Andy Robins describes how yin yoga and zazen, a meditative discipline from Zen Buddhism, helped transform his life, to move out of fear and into freedom.
My journey into yoga and Zen Buddhism began over seven years ago at a time in my life when I was rapidly self-destructing. Fears of failure and pressures of business and life had been snowballing for over a decade, until life itself reached breaking point and snapped. In desparation, I began to look for something. Reading self help books, I stumbled across meditation and began a self-taught practice, not really sure if what I was doing was right or wrong – but it had to be worth a go.
I was living in Exeter, Devon at the time and began looking around the community for help. To my surprise, there were 11 practicing Buddhist lineages in the city.
Somewhere I had read that the Buddha himself had said that you seek out your teacher, questioning what you hear and ensuring the teacher’s integrity. I did exactly this but the practices I visited and sat with just didn’t feel right for me.
And then an amazing thing happened: my career is in leadership development and being an avid reader a book presented itself on Amazon, bringing together the topics of leadership and Buddhism. The book was The Zen Leader by Ginny Whitelaw, who as well as being a Zen master has held a major leadership position at NASA, the space agency, and teacher leadership to CEOs globally. I instantly bought the book and before I knew it I was attending the Institute for Zen Leadership foundational programme at Spring Green dojo in Wisconsin, USA.
Zen Buddhism Transformation
There is no doubt that those three days of Whitelaw’s programme have had a profound effect on my life and my leadership. It would be fair to say that those tough years had taken their toll. I arrived on the programme battered: a body full of tension, translating into inflexibility, a bad back and headaches, making the seated meditation (zazen) part of the programme extremely uncomfortable.
However, even with an aching back and burning knees, the zazen brought about an unexpected sense of coming home. I wasn’t sure what had sparked it, but it was surreal, sitting on a mat 5,500 miles from England and feeling as though I belonged. I returned determined to take forward two aspects of what I had learnt: first on the list was to sit in zazen daily for 20 minutes and the second was to spend 20 minutes daily completing the yin yoga practice as taught by Whitelaw and now recorded by a stickman drawing, pinned to my fridge door.
I have stuck with these daily practices ever since and they have expanded into a longer sit and yoga practice and, five years on, my body has transformed, back pain and headaches long gone.
Sense of Joy
So other than sitting and yoga, what has actually changed in my life? The biggest change, without a doubt, must be the sense of joy that each day brings. The challenges haven’t got any less, but everything just seems so much brighter. In my leadership role, it would seem that this one quality has been infectious, and was evidenced when recently leaving my job to take up a new role with the Institute for Zen Leadership.
The leaving experience was something that I have never witnessed before and one I would like to share. I was presented with a leaving card that brought a tear to my eye, as it was full of very generous words that truly shocked me. There is one small paragraph that sums up many of the others that read, “Aahh, Andy there are no words to accurately reflect the effect you’ve had on us all. The organisation is far better and more relaxed having known you. We’ll definitely miss you a lot.£
Reading those words brought a wry smile to my face, as I am well aware that those words have little to do with me, and so much more to do with my newfound ability to move beyond any deep-rooted fears, by keeping well out of my own way.
Andy Robins is a 200 hour certified yoga teacher and teaches Zen leadership in the UK, Europe and the USA (institutezenleadeship.org)
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.