Tag Archives: Yoga

It’s a Stretch – Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”   ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

When was the last time you stretched yourself? I mean literally, physically stretched yourself?

Girl doing yoga - Free Digital Photos - AmbroIt wasn’t that long ago that I had trouble touching my toes. I started doing yoga, and in one of the classes I attended we were asked to bend our bodies in a somewhat unusual way. The instructor effortlessly folded herself in half while I leaned slightly forward and came to an abrupt halt. It wasn’t really pain that I experienced as much as plain old discomfort. I wanted this part of the class to be over.

We were told to relax and breathe. Everything inside of me resisted even the idea of this crazy position that was the furthest thing from what I thought I or any other reasonable human being would consider restful. My muscles were tense and my body felt like it was in a knot. But I did my best to follow the directions – relax and breathe into it.

And as I did, a funny thing happened. After a short time, my muscles seemed to soften in spite of themselves, and I found myself gradually dropping more deeply into the stretch. The longer I held it, the (dare I say?) better it felt, until I was actually kind of enjoying this strange new sensation.

And then the thought occurred to me that this whole process is analogous to doing something – anything – that takes us out of our comfort zone.

We see something that beckons, perhaps something that we know will be good for us, and yet we resist. Often we move tentatively into it and then hit a wall of discomfort. In this discomfort a myriad of unsettling thoughts and fears barrage us – “I’m no good at this…,” “this was a bad idea…” “I’m wasting my time…” and on and on. And the resistance itself seems to intensify the discomfort. We tighten up, literally and figuratively, and block ourselves from moving into the experience.

But if we can remain patient and open – if we can allow ourselves this initial period of discomfort and stay present with it, relaxing into it and breathing through it, we might be surprised at the results we experience. Think of the last time you tried something really different – something new and exciting and kind of terrifying all at the same time. If you stayed with it despite your initial resistance, chances are that over time the discomfort gave way to exhilaration and over more time, perhaps deep gratification. And the longer you kept at it, the easier and more satisfying it became.

Oprah WinfreyWe are all capable of so much more than we realize, and I believe now more than ever we are beginning to see that that it is time for us to stand taller, to reach higher, and to be willing to open ourselves up to allow our greatest work to emerge. Do not be fooled into thinking that going outside of your comfort zone is merely a self serving exercise that can wait until you have more confidence or time. In fact, there is no better way to increase your confidence than by taking this kind of action in spite of your fear and discomfort. This kind of courageous exploration enriches not only ourselves, but everyone around us who will surely benefit from the gifts we uncover and give form to. When we shrink, we cheat more than just ourselves. And when we expand, we allow ourselves to truly lead – in whatever form that leadership will take.

As leaders, we cannot expect others to stretch themselves if we are not willing to do it first. We must allow ourselves to be humbled and vulnerable so that we can identify with and understand the experiences we ask others to participate in. And we need to be patient and supportive with them as they encounter and work through their own forms of resistance.

What can you do today to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone? And how can you apply what you learn to make you a stronger, more influential and transformational leader?

PinocchioPrincipleThe above article contains excerpts from my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Photo by Ambro.

Paths to Proficiency

“Every master was once a disaster.”

Exercising at sunsetI heard someone say that the other day in a yoga class.  It gave me comfort.  Because I am all too familiar with that awkward, humbling stage that comes with learning something new – when you want to run with the stallions but feel more like a donkey.  It’s a universal phenomenon, really.  Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us that “Every artist was once an amateur.”

We can all learn a lot about our paths to proficiency by looking at the ways in which we have mastered things over the course of our lives – whether it be how to drive a car, play our favorite sport, or take up a new hobby.  Today, as I was finishing my yoga class, I realized how my experiences on my yoga mat mirror those in my life – and how I can transfer my learnings from one arena to the other.  For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share a few of my insights.

(1) There is power in persistent practice.   Every once in awhile a yoga instructor demonstrates a pose that evokes a “you’ve got to be kidding” response from me.  I always give it a try, and usually the first time I do I look a lot like I feel – completely inept.  There is one pose that I have recently dreaded and just about every time I’ve gone to yoga for the last few weeks, this instructor builds it into the class.  Ugh.  Not again.  But I muster up my strength and give it a shot every time, and I have to say it gradually has become less and less onerous to me.  This morning I was actually able to hold the pose – it was only for a few seconds – but I did it!  And I realize the more I practice, the better I will get at that and the easier and more fun it will become.

