These days yoga is practiced by everyone from toddlers to football players. YogaCity NYC writer Allison Richard sat down with a few top entrepreneurs and executives to learn how they stumbled upon yoga and discovered some surprising ways it's changed the way they do business
Frank Minishak is Vice President of National Sales at About.com; Sarah Mills owns the salon Sarah Mills Hair in TriBeCa; Michelle Lewis is VP, Global Network Policy and Data for American Express; Jim Catapano is Manager of the Proofreading Dept at J Walter Thompson, New York
Allison Richard: Tell me how your relationship with yoga has influenced your business practices?
Jim Catapano: It has made me the calmest person in the office! Some people are taken aback by that...they assume because you don't get emotional, you don't care. But most people not only get it, they gravitate to me as a source of serenity. I have learned to respond rather than react. Usually!
Frank Minishak: I’ve realized the importance of scheduling things and making every effort to stick to that schedule within reason. I still struggle with it but if I don’t commit the time to make it to a class, chances are it will slip by. For me this applies to many work related tasks too. It’s reassuring to have some structure to operate in.
Sarah Mills: Being in a creative industry, so much of what I was doing was based on my ego, not what I actually wanted to do or what made me happy. Yoga changed the way that I listened to myself and the way I listened to my clients. I work one-on-one with clients, which can be draining. Clients can bring a lot of baggage and yoga helped me learn not to take on so much of their baggage. I learned to slow everything down so I can be present, take care of myself, focus on my breathing and my posture!
Michelle Lewis: Yoga reminds me to stay present even when I am desperately trying to multi-task and think of a million things at once. I use it to remind me to breathe…and remind others as well. I have also used it to coach my team on principles such as focus, beginner’s mind and adaptability. I believe that yoga makes me a kinder, more flexible business person – not a pushover, but someone who can think beyond the immediate goal or change. This is critical as the only constant is truly change when you’re in corporate America.
AL: What was a turning point for you, when you realized the importance of using yoga to influence how you do business?
JC: When I became so burned out that I thought I'd have to leave the industry. I was working long hours and NOT doing asana or meditating regularly. I realized that if I wanted to improve my life AND be successful in my career, I had to make sure yoga was part of the equation.
FM: I’ve taken early classes before work and while traveling for business that have required me to get up as early as 4:40AM in order to make it to a 6AM or 6:30AM class. I first did it just to prove I could do it. Then I realized that I felt better and had more energy during the bulk of the day. (And I won’t lie, getting up that early makes me crash at night, but I’ll generally sleep better.)
ML: A few years ago, I took a leadership training where I spent 6 months working on a project with a team. We had several week-long sessions where we provided feedback to each other on various topics. I think I was afraid to let my “yoga self” really hang out in a business setting. But I was allowed to actually practice doing so with this group and their feedback was that I came across much more authentic when I related things back to my yoga practice. This gave me the confidence to do that more consistently.
AL: How do you feel employees benefit from having access to yoga/meditation in the work place?
FM: Anything that makes you feel better likely makes you more productive and that helps the company. Having access to it in the workplace removes another barrier of having to go somewhere else to do it if you don’t have the discipline yet to commit to traveling somewhere else on your way to work or your way home.
SM: I worked for big salons for many years. In my business there is a lot of ego, a lot of addiction (drugs and alcohol) and it’s an incredibly social industry. Things can go so fast and people take on so much and give so much of themselves that they find there’s nothing left. Yoga helps to slow things down. I keep thinking I should do yoga for hair dressers!
ML: I was the first person to bring yoga to our location in Amex as part of an Employee Engagement activity. Ultimately, American Express implemented a Healthy Living program that includes various yoga and meditation classes at our site in Phoenix. There is a visible uplift to well being when these services are offered. People take just a little bit of time to stop thinking about work and it enhances their overall engagement and creativity. I believe it’s invaluable.
Illustration: Kris Mukai, to see more of her work, click here.