Although I try to live my life without regrets, I often wish I had discovered yoga at a much earlier age. And not just the physical practice (although I am always happy to sing praise about the benefits of that.) Knowing and practicing yogic wisdom early in my life would have influenced it for the better — I am certain of that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because it’s graduation season. So many young people, degrees in hand, are eager to explore their potential and unleash their powerful energy on the world. They get inundated with advice about how to find or keep a job, how to be successful, how to maximize their earning potential. However, it seems to me that except for those (hopefully) inspirational ceremonial speeches, they get less guidance on how to be at work.

Truly, I wouldn’t swap the life I have today for another,  and yet still I would love to go back and advise that oh-so-young me at college graduation, that 21-year-old aspiring journalist and soon-to-be mother.

No one has ever invited me to deliver a commencement address, but then again, why wait for an invitation? Seize the day, as they say! In two parts, I’m going to share some of the yogic wisdom I wish the young me knew about as she began her first professional newspaper job, four months after graduation and three months after having a baby. I am certain that if young me had created practices based on this advice back then, she would have been a more productive worker, a more skillful supervisor, a more effective leader. Throughout her career, she would have been more satisfied (and sane) in life and in work.

The five precepts contained in the First Limb of Yoga (the Yamas), often referred to as universal morality, provide a brilliant career road map. The Indian sage Patanjali, often called the father of yoga because he wrote down the ancient precepts that had been shared orally for generations, saw them as a necessity for “the broad training of humanity.” Each precept stands alone like fingers on a hand. And each depends on the other, just as the hand is made stronger and better with all five fingers.

Here is my retroactive graduation advice to young Maren:

Non-violence (ahmisa): Be compassionate to yourself. Learn to silence the voice of that harsh inner critic who whispers (or shouts) that you are not good enough, that you don’t belong, that what others think of you is what really matters. Treat yourself with the same unbounded love and care you instantly felt when your newborn daughter was placed in your arms, and extend that to everyone. Remember that violent acts don’t have to be physical. Cutting words, vicious gossip, blaming others instead of owning your own contribution to a problem — these things and more constitute violence.

Non-lying (satya): Understand that speaking your truth, no matter how difficult, is an essential gift, even if it makes you or others uncomfortable.  Temper your truth by acknowledging that others have their own truths, and be willing to listen with an open heart. Finally, know that many things can be true at the same time. Before you speak, always ask yourself these four guiding questions: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it necessary? 3) Is it kind? 4) Does it improve upon the silence?

Non-stealing (asteya): So many things of value get stolen every day out of selfishness and lack of mindfulness. Open your eyes to the value of people’s time and energy, and ask for it judiciously. When you are being paid for your work, be sure that you are giving full value — to do less makes you a thief. Remember that stealing credit for others work or ideas is an egregious and unnecessary form of robbery, and that denigrating others behind their backs is a form of denying humanity and stealing reputations.

Non-squandering of vital energies (brahmacharya): Be wary of using your precious energy and resources on things that don’t serve you or others well — drama, unhealthy habits, worrying about the things over which you lack control. Refuse to become a slave to your cravings — whether it be for foods, consumer goods or attention. Honor and respect your relationships and those of others.

Non-greed (aparigraha): Remember that initial wonder at being paid for doing something you loved? Try to retain that joy, even in the face of discouragement and certain disappointment. Avoid being caught in the trap of thinking what you earn is what you are worth. That old adage “Whoever dies with the most toys wins”? It is a horrible, soul-sapping lie — don’t fall for it! As long as you can meet your needs, remember that work is about meaning, not about how many numbers are printed on your paycheck. Live simply, and be generous.

Finally, never, never, never stop learning and always, always, always be grateful for what you have.

NEXT WEEK: Advice from the Niyamas, often called yoga’s personal code of conduct.


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As the conversation wound down at a recent book group gathering I attended, a few stragglers took up one of the themes that had made the storyline so interesting: Self-awareness — or in the heroine’s case, the lack thereof.

“What’s so great about being self-aware anyway?” one woman asked.  We laughed, but it was a serious question, and my mind has been percolating on the topic. In yoga the precept that contributes mightily to self-awareness is called svadhyaya (self-study), and it's a practice that helps you get to know yourself better.

It’s impossible to realize your full potential without svadhyaya. You can’t further your development without examining  your assumptions, identifying your contribution to the difficult issues you encounter, or getting clear about the habits that do not serve you. Self-awareness is the means to living consciously and authentically. It can deepen relationships — or help you see when it’s time to let them go. As businessman and author William George writes in his book True North, “Authenticity is developed by … understanding one’s life story and the impact of one’s crucibles, and reflecting on how these contribute to motivations and behaviors.”

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How to develop self-awareness? Start with less certainty. Most people tend to cling to certainty because they think its opposite is uncertainty — but in reality curiosity propels us from being stuck in certainty into the realm of exploration and revelation. Spend time deconstructing some of your most cherished beliefs. Hold them up to the light, stand them on their head — find your child’s mind and look at something you’ve seen a thousand times through a child’s eyes.

Svadhyaya also is a path to developing confidence in the strengths that you already possess. Not just knowledge, skills, and techniques (although they are certainly important) but also the essence of who you are. Larry Dressler, author of Standing in the Fire, says that knowing and understanding your “way of being” can make the difference between competence and mastery: “It is a specific kind of presence that others experience as fully engaged, open, authentic, relaxed, and grounded in purpose." Svadhyaya helps you find that core of integrity and presence, so that you can call it forth in complex, heated and demanding situations.

Here are a few of the suggestions we make in Yoga Wisdom at Work for developing the practice of svadhyaya:

1. Write down three things you believe are true. Identify the assumptions in your statements. Ask yourself, “What if this weren’t true? Is there a different story I could be telling?” How many other stories are possible?

2. Make a list of your core values. Where did they come from? Are they still relevant? Are there times you have failed to align your actions with your values? When does that happen, and why?

3. Ask a few close, trusted friends or coworkers to give you feedback when they see you indulging identified bad habits, or taking actions that don’t reflect your values. Set aside specific time to get feedback. When you receive it, try to avoid justifying your actions or getting defensive. Just say “Thank you.” After you’ve had one of these conversations, what do you notice?