A great read: The yoga of business

by Michael Hess of CBS MoneyWatch

Yoga has become a pretty big deal in my life: Since taking up the practice several years ago I’ve lost 40 pounds, and at 47, am in the best physical shape of my adult life, and at least as importantly, better mental shape. I still have a long way to go on the latter, but anyone who knew the “before” model knows — and I think appreciates — the dramatic differences. Yoga has become such an important part of my life that I even started a little yoga-related side venture that’s looking promising. And it doesn’t hurt that my wife is a yoga teacher — keeps me on the path.

No, you’re not in the wrong section of the CBS site; This is a business column, I promise.

Yoga is big on teaching, learning, awareness and introspection: Whether it involves emotions and attitudes, relationships, health and well-being, or even life’s big questions, there are good lessons and life/business skills to be learned, and you don’t have to be the least bit earthy-crunchy (I am the furthest thing from it) to benefit from them. Here are what I consider to be the five big ones:

Equanimity: This one has done the most for me in recent years. Equanimity is a state of calm and balance that flattens out the extreme mental/emotional sine wave of business, which for many people — especially small business owners — is reactive and counterproductive. Everyone knows that rule number one in a crisis is to remain calm, and there’s a reason for that: Calmness always leads to better decisions and a better ability to work with people. To be equanimous is, in more current parlance, to be “chill.”

Focus: Both the physical and mental components of yoga are best served by trying to maintain an uninterrupted state of focus, whether it is on breathing, balance, moving or not moving, thinking or not thinking. For many entrepreneurial-types (including me), it is extraordinarily difficult to stay in a narrow band of attention for extended lengths of time. But when it comes to critical business priorities, it is important to try. A scattered brain may be a font of creativity, but it usually isn’t the best problem-solving tool.

Clarity: This is, of course, the ability to see and accept things as they are before acting on them. Particularly for the business person, clarity and focus are complementary (and often equally challenging): Clarity provides awareness and understanding of a situation, whether big or small, while focus enables us to deal with it most effectively.

Empathy: Yoga is big on feeling for all other living things (“sentient beings,” if you do like the crunchy stuff). And if you’ve read even a few of my commentaries, you know that I think this word is the key to just about everything in business. Empathy is the seed of exceptional customer service, managing employees and culture, product design and more. Business is about being paid to provide something for someone else, and empathy is about understanding what it feels like to be someone else. You can do the rest of the math.

Presence: Pretty much anyone who has done yoga is used to hearing the phrase “be present”; it is one of the most difficult concepts to fully grasp, and even harder to accept and practice. Presence is the state of understanding that the past can not be changed and you can’t actually do anything in the future. The only moment you ever have is now – it is, very literally, the only time you can think or do anything — and recognizing that fact can make a huge difference in the way you manage your business affairs.

I’m not smoking anything, really.

Truly understanding the idea of presence can be pretty heady stuff, especially if you are on the cynical side (again, like me). If you really want to dig into it without sitting cross-legged on the floor, the work of author and modern-day philosopher Eckhart Tolle is a great place to start.

These centuries-old lessons can serve you no matter what your personality type, background or beliefs. And though I happened to pick them up through yoga, you certainly don’t have to unroll a mat to benefit from them. You don’t need to be able to touch your toes, or be flexible in any way, other than in the way you think.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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