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Tips to Staying Calm, Focused and Productive at Work
 (no matter where work is!)

Written by Maren Showkeir 
Co-author (with Jamie Showkeir)
Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job (Berrett-Koehler, May 2013, $15.95)
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Most people are familiar with the physical practice of yoga but know little about the philosophical foundation on which it is based. Yoga is thousands of years old, and is meant to help you discover and develop your infinite potential. Here are just a few practices from this ancient wisdom that can help you survive and thrive in today's modern workplace:

CONNECT: Yoga is a practice that connects you to something greater than yourself and heightens awareness of our interdependence. It is the same at work. You contribute to something larger in order to serve others and make a difference in the marketplace. Get clear about what you contribute, how it makes a difference, and connect it to the larger purpose you serve. Thinking about your work in the context of service will create an attitude shift.

FOCUS: The yoga sage Swami Kriyananda says it is more powerful to think positively about one thing than avoid thinking about many things. When you have a lot to accomplish, decide what one task or project will get your full attention for a prescribed amount of time, then set a timer. Let go of the notion of multi-tasking. The most recent scientific research has shown that it is impossible, and trying to multi-task is actually counterproductive.

BREATHE: We do it without having to think about it. But developing practices that harness the breath gives you powerful tools to be more effective at work. Breathing techniques can help you rev your energy when it's flagging, or calm you down when circumstances get heated or tense. When you're feeling tired or disengaged, "take five." Focusing on the sound of your breath, feel your chest rise and fall as you slowly inhale and exhale five times. If you still feel frazzled or scattered, consider taking a break. Feel better? Continue working.

Here's a Q & A with author Maren Showkeir:

How can practicing yoga at work improve my experience on the job?

Integrating yoga practices into your workday can help you get clear about your intentions around work, and how you want to contribute. Yogic practices such as breathing techniques can help keep you calm in the face of confusion, chaos or contentiousness. Other practices can help you develop discipline, tap into creativity, get organized, work efficiently, enhance emotional intelligence -- the list is long!

What are some good things to start with if I want to practice at work?

Breathing is one of the easiest places to begin. Yoga has practices and techniques, called pranayama, that help you harness the energy of the breath. It is powerful! These practices can calm you, ground you, or energize you. Taking a deep breath before responding to questions or comments also can create space to be mindful about what you're saying.

What do you see as the benefits of practicing yoga at work?

Yoga is meant to help you realize your potential, and to recognize it in others, and it gives you a guide for developing that potential. Like yoga, work is about being connected to something larger than yourself, which means being accountable for the good of the whole, not just your job or your department. When you're working on self-transformation, it definitely will have an influence in your work environment.

Has incorporating yoga practices made a difference in your work place? How?

For me, yoga has greatly influenced how I bring myself present. Rather than worrying about the past, which I can't change, or fretting about the future, which I can't control, the practices help me stay focused on right now. Other practices, such as sauca (purity) remind me to rid myself of negative thoughts, and develop healthy habits. I practice santosha (contentment) by reminding myself that I can choose to be content even in the face of difficult or disappointing circumstances at work. And by not getting attached to specific outcomes. I can only do my best -- I can't control how everything turns out!

One of the beautiful things about yoga is that it's not dogmatic. There are myriad ways to practice, and you can decide what the practice looks like for you.

Can you recommend some ways to start practicing at work?

In the book, the end of each chapter has five suggestions for developing various practices, so I recommend checking that out. (And remember, they're just suggestions. Decide whether they make sense for you -- or come up with your own!)

But I would say that practicing ahimsa, which translates as non-violence or "do no harm" is foundational. Start by noticing the ways you do harm to yourself, such as negative self-talk, or by working yourself to the point of exhaustion. What can you do to alter that? Then begin to notice how you treat others. Do you gossip about them? Do you snap at others or speak harshly when the stakes are high? Are you forgiving? Honestly, it is hard to violate other yogic practices if you're dedicated to ahimsa.

How can yoga help me be more successful in my work?

For starters, it can help you get clearer about what true success is -- it's about making a worthy contribution and serving people, not just earning a buck. But in more pragmatic ways, yoga practices such as meditation and focus can help you be more productive. When you learn to be calm and compassionate, it benefits your working relationships, including customer service. An on-the-mat yoga helps you focus, and you become physically flexible, strong, and stable. The other practices do the same thing for your mind, which will definitely help you be more successful.

In today's competitive, fast-paced work world, how do we slow down and still survive in the marketplace?

That's a great question. It sounds counter-intuitive, but going slow to go fast is actually more efficient in the long run.

For example, you hear a lot in today's workplace about the importance of being a good "multi-tasker." Scientific research is showing that multi-tasking is nothing but mythology, and in fact, is a harmful practice. Our brains are so speedy, they trick us into thinking we can do several things at once, but in truth, our intellectual capacity is diminished and quality suffers. And it takes a toll on our health and peace of mind as well.

Again, yoga's physical practice provides a good metaphor for surviving in today's crazy marketplace. It's common to fall out of a pose, or to do it great one day and struggle the next. Work is like that, too. We all struggle. We all fall down - the important thing is to get back up try again. That's why the practice is so important.

To purchase the book, click here.

Posted in: Blog, Everyday Health Corner, Mom's Reading Corner, Role Mommy Recommends on 06/03/2013

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