Most people know yoga as a physical practice that increases strength, agility, and flexibility, but the postures done on a mat are just a fraction of what it has to offer. Yoga’s foundational philosophy offers a treasure trove of other practices that can help you be more effective and productive at work.
Based on the yoga sutras written thousands of years ago by an Indian sage named Patanjali, this ancient wisdom has much to offer the modern workplace. Organized into Eight Limbs, these yoga practices offer an ethical framework, a personal code of conduct, and practices that lead to greater self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and resilience — all of which contribute to personal effectiveness in the workplace.
Yoga doesn’t offer prescriptions or make demands, but karma is a prominent principle. Karma means that every action or thought has consequences, and we are responsible for what happens to us. Yoga practices help people clearly see this connection, which leads to increased personal accountability and more mindful decision-making.
5 Yoga Practices That Make You More Productive
Here are five simple practices taken from the Limbs of yoga that will enhance your on-the-job satisfaction, success and sanity.
This yogic precept, called ahimsa, has physical and mental aspects. For example, consider how you talk to yourself. It matters. When your inner critic harangues harshly, listening to that negative nattering — or worse, believing it — creates uncertainty, dampens enthusiasm, and slows progress. Ahimsa is a practice of compassion, which begins with compassion toward self. It also means doing no harm to others or yourself. The practice helps you consciously avoid doing your body harm (eating junk food, not resting properly, etc.) Pushing yourself is fine, but not to the point of depletion, exhaustion, or injury.
Because we don’t have to think about it, it’s easy to lose sight of the power that can be generated when the breath is consciously harnessed. The fourth Limb of yoga, called pranayama, translates as control over life force or energy. Breathing techniques can be done unobtrusively at work, and have the ability to calm you, ground you, or energize you. Breathing deeply before responding to questions or comments also creates space for a more thoughtful response.
Also known as santosha, this is an antidote for self-doubt and judgment and gets you unstuck from disappointment or discouragement. Practice starts with remembering that you always have a choice about how to react in the face of your circumstances. When emotions like fear, frustration and irritation get the better of you, practice making a conscious choice to remain content.
Practicing non-attachment to outcomes is another essential part of the practice. When you get attached to a specific outcome, two things can happen. First, it squelches creativity and flexibility because you’re focused on a single “right” outcome. Second, when things don’t turn out as hoped for, the blame game becomes an obstacle to problem-solving and resilience. Do your very best, but recognize you can’t control how everything turns out.
Once considered an ascetic pursuit, a growing number of prominent businesses and institutions are making meditation a part of the workday — Aetna, Google, General Mills, Harvard Business School and Merck to name a handful. A regular practice, called dhyana in yoga, helps tame the restless mind that keeps you from being focused and fully present. Research has shown meditation increases emotional intelligence, mental clarity, self-awareness, and creativity, qualities that will serve you well in the workplace.
One of the precepts in the Eight Limbs is tapas, which literally translates as fire. Practicing tapas means burning off bad habits or mental blocks to help you push through the discomfort of change or new learning. Develop a habit of taking the long view when things get tough or uncomfortable (i.e. I know this is hard now, but there will be a payoff if I persist). That creates tapas, and consciously practicing at work aids in skill development and new learning.
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