Frank Wolff

Frank Wolff

My yoga practice – supporting my career change –

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These days career changes reflected in our resume are no longer a rarity, and yet they can prove to be a true stress test for the person affected.

The practice of yoga can be a helpful ‘constant’, especially during such dynamic times, as  it facilitates a close connection between body and mind. After all we need to maintain agility with regard to pre-conceived ideas and planning, in order to best support our success.

After 20 years working in organisations, I myself had very clear ideas around my professional future. In an interview with Caterine Schwierz during the spring of 2018 I outlined the detours I took and the re-orientation that led to my current job. In summary, I am grateful that I completed my yoga training, because during this volatile time of professional and personal reorientation as it proved to be an incredibly helpful support, and to this day remains so!
(For the full interview visit https://www.karriere-blog.de/veraenderung-als-chance-zu-neuem-erfolg-und-persoenlichem-wachstum/)

One important aspect that wasn’t covered in this article specifically relates to how my yoga practice helped me during the period of my job and sector change. I will tackle this question now.

The practice, which I will explain here, helps not only Yogis with many years’ experience, but will also serve as an anchor for beginners.

In my practice yoga can be divided into the following categories, which serve as a basis for my commentary in this article:

  1. Asana Practice (Yoga mat-based exercises)
  2. Pranayama (work related to breath)
  3. The study of the philosophy systems
  4. The practice of meditation

    1. Asana Practice for healthy maintenance of physical fitness and performance

Mat practice is all about training the physical body.  I discovered yoga quite late in life and by sheer coincidence when I stumbled into a workplace gym.  I was suffering back problems, the sustained result of a long car commute over 15 years, and was on the lookout for interventions to help.

Ever since starting to practise yoga regularly, I have been pain-free, and therefore even during my professional time-out and career transition, there was no question of me systematically continuing my practice!

I was based at home most of the time during this period, working on my career options. Going out into the studio and participating in yoga classes helped me to clear my head and recharge my batteries; it allowed me to resume my conceptual work with renewed concentration.

When I find myself to be too much ‘in my own head’, mat-based exercises are THE means with which to keep body and mind in balance, or at least in healthy connection.  It is my tendency to neglect yoga practice during times of great professional stress as I often think I should be using my time more effectively.

Even in the years before I discovered yoga I was a high performer, yet I often felt that I was struggling with hard-to-explain limitation. Somehow, THE required flash of inspiration or THE creative idea, needed to successfully and quickly wind up a project, simply eluded me.

At some point, I found in my yoga practice that it is precisely the yoga-induced connection between body and mind that makes my desk work more fluid and effective. In psychological terms, one would perhaps say that with the combination of body and mind it is much easier for me to stay in a “state of flow.

The practice on the mat is also my emergency brake that stops my thoughts from racing. Back then, I wasn’t so advanced in my meditation practice, and I couldn’t calm my mind on command and in every life situation. A mindful asana practice is a good tool to quieten your thoughts by concentrating on the execution of the asanas or on a vinyasa and to dissolve the inner tension.

In addition, there were also phases at the time of my job loss when I sometimes experienced and emotional ‘downer’. For example, when I realized that the 9-5 work model I originally aspired to simply was not working for me. Then negative emotions such as frustration and anger surfaced and along with them the associated problem of the adrenalin surplus.

A strenuous vinyasa class often works wonders in reducing stress and adrenaline. With the self-regulation that it induced, I was then able to go back home to my desk and continue working on my ideas for professional development in a concentrated way.

Tip: Maintain your regular practice, no matter how turbulent things might feel in your life!

  1. Pranayama as the means of relaxation and access to meditation

In Yoga the term pranayama relates to working with life energy” which is realised in practice, through certain breathing exercises. At least according to Yoga theory, through these breathing exercises, life energy (prana) becomes distributed or regulated in the body via certain energy pathways (the Nadis).

In my search for effective relaxation techniques during my coaching training, I dealt intensively with the topics “Autonomic Nervous System” and “Vagus” because a friend had shown me, by means of a measurement, that my “vagus” was being very negatively compromised by my stressful lifestyle.

