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3 Leadership Lessons I Learned Teaching Yoga

by Annie Framand

Developing a yoga practice can help you be more present in your mind and body—and teach you valuable leadership lessons along the way.Sometimes the best leadership lessons we learn don’t come from our day jobs.

Among the most valuable insights I’ve gained into leadership have come from my experience teaching yoga. I’d like to share some of these insights with you here.

Self-awareness is key (It’s a plank, not a banana)

Halfway through the class I guide students in plank pose, starting with the basic alignment cues: “Make your way into plank—hands shoulder width-apart, feet hip-width apart, engage your core, long line from the crown of your head to the tip of your toes.” Then I ask students to look in the mirror to see if they have the proper alignment. I invite them to adjust if their back is rounding or if their hips are sinking. Only a few make modifications.

To encourage them, I add that they will build more core strength by doing the plank on their knees if they don’t have proper form—yet nobody moves. I’m wondering if they are seeing the same thing I’m seeing in the mirror. About a third of the class would benefit from doing the pose on their knees. But ego takes over. Or they think that their form actually looks like a plank, not a banana.

In full disclosure, that was me before I took yoga teacher training. I thought the teacher’s cues applied to everyone else but me. My brain was telling me, “I’ve been practicing for 10 years. I’ve got this!” So, I wouldn’t look in the mirror when the teacher suggested it. I learned the hard way. My form was the worst of any of the teacher trainers. I had first learned on DVDs back in the day, so no one had ever corrected me. As a result, I kept repeating old patterns, thinking I was rocking it.

Not only was I not getting better, I was injuring myself by repeatedly doing it wrong. I was lacking in self-awareness, and if you’re not self-aware you won’t grow.

Insight comes from asking for feedback from multiple sources, listening to it, adjusting your behaviors accordingly and occasionally looking at yourself in the mirror. I mean, really looking, not just glancing. Studies show time and again this is what successful leaders do. And quite frankly, you won’t get better if you don’t know where to start.

Adjust to learners’ needs (Either stay upright or fold forward to deepen the stretch)

A yoga class is like a box of chocolates, you never know who you’re going to get—from the student who has never practiced yoga to the student who has been practicing every day for 10 years or more, and everything in between. I always ask at the beginning of class, while everyone is lying down, to let me know if they are new to the style I am teaching that day. Sometimes I get a raised hand; mostly I don’t, even in January, when it becomes quickly apparent that there are a lot of beginners. Many of us try to figure it out on our own before we ask for support. I know—I still do it too sometimes.

I’ve learned some people might not ask for support even though they need it. So, I offer it again and again, in different ways—repeating an instruction, asking a provocative question, summarizing, using humor, and trying to create a safe, trusting space for people to explore and share. I’m only a guide and I’m there to help—it’s up to the learner to seize that opportunity or not.

I give options so everyone is challenged and can adjust their own practice since I have participants with different learning styles, expectations, and experiences, and I work to ensure that the training is relevant to every one of them. I also strive to make it fun and engaging to give them an incentive to come back on their mat or in the class, because learning happens with practice.

We build skills, flexibility, and strength over time. If you’ve never done yoga before, you’re likely not going to stand on your head in the first class. As a leader, I’ve learned to flex to the strengths, needs, experience, motivation, challenges and strengths of my collaborators to maximize their engagement and performance.

The journey of self-discovery (Yoga isn’t a workout—or is it?)

When I started practicing yoga, I did it for the workout and the physical benefits it provided. I learned that practicing yoga in a room heated at 37 degrees Celsius (That’s 98 degrees Fahrenheit!) with 40 percent humidity is great for cardio, and detoxification (I never knew I could sweat that much!). I also injured myself when my ego pushed me to take it too far—the heat loosens the muscles and leads us to believe that we are way more flexible than we are. Every student has their own journey; they can choose to listen to my cues or not. Sometimes they’ll learn from my mistakes, sometimes they’ll learn from their own. If you’re not falling, you’re not learning.

My yoga journey has evolved from practicing the more strenuous forms of yoga such as Flow, Hot, and Power, then I moved on to the more meditative forms like Yin and Restorative, and back again. I teach them all and I love them all. They’re all challenging, but the challenges vary from one style to another. Some are more physical, some more mental. I also embarked on a spiritual journey through the practice of yoga; not everyone does. At first, I wanted to please everyone, but I have come to realize my style of teaching, facilitating, and leading resonates with some but not all. And that’s okay. I’m just the conduit for their experience.

The practice of yoga has enabled me to be more present in my mind and in my body, which has enhanced my effectiveness as a leader.

You don’t have to teach yoga to become a better leader. We all have our thing.

What is your yoga? How do you show up as a leader on and off the mat?

Explore our collection of blogs, articles, and research on coaching.

Annie Framand is Senior Consultant and Coaching Practice Lead for DDI Canada. She is a world traveler (58 countries and counting!), runner, and yogi who recently discovered weightlifting. Annie is passionate about guiding learners on their journey of self-discovery and growth.

Posted: 22 May, 2019,
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