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Yoga Wisdom at Work

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Yoga’s Ancient Wisdom Can Transform Your Work Life
Everyone knows that yoga helps reduce stress and increase the body’s flexibility and strength. But the physical aspects barely scratch the surface of yoga’s transformative powers. The poses are only one part of a larger philosophy offering profound insights for confronting the complexities of daily life. Yoga can help you remain centered, compassionate, positive, and sane every hour of the day—especially those between nine and five.
This unprecedented guide shows how practicing the full range of yogic concepts—the traditional “Eight Limbs of Yoga”—leads to a productive, creative, and energizing work environment and features examples from professions like law enforcement, teaching, banking, filmmaking, medicine, and many more. But beyond that, this book is an invitation to use all of yoga’s teachings to cultivate the spark of the divine that dwells within each of us.

“Filled with personal insights and stories that carry yoga into the world of daily decision making.… It is wonderful to see the foundations of practice brought to life in such a confident, sincere, and thoughtful way.”
—Pandit Rajmani Tuganait, Chairman and spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute

“Maren and Jamie show that yoga is not just about poses—the practice is about creating the stillness of mind that will allow you do the work you were meant to do. Seriously, read this book!”
—Russell Simmons, cofounder of Def Jam

“The [Showkeirs] bring the deepest teachings of yoga alive by showing exactly how to bring our yoga—and our best selves—into the world.”
—Judith Lasater, PhD, author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times

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10 Chapters

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One: Beginner’s Mind: The Power and the Promise


Yoga has less to do with what you can do with your body or
with being able to still your mind than it has to do with the
happiness that unfolds from realizing your full potential

Yogarupa Rod Stryker


More often than we can count, people have said to us, “I could never do yoga. I’m not flexible” (or “I’m too hyper”). That logic is like saying, “I can’t tend to my garden—it has too many weeds in it.” Or to use a work metaphor, “I can’t clean out my email inbox. It has too many messages in it.”

It’s understandable. The sheer amount of stuff we are asked to attend to in our daily lives can be overwhelming. But when people say they lack the physicality to put their bodies into yoga poses, they are not taking into account that it is the practice that develops flexibility, balance, and a quiet mind.

In any case, yoga on the mat is only one part of the practice—one-eighth, to be exact. To use one of Jamie’s favorite analogies, the physical practice (asana) doesn’t represent the spectrum of yoga any more than looking through a knothole in a fence and seeing a pitcher throw and catch a ball gives you a complete picture of a baseball game’s nine innings. Renowned Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who received an honorary degree from the University of Calcutta, said, “Yoga practice would be ineffectual without the concepts on which yoga is based. It combines the bodily and the spiritual in an extraordinarily complete way.”


Two: The First Limb: Universal Morality


We are here to awake from
our illusion of separateness

Thich Nhat Hanh


Most religions or philosophies speak to some aspect of the morality contained in the words of the Sutra referencing the yamas. Robert Johnson’s classic treatise on Patanjali’s Sutras explains that “The commandments [yamas] form the broad general training of humanity. Each rests on a universal spiritual law.” Patanjali says that the commandments are not limited to any “race, place, time, or occasion.” They are to be integrated into daily living.

Often called the moral restraints, the precepts in the yamas are universal, and are framed as the “do nots” in life’s list of moral do’s and don’ts. The precepts contained within this First Limb are:




Brahmacharya—non-squandering of vital energies

Aparigraha—non-greed, non-hoarding

Put into positive wording, ahimsa asks that you eschew all forms of violence and treat all living things with respect and compassion. Satya is a commitment to truthfulness and transparency. Asteya means we take only that which is freely given. Brahmacharya is about controlling our senses and energies so we can cultivate our inner life, and aparigraha is about living simply by taking or using nothing more than what we truly need.


