Practicing yoga isn’t about doing poses on a mat or in a class; just as leading isn’t about being in charge of other people. Practicing yoga and leadership are simply ways of being – preferably with compassion and truthfulness.
As a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and a certified Leadership Coach, I was recently asked if I use yoga in my coaching practice. My answer is “yes, but perhaps not in the way you think”. I do not ask my coaching clients to practice yoga, but I strive to practice yoga in my coaching.
An essence of yoga and foundational to all yogic thought are the ten ethical guidelines which are defined as the “Yamas” and “Niyamas”. These ten guidelines allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family, and our community. While all 10 of the guidelines are important, the 2 yamas that I want to share today are ahimsa (nonviolence) and satya (truthfulness).
Ahimsa, the first yama, traditionally meant “do not kill or hurt people”. This is often translated to mean to maintain compassion towards yourself and others, and not being violent – or overly harsh – in feelings, thoughts, words or actions.
In my coaching practice I practice ahimsa towards both my clients and myself – being compassionate in my feelings thoughts, words and actions. Sometimes this is when I am not critical towards my clients, accepting where they are, and giving them a safe space; other times it is when I am not so harsh towards myself for not asking the “right” powerful question.
Satya means “truth” or “not lying” – being certain that what you say is the truth. When an employee is not performing well at work, you must practice satya when you truthfully let them know they need to improve. When someone else did the work for which you receive praise, you should be truthful in giving credit where credit is due.
When I was first learning the yamas, I had a hard time with what seemed contradictory towards speaking the truth and doing no harm.
“How,” I asked my teacher, “am I supposed to always practice satya (truthfulness) and ahimsa (do no harm)? What about someone I just can’t stand – am I suppose to lie to be nice to them?
“No,” my teacher answered, “You don’t have to lie to the other person, but neither do you have to speak every thought that comes in your mind.”
Together ahimsa, maintaining compassion towards yourself and others, along with satya, maintaining truthfulness in what you say, will help guide you in leadership of self and others.