I’ve known for a while now why yoga is important to me but my journey to becoming a yoga teacher has also shown me why it’s important for the business world too.
The ancient yogis have all the secrets to inner peace, fulfilment and happiness, we just need to listen. Most people know yoga as ‘exercise’ for the body, but its exercise for the mind and spirit too. The term ‘asana’ which means ‘pose’ is only one of eight limbs of yoga. The others represent things like meditation, concentration and enlightenment. These eight limbs are described as ‘an ethical blueprint for living the good life’, and include values like honesty, speaking our truth, contentment, purity of mind and non-violence of action, words and thoughts.
This may be dismissed as wonderful if you are living like a yogi in a cave, but, in the midst of challenging world issues that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are attempting to fix, aren’t these the kinds of values that are needed to create a more ‘conscious or inclusive form of capitalism’?
There are three reasons why business needs yoga:
1. Stress alleviation. Stress is biggest killer of our time, the greatest cause of absenteeism from the workplace, it leads to depression and burnout and costs the European economy £77bn a year according to research. Stress takes a lot of energy, and yoga has the potential to help restore this energy, creating resilience and strength of mind and body. It doesn’t have to be a dynamic form of sun salutations or in a 40 degree room. Yoga is also meditation and pranayama, which is breath work. It can be yoga nidra, a form of yogic sleep, said to give you 6 hours per 30 mins (a friend of mine with a young child swears by). It’s also restorative yoga to get deep into the fascia muscle to release stored up tension which we accumulate from childhood, emotionally, mentally and physically. New yoga science is emerging which shows that yoga practice deactivates our flight or fight mode and reduces our stress hormone cortisol and helps battle anxiety. It connects breath with body, keeping you in the present moment and with practise this starts to stay with you off the mat. Corporates should ensure yoga is part of their wellbeing programmes. If gym membership is now a standard offer, why not yoga too to really invest in long term health of employees?
2. Innovative thinking. Innovation is the corporate buzz word now. We need innovative thinking to solve the world’s problems – it’s clear our system isn’t delivering all we need to thrive as a society. The solutions of yesterday cannot solve the problems of today. And we’ve got some monster ones – again, just look at the UN SDGs. They give us a clear direction on the kind of society we want by 2030 and sets us on a purposeful path to achieve it. The 17 SDGs address topics such as reducing poverty, ending inequality, generating economic growth for all, protecting life on land and in water and so on. Business can and should solve these problems and are being requested to do so by stakeholders, citizens, governments and civil society. I would suggest that perhaps some yoga and meditation can unlock this innovative thinking and develop mind clarity. If our leaders took time and space to listen to habitual thought patterns, they can be acknowledged as such and then space can be created for new innovative thinking. Apparently, Steve Jobs even envisioned the iPhone during meditation so I’ll say no more.
3. ‘The Good Life’. We can all learn from the yogic yamas & niyamas which are essentially about having principles and values by which to live your life: honesty, compassion, not stealing (including ideas, words), and a really important one, contentment. These values help us define what is important in life. We seem to always be striving for more more more, goal planning, performance reviews, what’s next, what’s happening over here, having FOMO (fear of missing out), wanting more stuff, measuring success financially….’constantly striving, never arriving’. For me personally, patience is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt, in the world of instant gratification we want to be able to do all the poses NOW! That’s not possible, and to be cliché, it’s all about the journey….By practising the yoga values and the physical asana practice, it teaches us to work within our limits whilst operating at the edge of our ability without causing tension or stress. Values like empathy, kindness, patience, and acceptance are underrated these days and we must restore them in the business world to transform it to one that’s serves not takes from society. Common corporate values like integrity, teamwork and respect should provide the fundamental framework for corporate culture and match the review and reward system, otherwise it’s very difficult for people to behave otherwise.
I see yoga and meditation as a tool to create more enlightened businesses especially through leadership. Stress impacts not just our health but our cognition. Our business leaders are making important decisions every day and they need to be the right ones with a holistic perspective – not stressed out affected by tunnel vision. There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support this, it’s not just me and my yogi buddies chanting, being all vegan and trying to connect to the Divine that say this is the case. Through regular practice of yoga, the whole of yoga; from the principles to the physical to the meditation, we can learn to alleviate stress, think in a different way and be better humans essentially. And therefore this lead us to a more compassionate, humane, conscious, and sustainable form of capitalism.
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Originally published on The Huffington Post
Nicola Ruane is passionate about sustainable capitalism and finance as a mechanism to change the world for the better. Moving from the trading floor to a role pioneering the CSR programme of a major global bank in EMEA, Nicola is now leading Corporate Sustainability Reporting in financial services within a Big 4 firm. A One Young World Ambassador, UN speaker & yoga student, she blogs and tweets about sustainable business, millennials, women, purpose & finance.