Why My Yoga Practice Makes Me A Better CEO

Nancie McDonnell Ruder
5 min readJun 21, 2021


Nancie McDonnell Ruder

You may have just read that title and thought, oh no not another one of these “I am a CEO and I do yoga” posts. Fair enough. I have seen a lot of these over the years, so if it’s not your vibe, feel free to skip this. If you are at all intrigued, though, I believe I have a few insights to share that you may find interesting. So I invite you to read on with an open mind, and then you tell me! After all, one of the key tenets of yoga is “wisdom” so maybe you will gain a little bit here.

I have been practicing yoga for about 10 years. I dabbled at first without much appreciation for it, then got serious about it when I was facing significant muscle soreness from Crossfit “work to failure” workouts. Because of severe muscle soreness, I had invested in weekly massages that were more a necessity than a luxury, and certainly not enjoyable. (Now, you may wonder, why not scale back on the Crossfit if I was THAT sore, but that is a blog for another day.) As I sat on the massage table one day with tears in my eyes, trying to tolerate the kneading of my sore muscles, my masseuse said “you know, if you would commit to doing yoga twice per week, you would not get nearly so sore. You need to get more oxygen flowing through your body so you can recover better.”

So, I originally committed to yoga with consistency to endure Crossfit without as much physical pain. And while I did achieve this, what I gained was far more than a reduction of muscle soreness. I learned a whole new way of moving my body, focusing my mind, and enhancing my well-being. To achieve this, I needed to show up, stay on my mat, breathe very deeply and stay in the discomfort of the heat and physical challenge. Then I needed to do this again. And again. And again.

Initially, I kept attending just as a means to an end, as I mentioned. But after about 10 classes, I started to notice a shift. After 10 more, it was enhanced. Months in, it started to become as much if not more of a mental shifting as a physical workout. Don’t get me wrong, it is a notable physical workout — if you do Vinyasa Flow in a heated environment. There are many forms of yoga, some more gentle than others, and this is the form I primarily use because one gains physical strength, flexibility, balance, muscle oxygenation, and most importantly, mental and emotional well-being.

As I have developed my practice over the years, I have connected it more and more to my life and my work. Below are some of the most important connections I have learned and try to apply to being a business owner and leader of a team.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Often in yoga, you are asked to hold a pose longer than seems feasible and certainly longer than is comfortable. To do this, I have learned that you must focus on the present, breathe deeply and commit to staying. This translates directly to the uncomfortable moments I have as a CEO — I may feel frustrated, unsure, impatient for progress, worried about a team member, concerned about an element out of my control. By being present, breathing deeply, and staying, I am able to work through the issue more productively, connect with people more meaningfully, and make decisions with a clearer focus.

Incremental actions lead to notable, meaningful progress.

It took me about 2 years to learn how to do a headstand, in the middle of the studio in a crowded class, without fear of hurting myself or others. I started on my back with my legs in the air. I moved to the wall where I could get upside down but needed to touch the wall for balance. One headstand at a time over a very, very long time, I got the confidence, strength, and balance to get vertical with no support. At work, developing new skills is like this — whether for myself or my team. When learning a new skill, ask yourself, what can I do today? What can I do tomorrow? How can I practice? As importantly, how can I grow my belief in my ability to learn this? Each step puts us on the path to achieving the big goal. Then one day, we are there.

Checking out mentally enables you to check back in with more focus (more powerfully?).

I tend to do more yoga on the weekends because I am less rushed and can be the most expansive about it. I make a point of “blanking” my mind at the start of class and staying away from “to-do lists” and other mental exercises while there. When I find my mind thinking, I breathe deeper and louder to put myself back in my body. The more I check out mentally, the more I can check-in physically. There is a tremendous benefit to this in the moment, and even more so after the fact. When I go back to using my mind for thinking, I am more focused and clear about what needs to get done and how I should do it. At work, I often encourage clients and colleagues to find ways to unplug, assuring them that they will be more focused when they check back in because they checked out.

The power of breathing.

Yoga or no yoga, taking deep breaths is a super powerful way of shifting your mind and your emotional state. Try it right now. Close your eyes and take 3 really deep breaths, in and out. Really deep, and take your time. Go ahead. I will wait………..did you feel it? Now imagine what an hour or 90 minutes of this kind of breathing can do for your body and mind! This is a key aspect that helps me stay calm and focused as a leader — even in, and perhaps even more so in, the chaotic environment we have all been working in.

So, in celebration of today’s INTERNATIONAL YOGA DAY, I am proud to share what I’ve learned in my yoga journey — and its impact on my professional life. Currently, in my practice, I’m focused on learning a handstand. I should really say, relearning it, since I was masterful at it from ages 8 to 21, then stopped doing anything vertical for two decades. I try to practice each day, at least for a few minutes. I still feel a long way off from a full handstand in the middle of a crowded room, but know that if I just keep trying, I will get there. I’ll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, be well, show up, stay, check out of your mind. Most importantly, BREATHE! Namaste.



Nancie McDonnell Ruder

Owner, Noetic Consulting, LLC; Marketing Consultant: Author, Researcher, Strategist, Trainer