Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job

Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job

by Maren S. Showkeir, James D. Showkeir

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When Ed Rendell was elected Philadelphia's mayor in 1991, journalist Buzz Bissinger was uniquely placed to chronicle what looked like a turning point in the city's history. A colorful and controversial former


When Ed Rendell was elected Philadelphia's mayor in 1991, journalist Buzz Bissinger was uniquely placed to chronicle what looked like a turning point in the city's history. A colorful and controversial former district attorney, Rendell was among the first of the reform-minded Republicrats who were swept to power in city after city in the early '90s (the wave culminating, of course, with New York's ubiquitous mayor, Rudy Giuliani).

Rendell entered City Hall facing a billion-dollar budget deficit, an immediate showdown with city unions over a new contract, the impending closure of the historic Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, critical mismanagement of the public schools and public housing and the continuing attrition of jobs and middle-class residents in an atmosphere of rising crime and crackling racial tension. In Rendell's phrase, Philly was in imminent danger of becoming "Detroit without the automobiles" -- and the incoming mayor had promised Bissinger (whose widely praised first book, Friday Night Lights, was about high-school football in small-town Texas) complete behind-the-scenes access to his administration as he tried to reverse the city's fortunes.

Given this setup, you'd really have to work hard to produce a compelling drama of big-city Realpolitik in the era of government downsizing. Alas, work hard Bissinger does, muddying his narrative with turgid prose and inflated similes straight out of Danielle Steel and padding the book with endless tangential discourses on the minutiae of local history and the decline of civilization. (He fills an entire paragraph with the names of ships built in Philadelphia.) As his breathless subtitle suggests, Bissinger apparently believes he has to make his story into a pulp thriller in order to convince anyone to read it, and municipal politics simply don't offer those kinds of pleasures. His brief sketches of four ordinary Philadelphia "heroes" (the fifth is actually Rendell's principal aide) feel unfocused and artificial, while his portrait of Rendell is curiously incomplete; after spending upwards of 300 pages with the mayor, I'm still not sure whether to view him as a hero or a caustic hothead with an evil neoliberal agenda.

At the outset of A Prayer for the City I was longing for the perception and insight that a Joan Didion or Michael Lewis would have brought to this intriguing project, but by the end I would have been content with the simple declarative sentences of a capable newspaper reporter. Didion has written that the task of a political reporter is "to observe the observable," which is much harder than it sounds. Bissinger ultimately has some valuable observations about the Disneyfied "audience economy" being forced on our inner cities, but he's so much in love with his own writerliness and pat social analysis that precious little of "the observable" manages to sneak through. -- Salon

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Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
BK Life
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Barnes & Noble
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Read an Excerpt


