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Seven Lessons to take from the Mat to the Office

The Yoga of Managing Change

The practice of coaching, whether for personal or professional outcomes is really about helping people gain self-awareness.  From self-awareness we can work on self-mastery, which ultimately leads to self-love. Self-awareness is basically an understanding of how you feel and react in different situations.  When our nervous systems become dysregulated due to stress, self-deception, anxiety, previous trauma, or any other number of things, we tend to turn to the coping mechanisms of fight/flight/freeze/fawn.  Recognizing and understanding these patterns is critical for self-mastery. 

In my coaching practice I have three "tool groups" that I draw upon when working with individuals and in groups: 

  1. Horses - they provide immediate self-awareness feedback

  2. Yoga and mindfulness activities - help people notice what's going on in their bodies, which is a pretty good indicator of what's going on in the their heads. 

  3. Coaching tools and questions - Traditional coaching tools and questions help people dig a little deeper to get to the root of the issues. 

What does any of this have to do with Managing Change? 

In managing change it is often resistance to the change that is the hardest obstacle to overcome.  I propose that the roots of resistance come from the same issues that cause dysregulation in the nervous system: stress, overwhelm, anxiety, self-deception, pervious trauma, etc.  When people begin to understand these patterns of how they feel and react in situation, they find their own key to unlock the roots of resistance to change. 

In my presentation "The Yoga of Change Management" we go through several exercises to build personal self-awareness.  I am a firm believer that before we can facilitate change in others we have to experience change in our own minds and bodies.  This page includes a summary of each lesson, personal explorations that were covered in the session, and examples of how they can be incorporated in the changes you manage.  

Who's in charge

In stressful situations the emotion driven mid-brain takes over and our fight/flight/freeze/fawn reactions tend to rule our behavior.  If we can recognize wen this happens, then we can also take some deliberate steps to bring our upper (more rational) brain back online and ultimately find a better solution. 

The recording below will take you through an exercise that will help you recognize when your mid-brain has taken over.  

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Lesson 1 - Nature of Change and Impermanence

Humans like for things to stay the way they are because permanency feels like safety.  In actuality, the fastest way to suffering is in the belief that things will not change. 

Personal Exploration: 

I invite you to look back at your life to a time when you experienced significant personal growth. Was this growth also related to a change?  Was there some level of suffering involved?  If so, at what point did the suffering stop?  It was likely when we accepted the change. 

Accepting impermanence is the bridge to joy!

How to incorporate: 

Present this quote at change workshops.  Open a discussion on the nature of impermanence.  Ask - What will be possible when we make this change? 

Caution - If participants are working from their mid-brains, which many will be if they are resistant, this conversation will not be as valuable.  In this case, be sure to start with a grounding exercise or an icebreaker that will put everyone at ease.  

Lesson 2 - Sitting with Uncertainty

We can do hard things. Once we accept that there will be some level of discomfort, get curious about it, and find ways to relax in the face of discomfort, then we can maintain contact with our more rational, upper brain.  It is easier to accept that discomfort if we know and understand where the uncertainty lies, and identify where we can some small ways to relieve the discomfort that comes with uncertainty.

  1. Start by getting grounded - this helps to move us out of the mid-brain fight/flight/freeze/fawn reaction and into a more rational state of mind.

  2. "Name it to tame it." Identify what we know and what we don't know.  When we have identified the uncertainty, it becomes a little less uncertain.

  3. Find ways that we can relax with "what is" rather than resisting "what is."  

Personal Exploration: 

Grounding Exercise: 

Sit comfortably in your chair, uncross your legs and place both feet on the ground. Take a deep breath in through your nose, pause at the top and then exhale for longer than you inhaled. 

Do that again, and release a bit of tension as you exhale.

Bring to mind 5 things you can feel.

List 4 things you can see.

List 3 things you can hear.

List 2 things you can smell.

And one thing you can taste. 

