When I was an associate at a large law firm, a partner once threw a BlackBerry at me. Yes, a BlackBerry, accompanied by a screaming fit insisting I have said device attached to me at all hours of the day: in the shower, on my nightstand, etc.
Another time, I found myself in a conference room with a stack of tens of thousands of files I had to sort through for a client. A competitive fellow attorney “accidentally” knocked down the pile in such a disastrous manner that I lost ten hours of work.
It was during these times that I needed yoga most. Thankfully, I'd discovered yoga prior to becoming an attorney and had kept up my practice. Many of us turn to yoga as an escape from our daily grind. During that sacred time on the mat, we escape into a world of breath, tranquility, and release. But, how many of us actually bring these basic principles of yoga back into the business world?
Do you ever walk out of yoga class in zen mode, only to find yourself sending an angry email or yelling at your executive assistant hours later?
Looking back on my professional life, I think about how certain interactions might have gone differently if yogic teachings had been applied. So below, I’ve detailed how everyone can integrate the guidelines of yoga into their professional lives.
These ten principles, known as the Yamas and Niyamas, are part of the foundation of yoga, and by focusing on them, we can deepen our physical practice and improve our professional lives.
Here are 10 yogic principles that will serve you in the workplace:
Pretty basic, right? Except that we forget this concept all the time. It’s simple: do no harm in the workplace. Don’t steal someone’s lunch out of the refrigerator. Don’t make a hurtful remark about one’s work. If that's too difficult, at least think of a constructive way to address it. If everyone injected this essential concept of Ahimsa into the workplace, at least 70% of all office drama would disappear.
Oh yeah, and don’t throw smart phones at people.
Sadly, the legal profession and the business world are sprinkled with individuals who lie for their own personal or financial gain. Not everyone in the business behaves in this manner; fortunately, one bad apple does not always spoil the bunch. Be honest, forthcoming, and realistic with your clients in a thoughtful way so that your words and actions can build and maintain a healthy professional relationship.
Apart from the obvious “Thou shalt not steal or launder money,” there are other more subtle forms of theft that might take place, such as the stealing of ideas and time. Don’t take credit for work that’s not your own and don’t make your colleague, assistant, or anyone junior on your team stay later at work unless absolutely necessary. If you “cry wolf” constantly by claiming every assignment is an emergency, then you won’t gain that person’s respect.
4. Sexual Responsibility
In general terms, this tenet is about using your body wisely and protecting your energy from anything toxic: physically, intellectually, professionally, and mentally. In the workplace, this means that you don’t expend your energy on some random hookup, when you could be making a contribution through your work.
I have known people who met in the workplace and something beautiful and loving did flourish. But, as a general rule, steer clear of this type of scenario unless you are sure that it will lead to something serious. Act discreetly and with integrity until the next step is on the horizon.
5. Abstention from Greed
Now, it’s time for a moment of truth: the idea for this article came from my obsession with the lack of ethics in business. Being a news junkie, I was continually reading about all of the terrible things happening in our world because of greed spurred by people such as Bernie Madoff, Allen Stanford, and Scott Rothstein, to name a few.
It is incomprehensible to me how someone can have so much, yet still take from others in an illegal and unethical manner. I understand the concept of enjoying one’s life, but not if it’s at the expense of others, and in an unlawful manner.
I once had a meeting with an associate at another firm who'd left his gym bag stewing in his office for weeks. Needless to say, it was hard to focus. Just as you clean your mat and bathe your body, keep your desk tidy and organized. A new client or a senior person might walk in at any moment and you do not want a sticky glazed donut on your desk.
That being said, you should still make your office your own! Use pictures, art, tchotchkes from your travels, etc., but make sure to do a monthly purge. This one was hard for me, particularly with my paperwork, but after each office cleansing I felt renewed and reenergized with my little Ganesh staring right at me on my sparkly clean desk.
We’ve all had these moments: When am I going to make partner? Why am I not a manager yet? Why was my raise so small? Why haven’t I started my own practice/business yet? In the professional realm, these are natural thoughts that creep into one’s mind because of the ego’s endless pursuit.
I am guilty of these thoughts during mini-meltdowns when I feel as though I’ve not accomplished anything. As cheesy as it may sound, through yoga, I’ve learned to step back and say, You know what, I have my health, I have my family, and I will take things one day at a time and build my future.
Not a bad daily affirmation, right?
This is about using our energy effectively. By doing so, we develop a deep commitment to our yoga practice. You must generate that heat (the “fire in your belly,” as one of my teachers loves to say) in order to create what you want in your life, be it during a pose or in your professional life. By channeling your energy into the important things in life, you can build the life you want, step by step. Focus on those few things about which you are passionate, generate that heat, and you will be free.
Very few of us, because of financial or family obligations, are able to take the time in life to figure out exactly what we want. When I decided to take one year to work as a paralegal between undergraduate school and law school, my entire family was taken aback. Given their upbringing and what they had experienced leaving their homeland to escape the Cuban Revolution, my family’s understanding of success was to plow through, persevere, and finish school as quickly as possible. “Taking time off” was unheard of. However, this period of self-study was so crucial that I strongly recommend it. During these periods of equanimity, our greatest inspirations emerge.
If you don’t have the opportunity to escape the world in order to examine your life, you can take mini-breaks to self-study. Take a stab at meditating or sitting in silence for two minutes a day. Enjoy a spa weekend and journal about your life. Spend a Saturday at home with a good book, good music, and a good meal.
10. Surrender of the Self to God
Most of us recognize that there is some form of a greater “being” out there, regardless of religion or beliefs. Surrendering to this greater spirit truly enables us to grow in all aspects of our lives. When you take risks professionally (such as switching careers or moving to another city), your journey will unfold as the Universe intends.
When I told my family I was moving across the country from Miami to Napa, it might as well have been an apocalypse. What I've learned is this: regardless of what anyone says, continue on your path knowing that you are not alone in this journey, and if you pursue it honestly and with humility, your true essence will emerge.
Well, there you have it. Most yoga instructors will sprinkle these concepts into a class, and it’s your job to absorb them and inject them into your life to start living the existence you were meant to lead. Try it now and let me know how it feels.