The Interesting Link Between Yoga and Executive Coaching - OZY | A Modern Media Company


Executive coaching is on the rise in Silicon Valley and around the world, and the next wave of coaches may be the most nimble yet.

By Lorena O'Neil

If you see senior executives striking yoga poses in their offices, don’t be surprised — they may be on their way to becoming better bosses.

When you first hear the term “executive coach,” your mind might not instantly jump to an image of a yoga mat. However, if you’re in Silicon Valley, that wouldn’t be so far off. Executives turn to coaches for one-on-one training from an objective third party who can help them develop leadership skills within the specific context of their job. In addition to this, the concept of mindfulness is increasingly becoming integrated into Silicon Valley corporate life. With that twist comes a group of executive coaches from a very flexible group of candidates: yoga instructors. 

The leap from downward dog to a successfully focused leader isn’t as much of a stretch as one may think. In fact, yoga instructors turned executive coaches say that their ability to tune out the noise and calm an agitated body is integral to their coaching.

“Coaching is growing a lot, and it makes sense that people who practice yoga regularly have a certain sensor that makes them be a good coach,” says Jon Isaacs, a yoga instructor and executive coach who often integrates yoga or other kinesthetic training into his coaching. He says yoga teachers have a spiritual independence and treat everyone equally regardless of their perceived rank in the business world. “It’s a good counterbalance for the executive,” says Isaacs.

Mindfulness and meditation is a key part of yoga, and mindfulness has been quite the rage in both Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. The Wisdom 2.0 conference, an event aimed at professionals who want to merge “wisdom and technology” in the digital workplace, started in the Bay Area in 2009. Founders from Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Paypal come to talk about yoga and mindfulness. This year, it heads to Dublin, Ireland, expanding to Europe for the first time.

It’s a way to be both challenged and nurtured at the same time. I think that’s also what people are seeking from their leaders.

Executive coach Kirsty MacGregor has practiced yoga since she was 13 and taught since she was 21. She says she teaches yoga to business people to help them “center when things are stressful” and train them to reach an anchored state quickly. ”We live in an incredibly busy environment these days,” says MacGregor. “It’s about finding a way to be quiet inwardly when that’s the environment you live in. It’s a survival piece now.”

As demand for mindfulness has spread, the mindset around coaching has changed. “Its makeover is so complete that what was once a potential embarrassment is now a badge worn proudly by people either in or heading for senior roles,” reports The Financial Times. Even Gavin Belson in HBO’s Silicon Valley has a spiritual guru, albeit a caricature of one, to help him out.

“It’s a way to be both challenged and nurtured at the same time,” says Lindsay Jean Thomson of the practice of yoga. “I think that’s also what people are seeking from their leaders.” Thomson keeps her yoga instruction and executive coaching separate at the moment, although she’s thinking of blending them going forward.

The Strozzi Institute in Northern California specializes in training and coaching in the somatic (meaning “of the body”) method. “The mind, body and spirit can’t be separated out,” says Karen Short, director of enrollment at Strozzi. Strozzi has been doing somatic coaching for more than 30 years, but Short says that there has been a recent increase in interest in Strozzi’s courses, which draw many certified coaches with a background in martial arts or yoga. “A lot of coach training is starting to integrate a body approach,” says Short.

“The more coaching that I did, the more I realized how scattered and unfocused the leaders and employees were,” says David Perls, a coach who started bringing mindfulness and hatha yoga into his training to solve this problem. He sees the incorporation of yoga as a way for a company to offer health and wellness options, similar to offering organic food.

Mindfulness as a concept in corporate improvement has already gone global, as both yoga and executive coaching become more common. Perhaps in a few years, Silicon Valley will be setting another trend besides the kale chips and coconut water lunch. Executives around the world looking to calm their minds in a cutthroat business environment should maybe start practicing namaste and striking a warrior pose.

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