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Excerpt from "Yoga Wisdom at Work Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job"

Introduction: Work & The Yogic Path and Beginner's Mind: The Power and the Promise

by Maren Showkeir and Jamie Showkeir


Can you coax your mind from its wandering and keep to the original oneness?

Can you let your body become supple as a newborn child’s?

Can you cleanse your inner vision until you see nothing but the light?

Can you love people and lead them without imposing your will?

Can you deal with the most vital matters by letting events take their course?

Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing, Having without possessing, Action with no expectations,

Leading and not trying to control:

This is the supreme virtue.

~ Tao Te Ching

Just as the instructions to lie down on our mats were being given, and before the teacher dimmed the lights for savasana, I used to sneak out of yoga class. Resting on the floor for five or 10 minutes seemed like a waste of my valuable time when I had so many important things to do at work.

I dont feel that way any more.
Whole yoga, whole work

Although I try to live my life without regrets, I often wish that I had discovered yoga at a much younger age. In particular, it would have been so useful to discover the knowledge contained in all Eight Limbs of yoga, which goes far beyond the most familiar practice of doing poses on a mat. A deeper, broader practice would have enhanced every aspect of my life — but most especially at work.

Looking back at my professional life, 20/20 hindsight tells me that incorporating yoga practices and philosophies early on would have helped me better serve the people I worked with, and the enterprises that employed me. Had I embraced its moral constructs, understood the power of recognizing and developing my potential and that of others, I would have been a more productive worker, a more skillful manager, and a more effective leader.

The first time I heard a yoga teacher mention the Eight Limbs of Yoga,” I was a mid-career journalist, and the notion sounded strange to me. I imagined some exotic Hindu deity with appendages sprouting from its body like an octopus.

Although I had taken a few yoga classes at that time, I knew almost nothing about the provenance or philosophical underpinnings of this rich, ancient tradition. While brief description of the Eight Limbs sounded interesting, it also was foreign, bizarre, and a little too woo-woo for my mindset at the time. The exotic words she used were hard to remember. So the notion that yoga had far more to offer than exercise did not really register.

In the late 1980s, I had wandered into the world of yoga to extend my physical fitness routine. My goal was muscular flexibility and better balance. I’m sure my experience was a common one: Enter a brightly lit room at a gym or a community hall. Plop down on a mat and spend an hour or more stretching, breathing, and twisting your body into poses with strange-sounding names. At the end of the session, lie down in savasana and unplug for a few minutes (or sneak out if you dont understand its significance). Depending on the environment, the class might include a short meditation or reading, designed to center and calm the monkey mind.”

Yoga for me began as a mild flirtation, and I wasnt all that interested in investing too much in the relationship. My practice sputtered for a few years, but in time, yoga got under my skin in ways I did not even realize. As a more committed practice evolved in the 1990s, it began subtly influencing my lifestyle choices. One humorous example: One day I suddenly realized that my beloved and multi-­-decade Dr Pepper addiction had been broken — I hadn’t partaken of any kind of soda for more than a year! Although I never consciously set out to give up my daily habit of drinking several glasses of cola per day, water had become my first drink of choice. As I analyzed why, it became clear that yogas emphasis on healthy living had been motivational.

By the late 1990s, yoga had become such an important and integral part of my life that I yearned to know more about it. In 2005, when I was at a personal and professional crossroads, I took the opportunity to enroll in a 200- hour teacher-training course taught by Mary Bruce in Tempe, Arizona. This was the beginning of a journey that has helped me better understand and appreciate the full spectrum of a yoga practice, and the benefits it has to offer in daily living and at work.

Yogas transformative influence

My decision to enroll in yoga teacher training in the fall of 2005 coincided with a resolution to leave the newspaper industry for good. Although I had thoroughly enjoyed this career for more than 20 years, a gentle and persuasive inner voice had been insisting for several months that it was time for something new.

