As I observe what is happening in the workplace, I often pose the question “Can Yoga principles live in harmony with business goals?”
Of course, my answer is “yes”. In fact, I think Yoga at work can help you be even more effective at meeting the goals and demands of your workplace.
Take a moment to think about a difficult work situation or a challenging co-worker. It is likely you became a little bit agitated or stressed just thinking about this situation. Your thoughts alone about the situation created the stress. The second Yoga Sutra, which provides a definition of Yoga, is “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha” means, “Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind.” When you thought of your stressful situation, your mind became agitated and you felt stressed. You were agitated because you layered all of your “stories” about the situation, which include recent and distant history, as well as all of your conditioning up to this point. In his commentary on this Sutra, Swami Satchidananda notes: “The entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection…That is why Yoga does not bother much about changing the outside world… As is the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind. If you feel bound, you are bound. If you feel liberated, you are liberated. Things outside neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude towards them does that.”
Since I am how self-employed, my perception of the outside world manifests in negative self-talk. If I haven’t successfully booked new clients then I feel fear creeping in. All my worries and fears begin to pile on and I focus my energy on them instead of growing my business. The same thing can happen with a difficult boss or co-worker—they become the issue instead of the business issue. Working with others can be challenging, especially when we allow the mind-stuff to take on a life of its own.
So…how can Yoga help? As described in the Sutra, by clearing out the mind and regaining some perspective. Before you even begin your work day, Yoga can provide some tools to center yourself and set intentions. We often do this in our Yoga classes and we can do it for ourselves. Simply take a few moments to check in with yourself and set an intention for your day. It might be as simple as “I am present.”
While you are at work Yoga can help you regain your sense of self and center. Next time you feel stress coming on, take 5 deep, even breaths—you might be surprised at the difference it makes. Or, take a few minutes to relieve tension in the body with some head and shoulder rolls, accompanied by an awareness of the breath.
At the end of the workday, Yoga can help peel off the layers of the day and bring you back to yourself, re-grounding and relaxing you for a good night’s sleep so you can be ready for the next day. Instead of bringing your work home with you, try detaching from the workday with some breath and body awareness exercises. A few deep breaths before you walk into your house at the end of the day could make a world of difference.
For more tips and tools on how to better manage you workday stress, sign up Stress Relief at Work; Yoga Tools for the office on August 9, at Yoga Yoga Northwest.
And, visit my website at www.beingwellyoga.com for more information on bringing Yoga to the workplace!
I love teaching Yoga. No matter what else is going on in my life, when I step in front of a class as their teacher, everything else fades away. I am completely and totally involved in the moment, and remain that way until class is over, and I am feeling just as renewed as my students. I love having that single focus, and I know it makes me a more effective teacher.
I was thinking about that this morning as I headed from my class back to my home office. I felt great, but was already getting a little frazzled as I drove home while making a few phone calls and thinking about the day ahead. And then I had an idea for an experiment. What if I tried, just tried, to bring that focus to my non-Yoga (and lately, very non-Yogic) workday?
First, a little background as to how things are going these days. I am not someone who always has her cell phone in hand, always on her laptop, doing several things at once, while paying attention to nothing. Or at least I wasn’t like that until recently. Over the past year, as I’ve adjusted to my part-time schedule at an advertising agency while continuing to teach my full class schedule and help manage a thriving family, something happened. When I took on my job, I got a laptop for work, which went in the same home office where my personal laptop resides. For my 50th birthday I got an I-pad. When my company celebrated its anniversary, I got an IPod shuffle. In December, to help us all become digitally savvy; my company gifted each employee with a Google Nexus tablet. So you can imagine the number of devices and cords that live in my office. It is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is how things started to evolve.
