How Yoga Can Make You A Better Leader

Image by: Taro Taylor
By Jake Bradshaw

Yoga is not for housewives anymore. Men are taking over yoga sessions in droves, and not just for its physical benefits, but for its mental ones as well. For decades we’ve associated these hard-to-do stretches as a lazy way to build muscle and burn fat, but research shows it’s probably one of the most beneficial forms of exercise we have today.

In the 21st century, we need all the help we can get. By utilizing the benefits that yoga offers, our strength as a leader will become our greatest attribute for our business. All we need is a little push in the right direction.

Yoga & The Brain

A long time ago, scientists believed our brains reached their peak in adulthood and didn’t change afterwards until we got way older. Today, neuroscientists have discovered that the total opposite is true.

In a study released in NeuroImage in 2009, scientists compared (through MRI scans) 22 people who mediated frequently with 22 people who didn’t. They were looking for “gray matter” which depending on where it is in the brain typically makes that particular area more powerful at processing information.

Unsurprisingly, the ones who meditated had gray matter in regions crucial for attention, emotions, and mental flexibility which made them better at focusing attention and making mindful choices.

It Decreases The “Attentional Blink”

For those who don’t know what an attentional blink is, it’s the moment when we’re caught up in our own thoughts that our brains becomes overstocked, and we miss a split-second of information. Have you ever asked someone to repeat what they said, or fail to notice the car in front of you stop a split second before it was too late?

A study in PLoS Biology showed that meditation training in participants decreased attentional blink, allowing their concentration to focus on multiple things at once and not “zone out” for a split second.

As a business leader, it’s important to never have a moment of empty space. Attentional blinks are common among most CEOs and business managers, especially when their job requires them to have many responsibilities, like focusing on the books, organizing meetings, and putting together presentations.

*Tip: Take 15 minutes out of your workday for meditation. Sit at your chair, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Split it into 2 or 3 sessions if you want, and don’t worry about doing it “right.” The tiniest bit of silence and focus will benefit your brain. Consider it like diving into a lake: whether it’s shallow or deep, you’re still going to get wet. 

More Compassion For Customers

Meditation that encourages compassion show to have amazing effects. It’s a process in which you’re required to generate a state of love and compassion by thinking of someone you care about, extending the feeling towards others, and to finally feel both emotions without a specific thought. Eventually the feelings will exist organically.

Research has shown not only does this kind of meditation increase empathy and compassion, but it opens up your connection with others as well as yourself. Soon you will be much more concerned for everyone’s well-being, including your customers.

With a better understanding of a customer’s perspective, you will begin to make important decisions that benefit them. CEOs like Howard Schultz and John Mackey have said compassion for their consumers is the number one reason why their company is so personalized. Never underestimate the power of compassion.

Train Your Brain

Our brains are a reflection of the demands we’ve placed on it. Doctors who’ve gone through years of medical school will have more gray matter in the hippocampus (memory), while circus performers will have more in areas that anticipate moving objects (focus).

Yoga and meditation are no different. Our brains will be better at whatever we ask it to do. Depending on what you’re trying to improve within yourself, here are 3 great yoga tips to focus on:

  • Focusing On Your Breath (or Mantra) – Your brain will restructure itself to increase your concentration.
  • Practicing Calmness In Meditation – Your brain will train you to be less stressed.
  • Implement Love and Compassion – Your brain will allow you to be more connected to others.