My yoga teacher training coincided with another new adventure, working with Jamie Showkeir (now my husband and business partner) as an organizational consultant. As I began learning about Jamies philosophy and approach to helping organizations become more successful, we both were blown away by how yoga principles dovetailed beautifully with the concepts we used in the consulting work. Both my new career and a deepened yoga practice were giving me language to articulate things that long had been imbedded in my own philosophical framework.

When I returned from yoga teacher training classes, Jamie and I would have rich, animated conversations about how yoga was complementing and supplementing the work we were doing together. Jamie began doing yoga with me, and it worked a subtle magic on him as well.

Our first book, Authentic Conversations, was influenced by our yoga practice, both in content and creation. We did a weeklong yoga retreat with Mary in Troncones Beach, Mexico. A few days later, we were in Mount Shasta, California, sequestered in our friendshouse with the intention of writing a book. I went into the project with a lot of reservations about writing and editing with someone who was both beloved husband and business partner, but it turned out to be a charmed, rewarding experience. Our writing days began with a session of yoga nidra, a guided meditation, which helped keep us focused, centered, and compassionate toward each other. We wrote a solid first draft in eight days.

Yoga has continued to influence the way we work together every day. Jamie and I began seriously exploring the idea of a writing second book soon after I earned my master’s degree in Human and Organizational Development. About the same time, I enrolled in a series of yoga Master Immersion Classes with Mary and Lynn Matthews of Yoga4Life, based in Baltimore. This sparked happy memories of those early days of being immersed in yoga and the useful knowledge and skills I had incorporated into a new career. Slowly, the seed of an idea that had lain dormant in my head for a few years began to germinate. I visualized a book about the ways that taking yoga off- the-mat and into the workplace could give people tools to be more successful and sane in high-stress environments.

A fresh frame for ancient wisdom

In our consulting work, we often encounter the term “thought leader.The definition is a little fuzzy, depending on perspective and context. It typically is bestowed on someone viewed as a visionary or futurist, or a person who has laid claim to development of a fresh, break-through product or a counterculture business model.

For those looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded, global marketplace, the term can be utilitarian. At the same time, if you consider that human discovery, innovation, and creativity dont spring from a black hole with a proverbial Big Bang, the term is a bit suspect.

What people call newor “innovativealways is built upon historical exploration, discovery, and experience. The knowledge base has grown exponentially, and now is so vast and deep that trying to keep up with the pace of change can cause vertigo. Even Patanjali, often called the Father of Yoga, only codified ancient teachings and traditions that had existed for generations. His foundational yoga text, called the Sutras, became a newway to study yoga, yet Patanjali created it from the contributions of masters who practiced, taught, and wrote before him.

So it is with this book. These pages intend to reflect the wisdom of the ancient masters and teachers, and the teachers who came after them, and those who came after them. In the words of yoga master Sri K Pattabhi Jois: “Yoga is a way of life and philosophy. It can be practiced by anyone with an inclination to undertake it, for yoga belongs to humanity as a whole. It is not the property of any one group or any one individual, but can be followed by any and all, in any corner of the globe, regardless of class, creed or religion."

An off the matyoga practice

What we humbly offer here is a framework, and an invitation, to consider applying this wisdom to your work life. Our intention is to explore the broad practice of yoga with a practical focus on its great potential to influence how you engage work to become more successful, satisfied and serene.

The provenance of this book is based partly on the fact that yoga precepts in the Eight Limbs are beautifully aligned with the principles and philosophies Jamie and I use in our work. Another factor is that most people have heard of yoga, do a physical practice, or know someone who does. Because yoga and meditation have become such familiar and popular activities, we see an opportunity for filtering those precepts through the lens of our expertise in workplace culture.

Our goal is to shed light on a beautiful tool for uncovering your potential and enriching your experience on the job. Yoga has great potential to help you alter your perspective about the purpose of work, the people you work with, and the organizations you work in.

