There are 8 Limbs of Yoga, each describing a different aspect of our yoga practice. These 8 Limbs can be applied beyond the mat and into life. The first limb refers to “Yamas”, which is known as moral discipline i.e. to be ‘moral’ in our current situation and in our conduct. The “Yamas” guide us towards practices of how we act towards ourselves and others. Given that most of us are working and spending a good part of our day with colleagues, for this post, I would like to apply the 5 Yamas to the workplace, to understand how our thoughts, emotions and reactions to our colleagues and the daily grind can come from a more considered and aware state.
Ahimsa means ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’ in words, thoughts and actions. This means not thinking negative thoughts or physically harming ourselves or others and ensuring that all that we do is done in harmony.
It is common to have disagreements with colleagues, due to differences in perspectives on how things should be done or intolerance to certain behaviour. However, it is important to peel back the layers and to uncover the main trigger, to develop a better understanding of how we should exercise Ahimsa at the workplace.
Once, I was asked to take over a project from one of my team members to be the main liaison contact. Overtime, I noticed that the colleague became reluctant to share information with me and was holding up the progress of the project. I decided to talk to her about it and she expressed her concerns about not being able to return to the project if she shared all the information needed. To be honest, I felt upset and found her reason non-valid and unreasonable then. However, as I relook at the situation, I realised that me taking over the project may have caused her to feel like she was not needed in the team, hence the need for her to hold on to some information so she could still play a role in the project. Moving forward, I became more tactful and roped her in project discussions for us to work effectively together.
Another scenario – making mistakes at work. Projects are always running at a tight deadline, making everything urgent today. People are becoming reactive with high stress levels and low empathy. When we make mistakes at work, we become critical and hard on ourselves, blaming ourselves and thinking of “what-ifs” scenarios. Instead of beating ourselves over it or playing through different scenarios in our mind, we should be more mindful of our emotions and learn to practise self-compassion and be gentle with ourselves. This also applies to fellow team members who have made mistakes, forgive them and help them to move along and improve.
To practise Ahimsa in the workplace, we should:
- Communicate clearly with our fellow colleagues, to understand them from their point of views. Not only do we learn about them, we learn something about ourselves too.
- Show empathy to our team mates, do not form negative thoughts or jump to conclusions based on their reasons.
- Give colleagues the benefit of doubt, listen to them and discover the root of the issue, to solve the problem.
- Practise self-compassion, be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up over mistakes that have already been done
Satya means truthfulness; being honest with ourselves, honouring where we are at, seeing things as how they are. Complete honesty with ourselves requires some time and space and is not an easy process, much less with others. Satya in the workplace could translate as being true to ourselves and the team and the team’s goals.
For example, we should be honest with ourselves about our skills, and our work preferences. Everyone possesses different skills levels, based on past work experience and the type of education we went through. We have different interests in the type of work that we do as well, some prefer problem-solving, some prefer planning and running events. Too often, we are afraid to show our weaknesses and ask questions in fear that we will get penalised or get judged harshly by the bosses. We may even be worried about being honest about the type of work that we like, as this might give off the impression that we are not keen to learn and grow in other areas. As the quote goes “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”, it is important for us to be honest with our bosses and colleagues on our work preferences so we can enjoy the work that we do. We should also be honest with them, if we are finding difficulty in our work and to seek help from our colleagues.
There was once, I attended a team meeting to discuss the year’s work plan. It was a fruitful discussion as all team members were encouraged to be themselves, to bounce ideas and share constructive feedback to build on these ideas. There was good teamwork between all team members, who were dedicated and were engaged fully in the discussion on forming the new team goals. This is another example of how Satya can be applied to the workplace, through creating a healthy and safe work environment for employees to be themselves, to share ideas, engage in debates and work together as a team. Employees can also do their part by being truthful about their views on the ideas and providing constructive criticism to strengthen the ideas, without being afraid of getting judged based on one’s ideas. This also applies to appraisal when bosses and employees discuss the work done and provide feedback to each other. We should be honest and provide constructive feedback on how the other party can improve and be a better version of themselves. This is probably easier said than done as it is sometimes difficult for employees to feedback on how their employers can be better, for fear of souring the relationship with the bosses, or getting penalised thereafter. We can start with baby steps, just giving one honest feedback at a time until you feel comfortable to give more. Of course the teachings of Ahimsa do apply here, ensure that your words do not intentionally harm others.
To practise Satya in the workplace, we should:
- Be truthful with ourselves, our work preferences, our work skills. Recognise our strengths and our shortcomings and see how we can develop ourselves better.
- Be honest with our bosses and our colleagues, give constructive feedback and help each other grow. Being open and truthful will help to strengthen relationships, inculcating teamwork and better camaraderie between team members.
Asteya means non-stealing. A closer look into this, shows that the need to steal arises because of a lack of faith in ourselves to create what we need. The moment we feel that ‘incomplete’ or are lacking something in life, we start to form desires, wants and search for something to gratify and fill this ‘empty’ sensation. For Asteya, we want to move towards feeling that we have enough and that we are enough by ourselves.
To practise Asteya in the workplace, we should:
- Not steal ideas or take credit for someone else’s work
We are always told to work smart and to use productive and efficient means but that does not mean taking shortcuts and claiming others’ ideas as your own. We can learn from others, seek help where needed but do give your colleagues credit on the work they have done or ideas they have given.
