Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Seven Practices of a Manager-Yogi: Practice 6- Exploring Yoga

Mount Kailash

Yoga is the gathering of all ones energies into a convergent movement. Yoga is the practice that leads one to discover ones integral self. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offers many methods and also says one must choose wisely the method that is best suited to ones temperament. Dhyaana i.e., attentive and insightful observation of oneself and ones world is the goal of all these practices.

The popular idea of Yoga is confined to the practice of Aasana and Praanaayaama. This is just the visible tip of the profound practice. The central idea of all the practices described in the Sutras is that the world can be an object of consumption (when the world in-turn consumes you) or it can be a mirror that helps you learn about your self. The person who gets caught in consumption is called a Bhogi, and the one who walks the path of insight and learning is called a Yogi.
What are the ‘mirrors’ that Yoga offers? Firstly it offers the mirror of relationships. It asks the person to be cognisant of ones boundaries and to maintain a quality of kindness and honesty in all ones interfaces. Observing the nature of our actions is a very important mirror. The inner practice that ensures outer order is: purity of intent and contentment born out of a sense of gratitude for what one has. It is the inner quietude that creates the space for graceful action.

Secondly Yoga directs ones attention to ones body. Aasana is a way of doing Dhyaana on one's body. This practice paves the way for one to be attentive to the stresses one accumulates in ones body. Sensitising oneself to the signals that are constantly being generated by ones body is essential to being vitally alive to ones context. A warrior who is insensitive to his/ her context is in grave danger of getting killed.

Thirdly, Praanaayaama sensitises us to our emotional self. The smallest change in our feeling tone is accompanied by changes in breath. By sensing these changes and contemplating upon its causes, one gets in touch with the subconscious baggage of conditioning that one carries.

A mind that has ‘cleansed itself’ through the observation of ones’ behavior, ones’ body and ones’ emotion is ready to be directed to understanding the subtle and profound mysteries of life. The sutras also say that any enquiry one takes up when persisted with will lead one to the ultimate truth. Pursuing excellence in ones chosen profession is definitely “a path with a heart”.

The benefits of this practice are obvious. Proficiency in ones actions, health and vitality and an inner sense of peace are some of the outcomes that have been reiterated in the Upanishads over and over again while recommending the practice of Yoga. One of the comments that I get constantly from people who take up the practice is that they get back twice the time they put in and end the day feeling energetic.

What comes in the way? Except for the absence of good teachers who understand the depth and width of Yoga I am at a loss to find a reason why one would not take up this practice! Having said that, finding the right teacher is not a trivial problem, and there is always the initial inertia to be negotiated. Yoga does ask one to take ones life seriously and to want to lead a life that is spiritually meaningful.

Yoga: Songs of healing and love come from the Agnya Chakra

Being mindful
  • Value: I value an integration of my energies
  • Behaviour: I practice the essentials of yoga i.e. healthy body, ethical behavior and self-discovery
  • Introspection: am I bringing a deep attention into whatever I do?
(Raghu Ananthanarayanan) 

The Seven Practices of a Manager-Yogi: Practice 5 - Exploring Ramyam

Pic: J. Shankar
I was walking on the road one day, preoccupied and deeply immersed in figuring out the world (“‘so what’s new with that?” my wife would ask) when I was struck by the utter beauty of a small plant growing out of the cracks in the pavement. It was a small bright yellow flower, so vulnerable and yet the tar and concrete had not succeeded in dampening its will to live and smile! I was jolted out of my preoccupations and lifted into a world of beauty and delight. This is the ineffable quality of ramyam
Design discussions usually confine themselves to focusing on functionality and aesthetics, and often functionality is given greater weightage. Indian design has emphasised three aspects as essential for good design: functionality, aesthetics and ramyam. Even every day objects like the knives one uses for cutting vegetables or the pot in which water is kept are crafted with care and beauty. This aspect of every day life where space and time are devoted to ones creative self is very rare today. Having a space for an artistic exhibition or performance is not the same thing because it fragments an important ingredient of integral growth.