Almost from the moment I wake up I am plugged in and multi-tasking. I check various devices at 5:30 I in the morning as I send a quick work email or with someone a Faceboook happy birthday before heading out to teach. My office workday begins mid-morning when I return from teaching. As I walk in the door, I am pulling my IPhone out of my bag and attaching the headset. Once at my desk, I charge the phone and flip open the lid of my personal laptop and my work laptop, typing passwords into both. I scan two screens and begin answering emails. I join a conference call, and, during a lull, begin to scan some e-mails about upcoming Yoga events. I have a to-do list that is filled with items in various sections pertaining to the different areas of my life and within minutes of sitting down it becomes jumbled with illegible notes. I jump up to grab some lunch, usually still on the phone, bring the lunch back to my desk and take bites in between my conference call contributions. Sometimes I will throw in a load of laundry, or empty the dishwasher, usually while I am in the middle of working on a document—how lucky to work at home and be able to do that. If there is a webinar, I grab my laptop and take it upstairs, plug in my headphones and hop on the treadmill while I listen in. And it doesn’t end. At the end of the day I am getting dinner ready while still working on tow computers, playing Words with Friends on my IPad and logging my daily calories on My Fitness Pal on my Google Nexus tablet. Finally, after dinner I sit down to watch TV, but since my husband is working on his laptop while he watches, I grab my IPad and surf Facebook while I half-pay attention to whatever is on TV. If you think you are exhausted reading this, you can imagine how exhausted I feel during the day. At the end of the day I am uneasy, distracted and very, very tired.
So, as I said, today I decided to commit to do just one thing at a time. It seemed like a simple idea. I came home from class, and instead of opening up computers and grabbing my cell phone, I scrambled an egg and some spinach and sat down to eat it. I made a promise to myself to sit for at least 10 minutes, without reaching for the phone or a tablet. I had to really slow down to make breakfast last 7 minutes and then I made myself sit for 3 more minutes. It was hard, but it was also nice. I actually tasted my breakfast, and, instead of feeling hungry after gobbling it down, I felt satisfied.
Now to my office. I opened my work computer, but did not lift the lid on my personal computer. That was big, as I knew there was some Yoga business waiting. I gave myself 20 minutes to read and answer various e-mails before preparing for a meeting. Even though it took a concerted effort, it already was having a calming effect on me. I was able to really prepare for my meeting, taking time to pay attention to some data I needed to analyze, and, of course, the meeting was productive. Even though I was tempted, I did not once turn to my “other” laptop during a lull in the meeting as I often do. I never had to say “Sorry, I couldn’t hear what you just said” to mask the fact that I wasn’t paying attention. This won’t come as a surprise to any Yoga practitioners, but I was actually enjoying the day more by being present. I decided that if I stayed focused until noon, I would do an e-mail check on my personal laptop before I ate. I did that, but kept myself from checking Face book, which was hard. I closed the lid to that laptop. I ate lunch, again without any devices in hand, again feeling much more satisfied than usual. Then, back to work, again with only one laptop open. When my computer “ding-ed” to indicate incoming emails, I resisted the urge to click over to see what had come in until I finished what I was working on. It was an effort, but already I could see the results. The items on my list were getting checked off and I felt clear and focused. Interestingly, I was not jumping up every 30 minutes to grab a snack—I didn’t even notice my usual afternoon hunger pangs. At the end of the day, I checked my personal emails once more, and then closed both computers. My daughter had just gotten home from school and I gave her my undivided attention, which of course was lovely. I noticed her gorgeous smile and what a great outfit she had on (she has an awesome sense of style). I told her about my experiment and she said “Everyone knows that multi-tasking is less effective than being focused”. She’s so smart. She invited to take a break and watch a show on TV with her to wind down, but I decided to stay on course. On to make dinner-no phone or computer checking. Dinner prep was a breeze and took less time than usual. A couple of phone calls came in and I was able to take them, completely focused. Of course, once I shut down the office, lots of “to-do’s” came to mind. Each time, instead of dropping everything and doing whatever popped into my mind, I just wrote them down. After I made dinner, I had one more computer session, and began writing this blog. I had a great dinner catching up with the kids, and I knew I would still have energy to catch up with Seth when he came home a little later. Now as I complete this lengthy story, it is 7:40. I am going to step away from the computer, take Zoë to her dance class, and then relax…completely.