Did anything come up that you were not aware of before this exercise?  Do you feel more present? 

How to incorporate: 

Will / Won't / Do / Don't

More people regret the changes that they didn't make than the ones that they did. And it is often uncertainty around change that keeps them from moving forward.  Helping uncover uncover the areas of uncertainty will help them learn to "sit" with that uncertainty and the change. I like to use a simple 2x2 exercise to help people identify all aspects of a change. 

1. Create a grid similar to the one shown below

2. Invite your group to use sticky notes to write several answers to each of the four questions.  They can work individually or in teams depending on the size of the group. 

3. Organize the sticky notes into themes. 

4. Identify the areas of uncertainty. Identify the areas of certainty.

5. Ask: What opportunities might arise from the uncertainty?  

6. Ask: What do you need to help work though the areas of uncertainty with more confidence?  What will help you to feel more grounded as you go through the uncertainty?

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Lesson 3 - Accessing Intuition

Somewhere within your subconscious is your intuition.  This is the part of you that has access to all of the sub-conscious information of your mid brain as well as the capacity for rational thinking of your upper brain. You can think of it as the wise observer, and like any good observer it watches and listens far more than it speaks.  It may give you glimpses of its insight from time to time - that gut feeling that something is off, or that something is right, but it will very rarely speak to you unless you ask. Accessing intuition is a practice. It requires a calm, safe state of mind, openness, and belief in yourself.  Below the picture to the left is a recording of an intuition exercise you can practice on your own. 


However, It is not always feasible to do a full intuition exercise in a corporate environment.  Some might view it as a bit too far “out there.” Another way to get people to access intuition is through a fast paced exercise, coming up with as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time, and then building and refining from there.  Moving at a fast past and working with multiple ideas helps access intuition because participants are encouraged to dig a little deeper and filter less. 


I call this "Ideas that Stick".  Once participants get through the initial brain dump and then through the “lull” in ideas, that’s when we can start to get to the gold. 

  1. Start with a clearly defined problem, or question.

  2. Working individually or in small groups (2-3) have participants generate as many ideas as possible in 5 minutes.  Write each idea on a separate sticky note. 

  3. After the initial brain dump there will likely be a lull.  Encourage them to keep going and get through the lull.

  4. Each individual or team will then organize their sticky notes and put them up on the wall in a group. 

  5. Working in rounds, individuals or groups will then shift to the ideas produced by another group and take 5 minutes to refine and add to that group's ideas.  

  6. Additional rounds: Continue to shift and refine until each set of ideas has been reviewed by at least two individuals or groups.  (Adjust the number of reviews based on the size of the group and the amount of time.) 

  7. Final round: Shift to the next group of ideas, review, organize and prioritize the ideas in that group. 

  8. Present: Each individual or group will present the best 2-3 ideas from their prioritized list. 

  9. Finalize: Work as a team to organize and prioritize the final selections. 

Lesson 4 - Reframe the Change

In traditional societies life changes are often noted and celebrated with some sort of rite of passage.  With that passage there was growth, acceptance into a higher level of society, and perhaps additional responsibility.  Before completing a rite of passage there was often some task required that involved the individual embracing the unknown.


As change managers can we help our clients frame their own changes as an opportunity for growth.  How does going through this change set them up for the future? 

If you are currently managing a change or have in the past, think of someone who is resistant with this change.  Keeping in mind that we all have the best answers inside of us already, what questions can you ask that person that will help them reframe this change as a chance for growth, or something that will set them up for a better future?  Discuss with other change leaders.  Write down your questions.

How to incorporate: 

When working with people who are resistant to the change, ask some of the questions that you came up with here.  e.g. “How does this change set you up for the future?”  “What skills will you gain by going through this change?”  “What will be possible after we go through this change?”