Stop reading, and take a short walk in the garden (if one is accessible to you) or just gaze outside the window for a few minutes. If you kept your heart and mind open you would have experienced a ‘mini-miracle’. Perhaps you noticed a bird in flight, or a blade of grass shaking in the wind. If you were touched by this small miracle, you will understand the idea of the Divine that is at the heart of the beautiful temples and the many dances and music that abound in India:

“The divine expresses itself through order and beauty; whenever man experiences order and beauty, he touches the Divine; In words through poetry; in sound through music; in form through sculpture; in space through architecture; in ones’ body through dance and in ones’ mind through mathematics.

These modes of self-expression are called the six paths to reaching the Divine within.

Ramyam is not difficult to put into practice; it only takes a shift of intent. The moment one stops valuing the utilitarian above the human, one has taken the first step towards appreciating the aesthetic and the inspirational. Yogacharya Krishnamcharya had a simple suggestion “whenever you find yourself really busy with activity, take a moment to get in touch with your breath and notice the world around you, you will feel a burst of energy” Often small miracles have hit me when I took a moment off, did some thing for the pure fun of it, or just watched the world go by. Ramyam is also the sense of fun.

 The only thing that comes in the way of allowing the beauty that nature is offering to us all the time is our need to take ourselves too seriously. J Krishnamurti has said that one can’t walk the spiritual path if one does not have a sense of humor and one is not able to laugh at oneself. If we give ourselves space to fail and goof off and learn, we will discover play. Play is fun, play is innovation and play is love for life.

 Ramyam: the exuberance of creative interpretations arises from the Vishuddhi Chakra

Being evocative

  • Value: I value joyousness
  • Behaviour: I bring in a sense of aesthetic enjoyment in my actions, I approach work with an attitude of serious play
  • Introspection: Am I having fun in whatever I am doing?

(Raghu Ananthanarayanan)

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Seven Practices of a Manager-Yogi: Practice 4- Exploring Gnyaana

Young Krishnamurti (from the internet)
Yoga values direct perception and discovery above all other forms of gaining knowledge. In fact it holds mere intellectual knowledge (paandityam) in relatively low esteem. Examining the world one lives in and oneself to uncover more and more subtle and fundamental aspects of the experienced reality, is central to walking the path of the Yogi.
 Yogacharya Krishnamacharya has said that the practice of aasana, praanaayaama and the behavioural precepts are the building blocks that enable a person to acquire a mind capable of insight. The practice of Dhyaana is then a process of directing such a mind towards sustained enquiry. In fact about a quarter of the Yoga Sutras define the various areas in which one focuses ones mind in order to gain extraordinary understanding and capability. These areas cover a broad range with astronomy at one end of the spectrum to physical prowess on the other end.
 The objects of enquiry that one engages with impact and shape ones mind, therefore, Yoga advises the practitioner to choose carefully. Choose a something that touches your heart. Unless one loves the object of the enquiry and the process, one cannot sustain it. Once you make a choice persist with the enquiry. The enquiry is not meant to make one acquire skills, but to discover the more subtle and fundamental aspects that underlie the visible and gross aspects of the knowledge. An artist is not just a person with artistic talents. The person’s identity is defined by the word ‘artist’. A Gnyaani is one whose identity is defined by the depth and subtlety of the knowledge the person has internalized.
 Now let us return to the mind map that you drew while we were examining the idea of Dharma. Ask your self how interested and inquisitive are you about the critical elements of your world? Which are the areas you pursue with passion? Are you satisfied with merely ‘selling your skills’?
 When you invest in such enquiry, the benefits that will accrue to you and to the systems you are part of are obvious. A Gyaani provides the most important inputs to any groups’ functioning. A great cook who understands the relationship between food and the body is an invaluable asset to the family. All business is built upon scientific and technological excellence.
 What comes in the way of valuing ones curiosity? Children are extremely curious, so one has to ask oneself “where have I lost my curiosity and child like sense of wonderment?” Perhaps the single most critical factor is schooling. Most teachers do not display a passion for their subject, getting grades and becoming employable seems to be the unstated intent. The other factor that is much debated these days is the part played by the Internet. Information is available at the tips of ones fingers, but it arrives there not through ones heart and mind but through the ‘cloud’. However, I think the Internet could also be a great facilitator for one who really seeks good information. Dr. Terry Wahls (TEDx Iowa City) in her talk says that she cured herself of a life threatening disease by using the web to research the composition of food.
 Gnyaana : Songs of discovery and love arise from the anaahata chakra
Internalizing knowledge 
  • Value: I value learning and knowledge
  • Behaviour: I question things and enquire deeply, I engage in dialogue with learned people
  • Introspection: Am I asking ‘what, why and how’ with a passion to learn 

