Yoga is, for many people, something they practice as an escape from the stresses of modern life and their job. But what happens if you use your yoga practice to become more present in the boardroom, not less? Could the techniques you learn through yoga and meditation actually be a positive tool in the workplace? Increasingly, many people are finding that the answer to that is a resounding “Yes.” (Learn how to start a meditation practice today.)

Yoga Helps You to Listen

How often, when you communicate with colleagues, are you actually listening to what they are saying? Much of the time, we listen to what we think they are going to say, rather than what they do say. We then interpret their words through our own filters and biases. Or maybe we don’t listen at all - we simply nod along, waiting for our chance to speak, or an opportune moment to interrupt.

There are three real dangers to this lack of actual listening:

#1 We miss important information.

Perhaps we don’t register a key detail or instruction which will let us work effectively. Miscommunication, and the need for repetition of what has already been said is a drain on everyone’s time. Sometimes this can be attributed to the speaker’s poor communication, but often it is because the people they were talking to simply weren’t listening.

#2 We misunderstand what they say.

What can be even more damaging than not listening at all is hearing half a message and then letting our minds fill in the other half. Because our brains have an inherent negativity bias, it is likely that we end up jumping to harmful and unfair conclusions about people, situations and events.

#3 We miss the opportunity to build authentic relationships.

It is said that one of the most precious gifts you can give someone is your full, undivided attention. This is especially true in the age of technology, with its constant interruptions and distractions. On a practical level, when we listen to what someone tells us, we are far more likely to be able to help them or to use their insights in a positive way. More importantly, though, when we genuinely listen to someone, they feel the difference. Even if what they are communicating is negative or a complaint, they feel heard and valued. This simple act can help to build the sorts of relationships that make workplaces a happy place to be.

The reason we do not listen is rarely because we don’t want to. Often, it is also not that we consciously choose to disregard or undervalue what the speaker is saying, it is simply that our minds are so busy racing ahead, jumping to conclusions or going off at tangents. The chatter of our own minds can easily drown out or at least mask what the other person is saying. By practicing yoga and meditation, you learn to quiet your mind, so that you can listen to someone else (Learn more about how to quiet your mind's "monkey chatter" here.).

Yoga Increases Awareness

There is another level of mindfulness, beyond simply listening, that yoga and meditation can help us to tap into. This is developing the self-awareness to manage your own emotional reactions. One of the things that happens all too often in the workplace is that we instinctively or habitually react, rather than making a more reasoned response.

For example, let’s take Scenario 1: A colleague complains about something you have done. Our immediate reaction might be indignation or even anger. How dare they? Who are they to tell me how to do my job? There’s no way I’m changing that.

Or Scenario 2: A new team member makes a suggestion which is a bit different or risky. Our knee-jerk reaction might be to shut them down. Absolutely not. There’s no way that will work here. We can’t do that.

Yoga and meditation won’t necessarily stop those emotional reactions, but they can help us to take a step back from them and observe them, rather than becoming immediately entangled in them. This distance helps us to make a more reasoned response.

In Scenario 1, this might look something like: I feel upset that they perceive what I’m doing in that way. Could there be some truth in that? What am I doing that is leading to that perception? How am I best to manage this situation now?

And in Scenario 2: We’ve never tried that before and I’m concerned about the risk. But what are the potential gains? Is there a way that this could work?

By becoming aware of your own emotional responses, you allow yourself to act from a more open place, rather than making reactionary and potentially poor judgement calls. You can tune into your own greater wisdom, compassion and insight.

Added Bonus of Yoga Benefits in the Boardroom

It seems counterintuitive, but one reason why we might want to escape work is that we find it tedious or boring. But what happens if we become more present instead of distracting ourselves? When we allow ourselves to really engage with what is happening, it becomes infinitely more interesting. We tune into what people are saying. We hear their ideas, and get in touch with their creativity and their motivations. We genuinely connect with what is going on. And we respond to what they are saying from a place of openness. This fosters an environment of growth and development, where real progress can be made.

By using the tools of yoga and meditation, you can keep an open mind in the boardroom, and make the experience of being there more engaging, creative and stimulating.