When I teach my classes, I always advise students to be present. I’m so glad I am beginning to listen to myself. As day transitions to night I feel calm, energized and accomplished. There is a sense of completion to this day. I am looking forward to honing my uni-tasking skills in the days ahead.
I challenge you to one day of focus—see how much you can accomplish. Let me know how it goes.
There is a Buddhist saying “In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” Thus, any perspective we have is only a relative truth; there are always 2 sides to every story. Another often quoted way to say this is “The opposite of what you believe is also true.”
I love that concept and it can really help in sticky workplace situations. We often come into a meeting or situation with our minds set on what the outcome should be. So, how do we spend our energy with that perspective? We (okay, I) usually come in to a meeting ready to defend my position and convince others about how “right” my way is. When that happens, are you really listening in the meeting? Of course you are not. Everything you “hear” just provides you with more ways to push your idea. And guess what? The others in the meeting may be in the very same mind-set, attached to their ideas and with an agenda to “be right."
When that happens, we find ourselves truly rooted in our own minds, living completely “above the neck” and believing that our thoughts are what is real. The Yoga Sutras state, “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of.” For the workplace, I’d like to reinterpret this as “When controlled by your own thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of." In other words, change your perspective. Perhaps simply open it to include the perspectives of others. In the Sutras, Pantanjali is giving us a great method to control our thoughts, rather than to be controlled by them. The method is to bring in the opposite thought.
So, step one is to create space for the opposite thought, or another perspective, rather than confusing your thought as “rightness.” Then, consider that the opposite of what you believe is also true. This tends to be challenging at first, and freeing after that. Once you open to the possibility that many perspectives may exist, you will likely find that others will open as well.
Of course, yoga offers us other vehicles for changing our perspectives. Inversions may be the most obvious. You may not be able to come into a headstand or handstand before a meeting, but you might be able to lower you head below your heart while at your desk chair. This physical action can set the stage for opening your mind and heart to other perspectives.
Try it in your next challenging interaction. Take a moment to acknowledge that you can replace your thoughts with opposite ones (that may come from others, or you may open up a fountain of creativity and have many more thoughts of your own). Take a moment to physically change your perspective. Then, release all expectations and join your meeting, being in each moment as it presents.
by Lisa Feder
I have been feeling a little bit “antsy” this week. I am working on a team that is to deliver a promotional plan for a new product for a major retailer. One of my challenges ... I work out of my home office in Austin, while my other teammates are in a 300-person office. Each of us has a role on the team, but the roles overlap a bit. My role, that of the multicultural specialist, overlays almost everyone else’s and my role is to educate and integrate a new way of approaching the market.
Given my physical separation from the rest of the group, I often begin to worry even before a project begins. “Will they remember to include me in the meetings?” If included, “Will they remember that I am on the other end of the phone line?” When I make a comment in a meeting, it is often met with a pause, a moment of silence—in my mind, this could be that they are amazed by my stunning insight, or floored by my disappointing stupidity. In that silence, I usually assume it is the latter. I mean, I am supposed to be the subject matter expert, and to meet that means I need to know everything, everything. As you can imagine, the meaning of the pause is somewhere in-between the two extreme responses I just mentioned. I’ve made a good point, and someone has something to add or challenge, etc. And it’s that first comment, or first presentation that always creates the most stress for me. Once the meeting gets going, and conversation flows, little by little I relax into myself again.