(Raghu Ananthanarayanan)

The Seven Practices of a Manager-Yogi: Practice 3 - Exploring Dharma

Pic: Raghu
The Kathopanishad starts with a conversation between Nachiketas and his father Vajashravan. Vajashravan is performing a yagnya, a sacrifice where one gives away a major portion of ones wealth. Nachiketas watches his father give away old and useless cows. He starts to wonder “a yagnya is meant to be an act that enlivens the world, and gives benefits to the giver and the receiver. None of my fathers’ acts fulfill these three requirements. The receiver of these cows cannot benefit, the world is hardly helped to grow and my father who is acting more for gaining a name rather than any real inner awakening can hardly benefit. As a son it is my responsibility to point out to my father that this is an act that lacks Dharma. Nachiketas then speaks to his father and points out the lacunae in the yagnya. The father gets enraged and sends the son to Yamas’ abode. The rest of the Upanishad is about the conversation regarding death and the nature of ones’ atman.
This story captures many of the important aspects of Dharma. The word dharma means: “regenerating that which has fallen, reinstating that which is falling and reinforcing that which is standing”. It is contextual and subjective on the one hand and has universal and timeless implications on the other.
Let me invite you to do a small exercise. Take a chart paper and some clour pencils. Take up some activity you do every day. Lets say having breakfast. Put down this activity at the centre of the page. Now start drawing a mind map of the other activities that your breakfast depends upon. If you are having a sandwich, where did the bread come from? A local grocer provided you the vegetables and the butter came from a dairy. How did the grocer get his vegetables? And so on. As one goes on through this process the quality of the earth on which the vegetable grows and the climate that sustains cultivation and so on integrate into the mind map. We did not get into the utensils used for cooking ingredients, or the gas used to heat the stove etc., etc. This map defines your world. Unless all the elements and people and systems in your map are healthy your life will not be enjoyable.
Now ask your self how often are you aware of the web of interconnectedness that underlies our every activity? Do we ask ourselves how our attitudes and actions affect all the people in our world? Let me illustrate the profound impact this introspection can have on the way one looks at work. I was helping an organization (in agri-business) that was considered ‘sick’, to turn around. One of the main production units was not doing well. The General Manager in charge of it had the reputation for being a tough ‘task –master’, and who believed in ‘command and control’. I asked the top management team of this group to do the exercise I just recommended to you. The starting point was “what does it mean for this factory to do well? Who benefits from it?” As each one drew the picture, they initially saw only a limited set of interdependencies. As I questioned and probed, the pictures became more inclusive. I got the group to share the pictures. It soon became obvious that the lives of almost a hundred thousand households were directly impacted by the health of the factory, and the economic prosperity of the whole district was heavily impacted by the business activities of hundreds of small shops and so on. The team was very shaken up, especially the General Manager. We ended the day on a sober note. The next morning, the GM came to the workshop with a beautiful poem he had written. He read it out and there were many who were moved to tears. He promised to reevaluate all his activities from the new perspective and ensure that every one in the factory committed to the larger purpose of the community health. True to his word, he changed his antagonist stance with the labor, he was able to resolve old festering issues and invite a meaningful partnership with them. We create our world and with every thoughtless purchase, we keep industries that are destructive of our environment alive, we keep exploitative practices going and so on.
The practice is not very difficult. It starts with an understanding of how deeply we are interconnected to each other and to the earth. It means being mindful of what we ‘vote for’ with our wallets. How do we deal with people in our teams? What questions are we willing to ask? What are we willing to give up so that there may be shared prosperity? The Sanskrit word ‘samudaaya’ means sama- shared or equitable udayam- arising or growth. A society where there is inequity is not a community.
What comes in the way? The idea of an individual that is reinforced day in and day out is one of ‘great forces that oppose dharma’. The range of ‘manufactured needs’, the pursuit of ‘planned obsolescence’ and so on that fuel much of the business practices today oppose dharma. Many of us know that the present ways in which we live is not sustainable, yet we seem to be locked into it in a inexorable inertia. If we can love our world as much as we love ourselves, we will find a more dharmic way of acting.
Dharma: The grounded notes of the taanpoora resonate from the Manipooraka.
Doing the right thing  
  • Value: I value life in all its manifest forms
  • Behaviour: I ensure that my actions are meaningful to me, to others and to the context simultaneously.
  • Introspection: Are both my context and myself being enlivened through my action?

