Inhale, Exhale and Apply Yamas to the Workplace

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.

 

1. Ahimsa

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

 

2. Satya

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.

 

3. Asteya

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. 

 

4. Bhramacharya

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.

 

5. Aparigraha

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.

 

Conclusion

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. (:

Beyond Truthfulness: practicing Satya on and off the mat

Image Source: www.bindiyoga.ca

 

`Yamas` (moral discipline) are observances recommended by yogic philosophy and teaching as part of the eight-limbed path of yoga, developed by Patanjali. Unlike a commandment that has to be strictly followed, the five yamas are established for enthusiasts to develop a mindful and healthy lifestyle.

The second yama is called Satya. The Sanskrit word literally translates to fact, reality, or true nature in English. In its simplest form, satya means upholding the truth. Although the yama certainly encompasses honesty, it also includes integrity to ourselves, our lives, and our inner divine. The practice invites us to be our truest, most authentic selves. More than simply telling your truth, you have to also practice and live it. 

For instance, you can’t keep saying that you want a break but also accept overtime work from your office; or know deep down that you want to commit into a serious relationship but go on casual, meaningless dates.  These small contradictions keep us from manifesting what it is we really want. Satya encourages us to align our thoughts, words, and actions with our desires, while keeping them pure and harmless. 

Reflection piece: In what situations do you notice that your actions are in conflict with what you feel? Why? Who or what are you protecting?

Note: truth shouldn’t cause harm

This yama doesn’t invite us to be frank and forward in telling negative observations, no matter how truthful they are. Our ethical code doesn’t live in a bubble. There’s a reason why ahimsa (non-violence) is the first yama. It tells us that whatever we do should not cause harm to others. Hence, if telling your version of the truth will hurt others, you have to think twice whether your opinion matters. Practicing satya isn’t simply about blindly telling the truth regardless of the consequence. It’s making sure that you speak and act with thought and intention instead of just saying whatever is on your mind. 

 

How to practice satya on the mat

  • Set an intention in your practice. Your intention is the truth as to why you are on the mat today. It will direct your reality. Is your intention to get stronger? To get better sleep? To feel less stressed? Whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice, remind yourself of your intention to get on the mat. 
  • Listen to your physical body. Pain, discomfort, and injury are different languages that your body uses to communicate its truth. Don’t ignore that. If you’re feeling tired, or healing from an injury, don’t force yourself into doing another Chaturanga Dandanasana. It’s a violation of both satya and ahimsa
  • Rather than believing that you are not strong, flexible, or good enough, honor the reality of your body: it just needs practice. Everybody can improve through practice, and no one is an exception. 

 

How to practice satya off the mat

  • Do you feel that you are striving for things that you don’t actually want, but are conditioned by society, family, friends, or loved ones as things you should aspire to have? Ask the hard questions and be completely honest with yourself on whether you are living the life that aligns with your truth.  
  • Make sure that you speak to yourself and others with kindness and intention. Before speaking, ask yourself: is what I’m saying good, true, and beneficial? 
  • Speak up for yourself when your voice needs to be heard.
  • Shift from judgment to observation. For instance, instead of saying “I am fat”, say “My body doesn’t meet yet my standards but it can always improve.” In the first sentence, you are imposing your standards on the world by labeling yourself fat and calling it your reality; in the second, you are simply and clearly expressing your need (to be less fat) in the moment.

How to include yoga in our daily routine – Part 1

For years, I have always felt good and at peace after each yoga practice and I think that is what yoga is about. It was only until this course that I realized there is much more than asanas! Hence, I would definitely like to add more yoga into my daily routine. But I am always tied for time, so I will implement it in the most easiest and sustainable way that suits my current lifestyle.
Here’s how. First of all, I will start with my thoughts. This requires no physical effort but more on awareness and mindfulness. Practice Yama at all times! This will be a guiding principle to make my daily decisions. Be it at work, at home, teaching kids or with friends.
Next will be food choices. I will be honest, it is impossible for me to avoid Rajasic and Tamasic food totally. However, I can definitely minimize them and choose more sattvic food not just for myself but also for my family.
Thirdly, I will be more mindful in my postures. For example, whenever I need to pick things up from the floor, instead of squatting down, I can bend from the hip, keeping back straight, to get a good stretch for the entire back and hamstring.
I will also take note of my standing posture. I have hyperextended knee and this probably explains my weak knee joint. Before this, I don’t even know knee can be hyperextended!
These are the few simple adjustments that I can add in my daily routine and I am confident I can practice this for a lifetime.

End of My YTT Journey, Start to a New Beginning

In our life, we crossed path with many people. Some comes and goes. While others, stays along the way.

