Where to Put your Focus: Business Lessons from a Yoga Practice

Recently, I went back to yoga classes after a hiatus I created by telling myself that I was too busy to do something that clears my head, enhances my energy, and nurtures my creativity. Crazy, huh? But how we small business owners tend to get off track and stop taking care of ourselves is another article entirely, so let me get to the real story.

Yoga is all about balance, which SBOs certainly need. There are plenty of articles about setting boundaries and creating work/life balance, but at that yoga practice, I learned that the secret of balance is very simple. It’s all about here you put your focus. In yoga, there is a position called “tree,” where you stand yourself on one leg, allowing the other foot to come off the floor and balancing for a period of time. Sound easy? Try it sometime.

Because yoga is infinitely gentle and non-judgmental, everyone does “tree” a different way. Some keep their toes on the floor, some venture a little higher to their calf (you can’t lean your foot on your knee—that can damage your knee and hurting yourself is NOT part of the intention of yoga), and many longtime yoga practitioners can actually place their foot comfortably on their other thigh.

Once your feet are situated, you turn to your arms. Keeping your hands folded in front of you (at “heart center”) is relatively easy, but when you “let the branches grow,” extending your arms outward and upward, you get a lot of “windy trees.” I was one of those windy ones, wobbling to the point of abandoning the pose in frustration when my instructor came over to me and asked quietly, “Where are you putting your focus?”

Ah, now that is the question. Where am I putting my focus? As a small business, sometimes, my focus is in so many places that my head spins. I have to think about my 1-, 5- and 10-year strategies. I am President and CEO of my company and I have to act like it, with big picture thinking and big goals. But I also have to work, day to day, in my business. When I try and split my focus, or look too far ahead, I often come crashing down, overwhelmed by it all. Where will I find the time/money/help to execute these grand plans? What if I fail? What if I succeed? Goodness gracious, how will I do it all?

At my yoga class, when I showed my instructor where I was looking to find my focus (a point all the way across the room) she laughed kindly and redirected me to a point much closer. “Look there, just in front of you, and relax your eyes,” she said, “and you’ll find the balance much easier.”

In our businesses, there is a need for a master plan, and goals that thrill and even scare us, and a strategy that provides the framework for our daily efforts. There is a need for dreams, because big dreams carry the excitement and energy we need to bring them into being. But when we lose ourselves in those far-off points, we can also lose our balance. At that point, we need to focus on a point closer—the next attainable goal, the moment we’re in, the task at hand. We need to relax into our projects, connect with our clients, do the work we love. This allows us to grow, to meet the new challenges and fit the new plans.

Once I chose a closer point in that yoga class, I followed my instructor’s advice. I breathed, relaxed my eyes, and focused. Slowly, I raised one foot higher, then higher. No wobbles. I stayed focused, cautiously lifting my arms until they stretched, fingers wide, above my head. No wind in this tree—I just grew.


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