(Raghu Ananthanarayanan)

Seven Practices of a Manager-Yogi: Practice 2 - Exploring Karma

Pic: Raghu
Yogacharya Krishnamacharya describes a healthy person as one who can experience fully and act from all the nine rasaa.
Indian dance and theatre is built on the idea that a human being experiences nine inner states (words like feeling and emotion do not capture the meaning of the word rasaa; rasaa also means ‘juice’; the implication is that each feeling/ emotion is accompanied by a whole range of inner secretions and bodily changes). These states are:
  • Shringaara- affection, love
  • Roudram- anger, rage
  • Bhayaanakam- fear, anxiety
  • Veeryam- courage, conviction
  • Adbhutam- wonderment, curiosity
  • Bibhatsam- aversion, contempt
  • Haasyam- laughter, joyousness
  • Kaarunyam- compassion, empathy
  • Shaantam- equanimity, a state of tranquility where the 8 states above are held in balance
Now let us try out a ‘thought experiment’. Imagine various situations and observe your ‘rasaa’ response to each. There are the following possibilities:
  • You are able to act from all the nine appropriately and with spontaneity
  • Some states are easy to be in and others are difficult
  • Some states are preferred and one hangs on to them, others are blocked
  • The experience of flow and being blocked is correlated with ones body, the relative strength and weakness one experiences in different parts of ones body
 We don’t usually pay attention to our inner states in the course of our daily activities. However, the ease or otherwise of our spontaneous action states has a profound effect both on the immediate outcome of a situation as well as our long-term health. To illustrate; the situation one is in demands an act of courage, but, one gets caught with fear or overreacts and becomes angry. Since we understand cognitively that certain types of responses are inappropriate, we force ourselves to act in ways we should or must. This puts enormous stress within, robs us of power and energy in the moment of action. We come through as inauthentic.
 If we observe ourselves we will find that most of us have a propensity towards some of these rasaa and feel blocked with respect to others. A subtler observation will reveal tendency to feel comfortable in certain ways of holding ones body, on further introspection we will discover an inner form of the ‘self’ that we hold. Let me illustrate with a personal example: my height is almost six feet, but when I became sensitive to the inner form of myself that I hold I was very surprised to find that it was of a person considerably shorter and thinner. It was the picture of myself as I was in my teens! On further reflection I discovered that this was related to my yearning for affirmation from people who were significant to me. A persistence of these postural tendencies and inner form impacts the flow of praanaa and ultimately manifests as illness, chronic pain and psychosomatic disease.
 What is the implication of this? Firstly appropriate, authentic and powerful action is possible only when one has a sense of ease with all the nine rasaa. Secondly, in a context of collective action, ones own blocks manifest themselves as lack of appreciation of other peoples’ talents and tendencies. One also remains blind to contextual triggers that signal an invitation to display the blocked behaviors. Thirdly, insensitivity to ones body is the basis of bad health. Often these slowly developing distortions of praanic flow results in illness that shows up in mid life, just at the time when ones career is taking off and higher responsibilities are being offered!
 What is the difficulty with practicing this? We deploy ourselves in situations spontaneously, whether at work or play or socially. We never stop to think that our only instrument of action is our body. Even when we exercise, it is to build strength and not to increase our ability to observe our bodies and ourselves in action. Equanimity seems like a passive state, neutrality has no drama associated with it. So it is difficult to understand that Shaantam is a powerful and potent state to be in. Practice will start only when one is convinced of its power.
Karma : The clear drum beat of wholesome self assertion arises from the svaadhitaana chakra
Being proactive
  • Value: I value action 
  • Behavior: Spontaneous, authentic and appropriate response.
  • Introspection: From what inner space is my action emerging?

