The Yamas as a Holistic Model for the Workplace

The eight limbs of yoga provide us with a holistic and integral road map toward peace. The nature of these limbs seems simple and accessible in theory, but in practical application, it can be the endeavour of a lifetime.

How many times a day do our notions of truth, moderation, contentment, and non-grasping get put under the microscope in our reactions and judgments, all with the intention to not judge and accept all that is? And where more than anywhere else do we have the potential for our buttons to be pressed and our personal preferences to be denied or ignored? That would be the workplace.

Whether it be juggling chores and children as you navigate the first Zoom meeting of the day or in conventional times, dealing with office politics as you try doggedly to navigate your tasks for the day, the world of work offers us a field of awareness where we can take the opportunity to put our training into action or at least bring a quiet acknowledgment of our behaviours.

As yoga teachers and practitioners, many of us have jobs outside of yoga and our mat practice fits around it. I would suggest that the yoga should not cease the minute we leave the mat. In fact, the lessons we learn on the mat should be practiced everywhere, including in the world of business and the workplace. Otherwise, the on the mat training becomes insular and not about bringing our own drop of unique brilliance into the yogic goal of making the world a better place.

There is little point in being peaceful and benevolent on the mat then firing off terse emails or making demands in your next interaction at work. Where is the self-awareness? As yoga people, we should strive to find union and connection and not increase the suffering of others.

The first yama of Ahimsa is well-known and often mentioned. The principle of non-violence or, conversely kindness to self and others would seem obvious to most but when we are under pressure with deadlines and tasks mounting, in practical application it could be easy to lose sight of. We never can know exactly what is happening in another person’s life so our default should be kindness, particularly when we witness reactions and behaviour, we perceive to be troublesome. Instead, maybe we should look beyond the reaction and annoying behaviour and feel compassion for the pain or unhappiness which may underpin the reaction. We can reach out, even if it is the offer of a coffee or a chat in a break time, it is easy to build connection and lessen suffering if we can look past our own concerns to do so. The prana we generate on the mat gives us the energy for this and cultivates our compassion and the impetus to act.

The second yama of Satya is about owning your truth so in the workplace this would mean staying true to your own integrity and to an extent the integrity of the business or organisation. Most businesses now have a mission statement. It may be useful to see how far this statement aligns with your own values and the role you take in the organisation. Can you bring your passion and energy to work in an optimum way which reflects your own expertise and professionalism? At the same time, owning your truth means treating yourself with kindness and respect as per Ahimsa so acknowledging your needs such as a reasonable structure to work from with regular breaks. If you are not able to respect your own truth in the workplace then we have to take responsibility for this and communicate our feeling to the relevant personnel in an appropriate setting, honestly and respectfully.

The third yama of Asteya refers to not stealing. Most of us would agree that stealing is not a good idea and more importantly it is illegal! In the spirit of Satya though I’m sure I’m not on my own in having liberated the odd stapler or batch of paper from my various workplaces down the years. I’m not proud, but there it is. More seriously though, there are different ways we can steal-ideas, images, words and the big one in these adrenally charged times- time itself.

How many of us have been in yoga classes where the time has run over or classes where students have arrived 30 minutes too early meaning transport has been missed, childcare has been stretched or preparation has not been possible? It could be argued again that this is a matter of respect; a consideration for other peoples’ commitments and an acknowledgement of their right to a work-life balance. This can also be applied to the workplace. It is important to establish a working structure which benefits all to avoid resentment and in the worse- case scenario-burnout of staff members. If time is constantly stolen, boundaries are eroded, and it becomes difficult to manage workload and out of hours commitments

The fourth yama of Brahmacharya refers to the optimum direction of energy. Originally, it referred to celibacy and sexual energy, as an aside with the topic of office parties and trysts, maybe it is still relevant but in its application to the workplace it can mean using the energy of yourself or other staff wisely. In the current situation, many people are working flexible hours. It may be useful to ascertain if you or your staff are a lark or a night owl? There have been many studies into the optimum time to work based on the individual’s circadian rhythm. Having an awareness of this can surely influence productivity and the work-life balance of all involved. In terms of personal responsibility, directing energy into completing tasks rather than getting distracted by social media optimises working hours and frees up more time afterwards for personal pursuits. Social media can cause a fragmenting of focus and attention which can affect productivity. Similarly, if this is the means of communication between staff it can lead to a blurring of professional boundaries and can seep into out- of- hours immoderate communication which leads into the final yama.

The fifth and final Yama of Aparigraha means not grasping or trying to hold on to things in the interests of balance and moderation. In the world of work, we are encouraged to be competitive, to set targets, to achieve sometimes at the expense of our own values and at the expense of others. This striving and grasping, admired in the high achieving multi-tasker in the office is not revered in yoga terms where surrender and going with the flow are the order of the day. To surrender ambition in the workplace is to surrender power and status. Maybe holding on to status and power or trying to live up to an impossible ideal or workload leads to personal suffering. Yoga teaches us that everything changes, and this too will pass. Focusing on our inner qualities of compassion, patience and a self-worth honed through time on the mat allows us to ungrip, to relinquish the ragic desire to control and allows us to feel that we are enough just as we are, whether on the mat or in the workplace.

As yoga people, it is our duty to be the change and be a force for change and liberation so that others may benefit from our learning.

By Emma Conally-Barklem

Emma Conally-Barklem is a yoga teacher, writer and poet. After completing her Level 4 500+ hours Teaching Diploma with the British Wheel of Yoga in 2014, Emma has gone on to pursue Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training with her teacher David Swenson and Primary Series Teacher Training with Manju Jois via the European Academy of Ashtanga Yoga. She also teaches Yin and Restorative forms and has completed Advanced Yin Yoga Teacher training with Norman Blair. Emma has also completed PCI -Accredited Yoga 4 Health Professional training with Yoga in Healthcare Alliance. Emma teaches yoga retreats in Europe with the theme of accessible Ashtanga and Vinyasa. Yoga became an anchor for Emma after the loss of her mother in 2018 as she navigated grief through her own breath and movement practice. She found that grief is the flipside to love and finds ways to honor the spectrum of emotional states through her yoga practice. She is passionate about normalizing the grieving process for the many forms of loss we encounter through life via both her work as a yoga teacher and as a writer. Emma’s yoga and grief memoir, ‘You Can’t Hug a Butterfly: Love, Loss & Yoga’ will be traditionally published in 2024. Emma’s work can be found at and you can follow her on social media @emmaliveyoga.

By Emma Conally-Barklem, January 2021, All rights reserved. Photo of Emma by Zuzana Bajuszova

Blog featured photo by Diva Plavalaguna