Pushing and Pulling

Yoga begins with an exploration and understanding of the importance of breath in all we do. And our breathing plays a critical role in maintaining balance. One of the reasons the binary equation of work and life doesn’t help us achieve balance is that it is too rigid a frame of analysis.

During my yoga teacher training, one of our instructors, Charles, gave us a fascinating demonstration to illustrate this point. He stood up and extended one arm out from his shoulder. The game was to see how long it took for one of us to bend his arm at the elbow. In the first round, Charles made his entire body rigid, exerting maximum effort to keep his arm straight. A student volunteered to try and managed it fairly quickly. It took some oomph, but it wasn’t terribly difficult for her.

Then Charles tried it a different way. He still extended his arm out to the side, still held it rigidly, but the rest of his body was completely relaxed. His breath was slow and calm. Instead of brute strength and rigidity, his posture and mental state was soft and calm. You know what happened – the same student tried to bend Charles’ arm and simply couldn’t. Neither could the next two students who tried. The point was clear – effort and inflexibility were not as successful as ease and softness.

He gave this demonstration in our discussion of balance poses. Often when we attempt balance poses, we stiffen up as we try to hold the pose. Trying to force our way to balance. Like all poses, balance poses build strength and our ability to hold and benefit from any pose grows as we become stronger. Charles’ lesson was to show us that instead of muscling our way to balance, we can do better through softness and ease.

Photo by Ash from Modern Afflatus on Unsplash

Yoga teacher and author Eric Schiffmann puts it this way, “a proper balance is necessary between push and yield. Too much push has a driven quality that betrays a harshness and severity toward oneself that is probably displayed in other areas of life as well.” Conversely, he writes, “…yoga done in too yielding a fashion never develops the openings or strength that provide the energized relaxation that is so appealing and revitalizing.” “Yoga that has a proper balance between active and passive feels wonderful. It is not overly aggressive or torpid, but a harmonious blend of push and yield. It is at once both vigorous and quiet, like a perfectly centered top spinning so fast it appears motionless.”

In the same way, one of the challenges of leadership is finding the balance between pushing to get things done and understanding that there are times when we have to wait for things to happen. It’s finding a way to be strong without being unyielding. It’s holding a space of calmness in the midst of all the craziness coming at you. It’s knowing when to push, or to pull, or to do neither. Understanding the power of both/and is one way to create balance for ourselves as leaders.

Take care,


Quotes from: Schiffman, E. (1996) Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, New York: Pocket Books.


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