Very often I am asked, "What is emotional intelligence?" I'm dedicating this blog piece to, first, answer that question and, second, to introduce the idea that a contemplative yoga practice is an excellent foundation from which to start improving your emotional intelligence.
To understand emotional intelligence or EI, we can contrast it to IQ, or intelligence quotient, which you are probably more familiar with. IQ predicts how suited you are intellectually for the work you do - your cognitive abilities. EI indicates how well you know what you are feeling and why; how well you handle your impulses and disruptive emotions; how well you sense what others are feeling; and how skilled you are at establishing and maintaining healthy relationships. EI is now accepted to be a better predictor of success than IQ both on the job and in life.
The good news is this: unlike IQ and its fairly rigid framework, anyone can improve their EI with training. To improve your emotional intelligence, you must first learn to get quiet and observant enough to be aware of emotions arising in yourself, and be able to identify and name them. It is from this starting point that you can begin to develop a relationship to your emotions, one in which you become the master over your emotions rather than being ruled by them.
When you have this kind of relaxed awareness of your emotions, you are in a much better position to notice their effect on you, to discern how helpful, or not, a certain emotion is to you, and then to decide what you will do about it and how you will handle it. When you become familiar with your own emotions, and gain objective distance from them, you can begin to be more sensitive to the emotions of others. Being sensitive to the emotions of others is the beginning of empathy, a cornerstone of emotional intelligence.
A contemplative yoga practice can be a great starting point. Yoga, taught well, develops concentration, focus, discipline, and self awareness - all the foundational skills you need to develop your EI. Like all finely acquired skills, it takes time and commitment. As these core attributes are strengthened, you can more easily begin to heighten your awareness of others' emotions as well.
Yoga offers a variety of skill-building practices that include breathing techniques (pranayama) in which you learn to manipulate the flow of breath to achieve specific states of mind and body. You can, for example, slow down the breath and thus the heart rate, which lowers blood pressure and induces a relaxation response in the whole body-mind system. Meditation (Shamata, Vipassana, etc.) is another great practice that yoga offers. In the western world, mindfulness, which is a distillation of meditation into easily practiced skills to make it more palatable to Westerners, is one approach. Yoga teaches a full range of meditation approaches to hone your concentration, focus and self discipline while cultivating compassion.
The physical postures (asanas) serve to work out gross tensions in the body by bringing greater elasticity to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. You will begin to feel greater ease of movement in your body and hold less tension and restriction. And when you learn to practice coordinating breath and movement along with concentration and focus in yoga, you integrate your body and mind more fully and deeply. Coming from this place of integration, you will be prepared to meet the challenges of the day. A dedicated yoga practice offers the gifts of tranquility and equanimity to an otherwise unruly mind tossed about by the day-to-day stressors of life.
All of these learned and cultivated qualities have a deepening and strengthening and reinforcing effect on your emotional intelligence.
If you've never tried yoga, now may be the time to add this discipline into your life. As your body gains flexibility and strength, so also will you lay the foundation for expanding your emotional intelligence. Give me a call today at (650) 776-6646, or send me a message to schedule a series of meetings or to take an assessment to find out your emotional strengths and weaknesses. Improving your EI quotient will move you forward into better, more holistic and satisfying relationships.