(Raghu Ananthanarayanan)

Seven Practices of a Manager-Yogi: Practice 1 - Exploring Maitri

From the collection of Lakshmi Ranganathan

Let us start with a small exercise: imagine that you are sitting between two people. The one on your left offers you a ‘gift’. You have to receive it from her in a way that affirms her. You then have to transform the gift into some thing that reflects your self without taking away the ‘energy’ that your friend invested in the ‘gift’. This is now your offering to the person on your right.
This simple process reflects the essence of the idea of ‘Maitri’. There are a few possibilities:
  • The gift is pleasant and positive and you are happy to add to it and offer it to the next person.
  • The gift given to you was pleasant and positive; you liked it and want to hold on to it.
  • The gift is unpleasant and negative; you receive it and feel stuck with it, you don't know how to transform it, nor do you wish to pass it on.
  • The gift is unpleasant and negative; and you become reactive and rebound it back to the giver.
  • The gift is unpleasant and negative; you maintain your equanimity, and end the unpleasantness.
  • The gift is unpleasant and negative; you make the effort to transform it into a positive before you pass it on.
 In Buddhist thought, ‘Metta’ is the Pali equivalent of ‘Maitri’. The Yoga Sutras advance the idea of ‘Maitri’ as one of the key practices in the path of a yogi.
 ‘Gifts’ are being offered to us at every moment of our wakeful lives (and our dreams if we take Jung and Freud seriously). We don't often see transactions this way, but energy is being exchanged. In yoga the concept is that with every touch, praanaa is exchanged. When we are not attentive to this process, the three beneficial ways of handling gifts (that we imagined in our mental play) would become very difficult. We would either be internalizing negative ‘gifts’ and adding to our internal stress, or we would be multiplying the negatives in our context.
 What would the practice of ‘Maitri’ do to your relationships? Whether at work or anywhere else, this would ensure two things. Firstly, you acknowledge and affirm people who you are interacting with. Secondly, you offer yourself to others in a way that enhances your self worth, and establishes your choice to impact your world in a positive direction. Contrary to the usual idea of teamwork, where strong and capable people come together, trust and trust-worthiness is the glue that binds a team together.
 What is the difficulty in practicing this? ‘Sahrudayatvam’- the ability to be in resonance with the others’ heart, is the essence of ‘Maitri’ i.e., being empathetic and kind. That implies being vulnerable and open. Unfortunately, the strength of this way of being is not often appreciated. A belief in the ‘masculine’ idea of strength would generate only the ‘hoarding behavior’ or the ‘reactive behavior’. This belief would also see kindness as weakness.
Maitri: Songs of friendship and affection that arise from the Mooladhaara chakra
  • Being Trustworthy
  • Value: I value friendship
  • Behavior: I display compassion in my relationships; I demonstrate respect for others.
  • Introspection: Am I listening to and understanding others?

