Desk Yoga for Executive Leaders

As Executive Leaders, our primary function is to think, decide, and relate. 

We think ahead and plan for the future. 

We make firm decisions based on the information we have. 

We relate with others for growth and success. 

Watch Desk Yoga for Executive Leaders hosted by Harvard Business Review at their “Leaders Who Make a Difference” Conference. I share three poses to help optimize executive functions- think, decide, and relate. 

Desk Yoga for Executive Leaders (10 min), hosted by Harvard Business Review.

If you learn by doing, stop here and watch this video. ☝🏽 Otherwise, keep reading!

How Desk Yoga Can Help With Thinking

When thinking ahead or problem-solving, it’s beneficial to change environments. For example, if we’re stuck on a problem the solution often comes when doing something else, like washing the dishes, snorkeling in Hawaii, or driving a car. Solutions come when we take a break and switch our focus to new environments.

However, you can change your inner environment without traveling to Hawaii. 

Take 10 min to log off your computer and log into your body. 

Desk Yoga is an efficient way to change our inner environment and clear our minds. This allows two things to happen (1) we’re disrupting a routine and thought patterns to allow new thoughts to come in, and (2) we’re taking care of our body, which we need to do anyway. 

Standing up and connecting to your body is a free ticket to changing your inner environment.  

I have a body, but I don’t have all day. 

Let’s cut to the chase. 

INSTRUCTIONS (1-min video): Place hands together and press your thumbs between the eyebrows. Let your head rest on your thumbs. 

There is a pressure point between the eyebrows that is very sedating for the nervous system. 

desk yoga

The pressure point has a calming effect on the body and mind. This technique also relieves tension headaches. I call this the reset button. It’s like a massage for the prefrontal cortex.  

We want to protect the pre-frontal cortex because this aids in our second primary function, decision-making. 

How Desk Yoga Can Help With Decision Making

To understand a little more about how decision-making works, a few pieces of information will help. First, decision-making is one of five functions delegated to the prefrontal cortex, or PFC. The other four functions are understanding, memorizing, recalling, and willpower. 

Second, it’s essential to know that the brain requires a lot of energy. The brain takes up 2% of the body but uses up about 20% of our energy. Most of the brain’s functions are automatic and don’t require conscious processing, like washing the dishes or driving a car. 

desk yoga
The pre-frontal cortex, the decision-making brain.

The PFC, on the other hand, requires a massive amount of energy (or glucose) to work. In the same way you need the energy to run a mile, you need the energy to make decisions. 

This energy is exhaustible, we only wake up with so much brainpower for the day, and we burn through it pretty quickly.

This means that (1) decision-making is a finite resource, and only so much is available to us each day, and (2) it’s a resource shared with other functions. 

You are draining your decision-making reserves every time you solve a problem, memorize a fact, remember something, or try not to do something (like eat that second cookie or check your phone again). Trying harder doesn’t work when you’ve got 0% battery power. 

The thing about the PFC is that there’s no way to give it more battery power. So there’s no way to increase your willpower, decision-making, understanding, memorizing, or recall. However, you can protect these five functions as if they are precious resources (because they are) and plan your day to use them carefully by creating more automation- or habits- so that you aren’t wasting your decision-making so often. 

How does this relate to yoga? 

desk yoga

Practices like yoga and meditation help protect our energy. The habit conserves our PFC energy and creates fertile grounds to make significant decisions. 

It fine-tunes our thoughts to be laser-focused- strong, direct, and powerful.  Otherwise, our thoughts can be disco ball’ed (real word)- fragmented, scattered, and spotty. Yoga prevents scattered energy, so you don’t waste your precious brainpower. 

How Desk Yoga Can Help Us Relate to Others

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

– African proverb

As a Founder and Executive leaders, we make decisions and lead the way. However, we can only get so far without support. We need others to fill in our blind spots and support us when we need help.

Relating to others and building our team is essential for growth, personally and professionally.

A story: When I’m not wearing my executive hat, I swim in the San Francisco bay. Last year, I trained for Manhattan’s 20-Bridges marathon swim (29 miles). I had a swim mentee, Fiona, under my wing. 

I tried a new feed that didn’t sit well in my stomach during one of the training swims. We were swimming right along the Fort Mason piers when I started having heart palpitations. I didn’t want to scare Fiona, but I also thought I was going to die. 

I looked at her and said, “Fiona, my last feed isn’t sitting well. I need you to take the lead and keep an eye on me. Can you do that?” 

The early role reversal strengthened Fiona’s confidence and her skills in the open water. Not to mention that I could have been in serious trouble without her. 

There is an unspoken bond that threads us together when we move and breathe as a team. This connection goes beyond the average working, intellectual relationship. Think of a basketball team that practices together. They don’t say a single word on the court yet anticipate what their teammate is doing. 

How to Practice Desk Yoga

If you’re not ready to practice in a group, start on your own. 

desk yoga
Desk Yoga for chest, shoulders, and throat.

Start with this chest, shoulder, and throat opener (see video). These poses open up centers in the body that help us connect to others. The chest carries vulnerability which facilitates trust. The throat aids in communication to call on your Fiona when the time comes. 

In conclusion, the three primary functions of executive leaders are to think, decide, and relate. This Desk Yoga Masterclass is a solo starting point to optimize these functions for a positive and powerful impact. 

Would it help to enhance your team’s primary executive functions?  Reach out directly

ZaaS is the leading expert in corporate well-being. I was asked by the Executive Team at Harvard Business Review to lead this Masterclass. To see the full series, click here.