Three: The Second Limb: Personal Code of Conduct


Personal transformation can and does have global effects.
As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us.
The revolution that will save the world is ultimately
a personal one

Mary Catherine Bateson


By now, you have a sense of how interrelated the yamas truly are. Violating one yama inevitably involves negative action in another. Practicing one strengthens and supports the practice of the others. Ahimsa (non-violence) cannot be achieved without aparigraha (non-hoarding) and practicing aparigraha makes it impossible to violate asteya (non-stealing). Practicing satya (truth-telling) will help you honor asteya (non-stealing) and brahmacharya (managing vital energies).

Michelle Ryan, who owns a yoga studio in Florence, Massachusetts, says practicing the yamas informs every aspect of her business. “I try hard to incorporate ahimsa in what I do, compassion for students and where they might be in their lives. I also try hard to be truthful (satya). I am honest with students about what they can and can’t do physically, and also about what I do or do not know! I am conscious about not sharing others’ ideas as if they are my own, which is asteya. And I do not look at my students as dollar-signs walking through the door, aparigraha. From a business standpoint, that may not make much sense to some people. But I am not teaching for the money—although it’s nice when that manifests, too!”


Four: The Third Limb: Postures (Asana)


You must learn to be still in the midst of activity
and to be vibrantly alive in repose

Indira Gandhi


In the last stage of my journalism career, I was lucky enough to work for a newspaper that provided space in the office building for a weekly, hour-long yoga class and paid for a teacher. At 6 P.M. on Tuesday evenings, a dozen or so of us met in a designated conference room, then moved the furniture to create space for our mats.

The class was always in danger of being canceled if our numbers dropped too low. When I would troll my coworkers to look for recruits, I always emphasized the physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga postures. Knowing they were a cynical bunch, I would add, “Mark [Roberts, our teacher] sometimes talks a little woo-woo, but you don’t really have to pay attention to that part. Just let it wash over you.”

In actuality, I had no idea how thoroughly I was being soaked. I loved listening to Mark, most especially when he prepared us for savasana. He used exotic terms that I didn’t fully understand, such as pranayama and pratyahara and samadhi. The strange words fascinated me.


Five: The Fourth Limb: Breath Control (Pranayama)


Listen, are you breathing just a little
and calling it a life?

Mary Oliver


Steve, a physician who works as a development officer for a large West Coast medical university, has found practicing breath control (pranayama) at work is a way to slow down a conversation, allowing him to be more grounded and thoughtful. When he is asked a question, he takes a slow, deep inhale and exhale before answering, a practice he adopted after a yoga teacher suggested it in class several years ago. “It helps me slow down that gerbil on the treadmill in my mind. I need that time to really think about what I have to say. It helps me not regret what I say.”

He’s noticed that most people at work answer questions without hesitation. It is not uncommon to hear someone respond before the other person even finishes a sentence. “I’ve even noticed in job interviews how quickly people respond,” Steve says. “I ask questions, and a lot of times I get a canned response. It’s like they came prepared with answers and are looking for a way to insert them into the conversation, instead of taking the time to really think about the question, then give a thoughtful response.”


Six: The Fifth Limb: Withdrawal of the Senses (Pratyahara)


The world within and the world without are
two entirely separate realities.
The external world dissipates energy,
but the internal world showers blessings
that fill the vacuum created by the world

Swami Rama


In the meditation hall, where hundreds of people sit in reflective silence, a woman begins to cry. The soft gulps of emotion soon escalate into deep, piercing sobs. The room begins to vibrate with bright tension as the outburst diverts others from their inward journeys, an unwitting and unwilling audience to the woman’s sensational drama. After a few moments, the person assigned to “hold space” for those meditating quietly but firmly says, “Please. Be quiet.”

Almost immediately, she is, and the room melts into silence.

