My lifestyle allows me to live between two worlds. I work in tech, and I'm a yoga junkie. When I'm in yoga class and I mention that I work in online venture capital, I often note people’s slight (and uninformed) judgment, and sometimes even genuine concern.
When I’m at work, and I talk about my passion for my yoga practice, some of my tech colleagues roll their eyes, think I go to fairyland, dream of playing with ponies and drink smoothies every day. But the truth is that the core lessons from my yoga practice strengthen my professional work and, lessons from work strengthen my yoga practice.
Working for a tech startup can be stressful. Things shift quickly in the tech space. You need stamina, determination and a healthy dose of courage. Yoga has allowed me to be more effective and focused professionally. The practice is far from an escape for me and more a source of inspiration that I carry into all aspects of my life. Here are the top seven lessons I’ve learned from the mat:
1. Just show up, no matter how you're feeling on the way there.
I’ve learned to show up to practice, no matter how I feel. There’s always an excuse to delay, procrastinate and postpone. But once I’m in a yoga class, I find myself having healthy internal dialogue such as, “Hold that pose even if it hurts a bit. Just hold it one more time. And breathe. Everything will be okay. Trust that.”
2. Your only competition should be yourself.
Yoga has taught me that I don’t need to compete with anyone else in the room (or outside of it). There may be people who are more or less advanced than me, are stronger or weaker than me. Heck, yes, maybe hotter than me. But when I’m on my mat, I’m my one and only contender, and my own best friend. I cry on my mat.
I have fun on it. I’m pushing my body and my mind through difficult poses, while paying close attention to my emotions, as well as my balance, flexibility, and core strength. It’s all about my own performance compared to my previous performance, not compared to the performance of those around me.
3. Take chances.
Yoga can be intimidating. I remember one of my teachers once said, "You will always feel a sense of unease before a handstand." And you do. That fear never goes away. But by constantly practicing and pushing myself to do the unthinkable (like, going upside down) I’ve learned to embrace fear.
Fear is my friend. I practice a hand stand one more time, even if I fail. I do that downward facing dog, even if everything feels “upside down” and uncomfortable sometimes (and rightly so). When I do fall from a challenging pose, it’s usually not as dramatic as I thought it would be.
4. Follow your intuition.
This goes hand-in-hand with courage. Every yoga teacher will tell you that if you want to see progress in your practice, you must trust yourself. You have to flow in between poses. Yes, some poses are dangerous. You could break your neck! I’ve learned to trust what I feel. If something doesn’t feel right, I go slow, or stop. Otherwise, I’ll get injured.
5. Being flexible and knowing when to switch gears.
I believe that in order to be creative, you need to be humble. Can’t do that arm balance? It’s okay. Switch. There are other variations. When I do arrive at the pose that makes my heart sing, I hold it. And cherish it. I feel proud of myself. Then I come down to the mat.
6. Focus on the journey.
There is no “perfect” pose to achieve in yoga. The practice is not about that (at least not for me). I’ve learned to accept that everyone has a different level of flexibility and strength. My practice gets better when I accept that it's not superior or worse than somebody else’s. It’s my practice. It’s my party!
Needless to say, yoga has taught me to love. And I don’t mean “love” as a romantic feeling, but more as a force that strengthens everything I do. It means loving what I do (at work and in life) and doing so with gusto. I have learned to love the practice for the lessons it has taught me and challenges it has compelled me to confront. These lessons and challenges have gradually permeated other aspects of my life.
The many lessons I’ve drawn from yoga are very practical - and similar to what I’ve learned while working in the entrepreneurial and tech startup world. As a professional in the ever-changing, ever-moving tech space, my hope is that we find moments to slow down, reflect on why we do what we do, and continue to push the world forward with meaningful, bold (and mindful) innovation.
As a yoga practitioner and teacher, my hope is that everyone finds a practice that nourishes their core being, so we can be more effective and help to positively influence the world with courage, mindfulness and determination.