I’ve seen so many similarities over the years between leading a business and leading a yoga class that I could write a book, and maybe I will. Here’s the top 5 that come to mind:
The 5 similarities between running a business and leading a yoga class.
Call the pose. Call it in 5 words or less. Lead the team. Lead them as clearly and concisely as you possibly can.
You wouldn’t say: From down dog, put your left foot between your hands. Turn your right foot out so your toes are pointed towards the top right corner of your mat. Press into your outer right foot. Now, raise your arms up above your head, hands facing towards each other, fingers spread wide.
No – you’d say: Warrior 1, left side. Left foot between your hands. Press into outer right foot. Raise arms up to ceiling, hands facing in. Breathe.
You’d give those simple directions to be clear. To give concise instructions about where they are and where they want to go. You don’t give all the accompanying reasons before saying the direction. You call the pose. You call what’s needed, then you give details.
And you don’t sound like a drill sergeant along the way.
You lead with compassion and kindness.
When your class of 20 show up to practice yoga with you, you look around the room and see: injuries, various ages, various moods, and a vast walk of life. You learn quickly that no one comes from the same place as you. We all have different values, different goals, different strengths, and different shortcomings. And yet, we all still show up. It’s your job as a leader to lean in to the right strengths, to notice the shortcomings, to respect the values. It’s your job to treat your team, or your students, with compassion and kindness. It’s your job to look and notice and never assume.
For some, there’s nothing more embarrassing than roaring like a lion in a yoga class, or pulling up their shirt to show various breathing techniques with bellies hanging out. It takes vulnerability and humility to lead a class. It takes the same level of both to lead a team. Admitting your mistakes, owning up to your shortcomings, and leading with humility are essential for building respect.
4. It’s Not About You
When teaching yoga, you’ll most likely prepare your class ahead of time. You’ll plan the music around the peak pose that you’re teaching, and you’ll plan the previous poses around that same peak pose. You wouldn’t teach puppy and dolphin and eagle arms to prep for headstand if everyone who showed up for class that day only had a month’s experience of practicing yoga. You shift, possibly teaching the same prep poses, but not the same peak pose. It’s not about you and your desires to teach something difficult. It’s about leading correctly and safely for the people in front of you. It’s never about you.
When running a team, it’s exactly the same. It’s not about you looking a certain way, or your riches, or your professional goals. It’s about the people you’re leading: are they safe? Are they effectively able to accomplish shared goals? Are they finding meaning in their time at work? It’s about the shared goals, the shared collective of the team, or your class. It’s never about you.
5. Do Things That You Think Are Below You
During your first week as a yoga teacher, you’ll clean the toilets and the floors of the studio you work at. You’ll touch feet. You’ll touch sweaty arms, backs, and legs. You’ll do things you may have always thought you were too good for. And you’ll do them out of respect and love, not even thinking twice that these practices are below you.
The same is with your team. You have to understand what you’re asking someone to do, and so therefore you must have done everything – or most – of what your team is doing. You’ll have to have worked in the areas they are working in to understand their pressures, their workloads, their needs and wants to do a good job. You have to have walked in their shoes – at least a little – to really lead.
When I think back in life on the best decisions I’ve ever made, learning to teach yoga, and then actually teaching yoga for so many years, is right up there with marrying my husband, leaving Corporate America, and founding my business. It allowed me to live my fullest life. Every day, its principles have allowed me to be a better leader. I hope some of these words help you, too.