(Raghu Ananthanarayanan)

Seven Practices of a Manager-Yogi (Introduction)

Pic: Siddharth Buch
I encountered a very difficult context in my work life when I was very young adult; our family business went into a tailspin at this time. Simultaneously the family context also suffered badly. However, I also met some extraordinary people at this time, the Krishnas of my life, namely J. Krishnamurti, Yogacharya Krishnamacharya and Pulin Krishna Garg. I spent the next ten years of my life learning from them. JK and Krishnamacharya influenced my spiritual journey profoundly, and Pulin influenced my professional journey. Without the inner transformations the outer challenges could well have over powered me! So I speak from a conviction born of personal experience when I speak about the extraordinary power of the inner work in impacting all aspects of ones’ life.
 When I ask a group of people “what is Yoga?” I usually get two sets of answers, from two ends of the spectrum. One set of answers are around the ‘ultimate aim’ namely union with Paramaatma. The other set is around the practice and benefits of Aasana and Praanaayaama. There is nothing wrong with these answers per se, however, the real power of Yoga lies in its width, its depth, and its simplicity. What I think will be useful to explore is the ground that lies between these sets of answers, what the Yoga Sutras call Antaranga Yoga, or the inner work. This is contrasted with the outer (called bahiranga) Yoga, as well as the transcendental called the Nirbeeja (without seed or form). A simple definition of Yoga is “to accomplish that which is beyond ones’ grasp and to sustain this capability”. This is the idea upon which we will ground our exploration and practice.
 In my coaching sessions I am asked the question “how do I balance my spiritual growth and my professional growth?” more and more often. I don't know if it is because the person being coached knows my background in Yoga, or is it a phenomenon that is more wide spread? Since this is a question dear to my heart I thought I would share my thoughts and what I have gathered in my journey.
 There are some very powerful concepts that capture the essence of inner work, and the practice of these has the potential to help one become the best that one can be. These practices are offered as areas of sustained enquiry. The one question that is quintessential to this enquiry is to ask oneself “in doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?” I have used seven words/ concepts as the guiding light of my enquiry, and these are:
  1. Maitri: Being Trustworthy
  • Value: I value friendship
  • Behaviour: I display compassion in my relationships; I demonstrate respect for others.
  • Introspection: Am I listening to and understanding others?
  1. Karma: Being proactive
  • Value: I value action 
  • Behaviour: Spontaneous, authentic and appropriate response.
  • Introspection: From what inner space is my action emerging?
  1. Dharma: Doing the right thing
  • Value: I value life in all its manifest forms
  • Behaviour: I ensure that my actions are meaningful to me, to others and to the context simultaneously.
  • Introspection: am I enlivening my context and myself through the action?
  1. Gnyaana: Internalizing knowledge
  • Value: I value learning and knowledge
  • Behavior: I question things and enquire deeply; I engage in dialogue with learned people
  • Introspection: Am I asking ‘what, why and how’ with a passion to learn?
  1. Ramya: Being evocative
  • Value: I value joyousness
  • Behaviour: I bring in a sense of aesthetic enjoyment in my actions; I approach work with an attitude of serious play
  • Introspection: Am I having fun in whatever I am doing?
  1. Yoga: Being mindful
  • Value: I value an integration of my energies
  • Behaviour: I practice the essentials of yoga i.e. healthy body, ethical behavior and self -discovery
  • Introspection: am I bringing a deep attention into whatever I do?
  1. Abhyaasa: Practice, practice, practice
  • Value: I value the pursuit of excellence
  • Behaviour: I Endeavour to be the best that I can be in every situation,
  • Introspection: Am I improving on the sense of self and my surroundings continuously? How can I be part of the solution?
 These are the seven words, and the values and behaviour that they imply. There is also the introspection that one can engage with in the self-enquiry.
All these words are found in the Yoga Sutras and the Gita. They find an echo in all Indian traditions. Many of these ideas are found in the Buddhist, Jain, Sufi and Sikh traditions. These seven words also reflect the pragmatic expression of the seven Chakras.
 We will discuss these concepts in the series of papers that follow.
(Raghu Ananthanarayanan)