The vagus is the part of the autonomic nervous system that is necessary for relaxation or healing from diseases.

Today we know that certain breathing techniques can activate the vagus part of the nervous system. Furthermore, there is also an explanatory model in Western medicine, as it is now well understood that the respiration also affects the brain stem and thus can ultimately also influence our thoughts.

It therefore does not matter whether you practice pranayama in its original context or in that of modern medical practice. At that time, I regularly continued my pranayama practice in order to be able to relax and switch off at regular intervals!

Activating pranayama exercises can be used when you experience the onset of fatigue at your desk, although in more recent times I adopt approaches from ayurveda rather than active pranayama whose invigorating effect usually disappears quite quickly.  However at that turbulent time it was the soothing pranayamas, with its capacity to activate the vagus part of the nervous system that turned out, for me, to be a gift.  It allows me to enter a state of deep rest and relaxation; I need this calmness and clarity to recognise for myself what is really important to me.

In addition, the concentration on the uncontrolled breath is also an important anchor to be able to immerse myself in meditation.

Tip: Integrate soothing pranayama practice into your regular daily routine. This is useful, indeed necessary, for the regulation of stress and prevention of diseases.

When my day is again crammed with meetings, I consciously slot in 5-minute mini breaks’’ into my calendar for a short meditation or a short pranayama. Then I physically and/or mentally retreat and take the time I need to recharge my battery.

  1. The philosophy systems in yoga as a compass for alignment with a satisfiying way of life

What is special about yoga is that, in addition to physical practice, it is also based on philosophical systems.

The first guru I dealt with in my first yoga training was an Indian doctor who ran an ashram and a hospital for those in need.  He wrote in one of his books that according to his yoga practice you should read from a “wise book“. “Wise books” include the Bible, philosophical writings or qualified texts or blogs in spiritual matters, etc.

At the time, I found this instruction rather amusing and, in a way, foreign. Today however, the practice of reading is – whenever possible – part of my daily routine.

If you take on any kind of significant financial or other risks (be they professional or private), or if you are faced with difficult decisions fears can arise. Evolutionarily, this emotional process makes sense. However as soon as the fear takes over, access to one’s full cognitive capacity for appropriate action and be blocked.

For me, that was the first time and it weighed heavily on me that I had left a job on whose income my family depended, without any foreseeable employment opportunity. Furthermore, with my departure from the company and from an industry that, after more than 20 years, I knew like the back of my hand,  my entire network along with my traditional professional playground  effectively dismantled in one fell swoop.

However my preoccupation with yoga philosophy and the regular contemplation of certain fundamental topics enabled me to deal with the change at this time with far greater flexibility and resilience, despite being earlier and absolute security nerd.

The topics of my focus were:

  • Acceptance and design of change
  • Gain and retain internal freedom, even as life circumstances change,
  • Dealing with death and dying

At that time this gave me the support I needed to be able to work through my significant change.

I was also fascinated at how, over time, the contents of my (psychological) coaching training and the world of yoga have interwoven and begun to complement and supplement each other; for me these two worlds far from contradict each other.

For example, C.G. Jung and I. Myers-Briggs predict in my MBTI personality type that in instances of extreme stress,  it is the exactly the same “traits“, that in normal circumstances make me particularly strong,  work against me when my personal stress limit is exceeded.  This is an effect that now and again caused me certain difficulties in the early years of my career.

However it is comforting to be firmly anchored in a system of philosophy or in a spiritual concept! Then life doesn’t throw you off track as easily.

This anchor works as reliably as a developed values system, at least if you consistently nurture your philosophy practice.

Having strong roots in a spiritual concept is grounding and enables you, in times of special tension or crisis, to create the space you need to gather your mental resources and solve emerging problems.

At the beginning of my yoga path, I deliberately separated my yoga and professional practice. But these days I take the liberty of consciously combining and living these parts. Overall this allows me to live more calmly and happily, even when this chosen way of life gives rise to unnecessary newspaper articles;-).