Our yoga practice teaches us that we are “enough”. Since teaching a chakra series, I've shared how each of the chakras reinforces our being “enough”. We can even look at our chakras as some basic “rights”. The first chakra is our right to be here, the second is our right to express ourselves, the third is our right to act, and so on. When I remember that, especially at the beginning of the day, it truly allows me to accept my contributions free from the judgments of others. Even if others see things differently, challenge me, ignore me, or whatever, I know that I am enough. And that is “enough” to keep me going.
How can you practice self-acceptance in this way in the workplace? Think about the forces that might be acting upon you during the day. Your Ego, wanting to be smart and right, the opinions and agendas of others, who also want to be smart and right. Your boss, who always finds more to be done, contributing to that feeling of not being enough. And yet, you are enough. You bring what you bring in the way that you bring it. This does not mean you ever stop striving to be your best, that is built in to what you bring. Let go of those internal and external doubts and know that you are enough today at work, whatever your work is.
The other person is you; talking to yourself in the Aquarian Age
Last month I shared Yogi Bhajan’s “rules” for communication in the spirit of resolving to communicate more effectively in the new year. This month we turn our attention to “5 sutras for the Aquarian Age”. Before we get into them, here are a few definitions. The translation of “sutra” is “thread”, and the sutras are a vehicle for teaching, used often in yoga. The most well-know are the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. Each sutra is a teaching—a brief statement that provides a thread; a theme that can be expanded upon. The Aquarian Age, the age in which we are now living, has been described as the age of experience, expertise and expansion. In contrast to the previous age, in which individuals asked “What’s in it for me?” in the Aquarian Age we seek to participate, contribute and use our individual “lights” to make things better.
And now, for the sutras:
Communication Intentions for the New Year
As we enter into the second month of 2013, and 9 months (wow) back in the Corporate world, I think it is time to look at some intentions moving forward. Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the U.S. has five rules for communication and five sutras for the Aquarian age that I find most helpful in setting my intentions. I’ll share the rules this month, and the sutras next month, and let you know how I will try to live them.
Yogi Bhajan’s Rules for Communication
Who do you think you are? Dealing with Avidya at the office
What do you say when someone says to you, “tell me about yourself?” Do you launch into a series of tales about your travels? Share something about your family? Talk about your job? Your hobbies? Your last relationship, or marathon, or project? We all have roles, experiences and activities we identify with, and those uniquely “us” things become the stories of who we are. But do we, when we tell those stories, really reveal who we are? And what about the stories and roles we assign to others, either based on preconceived notions or on our experience with them? They are our stories about ourselves and others, but they are not our truth. They may provide a structure for us to do our work, but we often get confused and think the stories are who we are.
Getting caught up in our stories often brings us to the concept of “avidya”, which is a basic ignorance of who we are and of the underlying reality that connects everything in the universe. It is the confused notion that we are somehow separate from everything else. And it leads to a lot of friction in the workplace.
Recently, I have been part of a restructure at work. The role I believed I was there to fill has changed, as have all of the expectations of the role. It creates quite a challenge as I test my way into my new role. I find myself struggling with an attachment to my old role I was hired to do, and had specific notions about how to do it. I find myself becoming angry when others expect things of me that I don’t believe are within my new role, or when others are confused about my role. Sometimes I feel threatened by the roles others are taking on.
As I work through these changes, I try to become a witness to my thoughts and feelings. That is a great first step in getting out of “Avidya”. I am constantly reminding myself that we are all connected—we are not as separate as we have been conditioned to believe. So instead of becoming angry with my new role at work, I can take a look at the other person’s perspective. Both of these actions—becoming the witness and embracing our connectedness—have helped me to regain perspective during the day and to be more productive. Rather than dwelling in my old expectations, I am just trying to be my best Self in the moment.
Just for fun, imagine someone you just met says “Tell me about yourself”. Make a list of your responses and see how many have to do with the roles you serve and the expectations you or others have placed on you. While those all provide good information, keep going with your list until you unearth your real Self, and vibrant being, connected to all others. Oh the stories you will be able to tell!
