Six things CIOs can learn from bikram yoga

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Six things CIOs can learn from bikram yoga

The yogi’s guide to business transformation.

I’ve always been a glutton for punishment. I have completed more than my fair share of hard and complex transformations, and I have also sweated my way through a number of those 40 degree bikram yoga classes, despite invariably wanting to leave after the first ten minutes.

The two aren’t really that different.

If you have never tried hot yoga, then this may sound like nonsense, but stay with me.

Bikram, or hot yoga, is a series of 26 poses and breathing exercises. It ups the intensity by requiring the series be done in a studio heated to 40 degrees celsius with 40 percent humidity.

It is a masterclass in staying balanced in the face of discomfort, and has more than a few lessons to offer business executives leading their organisation through a complex transformation.

Start with a solid foundation

In bikram yoga, you start with your feet together and your legs strong. It is all about building your core strength, not about losing weight or looking beautiful.

Similarly, a true transformation has to have a solid foundation, as this will be tested by the will of the organisation to drive towards an objective and not stray from this mission.

Every transformation has to have a convincing objective that everyone believes in and is committed to. Without these foundations in place, a transformation will not succeed.

Keep breathing

Transformations are taxing on the enterprise, as business has to stop many other activities to free up necessary bandwidth to achieve the sustained focus that deep reforms demand. 

In the yoga studio, you have to breathe and smile. In the office, not taking that deep breath is always a mistake when you are in the midst of a transformation. Relationships between individuals are often strained as forces work against each other.

Smiling, even when you are straining, makes a massive difference.

The front row must lead by example

The last thing a yoga class needs is for the instructor to waver.

Similarly, transformational leaders are visible out in front, and individuals naturally follow their example.

The last thing you want is for the person in the front row to be seen to be shaking.

Being a visible role model is all part of a successful transformation, and it is impossible to succeed when the front line is not looking both confident and competent.

Don’t over-stretch

In yoga you have to use your judgement to gauge how far you can push your body so nothing breaks.

I’ve seen and led project teams working weekends and overtime for a continuous period of 18 months or more. Stretching is not always bad. The more you stretch the more your flexibility grows.

But push too far, too fast and injuries will follow.

Take time for recovery

A recovery rest in bikram yoga is called a dead body pose, or Savasana.

It is not about sleep - you don't have your eyes closed and you are not unconscious. In a recovery rest, you have to be aware and awake. This is a time for reflection and not just recuperation.

There are natural pauses that exist in yoga and in business and it is all about taking advantage of these when they do occur.

They are not always easy to plan for, but if you don’t let yourself take recovery breaks, there will be burnout.

Build your flexibility

A yogi is a person who practices yoga and has achieved a high level of spiritual insight.  

In a similar vein there are people who are truly experienced transformers: they enjoy being uncomfortable and stretching beyond their level of flexibility. These are the transformation experts that adapt to change and take this into their stride.

These yogi types are not that common, but it is a learnt art that anyone can achieve it with persistence and training.  

Becoming a transformer starts with changing yourself and in doing so, taking others with you.

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David Gee
David Gee is an accomplished consulting and technology executive who has held CIO roles in Australia, China, Japan and the US. He explores the role of the CIO and the transformation journey. Other favourite topics include digital innovation, analytics and big data and the financial tech ecosystem.
Read more from this blog: G Note

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