In this YTT journey, I have met people from all walks of life. Different nationality, race, gender and religion. But we all have the same mind and goal. We shared stories about our life, worked as a group and cherished the moments as we embarked in the 10 weeks long journey together. We are the March Weekend Warriors.

Though the time spent together are short, we had great fun learning from our masters. They have taught us with their utmost passion and sincerity. And I bet you, their dedications are unlike the others.

From this wonderful journey, I have seen the unseen. I have done the undone that I never knew I could. New knowledge gain with nothing to lose.

Over the 9 weeks training, a word has been etched in my mind even since I was introduced to it. “Dhāraṇā” from the Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra. Somehow, I was drawn to it. Dhāraṇā is the sixth stage or limb of eight as explained by the Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It’s translated as “concentration” or “single focus”. Somehow, we are always caught up in our daily life, always busy with work and working hard to make ends meet or keeping up with the wants that we start to lose sight of ourselves. We got so engrossed with keeping up with the lifestyles and standards that the world and social media portrays. Over time, we start to realise that we have lost so much time focusing on all the unimportant aspect of life that we forget who we are in the first place.

Dhāraṇā teaches us to focus our attention on the present moment and to bring attention to our SELF. By taking up YTT, I have discovered self-realization. Discovering that sometimes letting go of many of the things associated with our individual identity is needed in order to find our true Self. Take a moment to slow down the pace of your life and start taking the first step to discover yourself.

“Every journey has an end but the start of a new beginning.” Anonymous

 

Patsy Kaye Ang, YTT200 Weekend Warrior – March 2018

 

Dhyana (Meditation) – 8 Limbs of Yoga

Dhyana, or yoga meditation, is the 7th stage of the 8 limb’s of Ashtanga Yoga. What most people today refer to as ‘meditation’ are generally varieties of techniques for stress relief and relaxation, and for enhancing and refining the faculty of ‘concentration’ (or dharana).
However, Swami Gitananda explains that meditation is a most misunderstood word. It has come to mean for many, simply sitting with the eyes closed, or the repetition of a mantra sound over and over. It must be something much more profound, much more elevated.
 
From the 6th stage of Dharana, the mind is put through various rigors of trainings to restrain its waywardness and to refine its awareness to the ultimate degree of ‘one-pointedness’. Achieving this state is an ‘active process’ that requires much effort. But it is precisely when this ‘one-pointedness’ of mind ceases to be an ‘active effort’ and then just ‘happens naturally’, without any effort, that we have achieved the state of meditation.
Hence, meditation is a ‘state’ (of being, or of mind), and not a techinique that we ‘practice’.  It is an unbroken stream of raw observation whereby very little ‘sense of self’ remains. Without the dualistic nature of thought inherent in thinking present, one can say that at such moments, the observer and the observed become one.
At this level, it becomes increasingly more difficult to use words and the reasoning, conscious mind to describe the experiences of yoga. After all, the state of meditation, by its very nature transcends our material human experience and everything that is related to it.
The 6th (Dharana) and 7th (Dhyana) stage of yoga often seem to overlap each other by definition. However, we could say that meditation (dhyana), is concentration (dharana) taken to ‘perfection’ — In other words, a meditative state is the natural result of ‘perfect concentration’.
So it is prolonged concentration, then, that leads us into this ‘spontaneous’ and ‘free-flowing’ meditative state, whereby nothing but the object of concentration fills the mental space; and whereby the observer and the observed become one.
So this begs the question “How often are we in a meditative state?”. Unless you are a very dedicated and highly disciplined practitioner, the answer is “probably not often”.
While this word ‘meditation’ has taken on a whole range of meanings today, from the very mundane exercises for calming the mind, to more structured practices for refining and improving concentration, these things, although some of them may be valuable tools on the ‘road to meditation’, are not themselves meditation, and in most cases, alone will not be able to take one to a state of meditation.
This is so because much preparation is needed before one is capable of experiencing this powerful, yet very subtle state of meditation. As Swami Gitananda explains:
“Meditation is an exalted state of being which is produced by a moral and ethical, pure lifestyle; control of the body and breath through Asana and Pranayama; transcendence of and freedom from the imprisonment of the senses in Pratyahara. Practices of Dharana, exercises in concentrating and focusing the mind must be perfected. Only then is one able to even speak of meditation, let alone experience it.”
In my own experience in meditation, I believe I have encountered fragmented moments of meditative states. However, I say they are fragmented states because while in those states, it does not take long before my discursive mind intervenes to try and dissect and understand what has just happened. I suppose the “ … moral and ethical, pure lifestyle; control of the body and breath through Asana and Pranayama” spoken of by Swami Gitananda refers to the ultimate process of making the ego extinct, thereby allowing a meditative state to be sustainable. This is not an easy task from my own experience.