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Five Yoga practices that will help you at work

This morning, when I woke up, I had every intention of going to an exercise class. Instead, I began clearing email and before I knew it, I had missed my class,. Many of us get so busy juggling the daily work life balance, that we don't make time for exercise. But my guest blogger today makes a great case for fitting it into your schedule.



Altman,JanetAllow me to introduce Janet Kyle Altman. Janet is marketing principal for Kaufman, Rossin & Co., one of the top CPA firms in the Southeast. I hope you enjoy her blog post as much as I did.




All I really need to know about management I learned in yoga practice


Yoga 1

My grandmother was a very tall woman.  When she was in her mid-80s, I took her back to New York for the last time to visit my mother.  One of my most horrifying memories is from that trip.  Going down the escalator in Miami International Airport, she lost her balance and fell forward. 

This is one of the reasons I started practicing yoga.  I wanted to do everything I could to be strong, flexible, and above all well-balanced as I grew older. 

Earlier this year I was confronted by a challenging management situation.  I had asked several of my staff to complete a project that involved some tedious research, adding email addresses to a list of business prospects. It wasn’t glamorous, and there was no glory involved, but it had to be done.  Weeks passed, and it had not been completed.  I was angry.  I thought, as managers often do, Nobody wants to do the annoying tasks. They only want to do the fun stuff.  Do I have to do everything myself around here?

Then I took a step back.  I sat down in my office with my feet flat on the floor and my spine straight.  Had I given them enough direction?  Probably not.  Had I checked in with them along the way?  Nope, not once.  Had I made it clear how important this simple, thankless task was to our long-term goals?  Definitely not. 

As I thought these thoughts, I heard a sound.  It sounded like Darth Vader was in the room.  It was my Ujjayi breath, the Victorious Breath that yogis focus on throughout their practice. It helps slow down the breathing, and it focuses the mind. I realized that I was using my breathing to calm my emotional reaction, and to focus my mind on what a good manager should do.  And I realized at that moment that the principles of good management closely follow the basic principles of yoga practice, as I have learned them.  Here are a few examples.


1.    Daily practice changes everything 

I started practicing yoga the day I turned forty.  I wanted to develop a healthy routine that I could continue into my old age.  I began with a video and then progressed to classes.  I learned early on how important it is to practice daily.  Every day my body has different strengths and weaknesses. Every day I feel stronger after I complete my practice. 

Management is a daily practice as well.  If you only think about managing your people when they make mistakes or when you have more work to give them, you’re not managing them at all. If they only know how they’re doing once a year at reviews, you’re giving them no opportunity to improve.  But spend time each day helping someone understand an assignment, checking the status of an important project, or giving feedback on performance and you’ll begin to see the rewards.  Your team will be stronger. 

2.    Focus on alignment.


My favorite yoga practices flow swiftly from one pose to another, but never at the expense of alignment.  For example, it’s tempting to bend forward to reach the toe in Trikonasana, forgetting that it’s a side bend and not a forward bend.  If it takes an extra moment to tuck my tailbone and pull my shoulders back, that’s a moment worth spending.

The time it takes to align your team is just as valuable.  Share the objectives of a project instead of just assigning tasks.  Discuss the company’s short and long-term goals.  My team laughs at how often I quote Steven Covey’s second habit, “Begin with the end in mind.”  But without knowing the target, how can we allign our efforts and stretch to reach it?  


3.    Specific adjustments improve results.

I had been trying for years to get my heels to the floor in downward dog, but I had never really noticed my quadriceps.   I barely knew where they were.  Then a few months ago Nicolay, my Tuesday morning teacher started to say “tighten above the knees” in standing poses.  Then Ian, my Sunday teacher, said it too.  What a difference this adjustment made!  By tightening my quads I was really using my thighs, not just letting them take up the space between my hips and my knees.  My heels have moved much closer to the floor, and some days the left one even touches down!

Do your employees get specific adjustments and feedback from you? Management expert Bruce Tulgan urges you to “talk like a performance coach,” giving specific feedback to improve results.  Here’s a good example: one member of my team does a lot of writing, and I kept correcting the same mistakes again and again in his work.  But when I shared a list of the specific things I was noticing that he could do better, the light bulb went on.  He keeps the list by his computer, and I don’t see the same errors anymore. 

4.    Honor differences.


Yoga teachers frequently remind us, “It’s your practice.”  They tell us that each of us should do what we can, and that we are all different.  They remind us to practice ahimsa (non-violence), and to stop and adjust if there is pain.  There is often someone in class whose practice inspires me, but I’m only competing with myself.  Every day is different, too, and even the two sides of every yogi’s body are different.  In my twisted pigeon I can always reach my toe on the left side, but I’ve never gotten close on the right.  But that doesn’t let me off the hook. 

Every employee is different as well, and good managers notice these differences.  Treating everyone fairly doesn’t mean treating all employees the same.  Different skills mean a stronger team, if they are honored and appreciated.  Rewards should be different, too. Some employees are motivated only by money, but others appreciate time off, flexibility in their hours, or the ability to work from home.   Understanding their differences makes management easier, because you can fine-tune rewards.

Recently, for example, I had to tell my team that we were moving to a different floor to make room for another growing department.  Two of my people share what I thought was a beautiful space, with a granite floor, a big glass front wall, and custom built-in workspaces.  But when I asked them what I could do to make their new workspace better for them, it turned out that the glass was the thing they liked least, and the granite magnifies every sound!  One said he would love to get out of the fishbowl and have some privacy; the other wants to have some input on the furniture and décor.  By asking, and honoring their differences, I’m rewarding them in ways the will appreciate.

5.    Move gracefully, but without delay.

Virginia, most challenging teacher, uses the phrase “without delay.”  It’s tempting to take an extra breath or two when moving between poses or switching sides in a sequence, but she pushes us to continue the flow.  I like to think it keeps my right and left sides more balanced, as one follows the other without delay.

Acting without delay is key to effective management.  Giving constructive criticism to a staff member right away means that small issues don’t have time grow or fester.  Timely positive feedback makes your appreciation more powerful.  Good managers do both consistently, and without delay.

All I really need to know about management, is a matter of what yogis call “taking it off the mat” and applying yoga’s principles in everyday life.   When I began my practice I was looking for strength, flexibility, and balance.  I never expected it to change my life so dramatically.  Yoga changed the way I sit, stand, and move through the world.  Most surprising, it has taught me ways to manage more effectively.