From years of focusing on my career and developing businesses,there has been one area of my life that has been continually deprioritized, and by my 32nd birthday had really started to take its toll. My body was something I had just taken for granted and had abused with poor diet, excessive drinking, too many hunched travel days and an exercise routine as regular as Christmas Day.
In October 2014, as I looked back on all that I had achieved and forward towards the life I had ahead of me, I took inspiration from an incredible human being who was sitting talking with me at the time. The conversation I had with Charlotte on that day was a catalyst for changing something in me that I will be eternally grateful for. I opened my mind to accept new things, and over the coming weeks and months have enjoyed a catalogue of experiences and feelings that have gone on to help me in every area of my life. In addition to a change of diet and a more active lifestyle, the biggest single factor in changing my world has been the introduction to and continued practicing of Yoga.
Lets be honest, for many of you reading this post right now you could well be thinking that I have gone soft, there will be men thinking that Yoga is just for girls and people thinking that I have completely lost the plot! Regardless of your current thoughts, take a few moments and absorb the below killer lessons that have been powerfully served to me from my Yoga journey so far.
Build from a solid foundation
Everything is built from the ground up, and failing to anchor your pose results in stretching incorrectly or worse still, you collapsing in an embarrassing heap. Following a number of these embarrassing incidents I soon learned to ensure every activity is correctly connected to the earth, giving you something to build on. Perhaps the same is true in all areas of life? Too often we just get moving without giving ourselves a chance to plant roots. Every business and every person requires elements of certainty in their life.. In Yoga, the ground is the one thing of which I can be certain. In business we must realize our certainties and use them to build from, provide anchor to or use as a fulcrum to lever our way to greatness.
Set a positive intention
In the first minutes of most Yoga classes we are invited to set a positive intention for the practice and take the choice to dedicate the time ahead towards someone or something that you wish to receive your energy. My initial thoughts to this were a little laddish and dismissive of what I perceived to be a trivial factor. On closer inspection I soon realized how critical this action is in everything we do. To decide in advance that you intend to bring positive energy to your actions and better still, direct that energy at others, is a powerful and liberating thing for everyone who comes into contact with it. So from now on, I am choosing to live every day on purpose with a very positive intention.
Technique is vital – cheating only cheats yourself
Achieving success through anything other than good practice results in the feeling upon reaching that success being less than satisfactory. In a Yoga class, you take a fixed period of time to complete a number of poses expertly designed to help you to stretch and grow. Throughout that class you are faced with a choice – do I do it the right way or do I take the easy option? The short cut can sometimes feel better at the time yet following the class, you then live with the regret that you cut a corner and the only person cheated is yourself. Take every action seriously, do it right, first time, and you can then continue to make progress free from regret and confident in your own efforts. Isn’t the same thing true in all areas of life?
Our bodies need fuel!
And I am not talking about caffeine loaded energy drinks. To perform at our peak, we need to have adequate levels of hydration, food and rest! Thinking that we can deliver on full throttle at all times is a fool’s mindset and has one guaranteed result – burnout! If we expect good things out of ourselves then we must put good things in. I remember times that getting up in the morning felt like a chore and every part of my being weighed heavy. Take stock and be honest with yourself. Are you giving yourself a fair chance and providing yourself the fuel you need to achieve your goals?
Breathe – don’t give-up
Often the natural feeling when something gets tough is to instantaneously stop the thing that you are doing for immediate relief. Imagine witnessing the people around you twist and flex themselves like pretzels all the while you are excoriating pain still trying to maneuver your body into some mediocre variation of the required pose. In every one of these scenarios, the logical side of my brain is howling at me to let go, give up and find instant relief by collapsing to a position of rest. With the subconscious begging to give up, the conscious mind has to step up, slow down the heart rate, reassure oneself and simply breathe into the stretch, letting go of all the tension and finding comfort in the pain. I wonder how many times when things get difficult in our lives do we just give up. Yoga has taught me to enjoy the challenges, steady my breath, don’t panic, look forward and everything will be just fine.
Stretch every day
This sounds like the most obvious cliché, yet the truth for many is that most days are just days and there are always more similarities than differences. In a literal scenario, the pure fact of me stretching my back, my hamstrings, my sidebody and my shoulders every single day has resulted in me sleeping better, standing taller and eliminating a huge amount of back pain that I suffered with for years. In a more conceptual scenario, if we plan to achieve more, then we must really start immediately. I find that most people massively overestimate what they can achieve in a year, yet significantly underestimate what can be achieved in a single day. Start dedicating time to feeling uncomfortable, stretch your body, your mind and your abilities and enjoy the new scenarios you start to find yourself more comfortable in.
Progress is painful AND permanent
Ok, taking muscle fibers and stretching, twisting and manipulating them into new positions can hurt like hell. The pure logic of taking these fibers bound up in years of fascia and opening the strands, releasing floods of lactic acid through your body is certain to feel a little uncomfortable. The liberating knowledge is that once the stretch is performed, the muscles will never return to their previous position. The progress is beyond all doubt – permanent. This progress may feel slight and hardly noticeable on a day-by-day basis, yet the reality is that each time the stretch is repeated, the experience of finding its new position is remembered and lasting. The same is true as you try new things and stretch into the unknown in other areas of your life. I live by the simple mantra that if someone else can do it then can someone else be me. Take confidence that others have tried and succeeded and you might just succeed too. The worst scenario is that you have added to your flexibility and grown from your experience.
Focus internal and not external
During my first few classes, I would find myself looking around the room and judging my ability based on all the others in the room. Seeing people perform perfect poses would sometimes provide inspiration and more often produce frustration. Soon I realized that to get the most out of my time, my energy needed to be invested in my own practice. There is nothing that I can influence about anyone else’s actions – only the actions of myself. Taking the decision to control my own controllables has always served me so well in business, and the same is true in my classes. Spending time judging myself to others, wishing I were more like them or becoming frustrated that I can’t do what they do is only going to hold me back. Focusing on my own personal actions is what will always make the progress.
You can achieve more than you believe possible
If someone had said to me a year ago that by now I would be performing handstands, could touch my toes with straight legs and was starting to try acroyoga, I would have laughed away the possibility. Today, I experience (take out the past tense?) all of those things. Often we condition ourselves with a “I can’t” mentality and prematurely decide that things are out of our reach. Having proven that I can now do things I had previously told myself I could not, I am now reevaluating many other areas that I previously shut the box on and experimenting with a number of other previous impossibilities.
Look after your primary asset
We spend money on our cars, maintain our homes and in many cases take better care of our shoes than we do ourselves. Surely, the number one most important tool that we have all been blessed with is our body. Being in a yoga class and realizing that through neglect my body has become trapped from being able to make movements it was designed to do, is not a great feeling. Left with the choice of accepting the effects of this mistreatment and living with them or commencing the restoration project, there is really only one option. If I am going to achieve even half of my future intentions they all require me to be in some form of great shape. I can have all the money and success in the world, but without the ability in my body to enjoy it then what is the point? Now is the time to schedule in the service plan and keep the most important tool from deprecating. We will all maintain our future asset value if we stay in shape every step of the way!