Pratyahara combines the Sanskrit words prati, meaning against or away, and ahara, translated as food. This is a practice for gaining mastery over your senses and helps to develop the peaceful mind needed to achieve a deep, meditative state. Like the physical postures and breathing (asana and pranayama), it is a stepping stone. Many masters say that pratyahara is the most neglected limb of yoga, and yet it cannot be skipped on the way to meditation (dhyana) and absorption (samadhi). In the Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar says pratyahara is when “our senses stop living off the things that stimulate.” In Western society, it is a particularly challenging practice, since our environment has evolved into a state of perpetual sensory overload. David Frawley, founding director of the American Institute for Vedic Studies, says, “Pratyahara is the key between the outer and inner aspects of yoga. It shows us how to move from one to the other.”


Seven: The Sixth Limb: Focus (Dharana)


Settle in the here and now.
Reach down into the center
where the world is not spinning
and drink this holy peace.…

Donna Faulds


Mary was in a room filled with more than sixty yogis, though she might as well have been alone. When she is on her mat, Mary says there is nothing else: “It is me, my mat, and my breath. I am so focused on my practice that I don’t even realize who is on either side of me. After class is over, I look around and think, ‘Oh yeah, there is so and so.’”

In this class, her longtime teacher, Rod Stryker, was talking the yogis through the mechanics of Lord of the Dance pose, natarajasana, an advanced posture requiring great strength, flexibility, and most especially, balance. On the mat next to Mary, a friend wobbled, fell out of the pose, then executed a tuck, tumble, and roll right under Mary’s feet.

Her pose never wavered.

Focus, or dharana, is the sixth limb of yoga. This practice is devoted to bringing a laser-like concentration to one thing—a mantra, the flicker of candlelight, a mental image, or a spot on the wall. This state of deep concentration, when mastered, forces the mind into the now. It is fully present in this place, at this time.


Eight: The Seventh Limb: Meditation (Dhyana)


If we know the divine art of concentration,
if we know the divine art of meditation,
if we know the divine art of contemplation,
easily and consciously we can unite the inner world
and the outer world

Sri Chinmoy


Before meeting with potential donors, Steve spends a few minutes in meditation, concluding with an intention that helps him connect to purpose:

May [this person] be happy and peaceful
May she be free from all inner and outer harm
May her mind and body be healthy
May she be happy with things as they are
May she live with the ease of well-being

Steve, the physician/fundraiser at a major west coast university medical center, is charged with raising money to support the goals of the institution—at least on paper. But he likes to turn that description on its head. He considers himself an advocate for donors and in service to connecting the donors’ passions and motivations to the needs of the institution.

One of the things meditation practice does for him is remind him that the focus of his work is not the transaction, but building relationships. “When I am able to quiet myself and turn my focus toward understanding and advocating for the donor, I know I am not going to take actions that are coercive or manipulative. The meditation has been a way to bring the potential donor to the front of my mind. I can think about their needs instead of ‘How do I get them to do something I want them to do?’ Using manipulative selling techniques may get you something in the moment, but it won’t get you a lasting relationship.”


Nine: The Eighth Limb: Absorption (Samadhi)


One is rigorously awakened by
stirring the desire for enlightenment itself

Dogen Zenji


You can hear the smile in Heather’s voice as she talks about the day she took her father to his first yoga class. She is a senior manager at a wellness resort in the southwestern United States. At one time, her father had been an elite runner who placed in the Boston marathon. As a runner, her father had always been attentive to the warm-up, cool-down stretching that athletes do. Aging eventually slowed him down, and some of the activities that once had fueled his passion became unavailable to him. Heather’s sporadic attempts to get him interested in yoga had gone nowhere until he was in his eighties. While he was visiting from the East Coast, she finally persuaded him to come to the resort and take a yoga class with her.

“Our mission here [at the wellness resort] is intended to be holistic. What we do has a spiritual aspect that is centered on mindfulness and living your life in a fully present way. So many times I had tried to explain to my dad what mindfulness is, and why it is important to me, but he just wasn’t interested,” Heather says. “On the way to the yoga class, I was trying again to make him understand the shift that happens when you are truly present. But it didn’t seem to resonate or even interest him. He was looking out the window, saying, ‘Uh huh … Uh huh.’”



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