10 Jun Yoga and Mid-Career Transitions
Scene at 7.00 a.m. in a condominium in Gurgaon: Men and women often sporting Decathlon tees, Fitbit bands and a wide assortment of earphones, are running, walking, kick-boxing, doing interval training. Some of the older folk are in small groups, practising pranayama and yoga asanas. Children and moms-dads are engaging in their own kind of cardio workout, by making a run for the school bus stop.
The fitness bug has bitten us for good and each day we wake up to the promise of looking and feeling good, through our sweat-drenched routines. My fitness journey began four years ago, with the practice of Hatha Yoga. Since then, I have kept at it. So while I am not a yoga expert by any measure, I can totally testify to its transformative impact on me, mentally, emotionally and physically. It is with this conviction, that I proceed to share my experience of yoga and the parallels I find between engaging in a yoga practice and the experiences of mid-career transitions.
A yoga practice ( I am largely referring here to the physical aspect of Hatha yoga though this applies equally to the mental and emotional aspects too) to me stands on the tripod of Balance, Strength and Flexibility, each as important as the other. In this I find the first parallel between yoga and what one experiences as one reaches something like a middle point in one’s professional journey. I find that much of the early parts of our careers are like fitness regimes which are about pushing oneself hard. Like doing push-ups or squats till every muscle in our arms and legs is begging us to stop or yet another set of dumbbell lifts or bench presses, the Goals are often Bigger, Stronger, Faster. Yes, the results speak for themselves, but many years of pumping through these routines, may leave us with a sense of exhaustion and even a loss of autonomy and inner drive, for we are waiting for the proverbial gym instructor to crack his whip for us to get going. That is why, we hear of so many mid-career individuals, wistfully expressing the desire to craft a professional identity which allows them to find balance and flexibility while also utilizing their strengths. Strength has got them this far; now balance and flexibility are equally desirable. Sometimes this can mean slowing down, changing tracks, or it can mean deepening or even letting go of the relentless drive to go past milestones. Just like in a yoga practice, slower and deeper also honours the autonomy of the practitioner/individual instead of extrinsic forces. You don’t need the Fitbit stats to validate feeling stronger and more energised after a yoga session!
In practicing yoga, I find two things are of critical importance – core stability and the breath. By core I mean the muscles in the abdomen, back and pelvis, which are known to be difficult to isolate and develop. Many of the yoga postures require a strong core to get the most out of them, indeed to even get into the pose. I have seen people with rippling biceps and those who can as easily knock off a 10 km run like you and I could walk to the neighbourhood market, struggle with holding a Navasana (Boat pose) or a Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-limbed Staff pose), because of the core strength these demand. Upper and lower body strength are more visible – they are also enablers, much like those skills and abilities which we have honed in the first phase of our careers, which take us far and high. Core strength and stability is harder to see, and rests upon us discovering and acting upon our deeper values and fundamental identity- who we are as individuals and our unique aspirations, needs and potentials. Many of us who are in mid-career throes, will resonate with this, because dedicated effort is called for in identifying these values and core aspects of our identities and then constructing professional paths which build on these. How many of us make this effort?
Which brings me to the third parallel between yoga and mid-career experiences. I was a non-exerciser till I began doing yoga. I led a normally active lifestyle until then, but had not been intentional in pursuing any fitness practice. A similar phenomenon exists in the realm of professional pursuits, especially when it comes to career transitions. Many of us coast along, relying on inertia of motion to keep us going. But something somewhere nags at us, knowing that we are not releasing the full extent of our potential. We know that we can bring alive many untapped talents if only we become more intentional about them. Hatha yoga where Hatha literally means Forceful or Wilful, was about bringing intentionality into my life- be it towards physical or professional pursuits. In my own experience, I found that the body led the mind, wherein once I became more intentional in my physical practice, I was also able to find the energy and focus to make intentional changes in my professional narrative.
So my two cents to all mid-career individuals who are asking questions of themselves is – lie down on a yoga mat, breathe deeply and ask deeply. As Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, renowned Yoga teacher in the Ashtanga tradition would say, “Practice, practice and all is coming.” What is it that you want to practice?