Tip: It usually takes some time to discover one’s own philosophy or the appropriate spiritual path. It is also advisable not to commit to a teacher or philosophy too soon, but to try different directions for a while until you have gained a certain overview of possible directions.

There are teachers who deal very carefully with this selection problem, and at least at the beginning of their teaching always provide a d overview of the differing philosophies. In my view these exceptional teachers include the Dalai Lama, Jack Kornfield and Doug Keller.

Seek an overview for yourself from this kind of teacher, or read comparative books in order to more quickly find your own path.

In his teachings at the beginning of the teachings the Dalai Lama usually gives an overview of the (different) Buddhist schools and also of the main other important philosophy systems. Reading in a comparative book such as Feuerstein (see references at the end of the blog article) can be also very useful.

  1. Meditation, or “mind training”, to regulate thoughts and negative emotions

In my first yoga school, this area was also called ‘Positive Psychology’. This was mostly about learning to positively influence one’s own patterns of thought and behaviour in order to be able to lead a happier life.  Meditation was the main tool applied for this purpose.

 In the meantime, I have for myself re-coined the term meditation as ‘mind training’ in reference to the Buddhist teachings.  This revised term more clearly reflects its essence.  For me, Buddhist mind training is the most comprehensive and coherent training concept in the field of meditation that I have encountered so far on my yoga journey. The goals of mind training include:

  • To control the pattern of one’s own thoughts, referred to in yoga as ‘’mind’’, and not to be aimlessly driven by one’s own thoughts and emotions
  • Quietening ones thoughts
  • Gaining or strengthening insight into certain themes or concepts
  • Putting one’s ego into perspective and pointing out its variability
  • Promoting insight and trust in one’s own abilities.

In my situation at the time, I was facing a bold new beginning, with the range of associated intrinsic opportunities and risks. I had a lot of ideas about what I could do, but none of the ideas was fully developed, conceptually mature or even tested in practice for feasibility.

The conscious retreat into meditation helped me achieve clarity and confidence in regard to my onward journey.

Tip: In the world of yoga there are meditation techniques as there are fish in the sea. And unfortunately, there are just as many unqualified ‘teachers’ who are swarming the field, trying to attract and even manipulate practitioners towards their particular ‘Trail of enlightenment’. It took me several attempts on my yoga path until I found my current practical approach, with which I am very satisfied.

If you want to use meditation solely as a relaxation tool, then the philosophy-free meditation techniques such as mindfulness training in mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) etc. are completely adequate.

But if you wants to practice meditation as a spiritual practice, it is advisable to first select a guiding philosophy and then to deal with the meditation techniques practiced in this philosophy. With this approach, you get to your destination faster and avoid unnecessary false starts that might spoil, or even put you off, mediation.

———

Dear reader, I look forward to hearing yourideas on how I might either expand or improve my blog articles. And if you have questions about your yoga path, I will happily try to answer them.

Could it be that perhaps this article is useful or even impetus for you to immerse yourself in the world of yoga in 2019?!

I wish you a good success and a lot of success in the New Year!

Warm regards,

 Frank

 

References / Bibliography

Iyengar B. K. S. (2012). Light on Pranayama. O. W. Barth Verlag

Feuerstein G. (2013). Die Yoga Tradition, Geschichte, Literatur, Philosophie & Praxis. Wiggensbach: Yoga Verlag GmbH

Hottenrott K. , Gronwald T.  et. alt. (2014). Herzfrequenzvariabilität: Grundlagen – Methoden – Anwendungen: 6. Internationales HRV-Symposium am 2. November 2013 in Halle (Saale). Schriften der Deutschen Vereinigung für Sportwissenschaft.  Gebundenes Buch

Matthieu R. (2010). Why meditate?. Carlsbad, California . New York City . London . Sydney . Johannesburg . Vancouver  Hong Kong . New Delhi: Hay House,  Inc.

Gendün Rinpoche (2010). Herzensunterweisungen eines Mahamudra-Meisters: mit ausführlicher Biografie von Gendün Rinpoche. Norbu Verlag

Fotos: www.tenzinpalmo.com

 

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