Yoga: the Path to Ethical Leadership

Classical yoga is a system organized in 8 steps called "limbs". This system, when followed in order, aims to create harmony in one's life by transforming the patterns we have created which keep us from appreciating everything simply for what it is. It is the perfect path to self-leadership!

The first and second limbs are called the Yamas and the Niyamas. They are principles which can be considered as a set of do's and don'ts for leading an ethical life.

My Ethical Leadership workshops explore practical ways of applying these principles to our leadership as well as our personal life. For example, "non-violence", the first of the Yamas does not simply refer to physical or verbal violence. In our role as leaders, emotional intelligence and empathy are one way to practice non-violence. We must also ensure that we are balanced emotionally, or in our work and personal lives so we can be stable and grounded to support others.

Deborah Adele in Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice (2009) explains that "Yamas" translates as "Restraints". Mark Stephens (Teaching Yoga) tells us that "Yama explains the principles of ethical behavior one should follow in every day life, in our relationships with others and with ourselves".

There are five yamas:
● Ahimsa – Non-violence
● Satya – Truthfulness
● Asteya – Non-stealing
● Brahmacharya – Non-excess
● Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness

The Yamas are a powerful way to think about how we lead others.

"Niyamas" translates as "not restraints" or "observances". According to Mark Stephens (Teaching Yoga), "the niyamas are personal observances, a means of well-being that brings our attention from relationships with others to the intimacy of our relationship with ourselves".

There are five niyamas:

● Saucha – Purity
● Santosha – Contentment
● Tapas – Self-Discipline
● Svadhyaya – Self-Study
● Ishvara Pranidhana - Surrender.

The Niyamas are a powerful way to think about how we lead ourself.

During the workshops, we explore how the yamas and niyamas relate to the 10 most important leadership competencies identified by Dr. Sunnie Giles in her research. A strong leader:

  1.  "has high ethical and moral standards.
  2. provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines / direction.
  3. clearly communicates expectations.
  4. has the flexibility to change opinions.
  5. is committed to my ongoing training.
  6. communicates often and openly.
  7. is open to new ideas and approaches.
  8. creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together.
  9. helps me grow into a next generation leader.
  10. provides safety for trial and error."

After an exploration of the attributes of great leaders and the relationship between the yamas and niyamas with leadership competencies, we are able to start freeing the mind and to start exploring asanas (poses): the third limb of yoga which is about being present in our body. The asanas help us practice and integrate some of those principles and key attributes of great leadership, for example: stability, strength, self-control, openness. The workshops teach participants accessible asanas to develop these qualities in the body and in the mind.

"Pranayama", the fourth limb of yoga, which Deborah Adele describes as "the right use of our energy" is all about the breath. Our breath is a truly wonderful way to come back to the present moment, and to release, in seconds, all the tension it took hours, days, weeks or years to build up. In the workshops, participants will learn some simple breathing exercises they can apply throughout the day, even sitting at their desk, to take a step back, regain control of their thoughts and focus. Leaders who can breathe deeply know how to stay calm, apprehend situations with a quiet mind and make clear decisions.

In the workshops, we will not concentrate explicitly on the next 4 limbs of yoga (Pratyahara – right use of our senses, Dharana – concentration, Dhyana – meditation and Samadhi – unity or the experience of connection).

Dominique MasComment