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Business Yoga: why conscious leaders will do better business

At Mount Arbor we work a lot with innovative startup founders as well as global leaders in the use of technology. According to a study on Digital Transformation by IDC published by Forbes, by 2021 one-third of CEOs and COOs of Fortune 2000 companies will have spent at least 5 years of their career in a technology leadership role. The key to their success will not be their technical expertise. This'll help, but it will be in their ability to unite technology, operations, marketing and ideas across a distributed organisation that will determine whether they make it in an increasingly fractured and fickle technology market. Business leaders of the future will have to find ways to unite a workforce that no longer ascribes to a traditional model of hierarchy and reward.

The question for leaders of the future will be how to motivate a workforce to produce their best work.

As people with talent have increasingly more freedom and flexibility to choose, vision will dictate which companies succeed. This is the driving force behind why a company exists in the first place. Companies with vision attract the best talent, and those that communicate their vision most effectively are invariably the most popular to work for. And customers love a company with values.

Storytelling and an ability to clearly articulate why you exist will be the dominant concern of businesses in 2020

Artificial intelligence has the potential to fundamentally disrupt our economic business models within a very short time (see Moore's Law). It is now even more important that we are able to take a step backwards from our ability to solve problems and engineer solutions and to question why we are doing what we are doing. Doing this in a way that's clear to customers has a way of increasing sales and attracting the best talent ...

Our function as leaders is to form a vision, to lead people according to values that are aspirational rather than ambitious, socially serving rather than opportunistic, environmentally developmental rather than destructive. There are reasons for this that go beyond altruistic or idealist - Jaron Lanier argues in his book 'Who Owns the Future?' that the very basis of our economic models are being dismantled by the free exchange of data, and the impact on the environment of business models purely focused on growth are evident.

As an example, our banking systems have failed on numerous occasions due to the interference of high frequency trading and risk transfer to a population of borrowers that benefits an increasingly minor group of gamblers - leading to recession and instability in countries like my own (Ireland) and a disenfranchised middle class who are beginning to kick up a fuss.

How do you plan a vision for the future?

You can work it out on a piece of paper, like most do, especially at this time of year. But is that truly your vision, or something you picked up? If you really stop to question your aspirations and dreams, you might start to find that the things you're writing down in your New Year's resolutions list are not yours at all. Pressures, expectations and assumptions infiltrate even the most independently minded people. 'Shoulds' and 'Ought Tos' have a way of insinuating themselves into our lives so we think we're doing what's in our best interest, when all we're really doing is chasing an elusive and impossible goal set by an unnamed critic standing on our shoulder. This can hurt in the long term.

There is a way around this mind trickery, and it comes from yoga.

YS Ch. 1 v. 02: “Yoga is – citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ – the controlling of the mind. If we are sitting here, but our mind is not here, then it has gone elsewhere. To control the mind, to bring it back, that is yoga.” – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Applying yogic principles to your business is not straightforward, especially if you see your business as a separate entity - something you leave behind once you're finished working for the day.

Experiment with the point of view that your business is you.

Your creation is not separate from you. It is an external representation of your internal structure. When you separate from your business and see it as something "out there", you lose your connection both to it and to yourself, your own body.

Modern business practices encourage this separation. The prevailing view is that in order for a business to grow it has to be separated from its creator. There are processes in place to encourage the growth of companies, perfected to analyse and apply methods of production and accountability so that the business becomes a separate entity. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to do in a market that looks for IPOs and exits - maximising return on investment in ideas.

The creator that begins to see their business as separate from themselves feels pain.

We are human beings after all. What is the effect of 'growth at all costs' on founders’ physical health for example? Have you ever noticed a decline in creativity that begins when the board's concern for growth outweigh the vision and values of the company? How does "#hustle" affect your wellbeing?

If only for a moment, especially when engaging in a physical practice like yoga or swimming, it is possible to switch the mind off and to experience the body's sensations and feelings in a more pronounced way.

It can help to see these feelings as communications from your body that bypass critical thoughts.

When you start a business, your body can feel excited. Creation of a business produces a physical reaction - feelings of joy, excitement - a rush of energy that is channelled into manifesting and creating.

When this flow is interrupted, and analysis and separation begin, you might notice that the body expresses pain. Look out for stomach pain, headaches, raised blood pressure, sleeplessness, anxiety. I notice problems in the actual physical structure of the body. Hip misalignment, shoulder pain, knee and ankle injuries. The gut acts up - ulcers, appendicitis, kidney or liver problems…

The body and your business are connected. There is a healthy way to create a business that is aligned with your body. There are many ways to create and some are not obvious. The discomfort of creative tension when creating something new is nothing compared to the pain of separation from your creation.

By working with the mind and body in ways that pay attention to the arising feelings, nuanced patterns and suggestions that appear when building a business, a clearer picture of what is happening on an energetic level in the creative process can reveal itself. Being aware of how you're feeling at any given moment can help form a clearer picture of what is actually happening and can give you a way to create space.

You can create space by being present.

When space is created, you are once again free to allow that space to be filled with energy. The energy that fills the space is your own creative force. With it will come ideas, structure and action that allows your body to heal.

When your body heals, your business heals.

Businesses that grow and develop according to an external system of control and dominance are avatars. They look like what we might want to create, and the success they offer looks like the kind of success we might want. This is a trick of the light - it’s an obscured view. The truth is that as a creator you are free to create whatever you please. As long as people create businesses designed to fit a broken system that causes the world pain and bodily separation, pain is inevitable.

I see a lot of businesses being run by people who rarely move or feel their body. They can be jacked up on coffee running to meetings, or stationary for 18 hours coding. Neither are conscious of how they're feeling or the pain their body is in at that moment.

My New Year's Resolution

I’d like to support people in searching for ways to work that flow healthily into their creation, their business. I’d like to use a structured program of healing to fix those broken or interrupted energy patterns that are formed when a creation is externally manifested, only to then be prematurely or artificially separated from the creating body. I plan to use frameworks and clarity on the business side to surface the underlying assumptions and to incorporate my own practices into my work so that I can provide an objective point of view. I'll continue to work with visionaries and seek out those who are striving to do things differently.

It’s not necessary for an ideology or political system to dictate what kind of business you create. There’s nothing wrong with making money. There’s nothing inherently better about creating a non-profit.

Our job is to trust our own creative force. Whatever you create will be right if you create it according to your own unique expression of your body’s internal creative forces. It will be unique and good for the world. There is nourishment and sustenance in following your own unique connection to the light of your creative force.

If you're looking for ways to become more conscious in business, and ways to feel your body, I recommend a regular meditation or yoga practice as a good place to start.