Yogas popularity in the Western world began growing slowly after Swami Vivekananda introduced it in the U.S. in 1893 at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. It attracted followers in the next 100 years, getting a boost from the publicity generated when the Beatles studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1960s. By the mid 1990s, (about the time I began practicing), the number of practitioners was estimated to be about 5 million, and that number had more than tripled to 18 million by 2008. Yogarupa Rod Stryker, a nationally known yoga teacher and our teacher’s teacher, says that even as yogas popularity in the U.S. exploded at the turn of the century, lagging far behind has been a full recognition of the richness of yoga's potential benefits. We've reduced the spectrum of what [yoga] can be, how it can benefit us,he says.

Jamie and I dont see ourselves as yoga experts” – we want to be emphatic about that. I have studied yoga for more than 15 years, have a committed practice, and a few hundred hours of teacher training. Jamie has had a meditation practice since the 1970s and developed an asana practice in 2005. The more we learn, the clearer it becomes that we have so much more to learn.

Our intention here is not to turn you into a yoga expert, or a scholar who can translate Sanskrit and recite verses from Patanjali’s sutras or the Bhagavad-Gita. Like all yoga students, we rely on talented, dedicated teachers to help us stretch — literally and metaphorically. Among other things, doing yoga is an ever-present reminder about the importance of humility, and the value of fostering a beginner’s mind.

Having said that, we have decades of experience in improving workplace environments and developing human potential. Our expertise is rooted in a business case for harmonizing the need for achieving successful business results with helping people to find meaning and purpose at work. Our point of view is in tune with the ancient philosophies and concepts in the Eight Limbs, which offer a guide for enhancing contribution to the greater good, increasing well-being, and fostering a calm, focused mind. These qualities and more will benefit your work life.

What we propose in this book is a journey of exploration and discovery. The seat of the teacher and the student are the same. Our primary intention is to help you stretch in the way others have helped us.

The roadmap

Yoga contains no commandments, nor is it associated with religion or dogma. In teacher training classes, the adage one well of truth, and many pathsis invoked often, to signify that each individual travels a unique path of self-discovery on the way to the wellof wisdom, fulfillment and enlightenment.

Although references to God or Lord in yoga scriptures and literature are plentiful, how one interprets God is fluid and up to the individual. We know dedicated yoga practitioners who are devout in the beliefs of their chosen religions or traditions. On the other end of the spectrum, we know committed yogis who are agnostic or atheists.

For the purpose of this book, yoga is a practice that will help you discovering your own spark of divinity, which we define as human and spiritual potential. The Sanskrit meaning of yoga is “yokeor union.The ability to look inward, recognize and acknowledge your potential, then develop that in a way that unites it with your highest self — that is yoga. It also asks that you recognize that boundless potential in others. This perspective is contained in the salutation namaste, which translates into my soul recognizes the divinity of yours.

Yoga does not provide answers. It offers a guide for discovering the light that already exists within you. It urges you to unveil your brilliance to the world, and recognize the light that also burns in others. You are perfect as you are. Yoga leads you to that realization.

The lake of potential is always there, shimmering within you. You may not acknowledge it exists, but that doesnt make it disappear. Perhaps you see it, but prefer to stay safely on shore. Maybe you’re willing to wade in part way. With a dedicated practice, yoga can give you the confidence to take a screaming, joyful leap into its depths. Once you realize it contains what you need to achieve satisfaction and success, playing it safe is like choosing to be a spectator to your own life.

Whatever regrets we may have about not having found yoga sooner have been banished by remembering this: It is never too late to begin.


Yoga has less to do with what you can do with your body or with being able to still your mind than it has to do with the happiness that unfolds from realizing your full potential.

~ Yogarupa Rod Stryker

More often than we can count, people have said to us, I could never do yoga. I’m not flexible(or “I’m too hyper.”) That logic is like saying I cant tend to my garden, it has too many weeds in it.Or to use a work metaphor, I cant clean out my email inbox. It has too many messages in it.

