There is much more to yoga than doing poses on a mat. A new book, Yoga Wisdom at Work,
co-authored by Maren and Jamie Showkeir, shows how the practice has concrete, pragmatic applications that can benefit people on the job. The book applies the Eight Limbs of Yoga (the poses you do in yoga class are one limb), written some time around 500-100 BC, to the modern work experience.
For example, one of the ways of using Yoga principles at work is to develop nonattachment and focus on what you are doing so you don’t get caught up in the dramas swirling around you. When you practice Yoga in class, your teacher probably tells you to breathe into the stretch and release the tension, disconnecting your mind from the pain. Practicing nonattachment at work allows you to disconnect the mind from wanting things to be different and worrying about the future. Your mind is then free to stretch, explore, and tap its creativity.
And if you are not attached to the outcome of your work as being perfect, you can feel content in the knowledge you did your best, regardless of outcome. No matter how well you do, there may be disappointment as well as satisfaction. You won’t know until you get there; you might as well focus on what you enjoy about your work now.
Attachment to financial incentives for working is equally limiting. Working for money puts your focus on pleasing the people who pay you. This is often a never-ending and thankless pursuit. Daniel Pink wrote about the dulling effect of working for money in his best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink found that offering people money to solve problems actually puts the brakes on creativity. When you instead focus on the excitement of problem-solving, the joy of working with a good team or how your work will help others, the results will be miraculously better than if your efforts were attached to the financial payoff. This is important for business leaders to realize as well when they are looking to drive up the energy in the workforce.
Is complete nonattachment realistic? Of course not. Swami Satchidananda, in his translation of Patanjali’s Sutras, observes that the mind “has a duty to desire”— yearnings and attachment are a natural part of life. Yoga Wisdom at Work asserts that how you handle desire will make the difference between a serene mental state or one that simmers with negativity. Control is an illusion. Disappointment is inevitable, but a strong practice of nonattachment can help you realize you don’t have to choose to get stuck, mired in a bog of cynicism and hopelessness.
Here are three suggestions from Yoga Wisdom at Work for practicing nonattachment:
- Meditate to learn focus: One of the Limbs of Yoga is focus (dharana), which leads to deeper meditation. Periods of quiet, mindful reflection help quiet the chatter in your mind, develop self-awareness and create clear intentions.
- Listen to your stories: Think about a time you were disappointed or angry about a decision made at work. What story did you tell yourself and what role did attachment to an outcome play in your emotional state? For a few days, try noticing what stories you tell yourself when things don’t go your way. Try reframing the story without changing the outcome. What do you notice?
- Practice Surrender: Among the precepts in the 8 Limbs of Yoga is surrender (ishvara-pranidhana), which is a way to stay connected to something larger than yourself. Nonattachment is a form of surrender, where you recognize no one can truly control events or other people. Detaching from your ego-based control needs is a way to surrender to your highest, best intentions. Align your action with your intention to do good work to help shed unproductive needs and desires.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go home from work feeling refreshed instead of drained? Practicing the lessons from Yoga Wisdom at Work will help make this a reality.