Five Lessons from Yoga for Your Work Life

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In their new book, Maren and Jamie Showkeir show how we can take the same principles that guide Yoga as a healthful and mindful physical practice and apply them off the mat in our work lives.

Yoga is translated in Sanskrit as “yoke” or union, and is a practice designed to keep you connected to something larger than yourself —much in the way work does. While millions are familiar with the physical practice, it is a fraction of what yoga offers. Indian sage Patanjali outlines Eight Limbs of yoga in the Sutras, written between 100 BCE and 500 BCE. 

Based on this ancient wisdom, here are five pragmatic practices for the modern workplace. 

1. Breathing: Pranayama, the Fourth Limb, is about the power of breath control. Yogic breathing techniques can help you alter your mood, increase energy, decrease mental distress, develop patience, enhance focus, expel stress, and heighten clarity. One executive we know takes a deep inhale-exhale before answering a question, creating space that allows him to respond more thoughtfully.

2. Meditation: Of the Eight Limbs, the Seventh has been most scrutinized by researchers. Meditation, or dhyana, gives you the means to establish clarity around your intentions and your actions. It positively affects the neural pathways governing compassion, self-awareness and memory. It can ease depression and help with anger management. Many well-known corporations such as Aetna, Apple, General Mills, Google, Prentice-Hall Publishing and others recognize the benefits of this practice and found ways to integrate it into the workday. A daily time investment in this practice, even if it’s only a few minutes, can reap big benefits.

3. Non-stealing: Asteya is one of the five moral precepts that comprise yoga’s First Limb (yamas). Non-stealing brings to mind pilfering money or “stuff,” but more valuable things can be stolen, such as time, reputation and dignity. Consider the myriad ways time theft happens at work: Tardiness to meetings, wordy emails, lack of preparation and general procrastination. Gossiping at work steals time and is a misappropriation of reputation and dignity. Broadening your concept of theft is not only a moral issue, it’s practical — how much more efficient and effective can you be if you mindfully practice asteya?

4. Focusing: The Sixth Limb, dharana, is about training your mind with the same vigor and dedication that you exercise your body. Practicing dharana helps you avoid distractions and do-overs that eat into your productivity, including mindless fretting about things that are out of your control. Begin by abandoning the mythology of multitasking.  Research shows it’s impossible and worse, decreases your productivity.

5. Contentment: The Second Limb also is comprised of five precepts, called niyamas, that offer a framework for personal conduct. Santosha is about cultivating contentment regardless of what life hands you. If you feel yourself getting attached to an idea or outcome at work, the practice reminds your that control over events or people is an illusion. It doesn’t mean you don’t give work your best effort. Of course you do, while recognizing that your response to any outcome is a choice you make. Not only does fostering non-attachment keep you sane, it encourages openness to the kind of unconventional thinking that sparks creativity and innovation.

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