Millions of people practice yoga’s time-tested postures to develop physical flexibility, strength and balance. But the rich underlying philosophy of the practice is less familiar.
Built on “Eight Limbs” written about by the Indian sage Patanjali 500 and 100 BCE, yoga’s ancient precepts offer lessons for managing your modern work life. Incorporating these broader practices is a wonderful way to enhance productivity and help you stay mindful and grounded even when the demands of work and home are tap dancing on your head.
5 Yoga Practices to Improve Your Workday
Asteya (non-stealing) is one of five moral precepts that comprise the First Limb. (Yamas). Stealing brings to mind pilfering “stuff,” but the biggest theft at work is usually time. Think about the myriad ways you allow time to be stolen from you. Wordy emails? Checking Facebook? General procrastination? Make a list of things that steal your time and develop strategies for becoming the “security guard” of your schedule.
Tapas, the Sanskrit word for discipline or zeal, is one of five characteristics found in the second Limb (Niyamas), which center on personal conduct. One way to create “discipline” around work is by being realistic about what you can accomplish. Toss your long to-do list then identify and commit to doing three things that you absolutely will accomplish today. Tapas also speaks to motivation. The good news? You’re in charge of that.
Pranayama (breath control) is Limb Four. Breathing is so instinctual we lose sight of its power. A short, mindful breathing break is a great way to revitalize your energy as well as calm you down. While you’re at it, consider incorporating this six-step meditation. (Meditation, or dhyana, is the Seventh Limb.) Recommended by psychiatrist Eric Maisel, it requires minimal time investment but can reap a big benefit.
1) Come to a complete stop, then take a deep breath during each as you focus on each of the next steps.
2) Empty yourself of expectations.
3) Name your work (specific task you want to accomplish)
4) Trust your resources
5) Embrace the present moment
6) Return with strength.
Pratyahara, the Fifth Limb, deals with withdrawing the senses. In today’s society, the senses are constantly being stimulated by sights, sounds and smells. Master yogi David Frawley equates this “infobesity” as mindlessly feeding our minds empty calories, and it’s easy to become addicted to the excitement of constant sensation. While reining in your senses can be difficult, with patience and practice, the reward is a calmer, clear mental state. When you take a break — take a real break. Find a calm, quiet room at home, or a beautiful spot out in nature, and just sit. Listen to the sounds, feel the sensations, then let them go. Even if you only manage a few minutes a day, you will be detoxing your mental state. Consider doing the occasional technology fast — even if it is for a few hours.
Dharana, the Sixth Limb, is like training your mind to focus with the same vigor and dedication that you exercise your body. Practicing dharana is a way to avoid distractions and do-overs that eat into your productivity, including mindless fretting about things that are out of your control. Begin by abandoning the mythology of multitasking. Research shows it’s impossible and, worse, decreases your productivity. Need help? Consider downloading a free computer software program such as Cold Turkey or Self-Control. These sites allow you to temporarily block the siren call of time-sucking websites. Turning off other potential distractions, such as email notifications and your phone, is another practice of dharana. Set “email /voicemail appointments,” and advise those who need to know that’s when you will be checking in.
Maren Showkeir is co-author with her husband, Jamie, of the forthcoming Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job (Berrett-Koehler, May 2013.). Follow her on Twitter @yogiworking.