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Effort and Ease: What Yoga Can Teach Us About Leadership

Updated: May 9, 2023

I am a self-proclaimed yogi.

When I was encouraged by my colleagues Caitlin Trovato Long and Sarah Matarella, M.A. to participate in Yoga with Adrienne’s 30-day yoga challenge, I did not anticipate that those 30 days would develop into a lifelong commitment to the practice.

I also didn’t anticipate that yoga would change the way that I approach leadership.

You may be thinking, how could yoga possibly relate to leadership? They are polar opposites. Yeah, me too. Or at least that is what I used to think.

Leadership is centered around concepts like influence, power, followership, and organizational change. On the other hand, yoga is a practice that aims to create a union between the body, mind, spirit, and breath. So, where is the connection?

According to Yoga with Lenore, ‘a guiding principle in yoga is that each pose (or asana) has two important qualities: Sthira and Sukha. Sthira is the Sanskrit word for steadiness or effort. Sukha refers to ease, or the ability to remain comfortable in a position.’

As leaders, we can find our own balance of effort and ease. But, how?

Meet Caitlin Trovato Long, CEO of Team Lifelong Wellness, PA-C, Ph.D. Candidate in Leadership and Certified yoga instructor. I asked Caitlin to shine a light on this topic.

This is what she said:

Yoga has strengthened my leadership skills on and off the mat. Like yoga, leadership is dynamic. True leaders have to go with the flow, knowing when to surrender or when to pick up the pace: that key balance between effort and ease. Like a graceful warrior (Hindi: Virabhadrasana) pose – it combines strength and steadiness in a steadfast calmness. They are okay with showing vulnerability and their true self, just like showing up wholly to your mat.

I think about key leadership characteristics today, such as empathy and empowerment. Yoga has made me a kinder person and helped me to hone in on these qualities. As instructors, it is embedded in our core and ethos. We learn the word “Namaste,” a greeting from the ancient Hindi tradition which means “the light in me honors and recognizes the light in you,” and acknowledges each other’s innate divinity. We are guided by principles such as “Ahimsa” (non-harm) and Seva (service). This requires doing the right things, even though they are hard.

Yoga teaches us how to bring the humanity back into our spaces. It teaches us to pause, and breathe, in a chaotic dissonant world, and not sweat the small stuff. It teaches us to let go.

During balancing poses we encourage students to find “dristhi” a Hindi word for a focal point. Great leaders are focused, streamlined, goal-oriented – not losing sight of their “dristhi.” They are centered and grounded in their mission, vision, purpose, and why – connecting organizational to personal values. They live in alignment and care for themselves so they can pour into others.

They open up their mind, body, and spirit for creativity and innovation.

They take time for reflection and introspection, learning how to drown out the noise and listen to self/intuition, and others’ points of view.

They are present for all the twists and turns, bendable and flexible, and versatile.

Just like you own your practice, own your leadership style, and know that these things are both able to be learned and taught. It just takes someone brave enough to start.

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