Isn’t that like life, though?  Every day there are things you can sail through and then there will be those areas that require a lot of hard work, practice and patience before you can feel even the least bit effective.  But if you keep at it, one day you will surprise yourself with how far you have come.  And everything that led up to that point will be worth it.

(2) Learn from and admire others, but don’t compare yourself to them.  Sometimes this is a thin line.  As a novice, you need to watch people perform so that you can see how things are done.  And even as you get pretty good, you can still learn a lot from others’ examples.  But the minute you begin to compare yourself, you will lose your focus and dilute your effectiveness.  This is true regardless of whether comparing yourself to others makes you feel inferior or superior.  Let me explain.

In yoga, when I watch someone do something to get the proper technique and admire their grace, I can pick up a few tips and then concentrate on getting into my zone so I can do what I need to in the way I need to do it.  But the minute I look over at the person next to me to see if I’m doing better or worse, I lose my balance and fall down.  I have learned that the same thing holds true in my personal and professional life as well.

When we gauge how well we are doing by comparing ourselves to others, the energy and focus that is required to perform effectively becomes scattered.  When you believe you are not measuring up, the confidence that is vital to your success gets sapped.  And if you do not believe you can do something, you will inevitably prove yourself right.  On the other end of the spectrum, when you believe you are outperforming others and become a little too smug, your confidence can turn into arrogance which shifts your focus from what you are doing to how others are perceiving you.  And anything that is more focused on appearances than substance lacks foundation and eventually crumbles.

The best of the best gain their confidence from within – as a product of their effort, focus, and the results that come with effort and focus.  They don’t need to compare themselves to other to know that they are good – or to know that they can get even better.

(3) Lighten up and have some fun.  In yoga, the instructors are quick to remind people that falling over is par for the course and that the important thing is to just keep on trying – and to play at it.  The people in those classes who seem so good at yoga that they could be teaching the class themselves are the first to tell you about how many times they fell over or how long it took them to get to where they are.  And they will also tell you that they still fall occasionally.  Why?  Because once you master something in yoga, there is always a way to deepen the pose or increase the level of difficulty.  But when you challenge your balance and fall out of it, you learn what you need to do to stay in it longer next time.  That’s how mastery happens.

The same thing is true in life.  When we get all balled up in knots trying to make things perfect and avoiding every possible misstep, we risk becoming stagnant and playing small.  Getting too attached to the results leads us to stiffen up and become consumed with needing things to happen in the exact way we want them to.  Without flexibility, we lose our ability to bend and make the necessary course corrections that allow us to ultimately excel.  If you ever look at the top performers in any industry, sport, or artistic endeavor you will notice that accompanying their intensity is an ability to relax into their game in such a way that it appears easy and natural.  The ability to play at work is another mark of the master.

(4) Replenish yourself regularly.  My favorite part of yoga is the last five minutes of each class.  They call it Shivasana.  It’s where the previous fifty to eighty minutes of stretching, strengthening and balancing give way to lying flat on your back relaxing every muscle of your body.  It is in these last few moments of the class, the instructors will tell you, that all the benefits of the practice take root.  In these moments, the mind becomes clear, and stress and tension melt away.  The end result is a feeling of freshness and revitalized energy that lasts throughout the day.

In our frenetic lives, it is easy to forget about the importance of pausing every once in awhile to make the most of our experiences – whether by giving ourselves a needed break, or simply taking a moment to assess where we are going, to what degree we are still on course, and what, if any, course corrections are necessary.  Being willing to invest our precious time into replenishing ourselves in this way pays handsome dividends – and sometimes the times we think we can’t afford to slow down are in fact the times we cannot afford not to.

My new book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be is about getting back to the basics of who you really are, what you are here to accomplish, and how you can unearth your greatness in a way that inspires others to do the same.  It is now available on Amazon.


Picture by Vvvstep from Dreamstime.com.