Quite some time ago, a few months after I had really caught fire with yoga, a short comment about the new hobby slipped out of my mouth at the end of a meeting with my then-boss. He looked at me, surprised, and with the kind of derogatory humor senior bosses often talk to their junior employees. He asked me how one could ever do a sport in which the goal is to move as little as possible. I was thrown off track. Of course, I had hoped to get some positive feedback. In the worst case, a neutral comment, like the ones I was already used to. For example, the respondent refers back to him or herself and explains that he or she is not made for yoga because he or she can’t even get his hands down to his or her feet (this is definitely not a prerequisite).
Why identify so much with a few gymnastic exercises and some breathing?
The cheeky comment of my boss, however, made me furious. I wished I could show him how hard I was working to master a headstand and a handstand. Secretly, I hoped to get the chance to teach a yoga class for him. Of course, I would have tortured him with planks, yogic core training, and last, but not least, with complex flows in which he had to listen especially hard (not really one of his traits). Years later, I’m smiling about my reaction and how much I was triggered by my boss’s comment.
Back then, I did not know that there are many different styles of yoga. I had started with yoga at a fitness studio and I loved the physical part of it. I hated the singing and the spiritual talk, which definitely has changed over the course of time. How could I – as a typical immigrant Berliner of the noughties, who rejected any kind of club-meaning, celebrated the newly won anonymity and defended it at all costs – identify myself so much with a few gymnastic exercises and some breathing? Maybe it had something to do with a phrase my first yoga teacher always used to say: Everything can happen but nothing must happen (in German: alles kann nichts muss). She created a room without pressure and competition with a maximum of encouragement.
To reduce pressure, a yoga class in which you move as little as possible helps you come back to your full strength
Please do not get me wrong, I am far from a life without competition. Her teaching also did not result in me stepping away from physically very challenging yoga classes. I still love them and probably will as long as my body lets me do them. However, this physical practice paired with a lot of sensing and breathing (something we do in yoga) taught me a very simple physical law: If the pendulum swings in one direction, it will at some point also swing in the other direction. Let me give you an example. When I practice seven days a week, with a daily focus on handstands, I will sooner or later get a problem with my wrists. As a consequence, my body will force me to take more care of my wrists and I will have to take a break from yoga practice for a while.
You can also apply this to other parts of your life. If you are working 40/50/60++ hours a week with a lot of pressure, there needs to be a time for rest and change of perspective. To reduce the pressure, a yoga class in which you move as little as possible, once a week, is definitely appropriate to help you come back to your full strength. By the way, the yoga styles where you move as little as possible are called Restorative and Yin.
Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative
Let’s come to meditation - the supreme discipline of stillness. Some yogis say that none and little moving practices are way harder than a physically challenging practice. You might have heard the statement that the moving part of yoga is just practiced so that one can sit for a long time in meditation afterward. If you have tried sitting for a while on the floor, cross-legged, and upright, you have probably experienced that your back and hips start aching. These are the parts which you want to get stronger and more flexible with a regular yoga practice.
What is the benefit of sitting or lying and doing nothing for 5, 10, 20 minutes – or even hours? In 2014, a group of scientists conducted an experiment with people from all age groups in which they had the participants sit alone in an empty room for 6 to 15 minutes. At the beginning of the experiment, the probands were shown a button with which they could administer electric shocks to themselves. All test persons were sure that they would never inflict an electric shock on themselves. However, after just a few minutes of sitting alone in the room, a significant amount of people pushed the button.
An astonishing outcome as I find. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative. By meditating, we learn to gradually be fine with ourselves and sit with situations we usually would like to run away from. Running away can solo be some kind of distraction. Substances in real life which can be our distractive electrical shock are often food, drinks, cigarettes, work, the internet, etc.
Observing a situation or the world without judgement
Please do not get me wrong, I am a long way off from being Zen all the time. I also have no intention of torturing myself or of going somewhere where I do not want to be (for example, sitting and meditating while my husband and friends go for drinks). However, I must say, I see a difference in my state of zenness since I try to meditate 10 minutes every morning. It helps me to refocus and accept things, people, and situations I otherwise would want to change. There are many techniques out there for meditation and I totally encourage you to try them. Certainly, the simplest advice I can give for a meditation practice is the observing of a situation or the world without judgement.
Mental exercise pays off for business
I can tell from my own experience, meditating can be damn hard when you face a challenging person or situation - way harder than drinking some glasses of wine ;-). However, this heavy mental exercise pays off. Not just for the individual, but also for business. The first time I heard about psychological capital was at SAP. I was very surprised to learn that companies measure their value also, in how resilient their employees are. The positive impact of a high psychological capital is that employees handle obstacles and change way better and faster. They generally have a positive outlook even in challenging situations which then results in higher productivity and creativity.
Find what feels good
If you are now totally convinced that you HAVE to start meditation and yoga, please be advised there is no MUST. You can and you will stick to it if you benefit from it. Start slowly and indulge yourself. Enjoy the process. Yoga and meditation can be one way to get strong in body and mind, but there are multiple other ways. Being in nature, helping other people, animals, and our environment are just some examples.
Let go of all the musts and simply find what feels good.
Original text including some tips for yoga and meditation beginners on Linkedin.
Mental: Go to your easy-to-reach, favorite place in nature and pause for a moment (3-5 minutes).
Physical: Try yoga, tai chi, chi gong, or a yoga style you have never or rarely practiced.
Sustainable: Find out the sustainability scoring of your favorite sportswear brand on the GoodOnYou App. Try to wear it for as long as possible and recycle it in a responsible way.