It’s understandable — the sheer amount of stuff we are asked to attend to in our daily lives can be overwhelming. But when people say they lack the physicality to put their bodies into yoga poses, they are not taking into account that the practice develops flexibility, balance, and a quiet mind.

In any case, yoga on the mat is only one part of the practice — one-eighth, to be exact. An asana practice, as valuable as it is, doesnt represent the whole spectrum of yoga any more than looking through a knothole in a fence and watching a pitcher throw and catch the ball gives you a whole picture of a baseball games nine innings.

The Eight Limbs of yoga contain a rich philosophy that can have a positive influence on every aspect of your life, including the way you work. Continuing your on-the-mat practice by living yogic principles off the mat at work will help you become more successful. It will enhance your sense of meaning and purpose in way that makes work more satisfying, rewarding, and less stressful.

The Bhagavad Gita emphasizes the importance of work. As the warrior Arjuna prepares for battle, Krishna tells him no one can gain perfection by abstaining from work.He instructs his protégé to attend to his duties, saying: Through selfless service, you will always be fruitful and find the fulfillment of your desires.

Work as yoga was underscored in an email I received from a professor at Fielding Graduate University, where I earned my master’s degree. Dr. Barclay Hudson is a yogi, teacher, friend, and mentor. In the context of a class called Good Work, Meaningful Workhe shared this thought: “It's easy to forget what yoga offers as part of work. We think and talk about work-life balanceas if work were something different from life, and different from being alive and conscious.

We present yoga practice as both a literal and metaphorical guide to a way of working that can inspire and transform the ways you view what you do to earn a living and how you do it.

Going out on the limbs

The Third Limb of yoga, or asana practice, are physical movements meant to prepare the body for meditation. In asana classes, most teachers also talk about the importance of breathing, or pranayama, the Fourth Limb. Your practice may include meditation — dhyana the Sixth Limb. And the resting pose, savasana, which concludes most asana practices is a facet of the Fifth Limb, pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses.

Fewer people are familiar with the First and Second Limbs of yoga, the yamas (universal morality) and the niyamas, (personal code of conduct). The Sixth Limb, dharana, the practice of focused attention, is somewhat obscure. Samadhi, the Eighth Limb, means absorption, unity, or enlightenment. It is often is seen as an esoteric concept with little practical application in the real world (That is not our view, as you will see.)

The first two limbs are instructive about forming intentions, making choices about action, and understanding consequences. The remaining limbs speak more to aspects of our minds, which can be trained and shaped through introspection, breathing, focus, and meditation. Practitioners gain self-­-discovery, wisdom, and pragmatic applications to work. With dedication, this leads to absorption or fulfillment, which we define in a practical way for

this book: It is cultivating deep understanding of self, consistently aligning your intentions and actions with your highest purpose, and developing your full potential in a way that unites you with serving the whole.

The yoga sutras are brilliantly simple, and not an attempt to corral or control behavior. They dont delineate “right and wrongso much as emphasize the role consequences play in our decisions — certain actions reap certain results. Yoga scholar Eknath Easwaran calls this the true meaning of karma: “Something that is done.

In his introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, Easwaran says: The law of karma states simply that every act or thought has consequences, which themselves will have consequences. We ourselves are responsible for what happens to us, whether or not we can understand how.This echoes the message we consistently deliver in our organizational work — you constantly are making choices about how you respond to your circumstances. It’s not about whether your choice is definitively right or wrong, good or bad. Knowing that everything has consequences, even your thoughts, is what’s important. Yoga’s Eight Limbs give you the means to get clear about intentions, the way you

see other people and interpret events, your attitudes and actions — and all these things will shape your destiny.

We’ll begin our journey with the first two limbs of yoga. Each has five associated precepts. The yamas, Limb One, contain the precepts of universal morality,also referred to as moral restraints.These suggest a path for creating a world that puts the well-being of all people (indeed, all sentient beings) at the center of decision- making. If attended to, the Yamas purify human nature and contribute to the health and happiness of society. Practiced at work, these actions will develop self-awareness and ethical focus, facilitate compassion and collaboration, and foster an orientation that emphasizes personal accountability for the good of the whole.

