Office call for yoga

Author of The Seeker, corporate whiz, and yoga expert, Karan Bajaj shares from personal experience how practising yoga helped him climb the corporate ladder without having to lose his balance on life

From starting as an intern with Procter & Gamble in India to running the $2 billion kids’ beverage business (Capri Sun, Kool-Aid, etc) for Kraft in North America, I made a steady ascent up the corporate ladder within ten years of graduating from B-School.

Surprisingly though, I truly realised my professional potential only after beginning yoga. Yes, practising yoga poses and sitting still with my eyes closed for 30 minutes every morning got me promoted faster than ever before, eventually enabling me to land my dream job as a Chief Marketing Officer of one of America’s fastest growing consumer products company.

Here’s how yoga helped me improve my work-place performance:

Improved inter-personal relationships
In my urgency to get things done in the past, my mind was always rushing through my mental to-do lists and though I was courteous on the surface, my colleagues could sense my impatience in meetings. As a result, they often felt I was dismissive and didn’t value their ideas enough.

While doing yoga poses, you learn to focus on just one object, one idea in the moment. As my mind stopped vacillating in the future and the past, I became a better listener in the present. People shine in that attention and I found myself a much more patient, effective collaborator than before within a year of starting yoga.

Higher technological productivity
Trying to be still in yoga has helped me viscerally understand the insatiable nature of desire. Within seconds of starting the headstand, for instance, I want to come down. No sooner have I come down that I start thinking I should’ve stayed up a little longer.

As I prepare for my next pose, to-do lists start flashing through my mind. So, the cycle of perpetual want goes as if the desire is for desire itself and not for a particular object. Email and social media fuel these restlessness tendencies of the mind by giving us a constant stream of objects to lust after-new emails, tweets, likes etc.

I’ve learnt that the best way to break this cycle is to be guided by routine versus impulse, much like monks meditating on a schedule in a monastery. For me, this means checking my email and social media for fifteen minutes on three hour intervals: 7.30 am, 10.30 am, 1.30 pm and not anytime in the middle. This approach has enabled me to be equally responsive yet far more productive than before.

Know the immediate effect of diet on mood
With more attention to the present in yoga, also comes greater physical awareness. Now I can immediately detect subtle shifts in my mood when I consume everyday stimulants like coffee and sugar. They give me a rush, my mind becomes a little frenzied, words come out faster, impatience grows, and decision making gets hampered. Getting rid of coffee and sugar fixes and changing my office lunch from sandwich and chips to salads has calmed me down leading to more conscious, centered decision making.

Better sleep after a full day
I’ve been a restless sleeper for much of my life and before I began yoga, I had trouble falling asleep on nights before an important presentation at work or after a particularly chaotic workday. Now, my evening yoga works wonders in silencing my mind. When I hit the bed, I almost always have a deep, dreamless, restful sleep. This gives me a lot of natural energy through the day and dramatically increases my productivity.

Movement towards purpose
Growing up in pre-boom India with fewer opportunities, a generation of us learnt to compartmentalise life and work. Big corporations like BCG and Kraft sponsored visas and gave good salaries, so, we made a beeline to work for them. With yoga and the corresponding life changes that came with it diet, temperament, feelings etc I’ve felt more conscious about working in places that propagate goodness and as a result, mental stillness.

This has led me to my dream job as a Chief Marketing Officer for a mission driven start-up. Of course, this is not to disparage large firms. I’ve met exceptionally caring, talented folks in them but yoga makes you want to live a more integrated life forcing a different view of one’s career.

The Seeker, Karan Bajaj, Penguin Random House, Rs 250 Available at leading bookstores and e-stores

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