From Sun Salutation to Downward-Facing Dog: Tobias Zierhut Practices Yoga to Counterbalance his Job

Tobias Zierhut has been practicing yoga for many years and goes on regular vacations to the Indian mountains for this purpose. What the Senior Vice President of KION Mobile Automation quickly realized is that if you want to start your day with yoga exercises at 5 a.m. every morning, then you need a great deal of discipline above all else.

It all began in the Nilgiri Mountains in India. 15 years ago, Tobias Zierhut had booked onto a two-week yoga retreat there: “Back then, the physical aspect of yoga was what appealed to me the most, stretching the body.” While he has since found an appreciation for the meditative, more spiritual side, this didn’t come until much later.

As the highest peaks of the Nilgiri Mountains climb to over 2,500 meters, the climate there is still tropical despite being significantly cooler and drier than the Indian lowlands. It is a region of tea plantations, with even Zierhut’s yoga retreat surrounded by tea plants. In the 19th century, British colonial officials used the area as a summer resort and built luxurious villas to stay in. However, in its Spartan simplicity, Zierhut’s retreat was quite the opposite. “My room was like a monastic cell,” he says, “around three meters wide.” Considering he was on vacation, the rules were also quite strict: No coffee, no alcohol, and only a vegetarian diet. The first yoga practice of the day would begin at 6 a.m. “The last guided meditation sessions finished at 7 p.m., and by 9 p.m. I would be lying in bed completely exhausted,” explains Zierhut, but adds: “I had never had such a relaxing and restful vacation before.”

5 o’clock in the morning: Yoga practice before work

In the following years, Zierhut made regular trips back to the Nilgiri Mountains and spent his vacations there. He began doing yoga every morning alongside this. “It’s a great way to start the day,” he stresses. “You have so much more energy, so much more power, and it wakes you up.” He has routinely started his day with 45 minutes of yoga for years. And since he aims to be in the office by 7 a.m., he sets his alarm for 5 a.m.

He doesn’t need much for his yoga practice: “Just the yoga mat, that’s it.” No music, no rhythmic gong beats, no incense, or other extras aimed at helping concentration in some yoga centers. “I have my set of stretches and I go through this routine,” he explains. Stretches that are primarily aimed at working his body. Zierhut is rather skeptical about some of the yoga events currently held outside of India. Directly after his first retreat stay, he went to a yoga studio where he was working at the time in Paris—and felt a real sense of disillusionment. “I have to admit, if that had been my first experience of yoga, then I might never have flown to India,” he says.

Yoga is a great way to start the day. You have so much more energy, so much more power, and it wakes you up.

Tobias Zierhut

In Europe there are many different types of yoga

This also has a lot to do with the fact that so many different things now fall under the umbrella term of “yoga”—and people simply have a wide range of preferences. “Some variations are too meditative for me and lack dynamism,” is how Zierhut puts it. “I want to sweat and to put my body through its paces.” Zierhut has always been flexible, which is perhaps why this aspect of yoga appeals to him so much. However, he is at pains to say that even this has its limits: “I don’t do any poses where I float in the room on one arm—that’s taking it to a whole other level again.”

Zierhut is strongly in favor of a “no-frills approach” to yoga: He doesn’t need much. An example also set by his yoga teacher in India, a former masseur who went on to become a yoga master. The man brought a completely different sense of the human body through this approach alone, Zierhut is convinced: “He was able to teach every pose in a way that made it fun, especially for beginners.”

What actually is yoga?

Originating from India, the philosophical teaching of yoga is a path to self-knowledge and is accordingly diverse in its expression. It is mostly about aligning the body, mind, and soul. Often it involves meditation, breathing exercises, asceticism, and physical exercises. Spiritually, it is historically linked with both Buddhism and Hinduism. In western industrialized nations, for a long time only physical exercises were considered to be “yoga”.

Vipassana meditation retreat: “Staying silent for a whole week”

These days, Zierhut is also open to the meditative side of yoga. But this outlook only developed over the course of his practice, particularly through breathing techniques: “You build an energetically interesting connection,” he says. Even more so when you reach the point where you lose all concept of time. In fact, these days he might even be persuaded to go on a Vipassana meditation retreat: “Staying silent for a whole week, just doing yoga and meditating—that’s still on my bucket list.” In his demanding job, having a morning yoga ritual definitely helps to clear his head. Now that Zierhut manages the KION Group’s Mobile Automation Division and holds all the various threads together around the subject of automation, his working days are long. “Meditation can help you to not get bogged down in everyday life and to reflect more deeply,” he says.

Every now and then, he will notice people lose something—namely the awareness to see things from a different perspective. Meditation, he says, can help you get that bit of distance you need and to get out of your own head. It’s no longer just about your body: It’s also about your mind starting to sweat a little to a certain extent. And after taking a break from yoga, the summer of 2020 had led to Zierhut to dedicate more time and energy to his practice. “After all, there weren’t many alternatives,” he says, “and the weather was also really nice.”

Indeed, he still associates yoga with the warm climate of the Indian mountains to this day. “I always found yoga much harder in European winters,” Zierhut recognizes: When the mornings are dark and cold outside, he isn’t as disciplined as he was a few years ago. And there’s even the occasional week or two during winter where he doesn’t set a 5 a.m. alarm to practice his yoga exercises.

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