What yoga can teach us about performing well at work – it’s all in the breathing

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It’s International Yoga Day and yogis everywhere will tell you about the importance of breath work. At Complete, we agree, but for us it’s not just about yoga and wellbeing, breathing in the right way can actually help us at work too.

Yoga, which translates as ‘yoke’ or ‘union’, is a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines. Yoga originally started in India with the ‘aim’ of stilling the mind, taking an ‘observer’ consciousness, ultimately, reducing suffering.

From a western perspective, most people think about yoga as physical flexibility. Specific poses – or asanas – are adopted to strengthen the body, reduce stress and aid relaxation. Yoga started to really gain in popularity in the 1970s and has grown and evolved over the years to many different forms, such as hot yoga, dog yoga and even goat yoga!

Whatever the form, yoga practice is fundamentally linked to awareness of ourselves and especially our breathing. In a way it’s a form of meditation. It’s an opportunity for us to quiet our minds, get focused and achieve a greater perspective on our lives and beyond.

Our coaching work at Complete has a similar appreciation of the way we breathe. We coach people how to practice breathing ‘through the heart’ smoothly and rhythmically. And there’s a genuine benefit in doing this at work.

Most of the time the signal from the heart to the brain is relatively erratic. This results in sub-optimal brain function, and ultimately poor decision making. When the signal is more coherent (a sine wave) then we are able to think more clearly, be more perceptive and make decisions. We can achieve that coherence through breathing smoothly and rhythmically.

Issues at work – difficult conversations, tough deadlines – can all cause our heart rate and physiology to become chaotic. This results in a ‘DIY Lobotomy’, we just don’t think as clearly. Often such a lobotomy goes unnoticed by the individual. The very reason they don’t notice is because their brain has shut down! Under such circumstances the individual may start to argue, stop listening, cut off colleagues or behave in a way that erodes team performance. The consequences can be far reaching.

On the other hand, if we can control our physiology, we can make our heart rate variability more coherent and avoid the DIY lobotomy. We can achieve this by learning to regulate our breathing. Through this we can achieve greater clarity, make better decisions, and build stronger team bonds.

The breath work we learn in yoga is a great start point, but if you want to learn the art of breathing without the asanas, Dr Alan Watkins just published a really helpful guide.  

You can also practice your breathing and measure the coherent response you achieve whenever you want to, using dedicated biofeedback equipment, such as the Complete App.

You don’t need to be a yogi master to control your physiology and it doesn’t take months of practice. After just a few minutes, most people can control their own physiology to experience a ‘union’ of heart and head. This is often a revelation.

Learning to breathe can dramatically boost an individual’s confidence. You realise you are not simply at the mercy of others but have control over how you react. You can choose your response and keep your clarity of thought.

So take a lesson from yoga and breathe your way into performing better at work and in life.

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