Yoga Teaches Leadership
by Cryshtal Avera
Yoga Teaches Leadership
Yoga is much more than the physical poses, called Asanas. The philosophy of yoga includes spiritual, physical, and emotional balance and provides a blueprint to the student to learn to reconize the life journey as an opportunity to live as a yogi, growing within the teachings along the way. Yoga is defined as the science of the mind and the physical yoga is intended to be used to accomplish mastery of the mind. Leaders who embark on the yogic journey will be empowered to learn more about themselves and find emotional, physical, and spiritual balance which is a necessary quality in a successful leader.
Yoga Philosophy Defined
The study of yoga philosophy and regular practice of yoga offers growth of the individual akin to outcomes desired which develop leaders. Through this research I have observed the potential for leadership development within the study of yoga philosophy. The path to one’s self is a key factor in the study of yoga philosophy. Sarah Platt-Finger, a leader in the yoga community, teaches yoga in regards to being helpful for leaders. In a web article, she listed 5 yoga tips for leaders to maintain balance and be able to offer quality leadership, two of which are visualization and pranayama (breathing techniques) (Platt-Finger, 2016).
Yoga as a path to leadership development seen through the lens of yoga philosophy and presented by leaders and business owners within the yoga community is shedding light on more variables that self-aware leaders can incorporate into their lives to enrich their development and ability to offer an empowering style of leadership. Leaders who operate with mindfulness and who have mastery over the mind are likely to be thoughtful and purposeful with a clear focus on the mission when taking any action. Transformational leadership incorporates traits related to ethics, standards, values, and emotions and involves treating followers as equals and connecting with each individual showing care and concern from the leader (Northouse, 2016). The study of yoga as a strategy to accomplish a transformational leadership style and motivate as well as inspire team members is something to consider based on the parallels of yoga philosophy and desired outcomes of transformational leadership. Authentic leadership, which requires self-awareness and self-regulation is another style of leadership with parallel perspectives to yoga philosophy. Servant leadership, which puts followers first and empowers them as well as adaptive leadership also share similar theory and desired outcomes with yoga philosophy. Leaders who help team members learn to adapt and become flexible in the face of change or events that are perceived as challenging have the potential to have a long term and important effect on followers. The teachings of yoga related to controlling one’s thoughts and understanding that perceiving every occurrence with acceptance and being flexible are in alignment with the concepts of the transformational, authentic, servant, and adaptive styles of leadership.
The teachings on mindfulness and practice of meditation in yoga philosophy are great examples of how the study of yoga can help a leader develop an adaptive style of behaviors. Removing attachment to outcomes and any need for control of the outside world, can help a person be at ease with change.
The Bhagavad Gita is a book of wisdom and means “the song of the blessed one”. The book was originally written as a poem sometime between fifth century B.C.E. and first century C.E. The story, which has evolved into its current publication form; the Bhagavad Gita is about two clans at war. Krishna, a character who readers later discover is God incarnate, interjects when the main character becomes so disheartened with the fighting that he lays down his weapons and refuses to fight. From that point on Krishna guides the warrior, Arjuna, and the stories of wisdom related to spiritual subject such as nonattachment, duty, and love ensue (Mitchell, 2008). The Gita, as it is sometimes called, presents experiences such as miracles, struggle through battle which most people can identify with as it relates to struggles in life, and offers the ultimate clarity that all struggle is in the mind of the one struggling. The Gita offers an approach to a spiritual practice that results in the awareness that releasing struggle from the mind and thoughts ultimately causes all struggle to simply fall away and that an enlightened person simply allows all things to come and go without worry or struggle accepting every experience as natural and necessary. Also, the Gita teaches that we are peace and that removing the thought that we are not peace is all that is needed in order to find peace (Mitchell, 2008). Krishna, through the Bhagavad Gita, teaches that goals are not the path yogis should prioritize but the truth is that “we are the goal”. Two quotes from the Bhagavad Gita presented as useful during research in relation to leaders taking action or choosing not to take action.
“The state reached by true knowledge is reached by yoga as well. Both paths lead to the Self; both lead to selfless action. It is hard to renounce all action without engaging in action; the sage, wholehearted in the yoga of action, soon attains freedom” (Mitchell, 2008).
“Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga” (Mitchell, 2008).
