Yoga of Leadership Excerpt: Stretch Your Comfort Zone

The following excerpt is copyrighted material. It is excerpted from the upcoming book:  Yoga of Leadership by Pomerantz, Lang and Eiting.
Stretching Into Your Comfort Zone is the feel-good, pleasurable stretch rather than stretching to the point of pain.  When we take yoga (or any activity) too seriously, and forget the concept of play, we end up missing out on the exact approach and solution that will result in the intended outcome.  Often, in yoga, we are twisted to our own personal limit, otherwise known as “the edge.” Discovering your boundaries is a part of the yoga journey as well as the leadership journey. Are you telling yourself the truth about what’s the best use of you as a leader?
Stretch Objectives
In yoga we create the movement of the muscle; the stretch, beyond what seems possible, not through force or ‘pushing the body into pain’ but by stretching the muscle to a place just before pain…i.e. what Yoga masters call ‘your edge’.  The edge is usually beyond what we think possible or comfortable.  If we attempt to deconstruct it for those who are not yoga practitioners, we might describe it thusly:  When the muscle moves into a new position there are unexpected sensations accompanying this exploration. At first we might consider it ‘uncomfortable’ and we soon see that there is a definite distinction between pain and discomfort. If we stay at that point and allow it to exist as it is, then soon that very discomfort begins to feel good. The body loves to stretch!  By breathing, relaxing and bringing a simple awareness to that place in the body that seems in discomfort the Yoga student discovers a lessening of the discomfort. The muscles and tendons relax and stretch with an ease that didn’t seem possible.  What was at first interpreted as discomfort now feels like release and new energy leading to new strength and flexibility. Since there’s safety in the comfort zone, leaders must learn to expand the comfort zone.
When a strong leader allows the body of her organization to stretch, even to the point of discomfort, often great things become possible that were not possible or predictable before.
So often I have seen a great business leader ask his people for more than they thought they could give and the very request released a new energy and possibility.  It is a request, not a demand.  The leader asks for what he knows is within the stretch of what he sees as his competent group, with a compassion and insight that they are better and more able than they know.  He is asking for them to go out of their comfort zone, his faith and insight provides the oxygen that allows them to relax and stretch…to go for it!  He stretches their comfort zone, ideally providing a safe place for growth.
The analogy here for leaders is clear. Leaders must constantly challenge their people to see beyond the expected to see new futures and possibilities; to reach, stretching into the unknown, often uncomfortable territory.  It takes a willingness to play that edge since too may leaders have learned the lesson of asking their people for too much for too long, resulting in pain, exhaustion, burnout and failure.
It’s not about struggle, it’s not about effort, it’s about the awareness of the space between getting outside your comfort zone and stretching that edge, without going over into pain.  It’s subtle, but the distinction is about stretching into comfort rather than through pain.  Yoga is not about pain, it is finding and working at your edge. How long do we allow ourselves (both in yoga and in business) to stay uncomfortable?  Real leadership is challenging, a place of exquisite intensity and complexity, but needn’t be about pain.  As executive coaches we see far too many leaders in pain, who have forgotten how to breathe lightness and joy into the act of leading.
In yoga, we discover that being clear on your intention but letting go is often how we can access an otherwise difficult pose.  This is counter-intuitive to everything people in business are trained to do.  A leadership application to try on is the concept of playing the edge, of non-effort, of clarity to intention without attachment, of letting go.  Most people think letting go means defeat, but it means openness that the possibility may show up in a different way.  People get stuck in the limiting belief that there’s only one path to the goal, one way to do things. Leadership is about influencing in the space of relationships.

Leave a comment