By Dave Dunbar
Mental clarity, physical stamina, a sense of self-worth. We all want these, but salespeople need them to do their jobs profitably.
These are fruits of a continuing yoga practice. Some 15 million Americans practice yoga and 705,000 of them are salespeople. Yoga is a $6 billion industry in the U.S. and growing daily.
What’s interesting is how desperately a profession that compensates its workers on the basis of results needs yoga. In the professional yoga field, there is constant talk about “underserved populations” and never once have I heard anybody say, “Oh yeah, let’s address the mental and physical challenges caused by being a salesperson.”
In the ancient Sanskrit language “saravakrayin” means “selling things of all kinds.” Who knew there were salespeople 5,000 years ago? Maybe now, someone will invent Saravakrayin Yoga. It will probably be an American.
Yoga’s benefits are becoming well-known. Studies prove that yoga helps reduce stress, strengthen muscles and improves mental outlook. Some practitioners even find an elusive state of bliss.
Yoga is not a religion. I practice alongside Catholics, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. Nevertheless, a recent Yoga Alliance survey found that 57 percent thought yoga was “religion-based.” There is a search for the spiritual dimension in our practice; there is not any ritual or routine that seems religion-based to me.
A key part of yoga that is often minimized in the West is the practice of 10 ethical and moral guidelines called the Yamas and Niyamas. It’s no accident that these are listed first and second of eight steps. The step we are most familiar with is step number three, “asana” or yoga postures.
It is in the Yamas and Niyamas that you can find guidance about self-discipline, non-harming, opening up to something larger than one’s self, truth and staying in the present. It is here that salespeople can find help reconciling competition and contentment.
Since the mind changes focus an average of every 2.6 seconds, it is useful to cultivate a sense of stability from the neck up. Meditation can help. By holding the mind still – even for a few seconds – it is possible to develop an ability to concentrate.
Breath awareness helps, too. Observing and feeling the sensations caused by the in-breath and the out-breath help anchor the mind in the body. On your next inhale, draw the air all the way down and feel the belly puff out. On the exhale, empty all the way out and feel the navel press back toward the spine. Repeat a few times and then feel what’s going on in your body.
This kind of complete breathing helps to bring the awareness into the present. Here’s a key benefit: since fear lives in the future, there is no fear in the present.
For salespeople, whose income is determined in part or entirely by their performance, the value of remaining mentally sharp and focused can’t be overstated. Through a continuing practice of yoga, they can develop an ability to remain calm and resourceful during the most intense circumstances.
There is an old story in the yoga world that nicely illustrates the benefits of staying calm and cultivating a sense of equanimity.
A farmer, who has only one horse to plow the field and transport goods to market, notices one day that his horse is gone. The townspeople comment how unfortunate he is and wonder how he will continue on.
The farmer says, “I don’t know whether I’m unfortunate or not. All I know is that my horse is gone.”
Within a week, the horse returns bringing with him six other horses, stallions and mares. The townspeople tell him how fortunate he is now. With all these horses, he will surely prosper.
And the farmer says, “I don’t know whether I’m fortunate, but I do know that I now have seven horses.”
The story continues, ending with the son of the farmer riding one of the stallions and being thrown to the ground, resulting in a broken shoulder and leg.
A short time later, his country went to war. The army went from house to house, farm to farm, drafting young men into service. But the farmer’s son was spared because of his injuries.
This ability to stay present and find mental balance begins in the physical body. The “asanas” turn out to be a key – holding a pose like Downward Facing Dog or a Warrior or a headstand each requires concentration on the here and now. No distractions. The mental muscle will grow stronger.
The physical body grows stronger, too. And that has benefits for people who are on their feet all day. Improved posture. Fewer physical aches and pains. Eventually, a better-looking body is a result.
Yoga benefits include an overall sense of well-being and detoxification, improved mental skills that lead to better decision making, healthier breathing patterns and more efficient metabolism, enhanced digestive system, improved muscle tone and range of motion in the joints, greater physical comfort and stability.
Of course, none of this will happen overnight. Dedication and the right amount of effort will pay off. Many of the yogis I know report general physical improvement plus specific positive signs of lower blood pressure and anxiety.
If you’re a salesperson, or sales manager who is now thinking, “I want some of this,” then find a yoga class. Try several different classes and teachers. Give your practice some time to grow while trying to stay present to what’s happening right now.
You know your sales goals aren’t reached by sitting at a desk and staring at your sales plan. You have to go out and do something.
Dave Dunbar teaches Kripalu yoga at the Adirondack Club in Franklin, Mass. He lives in nearby Wrentham and has more than 30 years of experience in sales and sales management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.