- Be Timely
Be punctual for meetings, meet all the timelines stated in the Gantt Chart, do things early, do not procrastinate, complete your tasks within working hours so you can have a good work life balance. These are some ways that you can prevent yourself from “stealing” other people’s precious time that could be otherwise, spent working on other work projects or doing other things. A useful tip would be to plan the next day’s task list on the night before so you can work on it when the day starts. In addition, sometimes we digress from the main topic during meetings, causing meetings to run longer than expected, which delays other meetings and other work to be done. To be more efficient and to prevent ‘stealing’ others’ time, we should do our best to stick to the meeting’s agenda and complete all discussions needed at the time slot given.
- Do not compare with others
We fall into the trap of the rat race where the goals are promotion, high salary and greater benefits. We compare our projects with others, to see which projects are more “important” i.e. visible to the top management, to determine who can get promoted and reach the top first. If we dig deep within, we know that we only start comparing with others because of a lack of faith in ourselves, hence we want to ensure that our competitors are not as good as us. Having colleagues as competition may motivate you to strive towards certain goals, however I’ve always found it unhealthy. It is imperative that we respect our colleagues for their abilities, celebrate their achievements and be happy for them when they reach their goals. Everyone is different, with their own set of abilities, hence we should not be comparing or benchmarking against others. We should also believe in ourselves, in our capabilities and our skills and not put others down to make ourselves feel better.
Bhramacharya means the right use of energy, which guides us on how we can use our energy i.e. directing our energy away from external fleeting desires and towards finding happiness and peace within ourselves. In the workplace, it can be translated to not exhausting ourselves over work matters that are irrelevant and having a work-life balance.
How do we incorporate Bhramacharya into the workplace?
- At work, we should make best use of our time and energy on our various work tasks. This means staying focused on the daily work tasks, to complete them by the end of the day, limiting the time spent socialising with colleagues in the pantry or workstations, catching up on office politics and gossip. It also means reducing phone usage and not taking longer than necessary, lunch breaks and meetings. The key is to do everything in moderation to ensure that time and energy is spread out efficiently, to ensure productivity and a healthy work-life balance, keeping burnout at bay.
- Practise work-life balance, carve out boundaries between work and leisure. Work does not define your identity and it should not be the core focus in your life. Find a hobby, pick up a skill, learn something new. Use your time and energy creatively and wisely into other activities beyond work, to make yourself happy.
Aparigraha means non-possessiveness or non-attachment. This Yama guides us to take only what we need and to let go of things that no longer serve us.
This Yama is very applicable to the workplace in so many ways. It is amazing to feel so much passion for your work, to see your projects coming into fruition and benefitting the recipients. But what happens when we become too attached to the projects?
- Being too attached to achieving the desired outcomes of the project leads to greater disappointment. Very often, projects may not go the way that you want them to and desired outcomes are not achieved. Sometimes, projects even get aborted, postponed or replaced by something else that you are not spearheading. This leads to one feeling great disappointment and even unworthiness. We should not get too attached to the work that we do and we must be able to let it go when it no longer serves its purpose. Hence, we should not become so attached to fulfilling the goals that we neglect other aspects like, learning and developing ourselves and others, building on soft and technical skills in the workplace.
- Being too attached to projects may cause us to have a tunnel vision i.e. we are not receptive to constructive criticism or feedback on our ideas, and we think that our ideas are the best. We believe that we should control all aspects of the project and become micromanaging, from the little details to the big picture. We should adopt a learning attitude, be open to ideas from people, learn from our challenges and failures, learn from others’ experiences and think of how to do things better.
- When we get attached to the projects, we also get attached to the people whom we work with. However, people come and go in organisations, we should learn to let them go if they have found other passions in life and be happy that they are embarking on new endeavours. Too often, when a team member tenders, I see them being treated as ‘invisible’ in the workplace by their fellow team members. Colleagues no longer share jokes or provide updates to the staff leaving and the staff is no longer included in meetings. It’s sad to see this but it’s the harsh reality. Sometimes, when a staff leaves, the team members behind feel betrayed as they have to take on the new workload of the leaving staff and they feel left behind. Here, we need to incorporate the teachings of Ahimsa and Aparigraha together i.e. not to hold negative thoughts towards others and learn to let go and be happy for people.
To practise Aparigraha in the workplace, we should:
- Learn to let go of work projects and ideas that no longer work.
- Let go of people and be happy for them with their choices.
- Be receptive and respectful of others’ feedback and perspectives.
I’ve covered the 5 Yamas and showed how we can use them in the workplace. There are so many things that we can do, to develop a better understanding of us and our colleagues’ thoughts and reactions and to make the workplace a better place for us to work in. We do not have to instantly apply all Yamas, it’s not going to be easy changing habits that have been ingrained in us. However, we can slowly change one thing at a time, after all, change is a constant. For me, Ahimsa would be easy, but not Satya especially when it comes to being honest with my colleagues and providing constructive feedback. A lot of work is needed on my part, but I’m sure I will eventually get there by working it one at a time.
Leaving you with a favourite quote from Mohandas Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world (workplace in this case)” Let me know if you guys have more ways on how we can apply Yamas in our workplace. Sending you peace and light. (: