For the past 10 years, my life has seemingly been a rotating schedule of multiple jobs, including journalist, content marketing specialist, retreat planner, yoga teacher and yoga therapist. Having multiple careers has allowed me to build different networks in the business and wellness sectors. But after a decade of a committed personal yoga practice, it dawned on me how much yoga — taken in its original meaning as a holistic mind-body discipline — has helped develop timeless leadership skills in my different roles. Here are a few yoga-inspired personal motivations that may benefit anyone looking for a wider definition of wellness.
Pause in silence
A practice I acquired from one of my early teacher trainings was to stay silent for the first few hours of the day, dedicating that time to my yoga practice, including meditation. After the training, I continued to hold that space, adding journaling and other mindful activity to reflect on the day ahead.
Only experienced practitioners can sustain sitting in silence long enough to reach a deep meditative state. However, for most people, research confirms that just a few quiet minutes can set positive energy for the whole day. In Sanskrit, the original language of yoga, “mauna,” connotes the power of silence in understanding that which is “beyond words” — a way to still the mind and create space to experience higher consciousness. As the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi said, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” For ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”
Modern society generally undervalues silence. Social media and other platforms reward the amplification of people’s feelings and opinions. However, to be quiet is more useful than ever because of all the noise. Even if only for a few minutes, dedicating time every day for silent reflection and information processing can help prepare for the day ahead.
Witness in stillness
Anyone who has been to a yoga class may have heard the word ‘witness.’ It is most often used in the final rest pose, “savasana,” when the teacher invites students to become silent observers of their thoughts and emotions.
As a yoga teacher and therapist, I usually encourage my students to witness the rise and fall of the breath as a point of focus, following author Donna Farhi’s recommendation of observing thoughts and sensations as “temporary guests.” In Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, Farhi says, “We don’t invite, and we don’t refuse. We don’t suppress, and we don’t indulge. We just let these guests come and go.Through practice, we find that there is a neutral witness that perceives these passing phenomena but does not falsely take these manifestations to be an accurate representation of itself.”
For leaders looking at developing sustained and focused attention, a habit of stepping back from sensations and thoughts (that magical silent pause again) can strengthen the ability to see the bigger picture and make better decisions.
Accept the impermanence of things
Buddhism, considered the sister tradition of yoga, is a constant reminder that time is short. Therefore, one needs to appreciate and practice gratitude for the present moment. Experienced yoga practitioners apply this concept in various ways, including accepting changes in their bodies. While a handstand might be accessible today, the body might feel different tomorrow and may need to rest from too much strain on the wrists.
Eventually, a more gentle physical practice will evolve to cater to more sensitive joints. If done in the right spirit, the realization of impermanence and loss can make every yoga practice, and moment, a celebration of what the body can do today because nothing lasts. When the world is going through so much disruption, and many people face financial and personal hardships, illness, and death, reminding oneself of the impermanence of things can help cultivate a sense of gratitude, considered the highest form of yoga.
Choose nonviolence to yourself above all
Ahimsa, meaning nonviolence, is a fundamental principle in yoga. It is one of the five “yamas,” or restraints, described by the Yoga Sutras, regarded as the authoritative ancient text of modern yoga. At the start of my yoga journey, as a lifelong vegetarian and someone who has lived in war-torn Lebanon, pursuing a life that causes no harm came naturally to me. But as I developed my practice, I injured my knee (twice) while pushing into a physical pose when my body was not ready.
The experiences made me realize that I was missing the highest form of “ahimsa” — an unconditional non-harming attitude to myself. For leaders chasing external goals, especially during challenging, uncertain times, the importance of taking care of one’s health and body sometimes gets sidelined. Even when our lives are going well, practicing ahimsa takes conscious effort. By taking care of personal needs and achieving personal balance, we can support others — our family, friends and work colleagues.
Balance effort and ease
Another basic guiding principle in the yoga sutras is that the yoga postures should aim to have two qualities: “sthira,” a Sanskrit word for steadiness or effort; and “sukha,” referring to ease, or the ability to remain comfortable. In other words, one should strive for strength and flexibility, avoiding excessive tension or hypermobility.
The principle resonated with me when a yoga therapy teacher told me to hold back when folding into deep hip opening poses. While it may look good on Instagram, my hypermobility was, over the long-term, harming my body.
When I began to focus more on strengthening exercises, which she called “containment,” I could feel a sense of steadiness in my practice and off the mat. Similarly, finding this balance between effort and ease can be applied in our daily lives. In relationships, for example, we naturally want to extend ourselves and open doors to others. But sometimes, healthy boundaries are required while keeping an open heart. In a different expression of this principle, Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground” — aspire for more but remain grounded.
Whichever principle, a key criterion for success both on and off the mat has been applying tapa or discipline. Practicing with disciplined regularity got me to come into unexpect physical postures, including standing on my hands just after my 50th birthday. But more importantly, it helped me strengthen my self-leadership skills — including resilience, self-compassion, and above all, a sense of balance for a better life.