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  • Writer's pictureNick Smith

Y is for Yoga

In this 'guest' blog, Tina and Andrew Gibbons explore how the practice of Yoga can both provide a model and also equip us for our role as change leaders.

Apart from the obvious welfare benefits of fitness and stress relief, yoga offers some practical lessons for change leaders.

Yoga was first mentioned over 5000 years ago in some of the oldest sacred texts in India, the Rig Veda. It was practised to develop concentration and transcend the mundane (two vital skills for modern leaders). The ancient scripts, around 500BC, the Upanishads, Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita contain references to yoga and it is from these references that the classical period emerged. In the classical period (180BC to 150BC) yoga was a way of life with eight all-encompassing aspects: Yama (social conduct), Niyama (our conduct), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (breathing), Prathyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (transcendence). Modern yoga, as practised around the world, focuses on the Asana and Pranayama; we use the breath to control movement and movement to control the breath.

A complete yoga practice is not about the end game of impressively impossible postures; it is about becoming aware of and extending your limits. Like any change programme Yoga starts with discovery. Where am I now, where do I need to be and how do I get there? Through breath work, repeated practice and experimentation, we move towards new positions and develop a new understanding of our potential. We never arrive, there is no destination to limit our potential, just a commitment to evolve and improve. Yoga is situational; some days our balance is amazing and our movement flows, other days we stumble and are restricted in our movement.

The parallels with change leadership are evident. As adaptive change leaders we are challenged by radical uncertainty. We lead teams without limits towards an uncertain destination. We seek to be flexible, aware and open. Our leadership practice is situational; sometimes we tell and sometimes we listen. Some days we seek inspiration from leadership philosophy and other times we are instinctive and in the moment. We work at the edge of our knowledge to extend that knowledge. We think systemically about each challenge.

The link between yoga practice and adaptive leadership are as shallow or as deep as you choose. You could simply improve your concentration, fitness and flexibility by combining stretching with breathing. You could dedicate time each day to discover, explore and extend. We will leave you to decide if that is in your leadership, your yoga or both.

Tina Gibbons is a Yoga teacher, and her husband Andrew Gibbons a leadership coach.

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