Setting My Intention: what I take from the yoga studio to development workshops

Picture the scene: you’re lying in a darkened room. There are candles flickering in a mirrored wall. It is 42 degrees centigrade. There is a chant being sung - lyrically, rhythmically repeating. There are around sixteen other people – men, women, different ages and colours – silent other than for the sounds of their breathing. It’s a womb like space.

Hot yoga. It’s become a ‘must do’ for me, a passion, not only because it eases the aches in my menopausal body but because it ‘settles me’ mentally. It provides me with 45 minutes of focus, when what happened before the practice, what might happen after it, doesn’t exist. When all I have to do is be in the moment and apply myself.

It struck me recently that there are lessons from yoga that I try to apply to the design of development opportunities, another passion of mine which, happily, forms the substance of my working week. As well as the intention of fine tuning skills, understanding and awareness, as a facilitator, I have many other intentions. I want development activities to do more, to draw on and draw out subtle but impactful learning, much of which forms part of yoga practice. Here are some examples…

The power of space and time: it’s really important to stop – to stop the endless list making, the in-box clearing, the deadline setting. Two currencies that are so precious these days are space and time. Development activities are respite from the burden of the to-do list, and return you to it with a new perspective.

The power of community: we don’t talk anymore. And in the busy, intense (and sometimes lonely) world of academia, taking time to be with others and share experiences can feel like an indulgence. But we are all in this together and our professional journeys have much in common. Just discovering that fact can be liberating, but we also learn from each other and make valuable connections by being together.

The power of discipline: Abhyasa (or persevering practice) is a must have in the research world. Yoga teaches that this consists of two elements: one is clarity of purpose and the other is commitment. Combined they sustain you through set-backs, and drive you despite not know how things will turn out. Embrace failed attempts (to publish, to win funding, to collaborate) as learning and growing opportunities.

The power of ‘enough’: perfectionism; procrastination; imposter syndrome. All commonly experienced in academia. They stem from a fear of failure, of not being ‘good enough’. Comparing and competing are counter-productive. Focus on your journey, know when to stop, and prioritise your well-being.

The power of sacrificing the ego: ego can make us closed to opportunity and to people; by always putting yourself at the centre, worrying about the consequences for you, your likely recognition and reward, experiences become blunted. By whole-heartedly focusing on doing good work, being open to others and generous with what you know and can do, good things happen.

The power of a learning mode: being open to and positive about people and experiences. People in a learning mode check negative thought processes at the door and look for the learning in every interaction and event. Development opportunities stimulate learning mode and should allow those in the room to be both ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’.

The power of your purpose: purpose helps you to stay focused, gives you clarity, and keeps you on track. As long as it is your purpose; not a sector, an institution, or a Manager’s purpose but your own. What is important to you? What do you want from your professional life? Development helps you to spot your North Star and plot a route towards it.

The power of balancing stability, flexibility and strength: all three are needed in yoga, but they also apply to the demands of professional life. In both, change progress only happens when you put work in but pushing too hard is counter-productive. You need confidence and assurance in what you know, you need to be fleet of foot and nibble to accommodate change and know when to power through.

The power of practice: practice makes progress (never perfect!) It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, over-committed and ‘stuck’. Often, the best thing to do is to engage, to do something, to take action. In other words, to get on the mat, breathe deeply and move.

Development opportunities can facilitate small steps forward which build momentum for more significant movement.

So, my belief is that when development opportunities really work they should improve skills and understanding but also re-calibrate the head and heart. Like yoga, they should be a work-in as much as a work-out.

Are delegates aware of these lessons? Do they feel the benefits of protected time and space? Do they hear the messages about the importance of purpose, of embracing failure, of letting go of ego? Of the value of ‘enough’ and the difference that positivity and openness can make? Do they feel the sense of community in workshops and events?

I think so. I hope so. Of course it could just be me, feeling all this alone! But as any good yogi knows, before you begin any practice you must choose something that you want to amplify or cultivate in that practice. I choose to amplify and cultivate these things. That is my intention.

@mellysjones @LJMUResearch

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