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3 ways I use yoga in my career

  • Posted on September 23, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes

Growing up I was an athlete – from softball and basketball, to ice hockey and competitive cheerleading, if there was an opportunity to be active, I was there. In early adulthood, I remained active as my preferred way to release stress, be it time at the gym or jogging outdoors, though I never had any interest in yoga. In my mind it was too slow, too boring, too “hippie”… Now, over 10 years into my practice, and over 200 hours alone spent becoming a registered yoga teacher, I never would have imagined what yoga brought to my life, far surpassing any expectations.

When I discovered yoga, I saw impact across in my life, physically and mentally – I gained flexibility, my recovery time shortened, and eventually, I was happier and more patient as I found a mental clarity that would drive my back to my mat time and time again, even as I made my way further into the corporate world. This brings me to the three ways I’ve found alignment and union between what I learned on the mat to how I operate within my career.

Practice, not perfection

I get it, yoga is intimidating. I distinctly remember the fear of entering my first class and the associated mental chatter – what am I doing, did I just do the right thing, was that Sanskrit or English, this is too hard, this is too easy … In my professional career, I’m what many would consider a perfectionist – that means my mind is usually running with very similar questions – is this good enough, what am I doing, what do others think of my work, of me?

As with yoga, I try the same approach at work; note the key word, try – not tried, as it’s always a work in progress! Every day, our minds and our bodies are different from the day before, and they’re going to change again the next day. In yoga, these changes could mean the difference between a long-held crow’s pose one day, to a face plant the very next. At work, this could mean a big win then a big loss, a new project then a full scope rewrite, a beloved peer or your boss leaving the team. Making “practice, not perfection” the goal has helped me be more patient with myself and my teammates. It also helps me learn to fail fast and pick myself up to try, try again. So if you’re a perfectionist or a recovering perfectionist, focus on the journey or the practice, not the result, and you will begin to enjoy the experience more along the way.

Inhale, exhale

When I first started yoga, I found it extremely difficult to let my thoughts flow; I was all too used to paying attention to each and every one, then devising a detailed to-do list for once I got off my mat. I recall hearing the teacher reminds us all to breathe, and she said it slowly, calmly, methodically, over and over again. I was breathing, but what I realized was that it was often more natural to hold your breath when something is new or particularly challenging. Both stop the breath. From this I found that deep, intentional breathwork is can calm both mind and body, versus letting it stop you in your tracks.

While guiding my own practice or teaching others, I encourage students to inhale the good, and exhale anything that isn’t serving them – whether that’s negative self-talk, this evening’s errand list or what you’re making for dinner. Breathing through discomfort doesn’t come naturally, but with time it can become your own mini escape path for dealing with and managing change. Once we succumb to the fact that change is constant (and we’ve seen more than our fair share this year), we can become less reactive and more proactive in breathing through and navigating the change.

Balance

OK, OK, so COVID-19 has changed everyone’s perception of work-life balance (as if it was ever truly achievable), but work-life integration is something we can aim for. Thanks to the habits I’ve gained through yoga, I can more easily sense when things aren’t aligned for me, physically, mentally and emotionally. When I get to that point, or when my life is so chaotic that I have zero free time, it’s precisely when I know I need to make time for yoga.

Yoga, in Sanskrit, is defined as “union,” in terms of finding unity between body, mind and spirit. And with life in 2020 being the epitome of draining, if not damaging, finding moments to bring you joy, balance or union for and within yourself is crucial. A few of my go-to activities to help push me towards more equilibrium, include a mini walking meditation before work (whether through an app or numerous free options on YouTube), a lunch break stretch in the sunlight, or falling asleep with a bed time mediation.

Although yoga is a big part of my life, there’s still many people in my circle that aren’t believers, and that’s perfectly OK – I won’t be cliché and say that yoga is for everybody yet I also won’t say that it isn’t for everybody. From my perspective, everyone’s definition of yoga for their lives may not look like mine; so, drop me a line and let me know what you think. Have any of these on the mat practices supported your work life?

Phuong Nguyen

Hi Kiley, 
I really enjoy reading your post. I turned to yoga early this year since Covid-19 started and been practicing regularly for 9 months now. I love how it is very calming and challenging at the same time. However, I never thought about aligning it with my work and my daily life. Thanks for sharing how you align your practice on the mat with your work life. This gives me an even broader perspective on yoga. 

September 30, 2020

Kiley Surma Twitter Orange Icon@smileywithak

That';s so great to hear, Phuong, and thanks for reading! I hope you're able to bring some of it into your life to help stay calm through the challenges at work (and in life). 

October 5, 2020

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