Yoga philosophy offers a way of being off the mat, but if we're not translating these principles to our work-life too, one of the most significant portions of our life is left untouched by Yoga's wisdom. The average person spends 90,000 hours at work, and it may seem like (or actually be) many more for those of us running our own businesses, or those of us who have absolutely zero dreams of retirement.
So many studies are published about how to select the right career, how to make the balance of work and life more equitable, or how to leave a job or eliminate a need to work all together. Basically, the advice here often is that the job is something to be overcome, survived. Unless we have an abundance of job offers knocking down our doors, or a new career we can step into tomorrow, that advice can be incredibly grim. Most people can't simply quit their sh*tty jobs at a moment's notice at least not without some serious life consequences. The sinking feeling that comes with resigning ourselves simply surviving a situation can set us up for a lot of suffering. But applying Yoga's insight to our work life we can reframe our experience, and perhaps even find the courage we need to walk a path of work that feels empowered.
3. Self-Study :: Svadhyaya
Yoga offers us a path towards greater wisdom and discernment and if we're always looking for something external to change, then the best we're ever going to get is a hefty dose of commiseration with other people... and in the process we might be missing out on a whole heap of personal empowerment. It can feel good to indulge in gossip with coworkers, or vent about work over cocktails with friends. But if we're not actively doing something to resolve the suffering we're feeling, there's not much there except... well... gossip and venting. But how are we supposed to feel less suffering about things we don't have control over? Yoga offers us an idea and an opportunity to regain control over things we are overwhelmed by through the principle of Svadyhaya (svad = self; dhyaya = to contemplate; to study).
Self-study is the practice of looking inward, choosing to seek understanding of yourself, your habits, your actions, and ultimately truth. Yoga suggests something is making us unhappy, the first place we look is inside rather than immediately placing blame outside. This doesn't mean abandoning standards, values, or boundaries. But it does mean honestly assessing our participation in the issue at hand, how much power we are letting it have over our mind (and energy), and whether the energy and actions we are putting towards it in return adds to or reduces suffering.
Commit to studying yourself in the moment, especially the difficult moments, and we'll find a greater sense of restraint and pause, providing enough space to gracefully choose your next move... or in many cases choose to no longer let a situation get under our skin.
2. Practice and Dispassion :: Abhyasa and Vairagya
Ok, so yes this is a two for one. But these to concepts go hand in hand, and in Patanjali's Sutras they are connected in such a way that makes is clear why one without the other may create conflict.
Let's start with Abhyasa or practice. The ritual. The process. The persistent effort. In Yoga the effort is towards maintaining a tranquil space within the mind; it is towards calming the vrittis. That can be the same at work. Sometimes the vrittis, the ripples, feel like overwhelm, simply too much to do in too little time. Sometimes they are monotony, feelings of inertia without any forward momentum. Sometimes the ripples feel like excitement about a new opportunity, new problem to solve, new team to train, or new project to manage. Patanjali's advice?
Do the work, persistently, consistently.
Yes, the second half this pair is Vairagya or dispassion. Some may translate this to detachment. This can be a mindf*ck (pardon moi!) but come on! All this work and we aren't supposed to feel connected and passionate about what we're doing?
Yes, and no. Feeling a sense of accomplishment is a great thing. But if the accomplishment is tied to an outcome, and not the process itself, then you are setting yourself up for a lot of potential suffering. So rather than being passionately committed to a specific outcome, detach from the predetermined idea of success, and redirect your focus and attention to becoming abundantly curious about the process of the work.
A process-oriented mindset can create an infinite amount of energy, ideas, and outcomes. A finite, outcome-attached mindset can set you up for a narrow field of success and a larger potential for unhappiness when the results don't match expectation. Reduce your future suffering, and opt for process-oriented curiosity.
1. Contentment :: Santosha
Santosha when it comes to work, especially, sounds terrible at first. Isn't that the opposite of what we want? Don't we always want to be striving more more? Maybe, but contentment and ambition are not at odds.
Santosha is also not an outcome, but rather a habit. Choosing to be content rather than waiting for contentment to happen to us reclaims a sense of ease in any scenario. When making decisions from place of ease and gratitude, gratitude can actually rewire our brain to be healthier. A state of contentment and gratitude naturally puts us in a mindset where strong willpower and positive self-esteem are possible - both of these are key to long term success.
This is why ambition and contentment are partners, not enemies. Ambition without willpower, and an ability to believe in our dreams is DOA. So, before wishing and hoping we were somewhere else, pausing to feel content with the situation at hand, can open us up to a more prosperous and ambitious future.