Yoga for leadership: 6 ways an ancient practice changed my approach to modern work

by | Jun 15, 2022 | Thought Leadership

For nearly a decade, I’ve immersed myself in the practice of yoga. I can remember quite well the day I (somewhat begrudgingly) joined my dear friend and yoga teacher for my first studio yoga class. Long story short, it went well, and I’ve been a near-daily practitioner ever since, with an added bonus of spending more than 500 hours earning various teaching certifications.

You see, the most harmful myth about yoga is that it’s just a workout. This myth erases the true essence of the practice, which is more of a holistic philosophy by which to conduct and navigate life from all angles – including how you show up and lead in the workplace.

First and foremost, leaders can be anyone, not just CEOs. At Dittoe PR, we expect all team members – no matter their tenure or title – to embody servant leadership, and it has been my experience that yoga and mindfulness can teach us how to be benevolent leaders. Since that first yoga class, my personal self awareness has grown infinitely. And, over time, I began to notice a difference in my leadership style, the way I worked and communicated with clients and colleagues, how I approached my daily tasks, my level of confidence in any situation, my ability to step back and look at something a little differently than before, and more. 

It was no coincidence that it aligned with my progressive path into yoga.

The goal of any physical yoga practice (known as asana), is to bring the benefits of yoga off the mat and into other areas of life. In this case and for the purpose of this blog post, we’re talking about taking them from the mat to the workplace. This ancient practice takes us inward and makes us more aware, allows us to feel a greater sense of connection, foster deeper listening and clearer communication, and, oftentimes, inspires us to act kinder toward ourselves and one another. That’s really just a high-level overview of benefits, though. 

Going inward is the first step to integration of all parts of yourself, giving you a better sense of feeling whole, and how that integration can help you be a more authentic leader, informing the way you show up in the world – whether that is as a leader of an organization or in your own life.

Servant leadership – our North Star at Dittoe PR – ensures our team is operating at its highest level and with the best interest of all in mind. We operate as one team and treat each other as partners. It embodies compassion, empathy, stewardship, self-awareness, active listening, foresight and other key attributes. Many of these qualities correlate well with the Yoga Sutras.

Without getting too far into the weeds of yoga philosophy, let me set this up with a quick intro to the Yoga Sutras, a set of scriptures and principles that outline yogic theory and were written around 500 B.C. by Patanjali. These are also commonly referred to as the eight limbs of yoga, which serve as a foundation and teach us different facets of how to embody yoga in mind, body and spirit.

I could go deeper here, but I’m going to break it down with six things I’ve cultivated to support stronger leadership on and off my mat – all credited to my yoga practice and all things anyone could take on to become a stronger leader:

1. Greater compassion and empathy. 

A big component of yoga philosophy is ahimsa, which translates to non-harming and nonviolence. This guiding principle supports greater empathy and compassion for all, and that’s critical to strong leadership. Two key attributes of servant leadership are being a listener and being empathetic, both of which can be interpreted throughout yoga philosophy.

2. Increased self awareness. 

Self awareness is also a primary attribute of servant leadership and a skill often aligned with a yoga practice. With increased self awareness, you can better understand your own tendencies, triggers and reactions; how you show up in the workplace; and more, thus setting you up to lead from a better place. Stewardship through servant leadership is fitting here, too, as it relates to leading by example. Being self aware keeps you accountable and sets reasonable expectations for how to model leadership on the job.

3. Working with intention.

Moving with intention on my mat and studying yoga has greatly helped me operate and lead with intention in the workplace. Working with intention equates to work that is purpose- and results-driven and strategically executed. You can better strategize how your team spends time supporting clients – from meeting time to execution strategy – if you emphasize intention. This intention-first mindset helps with the servant leadership attribute persuasion, too, which is related to knowing how to get others involved and on board with a vision. Approaching work with intention gives it a different meaning and makes it approachable for teams. 

4. Placing a high value on wellbeing in the workplace (and out).

Yoga is often synonymous with conversations on wellbeing, and that is no coincidence. Thanks to yoga, I prioritize commitment, community and health in the workplace. It’s incredibly important that we value team members’ physical, mental and emotional health, as it directly supports employee engagement and individual and team performance.

I advocate hard in this area and am proud that Dittoe PR offers agency-wide mental health days, no-meeting Fridays, unlimited vacation, flexible hours and other perks to support mental health in and out of work. Our core values are rooted in this, too, including Cultivate Happy and We’ve Got Your Back. This shows up in servant leadership efforts at Dittoe PR every day.

5. Ability to shift perspective.

Turning inward gives a different perspective. Yoga teaches you to think about things differently and approach life and work with more foresight and conceptualization. This is also servant leadership because it helps you look beyond the day-to-day, see the bigger picture, tap into past experience and plan for the future. When work gets high-stress, this skill allows you to identify the root cause and guide us out of the weeds, help us prioritize and better manage expectations.

6. Stress management.

A yoga practice is often associated with lower stress. Breathwork and meditation, specifically, can help calm the nervous system. There are many tools in yoga that can support a working professional: Breathing can get you through a stressful situation, or a quick meditation can set you up to lead a big meeting or manage challenging situations. When you learn how to better manage stress, you show up in the workplace with a sense of calm and understanding that extends to your colleagues.

Yoga certainly isn’t the only practice that can teach you how to be a better servant leader, but the depth of yoga – that is, beyond the physical postures most associate it with – provides endless tools to personal development that can, as a result, show up in the workplace and create a positive impact on you and those around you.

The values and vision that guide our company were created by our entire team – from interns to partners. We operate within the servant leader paradigm and are committed to our clients’ and our employees’ ongoing success and wellbeing using four guiding values: We’ve Got Your Back, Exceed Expectations, Here We Grow and Cultivate Happy. Read more here.

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