6 Ways Yoga Can Help You Reach Your Career Goals
What does yoga have to do with your performance at work? Can nailing a headstand get you that promotion? It may sound strange at first listen, but there are a few ways yoga may help you excel on the job.
1) Mental Clarity
Every time you step on your mat, your practice is different, even if you’re moving through the same sequence. From frequent mindset shifts to our bodies feeling differently every day, our perspective is never exactly the same.
We have to learn to meet ourselves where we are, and to check in with what’s real and what we truly need versus what we expect or think we “should” need/feel. Once we’re more in tune with this skill, it can be applied to life off of the mat. We can use this as a tool to decipher what we really want in our work – if it’s a promotion, what are we craving? If it’s a change in paths, what are the sources of dissatisfaction?
The more deliberate way of harnessing/developing this self-understanding is through the meditation within a practice (or that you do on your own). Asana, or the physical movement of yoga, was traditionally created to prepare the body for meditation, enabling you to be more comfortable sitting in stillness. Meditation teaches us how to notice when we may be stuck in a cycle of self-limiting thoughts. In some forms of meditation, we’re encouraged to notice our thoughts as they arise and redirect our attention elsewhere. When we do that, we take some of the power away from those thoughts.
We learn how to change the channel, and can recognize when we’re being unkind to ourselves or start to believe our thoughts instead of experience. We can redirect our energy to something more productive. For example, imagine consistently telling yourself you’re “not as good as ________” (insert colleague name) or undeserving of being rewarded and praised for your work when those thoughts have no basis in reality. By building awareness of when these thoughts arise, you can then shift the energy away from feeding them, perhaps to a positive, empowering mantra-like: “I am worthy. I am skilled. I am enough.”
2) Goal Setting
Many yoga classes start off by encouraging students to set an intention for the practice. This serves as a guiding framework for your thoughts and energy; it’s a simple focal point. This intention setting, working to keep it front of mind, and directing your energy towards it is analogous to goal setting in your career. Many people only set career-related goals 1-2 times/year (January 1st and during performance reviews, perhaps?!). Developing a way of checking in with yourself, or breaking large goals down into smaller intentions, can set you up for greater success and increase your motivation to keep this front of mind.
3) Keeping Calm
I once read that “Yoga without breathing is just stretching” and think it’s important to point this out. “Awareness of breath and synchronizing breath and movement is what makes yoga, yoga; and not gymnastics or any other physical practice.” (source) That resource describes how this breathing has physical, emotional, and biological impacts. To focus on one, deep belly breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Simply put, it helps our bodies relax and stop operating in a state of stress. As you can imagine, having the ability to remain calm can be incredibly useful in the workplace!
Managing difficult coworkers or clients, dealing with a stressful situation or approaching a deadline can all feel a bit different when you tap into the power of your breath. In a culture where many outwardly exude high stress, you can stand out from your peers.
4) Developing Self-Awareness
There’s an assumption that if you’re flexible, you’re automatically skilled at yoga… but that’s not what it’s about and even bendy people need to be mindful. If not, they can hyperextend, injure themselves, and/or lose the mind-body connection which is integral to the practice. The movement requires both self-reflection and, perhaps most importantly, self-compassion. From cold weather to travel to stress, your body can show up differently each time regardless of your skill level, and you have to be comfortable listening to what you need in that exact moment and not pushing yourself beyond your limitations. Not all bodies can do all poses, just as at work, very few (if any) individuals are a master of all skills. In both situations, we must pause, notice our strengths, and build upon those instead of forcing it where we’re less gifted. Just as forcing a pose can lead to injury, forcing a skill you just don’t enjoy can lead to burnout.
5) Feeling Energized
A big focus on my work is to help clients restore their energy through making changes to their work and/or lifestyle habits. I’ve discussed other ways to increase productivity and touched on movement in that post, but it deserves another shout out. When doing inversions, you’re literally shifting your perspective. You can also achieve a similar mindset shift by taking a break and just moving your body. If you’re frustrated on the job, this physical practice helps you release endorphins, your “feel good” chemicals, so you can clear your brain and approach your work with new energy.
“It is confidence in our bodies, minds, and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and new lessons to learn — which is what life is all about.” Oprah Winfrey
6) Building Confidence
Lastly, when we’re consistent with a yoga practice, we notice progress. Maybe we can do more chaturanga push-ups without taking a break. Perhaps that elusive arm balance that once seemed impossible is now in your arsenal. Or it may simply be the ability to stop running through your to-do list and focus on your breathing (easier said than done!). Whatever the change, this growth can help you build confidence in yourself. That confidence can be contagious and spread to other areas of your life, including at work. From asking for a raise to deciding to change careers, believing in yourself is key. Keeping your spirits high and having faith in yourself is particularly useful if you don’t feel valued at your company or if you’re not hearing back from employers when job searching.
Not a yogi? You can reap some of these benefits through other forms of movement. From spinning to weightlifting, this same sense of accomplishment and pride can be present.
Whether it’s through yoga or not, how can you create more space in your life to do more of what will propel you forward towards reaching your personal and professional goals?
Aileen Axtmayer is the founder of Aspire with Aileen where she helps exhausted professionals restore their energy, feel like their best selves, and do what they love. She offers holistic career and health coaching through both one-on-one services as well as corporate wellness programming.
Over the past 10+ years, she’s helped thousands of people find meaningful work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Villanova University and master’s degree in counseling from Northeastern University. Her enthusiasm for wellness led her to complement these studies with a 200-hour yoga teacher training and an Integrative Nutrition Health Coaching certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Aileen believes that happiness in our careers can make us healthier, and, being healthier can enable us to thrive in our work.
Aileen Axtmayer, MS, INHC
Holistic Career and Health Coach