Can yoga help leaders with their complex jobs? How does yoga work with business coaching? Executive coach and Oxford researcher Dr James Pritchard gave us some answers.
A qualified Iyengar yoga teacher, Dr Pritchard does pioneering work in using yoga with his coaching clients, busy senior leaders. Results have been more than promising.
“Clients usually bring a very complex set of issues to the coaching sessions”, said Dr Pritchard. “Their work is busy and requires a lot of thought and time. At the beginning, they are often very wrapped up in the different things that they have to pay attention to, making it difficult to focus on what is important.”
What is interesting is that after a 20-minute asana practice, something happens in the clients’ minds. There is a clear shift in style of thinking.
“After the yoga, clients are often able to speak more personally about what it is that they need to change in order to cope with their complex jobs”, Dr Pritchard told me.
Last summer, as part of his research at Oxford Brookes University called ‘Coaching for Mindful Action’, Dr. Pritchard started introducing the methodology to other business coaches, who now apply it with their clients.
3 benefits of using yoga in coaching
Why, then, is yoga so magical? Dr Pritchard said it helps his clients relax, reach deeper, and more.
1. Clearer thoughts, clearer solutions
“One of the things we notice when we are doing yoga is that the mind begins to settle. Yoga helps us think more clearly. This is also what we are trying to do in the coaching session, to think more clearly and solve problems, so there is an immediate connection there”, Dr Pritchard said.
2. Mindful leading
Yoga invites us to arrange our bodies in a more mindful way. When we are doing a warrior pose, for example, the action we are taking with our bodies requires careful alignment and precision. Dr Pritchard explains this further: “There’s a balancing of the cognition and action. You are balancing what you are thinking and what your intention is in terms of moving and taking action with your body.”
With the help of coaching, this mindfulness can be transferred to our actions in a leadership role as well. According to B.K.S Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar yoga, asana enables us to separate motion from action. While motion excites the brain, action absorbs it. “This is the distinction we’re looking for in coaching sessions, too”, Dr Pritchard said. “The leader’s role is to take action in the actual world, to change things in the world through people’s routines and organizations. There is a certain parallel in doing things in the body, which is a system, and doing things in the wider system of organisations and teams.”
3. Discovering your inner self brings balance
The yoga sutras guide us in the kind of postures that are helpful for different types of people: Rajas, Tamas andSattva. According to this guna theory, for example, buzzy and high-energy Rajasic types will find calming forward bends particularly helpful. Dr Pritchard uses the guna principle with his clients: “We are all a combination of these different gunas. What we’re trying to do with the asana is to bring the gunas more into balance. Yoga philosophy tells us that when the gunas are more in balance we are able to see things more clearly and get closer to the self, to our witness consciousness (being neutral observers of our own lives).”
YogaMe helps busy people
In addition to the coaching sessions, Dr Pritchard invited his clients to do some yoga practice at home and write reflections on it. Some clients had difficulties in fitting the practice in because they were busy or didn’t have a private space or the right kind of yoga equipment. Dr Pritchard thinks Yogame has a lot to give in this respect:
“One of the things Yogame does really well – and what I’d like to include more in my research – is that it makes independent practice easy to do. The poses that Jenny Lauronen demonstrates on the site can be done in work clothes and just with an aid of an office chair or a wall. In my research I’d very much like to make it easier for clients to do short bits of yoga. Because when people did do it, they found it hugely helpful. It really grounded them and brought them back.”
- qualified Iyengar yoga teacher, who since 2013 has been engaged in research at Oxford Brookes University on “Coaching for Mindful Action”, applying yoga philosophy and practice to leadership coaching
- works as a Learning Consultant in Civil Service Learning, where he has lead responsibility for coaching and mentoring across the Civil Service
- has 20 years independent experience as an executive coach and organisational development consultant, working with senior clients in the public, private and voluntary sectors
- professional career started in the oil industry, where he worked in various positions.
Coaching for Mindful Action
Dr James Pritchard’s research at Oxford Brookes University explores the application of yoga practice in coaching leaders. Yoga is an integrated system, where the various aspects of practice; postures, breathing, focus of attention and meditation are interrelated and supported by the underlying structural laws and rules for life.
Yoga practice is a means of self-exploration – a set of tools or methodology for observing our inner workings and increasing our understanding of where our thoughts come from, the nature of mind and consciousness and the consequences of our actions in the world.
The postures offer us an opportunity for challenging ourselves, creating a circumscribed event where we can explore the action and reaction within us and how that enables or inhibits a particular result in the outer world of the physical body.
Yoga teaches us the importance of abiding by underlying principles that lead us towards a satisfactory result and evolution of our understanding.
In this way, yoga is a form of action enquiry into the nature of life. The microcosm of the self and the need to differentiate motion from action, reflects the leader’s question of how to transform the world through action rather than simply expend energy through motion.
Leadership coaching provides positive support, feedback and advice for leaders who want to improve their personal effectiveness and reach other professional goals in their work.
Coaches help their clients advance towards their goals. These include career transition, interpersonal and professional communication, performance management, organizational effectiveness, managing career and personal changes, developing executive presence, enhancing strategic thinking, dealing effectively with conflict, and building an effective team within an organization.
Coaching is needed today more than ever as a critical tool for organizational change. Leadership coaching can facilitate productive change in persons, teams, and systems by enabling leaders and other personnel to uncover potential that might otherwise go untapped. Leadership coaching has emerged as one of the best ways to help individuals learn to think and work together more effectively.