spot on for me. It's about doing what's best for the practice–whether it's yoga or leaderhsip–and not shorting oneself when things get a little heated. Leaning into the discomfort is part of the path to the next level. Thanks for the wisdom, Scott!

  7. Robert says:

    I could definitely apply this to my life and my workout in the morning. I sometimes stop the DVD 10 minutes before the workout is finished. How much of workout am I missing over days, weeks and months. You can definitely apply to your life. How many people lose out on opportunities or success because they "leave the room" too soon.

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