I was just a couple years into my career in government and politics when I stumbled into a crowded yoga studio in DC. The last time I’d really practiced yoga was a few years prior after a guy I thought I loved ended things. Everyday I’d walk the half mile down to the yoga studio and sweat and cry and surrender, and then walk back home feeling a little more whole. I returned to yoga this time looking for a similar safe space to sweat, cry, surrender, and get some career guidance. In short, the career path I’d chosen – the one I had picked out my freshman year of high school, studied for at university, completed a much-loved internship in – was making me miserable.
Should I stay or should I go? That was the ultimate question. If I stayed, how do I grow and develop and climb the ladder? And if I go, what else could I do? What else would I want to do.
I brought these questions, and the weight of all the expectations I had for myself onto my yoga mat day in and day out, and sweat and cried and surrendered.
It took a little bit longer to work through this heartbreak than the previous one, but I learned a few things about yoga and my career in the meantime that I want to share with you.
Here are five ways yoga can help you in your career:
Yoga helps you weather the bad days, bad weeks, and bad quarters
In a typical yoga class, the instructor will guide you through a series of poses designed to stretch and strengthen all the muscles in your body. Some of these poses will feel so easy you’ll wonder why you paid the $25 drop-in rate for this nonsense you could do at home. And then other poses will make you question the point of living at all if it means staying in this pose for one more minute. This is where the magic happens. One of the founding fathers of the modern yoga movement (B.K.S. Iyengar) wrote, “The pose begins when you want to leave it.”
Yoga challenges you to stay and breathe when everything in you wants to run and hide. You’ll find that when you practice that over and over again on your yoga mat, it becomes a little easier to stay and breathe when everything in you wants to clean out your desk, turn in your badge and never set foot in your workplace again.
Yoga gives you the confidence to take risks
Yoga teaches you to stay and breathe in the hard stuff, but it also challenges you to take risks – to explore what it’d feel like to turn everything upside down and stand on your head, or balance on your hands, or bend backwards instead of forwards.
Yoga provides a safe space to explore things that scare you and teaches you to ask the question: What am I afraid of? If you fall over, big deal! You shake it off and try again. When you embody that cycle on your yoga mat – and learn to smile and actually enjoy the experience – you empower yourself to repeat it off your mat.
Yoga helps you connect with your authentic self and make decisions from a place of love rather than fear
In a yoga class, the instructor will encourage you to notice the sensations in your body and begin to cultivate mindfulness about how you move through the practice. This mindfulness helps you integrate what’s going on in your body with the thoughts running through your head and with the flickers of your heart.
Over time, you’ll notice the masks you’re wearing and the coping tools you’ve learned to survive in the world. Perhaps those things have enabled you to achieve great success, but perhaps you’re still left wanting something more.
You may have heard it said that whatever you give attention to, you give power to. When you start to give attention to your interior landscape rather than all the noise around you, you give power to the desires buried deep inside. Yoga helps you clarify your desires and make the decisions that are right for you.
Yoga helps you work smarter
All this focus on mindfulness helps you notice the state of mindlessness that can dominate your day – mindlessly walking to the break room and grabbing a handful of M&Ms, pouring yourself another cup of coffee (“Is this my third? Fourth? Whatever, I’m tired”), slouching waaaaay down in your chair until that throbbing pain in your low back forces you to reposition until five minutes later when you catch yourself in the same position.
We’ve all been told we should eat healthier or we should get more sleep every night, but how much of that do we really internalize?
Yoga teaches you how to pay attention and as you develop this greater mindfulness, you’ll naturally find yourself wanting to love your body well because you know how it connects to your head and your heart.
Yoga reminds you that you are part of a story so much bigger than you and that you are not alone
There’s no question about it, everyone’s favorite part of a yoga class is Savasana – the few minutes at the end of class where you just lie there with the lights off and be.
I call this The Yoga Bliss and its power is real. Those few minutes of stillness, silence, and surrender does a number on us – it reminds us that we don’t have to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, that we don’t have to do it all or have it all figured out. Instead, it teaches us to rest in the truth that we are loved, accepted, and purposed just as we are, without any masks, hustle, or accomplishments. It’s enough to just be.
We carry that feeling of peace and groundedness with us as we leave our mats and over time, we notice it staying around longer and longer until one day we notice a major shift in our relationship with the work we do: our title no longer defines our worth, our bad days don’t send us running for the bottle of wine, the good days don’t over-inflate our ego, and the successes and the failures no longer cloud our vision.
Instead, we are freed up to stay or go, to take big risks or to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
About the Author
Caroline has been practicing yoga for over a decade and recently left a career in politics to help change the world through yoga. She completed her yoga instructor training with Holy Yoga in 2015 and continued her training with the Prenatal Yoga Center in 2016. With a passion for educating and empowering women, Caroline’s classes encourage deep body awareness, mindful movement, and the cultivation of gratitude and joy. Caroline lives with her husband and pup in New York City.