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5 Tips To Become A Better Self and Leader

What I Learned In Yoga And Practise In Life

I have been practising yoga for more than 20 years. Am I good? Hmmm let’s just say I am making progress 😉

I used to pound my heart out in the gym. One fine day, my aerobic instructor showed us what she had learned in a yoga class. As if I had been put under a magical spell, I was immediately hooked after copying a few moves!

The magical spell led me to a nearby yoga studio for a trial class the following day, and I went for a level 2 class! Yes, talking about being ambitious here! I had no idea what the yoga instructor asked us to do in the class as she called each pose out in Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism. So I just copied the people around me as they seemed to know what they were doing!

The 90 minutes flew by as quickly as the sweat was coming down my face. I enjoyed it so much, I signed up for an annual membership right after the class!

Fast forward 20 years+, here are the 5 things I learned from to help me become a better Self and leader.

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SELF-AWARENESS.

I’ve learned yoga isn’t about turning up and doing the asanas, aka the poses. I have to pay close attention to everything. How are my hamstrings – are they stretchy or tight? And by that, I don’t mean how they are generally but in each pose I do in every single class. Usually, there will be at least 15 different poses in each class. So other than hamstrings, I also need to speak with my hips, back, arms to see how they are! And that takes some serious awareness.

Yoga has also made me watch my thoughts and emotion. When I need to hold Utkatasana, aka chair pose (squatting position) for 10 long deep breathes, after 5 or 6 breaths, my mind can start racing. How I respond is all up to me. It is me watching my reactions to my racing mind and pounding heart.

Luckily, when you practise that long enough, it becomes a part of you. I started being more aware of mySelf, be it on the mat or off the mat. How I feel physically, what my mind is doing or not doing and my choices in responses is all part of my Self-awareness.

Leaders need a high level of self-awareness to lead well. If we aren’t aware of what’s going on within Self and how we are feeling and responding within, it is hard to lead others from a good and truthful space. Awareness is as much about the mind as the heart. Being great leaders mean we need to be in touch with them both and that they are working in alignment.

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NO EGO.

There are many funky yet amazing poses in yoga. And seriously, who wouldn’t want to be able to stand on your hands with your legs folded like a pretzel in the middle of the room!? It looks so cool and makes you feel like you have a superpower!

If you let your ego out and do one of these poses just so you can be a “cool dude” without knowing how to and the strength for it, you are bound to get injured!

I remembered seeing a “cool dude” losing balance doing a Sirsasana, aka headstand, in the middle of a packed room. Headstand, as the name says one stands on his head, requires total control and superpower from different parts of the body. When you are standing on your head, one wrong move can lead to potential spine or neck injury on Self and at times others.

When this cool dude fell, not only did he twist his neck but also knocked over the person next to him and therefore the whole row went like a domino.

What I learned is the person who gets hurt the most when the ego is out is Self. That’s why the real “cool dude” whom people admire, follow and want to be friends with is always the one who does the amazing poses with great self-awareness and no ego.

Great leaders know their strengths and limitations. The spotlight isn’t so much on the great poses they do. It is how they stay cool with their superpower whilst inspiring others to use theirs.

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Me doing Dragonfly

STAY CALM IN CHAOS.

Advanced yoga poses do look amazing. When they are linked together in a sequence, the pure beauty of it when it seems to come together so effortlessly is simply breathtaking.

Doing a challenging sequence requires a tremendous amount of strength, physically and mentally as the mind often goes into overdrive. Being collected and calm is key if you want to twist your legs into a pretzel whilst you are upside down and then lift your whole body off with only your palms on the floor. 

Yoga does a brilliant job in training my mind to be calm in “chaos.” Indeed, a calm mind won’t help me do the pose if I don’t have the strength and the flexibility. But without a calm mind, even if I am the strongest and the most flexible, I won’t succeed in getting into those poses. 

Life is full of events. Whether I am leading Self or others, a calm and collected mind helps me see through difficult situations clearer and therefore make better choices. Teams are formed with different people with different personalities. When my mind is calm and collected, I am in a much better space to lead even when the teams are full of racing minds and hearts.

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IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

I admit being a yoga instructor sounds cool as you do feel as if you had the superpower especially when you are leading a big class. When I was teaching yoga, as much as I was leading the class, the more students there were, the more lessons I found myself studying and learning.

No one body is identical. When there are 30 students in the class, technically 30 lessons are going on at the same time but often all at a different level and pace! Being the teacher, I had to observe and adapt quickly in how best to lead the class, reaching and touching each student individually and also collectively as a class with the goal I’d in mind for that lesson. If I focused solely on my agenda for the class without taking the readiness and ability of my students into consideration, the class would fall flat.   

Leaders are there to lead by providing directions and guidance to each team member to perform at their best. Being able to observe and therefore making the necessary changes to bring the team together to achieve that greatness is key. The focus isn’t on the leader per se but on how the team is brought together at its best by the leader.

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THE POWER OF A SUPPORTIVE CULTURE.

Different poses mean different challenges to different people. Some poses may take you months if not years to master when it can be only a matter of weeks for others.

Regardless of your experience, when you attempt a challenging pose for the first time, everyone roots for you. The rooting power takes you beyond your limit.

Some years ago, I tried out an advanced pose called Dragonfly for the first time (see the photo above, yes, that’s me) in a workshop with other 20 fellow yogis. As I went within to collect myself before my attempt, the energy of the room stood still as everyone stayed still. As soon as I succeeded in getting into the pose, the whole room erupted with loud cheers and applause.

My physical strength, calmness and collectiveness helped me get into the pose. But the rooting energy from my fellow yogis created a supportive space for me to step in and step up to the challenge.

Having a supportive culture gives you that extra superpower. There is only so much one person can do no matter how great a leader is. When you feel supported, nurtured and valued, not only the individual team member will be taken to a whole different level to operate from but also the whole team.

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FINAL THOUGHTS.

Whether it is in yoga or life, first and foremost, knowing and understanding Self is vital. Even if I can master all the yoga poses or have all the knowledge and skills in the world, it won’t make me a great or the best Self.

There is more to leading when it comes to being a leader. Great leaders don’t need to know everything as great yoga instructors aren’t always the ones who can do all the poses perfectly. They are the people who can guide you to do what they can do and also can’t do. They hold up the mirror for you so that you can see yourself better and clearer. And they do so with self-awareness, no ego, calmness and collectiveness and you as the focus. All these lead to building and nurturing a great supportive team and corporate culture to improve and enrich Self to lead Self and others.  

Leaders or not, there is so much to learn even for SELF. I hope you are having a great journey, with yoga or any other channel that works for you!

To find out more on how I enable C-suite executives to tap into their Truth to create their legend, please follow or contact me at kitty@kittyyeungdowner.com #kittyyeungdowner

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