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

Yoga for me began as a mild flirtation. In the beginning, I wasn’t all that interested in investing too much in the relationship.
In the late 1980s, I wandered into the world of yoga to extend my physical fitness routine. My goal was muscular flexibility and better balance. The first few classes I took were what most people in the Western world commonly experience: Enter a brightly lit room at a gym, community hall, or studio. Depending on the environment, the session might include a short meditation or a reading designed to center and calm the restless, chattering “monkey mind.” We’d plop down on mats and spend an hour or more stretching, breathing, and twisting our bodies into poses with strange-sounding names. Before ending class, the teacher would ask us to recline on the mats for a resting pose called savasana.
Just as the instructions to lie down 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 ten minutes seemed like a waste of my valuable time when I had so many important things to do at work.
I don’t feel that way any more.
After an initial burst of enthusiasm, 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. An example: One day I suddenly realized that my beloved and multidecade 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 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 yoga’s emphasis on healthy living had been subconsciously 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 yoga teacher-training course taught by Mary Bruce in Tempe, Arizona. This was the beginning of a fruitful 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. And the journey continues.
Although I try to live my life without regrets, I often wish I had discovered this practice 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 common 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.
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 rollercoaster of a career for more than twenty years, a gentle and persuasive inner voice had been insisting for several months that it was time for something new.
Another new adventure began simultaneously with my yoga teacher training—working with Jamie Showkeir (now my husband and business partner) as an organizational consultant. As I began learning about Jamie’s work philosophy and approach to helping organizations become more successful, we both were blown away by how yoga principles dovetailed beautifully with concepts he considered foundational to his 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 views about work.
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, and set intentions around writing the book through a guided meditation practice called yoga nidra. A few days later, we were in Mount Shasta, California, sequestered in our friends’ house to begin the project. I went into that cozy house 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 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 ideas for a 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 teacher training 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.
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, breakthrough product or a countercultural 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 don’t spring from a black hole with a proverbial Big Bang, the term is a bit equivocal.
What people call “new” or “innovative” always is built upon historical exploration, discovery, and experience. The world’s 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, the Indian sage often called the Father of Yoga, only codified ancient teachings and traditions that had existed for generations. Called the Sutras, his foundational yoga text (estimated to have been written between 500 BCE and 100 BCE) formalized a “new” way 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, who died in 2009: “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.”
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.
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. Like yoga does, we emphasize precepts such as setting clear intentions, telling the truth (with goodwill), individual accountability for the collective, and the importance of self-awareness. Another reason we wrote the book is that most people have at least heard of yoga, or do a physical practice, or know someone who does. Because yoga and meditation have become such familiar and popular activities in the Western world, 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 potency for helping you alter your perspective about the purpose of work, the people you work with, and the organizations you work in.
Yoga’s popularity in the West began growing slowly after Swami Vivekananda introduced it in the United States 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. Even so, Yogarupa Rod Stryker, a nationally known yogi and our teacher’s teacher, observes that while yoga’s popularity in the U.S. has exploded, a full recognition of the richness of its potential benefits remains obscure. “We’ve reduced the spectrum of what [yoga] can be, how it can benefit us,” he says.
Jamie and I do not see ourselves as yoga “experts”—we want to be emphatic about that. I have studied yoga for more than fifteen years. I 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 other yogic sacred texts. 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 collaborating with others to develop human potential. Our expertise is rooted in helping people in organizations understand the business benefits of harmonizing the need for achieving successful business results with finding 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 seats of the teacher and the student are the same. Our primary intention is to help you stretch in the way others have helped us.
Yoga contains no commandments, nor is it associated with religion or dogma. In teacher-training classes, the adage “one well of truth, and many paths” is invoked often, to signify that each individual travels a unique path of self-discovery on the way to the well of wisdom, fulfillment, and enlightenment.
Although references to God or Lord are plentiful in yoga scriptures and literature, 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. The late Eknath Easwaran, a yogi, spiritual teacher, and founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in northern California, addressed this in one of his numerous books, Conquest of the Mind: “If you believe in a personal God, ask for the help of Sri Krishna or Jesus or the Divine Mother. … If you do not believe in a personal God, ask for help from your own deeper Self, the Atman. Either way, it is important to remember that you are appealing to a power deep within you, not to anyone outside.”
For the purpose of this book, yoga is set forth as a practice that will help you discover your own spark of divinity, which we define as human and spiritual potential. The Sanskrit meaning of the word yoga is “yoke” or “union.” The ability to look inward, recognize and acknowledge your potential, then develop that in a way that unites it with your highest, divine self—that is yoga. It also asks that you recognize that boundless potential in others. This perspective is contained in the traditional yoga salutation namasté, which translates into “my soul recognizes and bows to the divinity of yours.”
Yoga does not provide answers. Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun, author, and teacher, says it is important to realize that “… no slogan, no meditation practice, nothing that you can hear in the teachings is a solution. We’re evolving. We will always be learning more and more, continually opening further and further.” What yoga does offer is a guide for discovering the light that exists within you and always has. It urges you to unveil your brilliance to the world and to recognize the light that also burns in others. This luminescence reveals that you are perfect as you are. With steadfast practice, yoga leads you to that realization.
The lake of potential is always there, shimmering within you. You may not acknowledge that it exists, but that doesn’t make it disappear. Perhaps you see it but prefer to stay safely on shore. Maybe you’re willing to wade in partway. 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 of your own life.
Whatever regrets Jamie and I may have about not having found yoga sooner have been banished by remembering this: it is never too late to begin.

Meet the Author

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.

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