Things I've learned
I've been working in project management for the past eight years or so, and over that time I've been very interested and delighted to find that my morning yoga practice is the best thing for it.
I like projects because they're like temporary packages. If you can figure out how to deliver a project, with all of its unexpected twists and turns, then you move on and try a different one, which I find keeps work interesting. Most of my work experience has been in the university sector, where there are plenty of problems to try and solve. It has been a fascinating journey for me, watching the impact of my morning practice on my ability to problem-solve and to plan ahead. Interestingly, the best successes I have had in project management are directly related to the LESS I think about them. I find that if I give my mind the space it needs in the mornings, by directing my awareness to other things like body, breath, or whatever is required for each of the yoga practices I'm doing, the mind will very naturally just offer up a solution by itself when it's ready. It's amazing really, as many times I would have had zero clarity or access to that solution the day before or whenever I was struggling to try and figure it out. And the other amazing thing I've learned from this, is that the simplest solutions are consistently the ones that work the best. Which I think is pretty cool.
Getting out of the Way
I have heard lots of fancy ways of describing project management, and of pretending that it's very complex and difficult to be good at. Project management is simply and only: being organised. That's all it is. The more organised and on the ball we are, the more we're able to plan, deliver, and problem-solve. The difficulty is when stress comes in. It's really hard to be responsive and creative with solutions to problems that crop up, if we're overloaded with too much work, and without enough rest, sleep, or fun. I've had plenty of experience with this. It's totally acceptable and even admirable these days to be crazy busy all of the time. Aside from obviously being bad for health and well-being, it is also a totally inefficient approach to work. And it applies to the rest of life too. When stress builds up it can be impossible for us to see the wood for the trees, or the trees for the wood, depending on what we need to see. Issues seem way bigger than they actually are, and we can feel stuck. Too tired to find the refresh button and approach issues from a clearer place, we can absolutely mangle problems and ourselves by worrying and overthinking. Technology can seem to turn on us as well, with an endless stream of emails, meeting reminders and other demands bleeping away is if everything is urgent.
This is where morning practice comes in. I don't think it can be overstated how massively beneficial it is to carve out even a small amount of time in the morning for self-study. When I'm practicing yoga in the morning, I have lots of things to do, that don't involve thinking or analysing. I'm moving my body with yoga postures, and being aware of how my body is that morning, what the effect of each practice is that day, and how the effects of the practices build up and change how I feel over the session. Or I'm directing my attention to my breath and whatever I need to do for each breathing practice, and noticing how it also changes my awareness and energy states. During this time it is amazing what happens to the mind. It's as if it wants me to get out of the way and leave it alone for a while so it can do its job. I have come to trust this process, and to rely on it. And I have come to the realisation that the mind is a problem-solving machine that needs to be given a regular timeslot to refresh itself.
The Sleep Debate
The mental benefits mentioned above are not the main purpose of yoga practice. These and all of the health benefits are just side effects. The main purpose I would say is developing the more overarching skills of ongoing self-awareness and self-love, which are even more valuable than optimising the functionality of the mind. And yet, with all of these benefits and side-effects, and plenty of scientific research to back them up, what is the biggest obstacle I hear to starting a morning practice? It's sleep!
I totally get it, people feel like they would be depriving themselves of sleep and just adding more to their crammed schedules by getting up earlier in the morning to do yoga. But a regular morning practice actually does the opposite. It’s kind of like a well-being bank account, which keeps accumulating greater and greater value over time. It changes everything, and is well worth it.
Just Do It
I'm not trying to pretend that it's easy to get up early in the mornings. I was never a morning person before yoga came along. The struggle is very real! There have been countless mornings where I have laid there having chats with myself about how tired I am, and asking myself if getting up for my practice is worth it. Maybe I should just sleep today instead, because I feel so exhausted, etc. But I'm really glad that I've stuck with it over the years, because at this stage I can confidently say that I've never regretted a single morning of getting up and just doing it. Sometimes I compare it to professional athletes. The difference between an amateur athlete and a pro is that even when the pro doesn't feel like training, they do it anyway, because they know it's worth it so they commit.
I want to encourage people to try out this self-committment, and as part of a self-study course, because it's a lot easier when there's the support of others in the group that are trying to do the same thing. The self-study course I'm starting in September might seem like a big commitment, and in a way it is, but on the other hand it's only six little months, to give your potential a serious chance.
Have a think about it, and shout if you're in any way interested, as the programme can be tailored to meet your own individual needs.