Seven Things I’ve Learned About Life and Leadership from Three Years of Yoga

Posted 10.21.2013

It was three years ago last week that I started practicing yoga. I got into it because I was looking for a way to stay in shape when my knees and other health challenges more or less brought an end to my thirty five year career as a runner. I thought I was in pretty good shape but my first yoga class seemed like it would never end. Three years later, I’ve taken close to 1,000 classes and, about a month ago, completed a 200 hour yoga teacher training program.

It’s hard for me to believe I’ve spent so much time on a yoga mat. There’s been a lot more to it than bending and stretching. Over the past three years, I’ve written a number of posts about what I’ve learned from yoga. I spent some time reviewing them last week and, honestly, I got a little choked up. It was humbling to realize that skills and knowledge I take for granted now are things that I literally couldn’t imagine doing three years ago.

As much as anything else, yoga for me has been a vehicle for learning. That’s been my point in writing about it here. You don’t have to do yoga to learn about life and leadership. It’s worked for me. Something else might work for you.

In any case, based on my own historical record, here are seven things I’ve learned about life and leadership from three years of practicing yoga.

Reps Matter: My first class three years ago was with an instructor named Jeanne. When I introduced myself to her before class, she said, “If you take three classes a week, yoga will change your body. If you take more than three classes a week, it will change your life.” She was right on both counts. Repetition shapes your body, your mind and your habits. Choose your reps wisely. (TWEET THIS)

Instruction Matters: Even if you choose the right reps, it’s important to have solid instruction. There are two big reasons for that. With no instruction or poor instruction, all those reps can groove in as bad habits that you’ll have to work very hard to get rid of. With good instruction, you’ll learn how to go beyond what you thought you could do.

Improvement Comes Incrementally, Then Suddenly: The last three years has been one surprise after another in terms of my physical capabilities. The first three months were about developing the strength and range of motion to do upward facing bow pose. The second year and into the third was about learning to a headstand in the middle of the room. This summer was about learning how to get up in handstand and doing it without balancing my feet against the wall. If all of that sounds like a slow process, it is. What I’ve learned is that improvement comes incrementally, then suddenly. (TWEET THIS) You can work on something for days or weeks or months and not really see much progress. Then suddenly, you can do it. An overnight success, so to speak, except it took a long time to get there.

Your Capabilities Aren’t Determined By Your Limitations: If yoga has taught me anything it’s this – my capabilities aren’t determined by my limitations. (TWEET THIS) I’ve been consistently amazed by what I’ve been able to learn and do over the past three years. It makes me realize that limitations come in two flavors – mental and physical. They are both subject to change.

Show Up and Deal with What’s Presented: Are there days when I feel crummy and don’t want to go to class? Most definitely. Do I go anyway? Almost always. I’ve learned that if I show up, I’m going to feel better at the end nine times out of ten. Yoga has taught me that there is no such thing as a permanent condition. Everything is subject to change and it does. (TWEET THIS) It just makes sense, then, to show up and deal with what’s presented.

I’m pretty convinced that you can’t be a perfectionist and enjoy yoga. There’s always something new to learn. When you’re learning, you’re not perfect. If you have to be perfect, you’re not going to learn anything new. (TWEET THIS) All the time I’ve spent on a yoga mat learning something new has taught me that I don’t have to be so damn hard on myself. Ironically, I’m probably doing better work off the mat because I’ve lightened up on the pressure I put on myself to be perfect.

What about you? If you’re into yoga, what has it taught you about life and leadership? If there is some other routine or practice that you follow, what is it and what have you learned from it?