Expectations. Or How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day
“You must learn to welcome consciously the most unexpected events of life, to be entirely transparent in front of them, without any motive, either right or wrong. At that moment avoid all judgment, for you do not know what law is in operation” --Lizelle Reymond
As I got ready for work yesterday, I was thinking “Wow, I have a busy day ahead!” I was facing a heavy meeting schedule to kick off some new projects and was looking forward to them with anticipation. Several of the projects had recently fallen through due to lack of funds or other resources, but finally, I had some I could sink my teeth into. I finally was getting a chance to prove myself, to feel more part of the team and feel a a sense of job security.
As you may have guessed from that build up, by the time I actually sat down at my computer, the first big meeting, full of potential, had been postponed. I was told it was postponed for just two more day so that the rest of the team could get up to speed, but still it changed my morning. I had an expectation that hadn't been met. I assumed that because I had planned, things would happen the way that I had planned them. Ha ha, right?
This is not an unusual or tragic situation, but it threw me off my game. Sure, there were a lot of other tasks I could attend to, but I just didn’t feel like it. So after that, I basically wasted the next hour—checking emails, getting something to drink, mostly feeling sorry for myself because the morning did not go according to my plans. This incident impacted the rest of the day too. I had planned to work on the next steps from that meeting. But after a while longer and a few more meetings, I picked up some momentum and finished the day productively.
In practice, I teach my students to “let go of expectations”. I say “how can we have an expectation of a moment if we have not been there before? And, as each moment is new, we have to approach it with a beginners mind, because we really don’t know what awaits us in that moment.” In business, of course, you must make plans. You must get people together and to do that you have to have an agreed upon date and time. But in the office, and on our mats, things can change at a moment’s notice. Or sometimes you don’t even get that moment—things just change. Our practice teaches us to look at what is in the moment and not to dwell on our expectations of the moment. A postponed meeting is just one example. How about the presentation you have been preparing for weeks that the client no longer wants? Or the new employee you really need to hire and after five rounds of interviews, there is a hiring freeze? Or the you get a call from someone who is heading up a project you thought you were heading up? All of these experiences can throw us off because of our expectations.
Can we, instead of holding expectations in the workplace, simply set intentions? I teach my students that their intentions are their own personal tour guides or MapQuests for their practice—they simple guide you through the path. If things change along the way, MapQuest sends us a blinking “recalculating” message and allows us to continue. (Of course we see that the map apps sometimes have applications and spend a good minute or more blinking “turn around” before the app realizes that we have to find another route—one cannot always turn around, and after a while it is too late to turn around you find another way…)
Are you Breathing? Pause for a Moment to Start Anew
I've been back to work in the corporate world now for almost 4 months. I am beginning to focus, build relationships and accomplish some goals. Like most agencies, the agency I work for is home to constant changes in direction from clients, imminent deadlines and creative tension. People are stressed out most of the time, but unlike most agencies, the agency leadership recognizes this is happening and is interested in doing something about it. Knowing my background as a yoga teacher and practitioner, they asked me to lead a breathing exercise during a company-wide meeting. Of course, I jumped at the chance to talk about mindfulness in the workplace. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep their attention for long and I knew that not everyone would embrace this “opportunity”. I knew I had to keep it simple and accessible.
Naturally, they asked me to create a few Power Point slides as part of the presentation even though I knew that it would not be possible for 150 people to close their eyes, breath, and read slides! However, to accommodate the corporate environment, I set the scene with a a few slides. First, I talked about how we don’t have to do anything to breathe and that indeed we are constantly “being breathed” by the breath. However, when we're under stress, this natural breathing process is impeded, causing tension and constriction in our bodies and anxiety and even anger in our minds. Luckily, conscious breathing can impact and diffuse the effects of stress. The audience seemed to buy into that simple concept. Next, I listed about 8 benefits of mindful breathing, including the release of tension, finding clarity, boosting energy and elevating mood.
