(When Business is not your Jam)
Yoga and business belong together, in fact, they are already inseparable. As Jivamukti co-founder Sharon Gannon says, “You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state.” Yoga is essentially who we are, a practice with many limbs offering centuries-old guidance on how to be yoga in every aspect of our life. It makes sense that these teachings should also inform our working lives, to even separate out work from life is unnatural, and perpetuates the fragmentation that leads to so much doing not being.
At the outset of the yoga sutras, Patanjali’s first sutra opens with the simple words “atha yoga anushasanam”, which translates to “Now, the practice of yoga begins.” The ‘now’ here is deceptively easy to skip across as you dive into the sutras and their wisdom, but it is critical from the point of understanding of what has come before the Now for those about to take on the practice — usually a lifetime of waking up, feeling the discomfort of our lives, seeking, striving, realizing disillusion from illusion and finally some moment of surrender. This is consciously (or unconsciously) the point at which many of us are truly ready to begin yoga as a deepening recognition of our true nature of self. It often starts with an asana practice, one that starts on the mat initially, before beginning to infuse into our holistic lives — our diet, our thoughts, our speech, our bodies, our companions and of course our work. It’s hard to unsee life once yoga begins to clear the dust from our eyes, and within that awakening, comes a powerful urge to dissolve into yoga.
At this point comes the call of teacher training to bring our own transformations to others, or an idea for how to commercialise an aspect of yoga or yogic life so we yoga 24/7. When yoga and business collide for the first time, it can be quite terrifying. Our hearts and minds ask how can something that is so tuned to union and the meeting of our own divine nature merge with the grasping, mercenary wheels of industry? Not only can it, but it does merge beautifully, bringing all of the compassion, balance, love and union of yoga in a powerful energy exchange. The bigger question is why isn’t all business conducted in service to others, cleansed, awake, aware, agile and purposeful for all. Yoga and yogis can and are subtly changing the world, and the more heart-centered sustainable businesses that are created, the better for every community and economy.
Why isn’t all business conducted in service to others, cleansed, awake, aware and purposeful for all?
The yoga of business isn’t a lofty philosophical ideal. It is a practice of identifying ideas, their refinements, then taking decisions and actions to arrive at the best possible outcome for your idea to take shape in the real world with real customers. Knowing about business isn’t a prerequisite for success. Understanding how your idea serves others, and its capacity for being able to be scalable and sustainable enough to support your lifestyle and dependents is the heavy lifting that needs to happen to prepare you for success. There is no magic or secrets here. Like the yoga sutras, the recipe is clearly laid out, and we have to keep finding our own way back to its simplicity.
In the early stages of coming up with an idea for a new business, project or venture, the process of refining your idea is a straightforward formula. You see a gap in the market, a problem to be solved. You have an elegant solution to that problem where the cost of solving the problem is acceptable to the customer and delivers enough surplus revenue to comfortably live on. While this is laid out as a relatively linear path, it is always iterative, and must have at its heart service to others. It’s a karma yoga mash up with the devotion of bhakti, where the fruits of your labour become an expression of your union with the divine — whatever that is for you.
So it starts with an idea — or many, as it usually takes a number of iterations before you get to the sweet spot of product market fit. Just like you don’t go from zero to Sirsasana in asana practice, ideally you begin your headstand practice with mastering the subtlety of Tadasana. Getting your business idea right is the same. And, like with any new skill, you need to practice it a lot. Firstly really nail down the problem you are solving with your idea. Refine the succinct story of what you are doing, for whom and why until it rolls off your tongue. Make sure you talk to people, especially the people who you want to buy your idea for a product or service, as they will give you the best feedback to validate your concept and help you make it better and better. Facing up to finances and messing around with money is one of the places many yogis come undone on the path to beginning. The discomfort is enough to derail further action, but don’t let it. BKS Iyengar shines a light on the antidote for these feelings when he talks about the process of learning Sirsasana — “The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid.” Acknowledge the fear is there — for you and everyone else. Recognise the oneness of the situation and then continue to take the necessary action to prove to yourself that your business idea will have those essential elements needed for sustainability: that the market size and desire for the idea is there, the profit after expenses is there, and you are willing to commit to the practice of your business day after day.
The other place that proves a source of deep discomfort is marketing, especially the internal barriers to promoting you and your product. This is understandable, but marketing and sales is unavoidable. You have to let others know about what you are doing, why it’s so important and give them the opportunity to experience it for themselves. To bring yogic parallels in here, these stages are the yamas and niyamas — the internal and external hygiene to get you read. And you have to love and believe in yourself. Which is of course why it’s so damn hard! Our self criticism and comparison is epidemic, and is one of the key things that holds us back from the illumination of our own divinity and true nature.
A strong practice of pranayama, meditation and self love is the way through this valley of fear and loathing — which of course will also help you keep present and centred on a journey with inevitable unknowns. When it comes to sales and marketing and taking advantage of all the digital, social and traditional channels to reach your customers, remember that when you are in service, it is never about you — it it always about how you can improve the experience for the other. Build your brand and your marketing messages for the people you are in service to — your future customers and clients. Engage strongly with them, really know what they need and want and give it to them, creating value and wildly exceeding their expectations. You will find that this is the surest bridge to your tribe of brand evangelists and will help you avoid falling into the trap of believing your own hype or worse — inaction, denying the world of your awesomeness.
At some point in all of our lives we were beginners. In a world of impermanence and evolution through practice, this is all the comfort we need to know that pursuing a business idea is no different to starting anything new, with the bitter of the unknown before the sweet of wisdom. The great news is that our capacity to learn is infinite. In a state of curiosity, constant surrender, and faith in staying present, we can learn and fail and ask for help from teachers on the path and then become those teachers. Every part of this will bring growth, insight, realisation and connection. You could and can change the lives of many. You don’t have to know all the hows and whys, you simply have to begin.
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