Action is not the only factor in leadership, but it is an important factor. One example of leadership action such as scheduling consistent meetings with employees to offer feedback, connection, and get input form each team member depicts the value of selfless action in the form of engaging in consistent action that serves the mission outside of self. Leaders who inspire an environment where all are team members are treated equally and are treated with respect speaks to the leadership development teaching that being open to all success and all failure on a team is an important part of the journey and in line with offering something more than individual accomplishment which can really impact the world for the better (Northouse, 2016). Leaders who study and commit to the path of yoga philosophy may find the stories in the Bhagavad Gita to be helpful in gaining a balanced perspective on when action is necessary and what action is useful depending on the situation he or she is faced with.
Sanskrit is the language of yoga. The Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s sutras are written in Sanskrit. The language is described as an energetic flow as well as a musical type of flow with unique and important vibrations that are important to the pathway to mastery of the mind through yoga (Bachman, 2011). Through this research I learned about citta, a sanskrit word that means the sum total of the mind and I drew parallels to how yoga philosophy helps prepare leaders to be adaptive without ego or being emotional. Patanjali, a person or persons who is considered the “Father of Yoga” who created the yoga sutras somewhere between 5,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. taught the different levels of the mind or citta in Sanskrit. Ahamkara is the ego or the “I” feeling which gives rise to the intellect or buddhi in Sanskrit. Manas is another part of the mind which gets attracted to outside things and is the desiring part of the mind. The sutras teach that the manas records something then begin to desire it, the buddhi discriminates and identifies it, and the ahamkara notices it as a desire and must have it. These 3 things happen all at once and are unnoticed by many. The yogi, or student of yoga, begins to understand how the mind works and to observe the mind rather than allow the mind to be erratic. This leads to control of behaviors and changes outcomes by changing the inner world versus the outer world (S. & P., 2016). Yoga does not bother much with the outside world because the teachings are that “the entire outside world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude” (S. & P., 2016).
Eight Limbs of Yoga
The eight limbs of yoga are intended as a pathway to aid in mindfulness. The first of the eight limbs of yoga known as yama deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on behavior and conduct. Yamas are universal practices that relate to what many know as the Golden Rule (Carrico, 2007). There are five yamas in the first limb of yoga:
Ahimsa which means nonviolence, Satya which means truthfulness, Asteya which means non-stealing, Brahmacharya which means continence, and Aparigraha which means non-covetousness (Carrico, 2007).
The yogic path is considered to be the path to enlightenment and some say the path to God. Through this process I have come to view the yogic path as the path to one’s highest self, which is important for leaders stemming from the desire to become one’s best self.
Through this research, I learned about the opportunity to create balance offered in the eight limbs of yoga and I discovered the inherent need for balance that is also built into the path-goal theory. The first limb of yoga, yama, mentioned above is the first step for a leader to develop balance and a state of being that encourages trust, loyalty, and open communication in subordinates. The subject of personal power is akin to the first and second of the 8 limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas.
“The five yamas ask practitioners to avoid violence, lying, stealing, wasting energy, and possessiveness while the five niyamas ask us to embrace cleanliness and contentment, to purify ourselves through heat, to continually study and observe our habits, and to surrender to something greater than ourselves. Many of these principles have multifaceted nuances. For example, Bachman says, the meaning of the niyama tapas—purifying through heat—isn’t so much about sweating out toxins in a hot yoga class as it is about tolerating the heat of friction, or mental discomfort, when one habitual pattern rubs up against a new, more beneficial one” (Siber, 2015, pg 82-87).
The second of the eight limbs, niyama, is about cleansing personal impurities. This does not only apply to physical cleanliness, but has deeper meaning such as cleaning our space of clutter to help keep a fresh perspective, and cleaning our mind of impurities, as well as our diet (Newlyn, 2014). This limb of yoga, specifically in relationship to leadership, can help leaders look at personal areas where growth or balance can be created through self-reflection. Leaders who seek personal power from an enlightened perspective, taking responsibility for any impurities of mind, body, or spirit, will cultivate deep-rooted personal power and this will show in the results of relationships with subordinates.
