Many people don’t realize that the familiar physical practice is just a fraction of what yoga offers. More than 2000 years ago, Indian sage Patanjali outlined Eight Limbs, which offer a moral framework, a code of conduct and physical and spiritual practices designed to help you develop your potential and keep you connected to something larger than yourself.
The precepts from this ancient wisdom have much to offer in the modern workplace. Here are five pragmatic practices:
1. Breathing — The Fourth Limb (pranayama) is breath control. Yogic breathing techniques help alter moods, increase energy, mitigate mental distress, foster patience, enhance focus, and heighten clarity. A medical executive we know practices pranayama by taking a deep breath before answering questions, creating space that allows for a thoughtful response.
2. Focus is the Sixth Limb (dharana). The practice trains your mind to filter productivity-killing distractions. Start by re-thinking your multitasking mindset, which brain research has shown that multi-tasking is impossible and counterproductive. Pay attention when your mind wanders or frets about things that are out of your control. Connect to your breath then return focus to the task at hand.
3. Meditation (dhyana) is the Seventh Limb, and research documents its myriad benefits. It increases the brain’s neural pathways that govern compassion, self-awareness, and memory. The practice can ease depression and help control anger. Many corporations, including Aetna, Apple, General Mills, Google, and Prentice Hall Publishing have integrated the practice into employees’ workdays. Even a small, daily time investment reaps big benefits.
4. Non-stealing (asteya) is among five moral precepts comprising yoga’s First Limb (yamas). It brings to mind pilfering money or “stuff.” But at work, many valuable intangibles are stolen, such as time, reputation,credit, and dignity. Tardiness or being unprepared for meetings, wordy emails, and general procrastination steals time. So does gossip, which also misappropriates people’s reputation and dignity.
5. Contentment (santosha) falls under the Second Limb, which also has five precepts called niyamas. They offer a framework for personal conduct and self-development. Practicing santosha is learning to cultivate contentment no matter what life hands you. Give work your best efforts, and then recognize you have a choice about how to respond if the outcome is disappointing. Non-attachment fosters contentment as well as encouraging openness to unconventional thinking, sparking creativity and innovation.