Lesson 5 - Setting Intentions

Intention matters.  A well stated intention becomes like a guidepost to your inner self.  When you state it clearly and in the present tense it gives your subconscious something to hold on to, and a way to help your mid brain discern what information is useful to send up to your upper brain.  An intention is like an affirmation.  A statement, set in the present tense that clearly outlines what you intend to do. 

Examples: “I am embracing (the change).”  “I have gained the skills I need to work in the new way.” “(This change) makes it easier for me to do my job and I am more productive.”   


How to incorporate:

As a follow up from the top priority items from "Ideas That Stick" (Lesson 3) and/or responses to the reframing questions from Lesson 4, write a couple of examples of intentions for the change.  Ask individuals to write their own intentions as well.  Allow people to share their intentions if they would like to.  Take some of these intentions and turn them into slogans for the change.  Incorporate them into communication materials used for the change. 


This can be done with any audience going through the change, but can be especially helpful with middle managers.  They can even get their teams to write team intentions.  

Lesson 6 - Steadiness and Ease

Sthira and sukha is Sanskrit for steadiness and ease.  The heart of yoga is really an exploration of opposites and coming into balance.  We balance effort with ease.  When we go through big changes it can be overwhelming.  There is so much to do.  It is critical to break it down into smaller pieces, take one step at a time, and allow time for reflection and possible redirection. 


This is one of the things I like so much about Agile project management and the Scrum process.  Built into the process is breaking down the work, prioritization of the tasks ahead, and the ability to focus on what is most important right now.  This helps facilitate steadiness.  The retrospective can be thought of as taking a step back to regroup.  This facilitates ease.  In managing change this can also mean breaking down large changes into smaller pieces, and taking time to recognize the small accomplishments along the way.  These practices help to maintain the momentum without the overwhelm.


How to incorporate:

  1. Break milestones down into smaller pieces.  You’ve heard they saying, “How do you eat an elephant? – One bite at a time.” It can be hard for people to wrap their heads around changes that will occur too far into the future.  When you break the milestones down, there is always a tangible success on the horizon. 

    1. Define what ultimate success looks like for the change.  How do we know when we’ve transformed? 

    2. Define what the steps to get to that ultimate success might look like, and make them your step-goals.  I worked in one organization where we took large organizations through transformations, we divided the big goals into at least three stages and called them Initial operating capacity (IOC), Mid-term operating capacity (MOC), and final operating capacity (FOC). Then we divided those even further so we could show progress toward the interim and ultimate goals. 

    3. When breaking down the success goals, make sure that you set yourself up for a steady stream of wins.  Have them come at regular intervals no more than about 12 weeks apart. Don’t hang your definition of success on something that is likely to fail.

    4. Keeping in mind that people have the best answers inside of them, and they don’t tend to argue with their own ideas, workshop your definitions of success with the people going through the change.

  2. Celebrate each success on its own.  Allow your team to enjoy the success of achieving their goals without having one foot already planted into next goal.

  3. As you move forward, periodically, take time to reflect on the upcoming goal(s).  Has anything changed?  Are these goals still valid?  Are they the best definition of success based on what has changed? Include the people going through the change in these discussions and any reframing that happens.

Lesson 7 - There is Freedom in Letting Go

And finally, try to find the freedom in letting go. 

  • When we let go of expectations, we release ourselves from disappointment

  • When we let go of judgment, we allow ourselves to see the truth more clearly

  • When we let go of attachment to the outcomes of our actions, we open up to possibilities we might never have dreamed of – maybe the actual outcome is even better than the one we anticipated!

  • When we let go of what we know (or what we think we know), we reduce how much information we automatically filter out and we start to see things we may have otherwise missed.


How to incorporate:


  • Release the expectation that everyone should be on board.  They won’t.  Let it be OK.

  • Don’t judge the ones who are not on board.  Ask them what they need.

  • Focus on the actions and not the outcomes.  Steps in the right direction will produce the outcomes.  

  • Keep an open mind.  Get curious.

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