Sthira Sukha Asanam: Sage Advice for Wellness in the Workplace

Sthira Sukha Asanam: Sage Advice for Wellness in the Workplace

 

Somewhere between 500 and 200 B.C the great Sage Patanjali, an evolved soul said to have incarnated of his own will to help humanity, wrote 196 precise and profound aphorisms known as the Yoga Sutras. This body of work has since served as a sort of manual on the path to Self Realization and is comprised of instructions on contemplation, practice, properties and powers, and emancipation and freedom.

Yoga Sutra II.46 is Sthira Sukha Asanam. This roughly translates to, “ a seat of steadiness and ease”. As far as the Hatha Yoga tradition we practice today is concerned, this is mostly interpreted to address the way we practice yoga asana, or the physical postures we perform on our mats. This means our physical practice should be done with a consistent, steady amount of intensity, but one in which there is still a soft and malleable quality that holds space for breath and meditation. If we push too hard physically, our efforts will not be sustainable. Extreme force coming from a place of ego can cause fatigue, emotional instability, and inability to remain present. If we lack luster or effort in our practice, we remain dull and make no progress. It must be a carefully balanced combination of both; steadiness and ease.

B.K.S Iyengar describes is like this, “Whatever asana is performed, it should be done with a feeling of firmness, steadiness and endurance in the body; goodwill in the intelligence of the head, and awareness and delight in the intelligence of the heart.”

Let’s look deeper into the translation and see how we might live this sutra off the mat and in our places of work.

Sthira: steady, stable, to take a stand

Sukha: good, joyful, easy and virtuous, resolutely abiding in a good space

Asana: act of sitting down, dwelling, being present.

Consider the ‘act of sitting down’ to a work related task. Would it not be of benefit to do so ‘joyfully’ and with ‘steady’ effort? What if at work you were consistently ‘taking a stand’ but while always ‘abiding in a good space?

How likely is it that we are doing this now? In our culture, the workplace is often run on timelines, deadlines, and overtime. Competition between employees is rampant and motivation comes in the form of bonuses or elusive and vague opportunities for advancement. Changes in the economy shift responsibilities and workloads without changes in workplace structure and/or pay. We have told ourselves that we should work hard so that later on we can play hard. We are practically working ourselves to death while we are young to hypothetically have some relief from this cycle when we are old and able to retire. Where is the balance? Is this sustainable? And more importantly, are we even getting quality work done at this strenuous pace?

Employers should consider the bottom line; working without a sense of steadiness as well as ease is not sustainable. Stress in the workplace is costing American businesses $300 billion dollars a year. That’s the figure the American Psychological Association puts on the loss of productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and increased medical costs caused by stress at work. According to the 2011 Work Stress Survey conducted by Harris Interactive 77% of Americans are stressed out about something related to their job. Employees currently experiencing this kind of stress and dissatisfaction may want to consider a yoga practice to bring about changes to their work experience when literal changes to their workload or workplace environment are not possible.

When I was first developing my corporate Pilates/yoga business, my brother introduced me to the book “The Four Hour Workweek”, by Timothy Ferris. This book, in a nutshell, is a guide to working smarter rather than harder, with the end goal being meaningful work that is accomplished efficiently, and leaves plenty of time for a rich and satisfying life. Timothy is strongly against the idea of multitasking, stating that, “If you prioritize properly there is no need to multitask”. He also advises that, “Divided attention will result in more frequent interruptions, lapses in concentration, poorer net results, and less gratification.” This concept of forgetting multitasking in favor of a single point of focus echoes not only the notion of Sthira, but of other yoga philosophies. The Bhagavad Gita says, “many branched and endless are the thoughts of the man who lacks determination”. In our work, we must remain determined and steady in order to achieve not only success, but also peace of mind and emotional equanimity so that we may continue to work throughout our lifetime without burnout or dissatisfaction.

I’m sure some of you reading this are skeptical of the possibility of incorporating a sense of joy or ease into your working habits because you really do have a high stress job with a large workload and deadlines to meet. But here is the beauty in the internal practice of yoga; ardent adherence to a yoga or mindfulness practice will start to bleed off of your mat, into other areas of your life, and improve everything that you do. Once you can steady the fluctuations of the mind and find ease, what you produce at work will be of higher quality because you will have been more focused when creating it. When the intention is there the results will follow.

Ask me how to suggest to your employer or to provide to your employees an on-site yoga or mindfulness practice. Even 30 minutes could make a big difference! I tailor my classes specifically to the needs of your work environment. Not only have I retained all of my corporate clients, but also most of them have added more classes once they experience the difference of a mindful workplace.

To all of you out there living your dharma and contributing to society through the working world…may the manner in which you work be that perfect equilibrium between effort and ease.

Namaste

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