Office culture can be a huge source of stress in our lives. Can what we learn on the mat help us improve everyday situations beyond our control? Yoga teacher and life coach Tracy Johnson shares her tips on how yoga can help.
Ah, the everyday work and office culture: it comes with many joys, delights, and colleagues we diplomatically refer to as exhibiting ‘challenging behaviours’. Whether it’s the team member who doesn’t pull their weight, an overbearing manager or the over-sharing junior, there’s always going to be someone who can make your day feel like more of a struggle than it needs to be.
Even if you are self-employed, you can have those demanding clients or those who are just having an ‘off-day’. In such situations, I certainly know that it takes extra hard work to come from a place of understanding, so that we can still work together effectively and get the most from our relationship.
Yoga has made me a much calmer and less judgemental person over the years. Don’t get me wrong – those impulses are still there, but I’m more likely to step back and think about where those judgements are coming from rather than verbalise or act on them in some way without really weighing up the consequences of my actions first. As a regular public speaker on effective communication in the workplace, I spend a lot of time researching and discussing useful strategies for working with people we sometimes would rather just avoid.
Here are three ways in which yoga can be a useful extra tool in your communication skills box:
1. Step Away From The Drama
Workplaces can often become a hot bed of gossip and storytelling about who did and said what. Living in such a day-to-day micro soap opera is not a healthy environment to spend the majority of your waking hours.
When we practice yoga we try to stay in the moment, as opposed to repeating stories to ourselves about what we can and cannot do. Rather than dredge up things from the past that inhibit our practice, we try to let go of all the narratives and just flow from movement to movement.
When you’re at work, try to look at a situation dispassionately and as it is right now: rather than dragging in past slights or conflicts, try to assess what is happening with a clear mind. Do really need to get involved and give an opinion? Can you even just step away from this particular drama completely? When you know your day ahead is particularly challenging, prepare yourself with a morning yoga practice to set the tone of your day – taking as little as 10 minutes can be immensely effective.
2. Be Compassionate
It’s one of the hardest things to do, but trying to understand where negative behaviour comes from can really help us stay calm in the face of aggressive or upsetting behaviour. Yoga teaches us how to act compassionately. Its ultimate goal is to unify our own consciousness with those around us, to help us remember that we’re really all on the same team.
Once during a guided Buddhist Tonglen meditation on loving kindness, I was asked to send good wishes to someone who had upset me horribly at work that day. I ended up in a flood of tears but was suddenly able to see the situation from their perspective. The next day, we had a meeting that was calm and productive as a result. I was able to move beyond my own viewpoint and see things through their eyes rather than just assuming that they were just being unhelpful and stubborn.
3. Let Go of Your Ego
Have you ever been deep in a challenging yoga practice, a Warrior Two position perhaps, and all you can think about is the burning lactic acid in your quads? Yet, in moments like this, we’re told to endure; to let go of our ego and submit to something bigger than ourselves. If we want to make progress, we have to learn to sit with some discomfort and not try too hard for the perfect pose.
This is solid advice that can be taken off the mat. In stressful everyday scenarios, we have to be able to accept feedback that we perhaps didn’t ask for or that feels horribly critical. We have to be team mates with people we wouldn’t choose as a friend, or deal with putting together an imperfect presentation. Life is not about striving for perfection; it’s about meeting a particular situation and being enough in that moment.
We put immense pressure on ourselves to perform and please, then become frustrated with ourselves for not getting things 100% right. Did you do your best in that situation? Then that was enough. Did you learn something from what went wrong? Even better. Life and work are not about getting everything right all the time – we would never develop as human beings if we didn’t experience pain and frustration occasionally.
So, prepare for tough days with a yoga or meditation practice, learn to sit back and detach when it all gets too much around the meeting table, and develop the resilience you need to roll with the punches. Take these steps, and this will pave the way for a smoother working day.
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This post was written by Tracy Johnson, the founder of Brainbox Coaching and Empower Yoga Bristol. She trained under Sally Parkes and is a 200 hour RYT with Yoga Alliance. Tracy blends her yoga teaching with confidence coaching and stress management to create a holistic practice, and runs her classes with warmth and humour. She is the author of a careers guide, Working in Science, co-author of The Coaching Gurus, and writes for publications such as OM Yoga Magazine, Globe of Love, Happiness+Wellbeing, MindBodyGreen and has been featured in the Guardian, Body Fit magazine, the Bristol Post and Cardiff Life. She is also a self-defence instructor, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is currently studying to become a personal trainer. Follow Tracy on Twitter.