Ayurveda and yoga are sister sciences and are often used together for those seeking self-awareness and overall self-healing. Ayurveda is a spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical approach which the student of this discipline can use to maintain health and get back to health when health is lacking, whether mental or physical. Both yoga and Ayurveda are considered spiritual practices, one with a predominant focus on attaining awareness and one with a predominant focus on healing, both spiritual in nature. Ayurveda considers the natural state or constitution of an individual and uses that information to assess lifestyle changes that may be necessary to achieve wholeness and balance as well as herbs or other natural medicinals. Ayurveda uses food as medicine and different people may be able to eat different things depending on the needs at a specific time. A person who gets hot by nature would not be encouraged to eat heat building foods or spices because those things would cause more heat to build in the body and the mind and would create a lack of balance. One food that is heat causing from an Ayurvedic point of view is honey. Foods that taste hot or spicy are not the only foods that cause an increase of heat in the constitution. A person with an innate mental and physical state that has excess coolness would be encouraged by an Ayurvedic practicioner to ingest foods that increase internal heat to aid in attaining balance mentally and physically as well as spiritually. There are times when a person has more of one dosha or constitutions and that can be balanced. The changing of the seasons can cause an imbalance in doshas, for instance. The Ayurvedic doshas are related to air, water, and fire by definition (Frawley, 1999)
Vedas are known as scriptures offered by sages and are considered to be the wisdom of the Universe in the yogic tradition. Both Ayurveda and yoga are rooted in vedic traditions and credit vedic wisdom as a core part of their foundation (Frawley, 1999).
Another key factor in Ayurveda as well as yoga is prana or life force, also described as life energy, and healing energy. Prana links everything and can be used by an individual who has mental control and self awareness to help others as indicated by the description of prana as healing energy. Healing energy can also be sent to an individual’s body, mind, or spirit for personal healing when understood and harnessed through yoga and Ayurveda as a practice and lifestyle (Frawley, 1999). Leaders who empower and inspire their team members long term are consistently dependable and in control as well as giving where there is need. Prana control and use has the potential to aid leaders in personal development which offers a domino effect of inspiration to those on the leader’s team thus creating success for the organization.
Asanas are the physical postures that many in the Western world identify as yoga. Asanas are an integral part of yoga, but are intended to be used to help slow the mind through use of the body in preparation for stillness and meditation. Asanas can be used in various formations and can be structured to increase heat in the body or conversely to slow down the mind and body (Frawley, 1999). Yogis who embody the teachings as a whole with the goal of self acceptance and mindfulness choose the physical practice of the yoga asanas depending on the mental, spiritual, and physical needs at that time and the personal practice of the asanas may change from day to day. Daily practice of yoga that includes the asanas has the benefit of increasing physical fitness and being physically fit is an important ingredient a well rounded leader incorporates. The physiological and psychological benefits of physical fitness and movement of the body have many positive effects such as relaxation. Relaxation leads to calm thinking and this is an important trait of a leader (Northouse, 2016).
The study of yoga philosophy and commitment to yoga practice is a useful tool or lifestyle for leaders who have the desire to be well rounded, emotionally fit, and balanced mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The combination of aspects of yoga such as meditation, the eight limbs of yoga, and asanas accompanied by the vedic teachings of Ayurveda hold the key to potentially life changing transformation for leaders who have experienced less than positive results when seeking to create a team environment of connectedness and community while being productive and financially successful. Leaders who understand the connection of the mind, body, and spirit on the quest for wholeness should study yoga as a blueprint for creating the balance necessary to create and sustain a team that is loyal, productive, efficient, and supportive of one another.
Bachman, N. (2011). The path of the yoga sutras: A practical guide to the core of yoga. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Carrico, M. (2007, August 28). Learn the Eight Limbs of Yoga | Yoga Philosophy | Yoga for Beginners. Retrieved March 10, 2016, from http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/the-eight-limbs/
Frawley, D. (1999). Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-healing and self-realization. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Pub.
Mitchell, S. (2000). Bhagavad Gita: A new translation. New York: Harmony Books.
Newlyn, E. (2014, August 12). The Niyamas – Bringing Saucha into your life – Ekhart Yoga. Retrieved March 11, 2016, from https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/the-niyamas-bringing-saucha-into-your-life
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
S., & P. (2016). The yoga sutras of Patanjali. Yogaville, VA: Integral Yoga Publications.
Siber, K. (2015, September 15). Discover the Yamas and Niyamas: Yoga’s Ethical + Moral Codes. Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.yogajournal.com/article/yoga-101/live-your-yoga-discover-yamas-niyamas/