What most of us know about yoga before ever taking a class are the postures. Only one part of a complex system, these postures, called asanas in Sanskrit, were designed to help practitioners develop strong, flexible bodies to enable sitting for extended periods in meditation. Now, whether or not we wish to practice meditation, they do help us find ways to be healthier and, for many, happier. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the various purposes of different postures and their connection to leadership. But today, I’d like to think with you about the word ‘posture’ itself.
Outside of yoga, when we use the word posture, we tend to mean the act of standing or sitting either upright – good posture – or slumping – poor posture. Even within that simple description, there are hints of both a mental and physical health element. Joseph Pilates puts it this way, “Never slouch, as doing so compresses the lungs, overcrowds other vital organs, rounds the back, and throws you off balance.” His use of the phrase ‘throws you off balance’ is literal but it also works metaphorically, doesn’t it? After all, changing from a slump to standing tall actually can help change your mood and your sense of self. I think most of us know that moment of taking a deep breath, squaring our shoulders and lengthening (though we usually call it straightening or stiffening) our spine before doing something challenging or that makes us nervous. That moment spent on our posture actually does help.
On the other hand, there is a not-so-positive use of the word though we usually shift it into the gerund form – posturing. Generally, this calls for a Wizard of Oz moment – “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” If someone doesn’t have the ability to do what needs to be done, they might posture, pose, bluster, and make sure there’s a lot of smoke blowing around to distract others from the reality. Clearly a negative.
And yet, we often advise people to ‘Fake it until you make it.’ We aren’t advocating someone take on a task for which they are unqualified. Usually, this is a way to encourage someone who is experiencing imposter syndrome. We’re are supporting them as they try a new ‘posture’, a new way of working, stretching and growing. We are encouraging them to adopt the posture of confidence rather than suggesting they posture and bluster. It’s a fine distinction.
As we consider the lessons to be learned from trying new yoga postures, it’s important to consider this difference. Yoga, and leadership, ask us to try new things, to stretch ourselves, to put ourselves in positions that are uncomfortable. At the same time, both require us to be self-aware enough to keep from helping ourselves or others. It’s a delicate balance. My experience is that the practice of one supports the practice of the other. I hope you’ll find that to be true as well.