We aren't just exercising our bodies. We're training our minds.
You know you should exercise. I know I should exercise. We all know we should exercise more. But come on. We're entrepreneurs. Who has the time?
Actually, the real question is, who has the time not to exercise? Particularly if you're mindful of your role as the leader of your business, exercise should rise to the top of your priority list.
I was reminded of this by my yoga teacher who recently said in a vinyasa flow class: "We aren't just doing yoga. We're training our minds." It immediately got me wondering: What, exactly, is the relationship between my yoga practice (which is physically grounded in my body) and my work (which is intellectually grounded in my mind)? And how can the relationship benefit a person as a business owner?
Here are three ways that I see the benefits of exercise in my own life and in my work as an entrepreneur. They can help you, too.
1. Exercise can train your mind to stay focused. I was able to greatly improve my ability to focus in my life and business through learning drishti, or focused gaze. In yoga, we practice drishti through balance poses with concentrated intention. For example, you pick an unmoving point of attention and focus on it with your eyes, while you move your limbs into poses like the Dancer (balancing on one leg, leaning forward with the opposite hand reaching back to catch the angle of your lifted leg) or Crow (hands flat on the floor, knees bent and tucked inside your arms, as you lean forward so your feet come off the floor). In sports, like on the football or soccer field, players train their drishti on the goalposts before they set their kicks into motion.
When you focus--or use drishti--at work, it translates naturally to helping you achieve your goal, whether it's studying quarterly targets or tackling the top priority for the day. It's that focused attention that can help maintain the balance in your professional as well as your personal life.
There's a nuanced caveat, however, which is the "softening" of the gaze. Yes, there's a point of focus, but it can't be to the exclusion of all other stimuli. There is such a thing as too much drishti, which can actually throw you off balance. But when you find the sweet spot in between, you can remain calm and steady amid the push and pull of external demands and internal motivation.
2. Exercise helps you find "flow" faster--and more often.
Athletes of any sport often talk about "flow," or the hum of coordination and momentum. Distance runners, for example, find flow sometimes around mile six or seven of a 10-mile run. Swimmers find it well after their warm-up, often when they're past the midway point of their workout and have pushed through their bodies' resistance to keeping going.
In your business, the process of flow follows a similar series of steps. It begins with generating momentum beyond the status quo. It continues with a push through resistance, until finally we reach a tipping point that feels like the wind at our back. After exercising, you may realize the lifecycle of flow can be longer in your business and can manifest as, say, a breakthrough in technology that your team has been developing for several weeks.
Regardless of the timeline, it's important to recognize the stage of flow you're either in or you're building up to, particularly if you're at the stage of resistance and require a concentrated push of effort. Flow is the reward waiting on the other side.
3. Exercise can get you comfortable with letting go of the outcome.
This is the moment I look forward to in yoga. It's the time set aside at the end of class for savasana, or Corpse pose, lying flat on our backs at the end of class to give our bodies time to absorb the benefits of exertion. Athletes in other sports, from sprinting to swimming, may recognize these moments as "active recovery."
Doing nothing but relaxing may sound easy, until your busy mind shifts ahead to post-workout to-do lists. The trick is to remain conscious and alert while still being at ease. Practicing it regularly brings awareness to long-held tensions and anxieties that may be preventing deep relaxation in the first place.
How this relaxation exercise applies to your business is obvious. Certainly, you want to be alert, but you also want to be at ease. You want to care about the outcome, but you also don't want to be so attached that you have a death grip on the result.
It takes practice to let go, just as it takes practice to find flow and drishti. Exercise, whether it's at the gym, on yoga mats, or in the pool, is an opportunity to train your body and your mind at the same time.