Yoga and Leadership: How do you treat others?

Guest post by Margo Boster.

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. An essence of yoga are the ten ethical guidelines which are defined as the Yamas and Niyamas. How do the Yamas apply to leadership?

As a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and a certified Executive Leadership Coach people ask me if I use yoga in my coaching practice. My answer is “yes, but perhaps not in the way you think”.

Foundational to all yogic thought are the ten ethical guidelines: the Yamas and Niyamas. Yamas are the social contracts, or how we treat others. Niyamas are our internal self-restraints, or how we care for ourselves. These ten guidelines allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family, and our community. While all ten guidelines are important, today I want to share how the yamas can be applied in our daily leadership.

yoga-posesWhen I was first learning the yamas, I had a hard time with what seemed contradictory towards speaking the truth (satya) and doing no harm (ahimsa).
“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.”

With this dialogue, I began to realize that the yamas aren’t an esoteric idea to be practiced in a yoga studio, in a gym, or even on a mat. Perhaps these ideas could also be used in my everyday life.

Compassion (Ahimsa)

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 apply 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.

Ten ethical yoga guidelines are great for #leadership as well Click To Tweet

Truth (Satya)

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. Being honest with others requires that we first are honest with ourselves. When you are obviously upset about something and someone asks, “What’s wrong?” and you reply “NOTHING!” you are not speaking the truth.

Ownership (Asteya)

Asteya means non-stealing. As leaders, of course, we don’t steal – Right? How about stealing someone else’s idea? Have you ever stolen someone else’s idea and claimed it as yours? How about “fudging the numbers” to make our performance look better? If you tend to dwell on things that other people have and you don’t have, eventually the thought of taking something that doesn’t belong to you can become more acceptable… What do you take ownership of, and is that correct?

Temperance (Brahmacharya)

handsBrahmacharya in the Western world has often been interpreted as celibacy, but it actually means “living in divine consciousness”. That could sound lofty, but simply means control of the senses, or living in moderation.
Living in brahmacharya means having control over our impulses of excess. In the work world this often refers to money, power or position. The HBO-show, Sex and the City, is a great example of not living in brahmacharya. All those shoes that Carrie loved to buy, the clothes: examples of not living in brahmacharya. Samantha and her men? Not brahmacharya. Charlotte and her endless quest for the knight in shining armor? And what about workaholic Miranda?

Which of these 5 principles do you need to pay attention to? #leadership Click To Tweet

Acceptance (Aparigrache)

Aparigrache means non-clinging or non-attachment. Aparigrache doesn’t imply being lazy or not ambitious, nor does it mean to revoke pride of ownership of our hard work. Aparigrache simply means being part of your surroundings, not trying to hold so tightly and control our surroundings. However, sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we have that we forget to let go of the old before we have room for the new. I think perhaps John Lennon was talking about aparigrache when he sang “Let it Be.”

Ask yourself 3 questions

I often reflect back to how abstract it all seemed, that long ago day with my yoga teacher talking about ahimsa and satya. Now, working as a leader and with leaders, I use these as guiding principles in all I do. When I talk with a leader or a team about maintaining truthfulness, I don’t use the word “Satya”, but I give the same examples.

Ask yourself 3 questions before you speak. #yoga #leadership Click To Tweet

Yoga teacher and author Judith Hanson Lasater suggests always asking ourselves 3 simple questions before speaking – “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it non-harming?” It isn’t the use of the word that is important; it is the essence of the meaning. So, yes, I often use yoga in my coaching and my leading – just not in the way one first thinks.

Imagine that you are a leader who has compassion towards yourself and others, that you maintain truthfulness in all you say, not taking what isn’t yours, while you have control of your impulses, and you’re being happy with what you have…

Can you imagine?

Which of the five Yamas needs your attention?

By the way, here’s the blog post about how to treat yourself.

Margo Boster is the co-founder of ImpaQ Solutions. As a leadership strategist, Margo works with leaders, organizations and teams to be more effective and achieve goals. She is also an RYT Yoga teacher and divides her time between Scottsdale, Arizona and the Washington, DC area.

Marcella Bremer is an author and culture & change consultant. She co-founded this blog and

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Shrinivas Tilak

    I very much liked the way yama and niyama (first two steps in Patanjali’s Yogasutras) have been presented in the two blogs. Describing yamas as ‘How to treat others’ and niyamas as ‘How to conduct oneself’ is particularly useful for establishing a balanced and mutually satisfying relationship between self and others. One minor quibble– aparigrache (acceptance), one of the five yamas, should be rendered as aparigraha–literally meaning ‘non-hoarding.’ Aparigraha means not accumulating more than what is required to satisfy one’s basic needs. Thanks,

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