Def Jam records founder Russell Simmons, “The Voice” star and singer Adam Levine, and Jon Bon Jovi all practice yoga. People from all walks of life, all ages and all religions practice yoga for spirituality, relaxation, detox, strength and flexibility. Looking in from the outside, I always wondered, “What do they know that I don’t?”
When a friend suggested taking a yoga class two years ago, I went with trepidation and visions of chanting, incense, and body parts in odd places.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was beginning a journey learning more about myself and, surprisingly, more about business than I learned at one of the top ten business schools in the country and 20 years of professional experience.
Here are three things I learned:
1). Embrace Fear to Overcome Fear
That first class I was nervous. Was I doing yoga right? Was I out of step (yes)? Did it matter (no)? It turns out yoga is called a “practice” because it’s about growth, and just like in business, every day is an opportunity to succeed or fail.
As a fit person, I was confident in that first class. “No problem,” I thought.
Until the headstand.
My calm teacher said in the calmest of tones, “Now it’s time for some inversions. Everybody grab your mat and let’s get close to the wall. I want you to place your head on the ground with your arms out in front, and flip your legs up against the wall for an inversion.”
And fear came over me. I quietly thought, “You want me to what?”
I was out of my element. I started breathing heavy. But I wasn’t going to be shamed, so I tried. As my head turned red with a rush of down-flowing blood and want of oxygen, I flung my legs up against the wall with a loud bang. I thought, “I’m crushing my spine; this is not good!”
I came down hard, wondering if I had crushed a vertebrae. But when I looked around and saw other people in perfect headstands, my ego hurt more than spine.
Class by class, as I continued to show up and push through the fears of uncharted territory, I came to believe that I could do a headstand. I would do a headstand. If I fell, so be it. And my hard work paid off. Today—no wall needed. I can stand on my head in the middle of any yoga class. Any time.
It reminded me of a time in the past when everybody thought I was insane—even me at times. When launching Half.com from scratch, I had the idea to corral a 350-person town called Halfway, Oregon and rename their town to Half.com, Oregon. My ad agency snickered. As I drove into the small hamlet for the first time, I felt fear and doubt—maybe I couldn’t do this. I had visions of being tarred, feathered, and permanently tossed out of town. Fear.
But I pressed on. For the cost of $100k, and 23 computers for the elementary school, I renamed the town, literally putting Half.com on the map. Six months later, eBay acquired us for $300 million.
The headstand. It’s a pose in yoga that few novices relish. But I envisioned it in my mind, embraced the fear of falling as real, the fear of injury as real, but temporary, and thus overcame that fear.
And with many other poses in yoga, the fear of falling, the fear of making your failure widely known in front of many people is entirely real. But embracing that fear enables regular people to overcome great adversity in business. It enabled Richard Branson to create a billion dollar enterprise from a basement. It enabled Howard Schultz to go from subsidized housing to creating Starbucks. Achieve power through fear and adversity by embracing it.
2). Transitions Make or Break You
When you’re standing on one foot, spine parallel to the ground, back aligned to the wall, one arm reaching for the sky, and three fingertips separating you from a fall, that’s not tough. The tough part is transitioning from one position to that position; that is what makes or breaks you.
Again, this is true in business and in life. Doing what you’ve been doing isn’t hard. Transitioning from one position to the next is where failure abounds.
It’s this transition that’s a lot like business. Transitions require planning and execution with intense focus.
If you’re paying attention, planning is the easiest part. Transitioning from planning to execution is where things make or break you. Without intense focus, you could slip and lose sight of the end goal. Focus was one of Steve Jobs three golden rules of Apple’s marketing (the other two being “impute” and “customer empathy”).
In yoga, if you don’t focus intensely during transition: breathing, turning, pulling up—you can exhaust quickly or fall on your ass. There is no room to mind wander, and there is no room for distraction. In business, as well, if you don’t focus, you can exhaust quickly or fall on your ass.
When we transitioned from buying online media to becoming a forerunner in advertising attribution modeling, we focused on product and technology for two years. We were intensely focused with out first client and had only a one-page website during that time. After two years of continual focus, we saved our first client over $5 million, and then, after proving to ourselves that we had a winning product, we finally got a real website and unveiled to the world.
When Larry Page asked Steve Jobs for advice before Jobs passed, his advice to Page was, “Don’t get distracted. Focus.” When you transition, make sure you plan, and most of all, execute with intense focus solely on what matters. Distractions will make you fall on your ass.
3). Soul Needs Training
This is perhaps the most surprising lesson of all.
The whole “Namaste” “Ooohhm” aspect of yoga freaked me out. What I’ve learned, though, is the complete yogi – and the complete CEO – are about positive energy.
Namaste is simply a phrase meaning “the light in me honors the light in you.” Whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, or Hindi, when you examine the phrase Namaste, it’s really about energy.
Like nuclear power, it’s energy that can be used for good or bad. The amount of positive energy you bring to your office, your call, your meeting, is felt. This is embodied in your body language, your smile, your gratitude, and gestures like opening a door and saying hi. When a baby smiles at you, you smile too. There is no complication in that exchange. The amount of energy and light you bring reflects on people. And sometimes that soul energy requires training. Case in point:
A client of ours has a wacky member on the team. Quick to change decisions, also quick to not make a decision, and usually crabby. Perhaps you’ve encountered someone like this. I usually tried to avoid this person, but we had a conference call scheduled, so I consciously decided I was going to be positive and smile throughout the call. We began chatting personally and children came up. A child of mine has special needs, and I shared this. One of her two children has special needs, unable to speak, with limited mobility. Upon learning our uncommon, yet common bond—we went from friction to friends.
It was because of yoga. The light (or darkness) we bring follows us everywhere. Into meetings, into calls, into our homes. And yes, life will suck at times. And we often don’t know why. Smile anyway. It’s the now that matters: the soul needs training just like our smile needs training.
Now where do you go from here? The yoga studio? Maybe. Yoga’s really a metaphor for life and a metaphor for business. Each day starts anew with an opportunity to learn and to succeed. But to succeed, a wise man said…
“We must become the change we want to see in the world.”
Will you become the change you want to see in your world?