Then it was time to demonstrate and practice this conscious breathing technique. With microphone in hand (yes, that was a bit weird), I invited everyone to plant their feet firmly on the floor, sitting tall in their chairs and slightly tucking the chin to extend the crown of the head upward and lengthen the back of the neck. I watched as everyone straightened up a little and appeared to grow taller. I invited them to close their eyes if they were comfortable with that and about 90% did. We began with a few deep inhalations through the nose followed by soft sighing exhalations through the mouth. The sighs were inhibited at first, then a little more releasing. It was so interesting to watch such a large group in an office environment begin to tune in. I see it all the time in my yoga classes, this change that takes place when one begins to breathe mindfully. But in an office it felt somewhat ground-breaking as we continued with the simplest of awareness exercises—feeling the breath come into the body on the inhale, and leave on the exhale. People were becoming consciously aware of the expansion of the body on the inhale, and the release on the exhale. As they were inhaling and exhaling to a count of 5, I felt the energy shift, even just a bit. We finished with a few Lion’s breaths (exhaling loudly while sticking out the tongue) and by the third one some people really were “roaring” and laughing.
When we finished, many in the group expressed how they felt different from when they started this process. Some felt energized and others felt relaxed or even sleepy. Likely the sleepy response is due to the fact that a lot of hard-working people are sleep-deprived and when they begin to breathe mindfully they actually realize this. I also noticed that as the other presentations went on during this business meeting there was an overall energy of engagement that usually dissipates after the first or second speaker—that seemed quite powerful.
The exercise was a great reminder to me that a “breath break”, even one that only lasts about 5 minutes, can create a shift in energy, bring people back to themselves, and allow them to re-engage. I encourage you to try this in your workplace—by yourself in your office, with your lunch mates, or even, if you dare, at the start of a business meeting. You might find that everyone pays a little more attention after that…happy breathing!
“fruits” of your labor if that is how you are evaluated, promoted, paid and ensured that you will continue to be employed?
In Yoga practice, I get this. I let go of goals and judgments and let the Yoga do its thing. And it works every time. Like magic.
But in the workplace? This took a bit of contemplation…
For me, this passage has been a key component in changing the way I see my role in the workplace. At work, I had always been very tightly connected to the fruits of my every action—each conversation, each meeting, each proposal. I put such a high importance on the results of every action. Taking a closer look, I was really trying (and trying really hard and feeling a lot of stress about it) to control every result, and placing such high stakes on each result that I felt I had to control the outcome—things had to go the way I envisioned and planned they would. “Failure” to get the precise results I envisioned was not an option.
This passage tells a different story. First take a look at the actions. In the workplace the actions might be gathering the most helpful data and creating a compelling business proposition from that. Actions might be leading a sales meeting or making a sales pitch to the client. Letting go of attachment means focusing on the right action—a well-organized presentation or the creation of an innovative new product—that is right action. What happens after that is simply not in one’s control. At this point, one has to have faith that the action will set events in motion that will lead to the desired business results. Often, it is the ego that gets in the way. We focus not only on our actions, but also on getting others to agree with us so that we will be right. Yet, in the workplace, do we need really need to be right, or do we simply want the best results for the business? Often, the results that follow our right actions in the workplace take a different turn. A new idea or innovation, a change in management, or an evolution in strategy for example. If we are content to focus on our actions, and not on controlling the actions of others, we often get to a better place, a place of synergy, perhaps (to use a good office buzzword). If we can just let go of the needs of the ego—to be praised, congratulated, agreed with—we can often see a bigger more robust answer arise.
I nearly jumped to my feet. He was advocating the ultimate release of control in the workplace. I loved the idea. And returned to my office the next week and tried this incredible formula for success. And guess what? It worked. Like magic.
Lisa Feder is a Yoga Instructor, Personal Trainer and Corporate Wellness Consultant. Read more