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Coming out of a global pandemic and a shutdown of much of the economy, a lot of corporate leaders and managers may need a breather now more than ever. The solution could be as simple as sitting on a $10 mat.

Few forms of exercise are as universal as the ancient practice of yoga. Interest in it comes and goes over the decades, but overall, few can dispute its lasting popularity. Indeed, the latest stats show it has grown by 50 percent over the past few years, with 36 million enthusiasts in the United States alone. Worldwide, an estimated 300 million people practice yoga regularly.

Among them are executives who say yoga is a game changer. Not only does it reduce stress, but they say it also helps them be better leaders with greater calmness and focus. “It occurred to me that this would be a good thing to do,” says Locke Bowman, a clinical law professor and executive director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in Chicago. “And over the years, I became quite committed to the practice of yoga.”

 

 

Slim and fit, Bowman resembles the long-distance runner he was until his 40s, when he began to experience knee trouble. That’s when he discovered yoga. He says it’s hard to imagine what he would be like now had he not taken it up 20 years ago. “I think I would be a person who physically felt much older or limited in terms of motion and ability—more stressed out and less at peace.”

Long before people flocked to yoga studios or classes at the gym, yoga was, of course, an ancient Indian practice of movement and breathing. It entered Western culture in the 20th century, and for some, it serves a spiritual purpose as well. “We know the breath is inextricably tied to the state of mind,” says Maitri, the single-named director of Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in Chicago. “If you learn how to control the breath, you learn how to control your state of mind.”

And perhaps a little stress—which is what gets people like Chip Roe, a financial services professional, hooked. He says he was introduced to yoga at an industry retreat. “These type A financial advisors were doing something completely different from what they were used to. It was shock and awe, but everybody felt amazing.”

Roe, who is president of The Potter Financial Group in Durham, North Carolina, practices breathing exercises and meditation nearly every day. A big benefit, he says, is feeling “totally present,” especially when meeting with clients.

Of course, no exercise is for everyone, and some may want more of a cardio push. But in today’s era of remote working, an exercise that is so easy to do at home has its natural appeal. Says one busy Los Angeles fan, Jolie Curran, “Yoga produces a great return on time.”  

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