Stress-reduction tips for bankers – by elite Asian headhunter who teaches yoga

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Are you feeling frazzled by your bad bonus? Is your job search still stuck despite the supposed revival in recruitment?

If you want to react better to the stresses in your banking career, you should consider taking up yoga, says Fabrice Desmarescaux, co-founder of DTCA Executive Search Partners in Singapore and weekend yoga teacher.

Desmarescaux knows a thing or two about how stress can take its toll on bankers – until recently he ran the financial services practice for Asia Pacific at elite search firm Spencer Stuart and was before that head of Southeast Asia financial services at McKinsey & Company. But after 15 years of practicing yoga and 18 months of teaching it, he’s also an authority on stress reduction.

“The regular practice of yoga helps you put distance between stressful happenings in your life and it helps you see the bigger picture – that can benefit anyone in financial services,” says Desmarescaux, a Frenchman who’s lived in Asia since 1997.

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Having an “angry client screaming down the phone” need not ruin the day of a yoga banker. The calmer mindset you can eventually achieve from yoga can help you separate the stress “input” (the angry client) from your own “output” (how you react), he says.

“Perhaps normally you’d clamp up, get frustrated and internalise what you’re feeling. Or perhaps you’d get wound-up and start shouting back. Either way, at work and when you go home you might not be in such a good mood – perhaps you’d react by having an argument with your spouse.”

Yoga practitioners are often able to put day-to-day work events – from horrible bosses to tiring commuting – into a broader perspective because they have an “anchor” to cope with stress. “Say your boss is a jerk. Well, that’s too bad for him! It doesn’t have to be your problem,” says Desmarescaux.

You may also find yourself becoming less obsessed with relentlessly pursuing pay rises. “Yoga can focus you on what really matters in life, which for most people isn’t money or work. Of course, other spiritual approaches can do this as well – perhaps you go to church every Sunday.”

Alongside the mental tranquillity on offer, the poses (know as “asanas”) practiced in yoga can benefit you physically. “Especially if you’re a banker in your 40s or 50s – yoga can help give you back the balance, strength and flexibility you once enjoyed. It’s only part of keeping fit – you still need cardio for your heart and gym work for muscle mass.”

But to enjoy the full career-enhancing benefits of yoga you shouldn’t treat it as just a gymnastic exercise. “Yoga isn’t about getting your legs behind your head or touching your toes with your nose. It’s about being in union with your higher self. There are four basic strands to yoga – physical posture is one, but just as importantly there’s breathing techniques, leading a healthy and ethical lifestyle, and meditation – being in touch with your mind.”

“Unfortunately the Western version of yoga, which is also prevalent here in Singapore, is often mostly about good-looking girls with trendy yoga mats doing extreme physical postures. Yoga has become commercially successful as a get-fit session, which overlooks the importance of meditation. Take the popularity now of ‘hot yoga’, where rooms are heated up to make you sweat – nothing could be further from true yoga. Of course you can take what you like from it – it’s ok just to do the physical moves, but that’s like riding a bike with the training wheels still on. You don’t get the full benefits.”

Jokingly called “The Guru” among his friends, Desmarescaux teaches a class every weekend at a small studio in Singapore’s historic Arab Street district. “Teaching is a lot different from doing. You may not be able to do the most flexible poses yourself, but you need the ability to communicate with people and challenge them – two skills that can also benefit a career in banking.”

As we’ve reported in the past, people have even given up their entire banking careers to teach yoga. Jeanne Chung, who started out at former boutique investment bank Robertson Stephens, quit banking 10 years ago to set up her own yoga studio, Absolute Yoga, in Singapore. Erika Shapiro, a former fixed income saleswoman at Goldman, Citi, Credit Suisse and RBS, retrained as a yoga instructor in 2012.


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