I only started practising yoga about three years ago, but my impression of it before starting was that it was just glorified stretching, which I’ve now found is far from the truth.
Yoga can be immensely challenging both physically, emotionally and mentally, but the rewards can be quite fulfilling – not unlike running a startup business.
Yoga turned out to be quite a great way to remain calm while taking on the whirlwind journey of starting SEED with my co-founder, Christopher Bartlett.
There are a lot of things that happen during the course of building a business, that no amount to books or blog posts can prepare you for.
As Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame famously said: “Running a startup is like eating glass. You just start to like the taste of your own blood.”
After practising yoga for a few months, I started getting interested in incorporating arm balances into my practice, after seeing some of the awesome things Dylan Werner, a US based yoga teacher, could do with his body.
The questions I had about how to start incorporating these seemly impossible arm balances were quite similar to the ones I had when I decided I wanted to be independent and start a business – where do I start, how I do I grow/improve, what do I need etc.?
It’s been quite a journey so far with SEED and my practice – we’ve grown from a two man team to a nine person strong team, working with some great startups and corporate clients in Australia and Africa. We've made investments in iBackpacker which has seen massive growth in the last six months and is set to take on a new round of funding all while being bootstrapped.
I’ve also gone from not being able to touch my toes or kick-up into a handstand to being able to hold one for about 12 seconds.
Over the past two years my yoga practice has taught me a lot of things that I have found invaluable in developing SEED and other startups.
Here are a few things I’ve learnt from yoga arm-balances that have really helped me along the way.
There is no doubt about it with performing an arm balance like a handstand or working on a startup you are going to make mistakes and you are going fail (fall) a lot!!
In the case of arm balances, learning how to fall is actually really helpful to accelerate your growth and progress. If you are really afraid of falling (failing) you become stuck, almost paralysed and make no progress.
I’ve been in classes with people who have better fitness, flexibility and strength than I had and seen how this fear can be crippling.
One of the ways to breakthrough this is by doing falling exercises which teach you how to get out of intimidating poses safely, by continuously practising falling, you learn how to control your body, the fear is shed and you begin to find that you can balance upside down.
As an entrepreneur, or wanna-be-entrepreneur, recognising what your fear is (not having enough money, will my idea work etc.) and building practices that allow you to fail safely, can really help in the high stress environment of startups.
An example would be participating in Hackathon events like Startup Weekend, joining Incubation/Accelerator programs like MAP or just running your own part time business or side hustle (could be as simple as blogging, selling a product online or dropshipping) can give you the experience of what it’s like to run a business and allow you to fail safely and cheaply.
Extra tip: check out Tim Ferris’s blog about how to practice poverty and reduce fear.
Before each practice session, my teacher makes us do pranayama or breathing exercises, the exercise requires you to take long extended inhalations, followed by long extended exhalations repeated for about two to three minutes.
By doing these slow and conscious breathing exercises, you are able to focus your mind and concentrate on a single thing – putting you into a meditative state and allowing to quiet your mind, relax your muscles, reduce anxiety and increase focus.
Incorporating these exercises before and during an arm balance practice session did wonders for my practice and for my day-to-day interactions in business.
By learning how to calm my mind through breathing, I am able to do quite fear inducing poses in any safety props without triggering my body’s fight or flight response, learning how to maintain a calm, quite and stable mind allows me to challenge myself without reacting and losing control.
There are countless articles on why meditation or mindfulness practice are beneficial to your general well being and performance as an entrepreneur or business leader, studies have shown that it could literally change your brain!!
In the highly stressful volatile world of startups and business, training your mind to be aware of itself through a meditation practice will help you navigate the anxiety, volatility and stress that come out of the woodworks in startup land.
There are many ways to train your mind, breathing and mindfulness meditations is a simple technique that’s easily available.
A good way to get started is a incorporating two to three minutes of meditation using apps like Headspace, Smiling Mind or 1 Giant Mind or starting right now with this great video from the ABC show Redesign My Brain is a good introduction.
As with most great things in life success doesn’t happen overnight, for me, learning how to go into a handstand or any arm balance did not happen overnight especially since I don’t have a movement or gymnastics background.
I found it could takes weeks sometimes months of consistent practice everyday to build up the strength, flexibility and mental stamina to be able to make a new movement seem effortless.
Rome wasn't built in a day so I learnt to be patient with myself and have the humility to do the work and trust the process of consistent daily practice.This also helped me build discipline which is vital to starting a business, building a startup product, growing customer base etc.
It sometimes takes longer than expected so having patience and continuously practicing, finding ways to improve and sticking with it are lessons which really resonated and helped in developing my business.
Having a mentor that has been through the same journey and situations as you can be a sure fire way to accelerate your progress, either as a startup founder or an advancing yoga practitioner.
For my yoga practice, I started with videos on YouTube and Instagram to get tips from people I admired; I learnt what common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid.
This helped me immensely with progressing quickly to more complicated movements, the internet is a treasure trove of people sharing their experiences, there are blogs, podcasts, videos and books that can give you guidance on what to do in a particular situation.
While online resources are great, having a one-on-one session with a good coach or mentor that understands you, your current business situation and can provide with tailored advice relevant to your business or startup can be quite an invaluable.
Good coaches can help you build skills which you are lacking in, leveraging your social networks would be a good place to start looking for a mentor, for my practice I found a yoga teacher and studio that tailored practices to help me advance.
This can be one of the hardest things to do, we live in a world that encourages us to always be on the go and doing something.
In the entrepreneurial realm the culture is even more prevalent and it’s assumed that doing 12-hour days is all it takes be successful, anything less is considered not good enough.
This is counterintuitive as being continuously on task sets off strain reactions and encourages stress, which can be quite a drain on emotional and physical resources.
In my yoga practice I found that when I continuously train and stress my muscles without taking time to recover and recuperate, it’s when I usually get injured and hamper my own success.
Studies have shown taking breaks (even micro breaks going for a walk or standing up for a few minutes) can really help you get back into the grove and avoid burn out.
Take time to rest!
Sometimes when I feel stuck in my practice and don’t feel like I am making any progress, I go back to the four basic yoga poses – high plank, low plank, upward facing dog and downward facing dog (also known as the vinyasa).
By tweaking my form in these poses and making micro adjustments (usually with my teacher pointing out what needs tweaking) I am able to fix issues that might be hampering my progress and make improvements that allow me to do more complicated poses easily.
Using this technique (I suggest doing this with a mentor or your team) of going back to basics when working on specific aspects of your business, customer acquisition or financials can help you uncover issues you probably were not aware of and help you make adjustments that can help you move the needle and grow your startups.
These lessons have proven invaluable in helping me improve my arm balance practice, my business, and to a big extent, my life.
I am now able to do cool stuff like this:
I hope it will be useful to you on your journey as you build your startup.
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