Yoga is a robust and active way of living. The niyamas, the Second Limb, described provide a guide for helping you develop the capacity to choose “right actionin your personal conduct. They are more personal, intimate, and call for conscious commitment to apply mindful skill in the art of action.

Lived out, the yamas and niyamas of yoga will have a significant impact on how you find success — and keep your sanity — in chaotic, competitive, and stressful work environments. They are a touchstone to return to when your work becomes overwhelming, or you find yourself in situations where clarity around right action gets murky.

Mindful integration: No limb works alone

Like a pair of hands, the yamas and niyamas each have five fingers. Integrated, they create a synergistic strength and energy, just as using 10 fingers allows you to accomplish what you could not with one or two. Contained in the clasp of these 10 fingers is an inherent compass that can help you stay on a course of ethical living no matter

where your work journey takes you.

The Third Limb, asana, is the physical aspect of yoga. This practice keeps the “instrumentof your work – your physical body – in tune. Asana has an effect on overall health and well-­-being, which allows you to better perform your work and successfully serve your enterprise. It also can be an instructive metaphor for the qualities needed to be successful at work: focus, flexibility grounded in stability, balance, and continual improvement (practice!).

Pranayama is the Fourth Limb — harnessing breath. It offers breathing techniques for maintaining calm, increasing energy, and keeping you grounded in the most stressful of work environments. Bringing conscious breathing into your work also creates space for clarity and mindful action.

The Fifth Limb, pratyahara, is withdrawal of the senses. The root of this term, ahara, means nourishmentand is a practice of examining sensual habits (sometimes referred to as cravings) and the results they have on our actions. It can be useful to understand this aspect of yourself in your work, as well as use pratyahara techniques to develop the skill of being a participant/observer.

The last three limbs represent the results of the actions and practice of the first five limbs. Intense focus, dharana, is the Sixth Limb. This practice helps foster inner awareness of your relationship to surroundings. It further develops your ability to become the observer,useful in all kinds of ways when you’re working with others, particularly around issues of communication and accountability.

Meditation is covered by the Seventh Limb, or dhyana. A calm, clear mind contributes greatly to work success, as does introspection, self-awareness and an ability to become “the neutral observeras you engage others at work. Meditation is mind training, in the same way you physically train the body. It is key to developing self-­-awareness. It builds the skill of becoming “the witnessto your emotions and reactions, so you can make more mindful choices that connect actions to consequences.

The Eighth Limb is samadhi, creating union with the divine — also referred to as absorption or enlightenment. The word means “to bring together, to mergeby bringing everyday actions in line with your supreme self. The practice asks you to recognize and celebrate a force larger than yourself, however you define it, which guides and directs the course of our lives. We will be using work as a metaphor for recognizing your potential, helping others develop theirs, and using our energies to create an enlightened work place that serves everyone.

Although it is not necessary to read this book chronologically, it is important to understand that each of the Limbs builds upon or strengthens the other. Many of them overlap. In many cases, it is not possible to violate one without violating others.

We’ll share the stories of people who have used these precepts to help them be more effective, satisfied and sane at work. At the end of each chapter, we will pose reflective questions or suggestions to help you set intentions and create your personal guide for mindful work practices, and describe a representative asana.

Maren Showkeir and Jamie Showkeir are the principals of henning-showkeir & associates, inc., a workplace consulting firm. Maren, a certified yoga teacher, has been a committed practitioner for more than fifteen years. Jamie is a longtime meditator and developed an asana practice in 2005. They are the coauthors of Authentic Conversations.

Purchase info: Yoga Wisdom at Work can be purchased via our website in either paperback or as a PDF download. The link is here: http://www.bkconnection.com/ProdDetails.asp?ID=9781609947972&PG=1&Type=BL&PCS=BKP

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