Yoga helps leaders engage in ethical transformative action

by Liz Hall

Practising yoga and applying its philosophical principles can help leaders act more mindfully and wisely.


Yoga philosophy and practice can help coaches and their leader clients be more focused and energized, more in touch with wisdom and their true purpose, and better able to access stillness, said Civil Service Learning’s James Pritchard. Speaking at Coaching at Work’s annual conference on 1 July in central London, he shared thinking emerging from his research at Oxford Brookes University on “Coaching for Mindful Action”, applying yoga philosophy and practice to leadership coaching.


Pritchard, a learning consultant in Civil Service Learning, where he has lead responsibility for coaching and mentoring across the UK’s Civil Service, said: “We can use yoga in coaching to develop presence and mindfulness, to balance cognition with action, and to access the Higher Self through an ethical structure. The overlap between these three brings focus and energy, stillness, wisdom and right action, and purpose,” said Pritchard, who is a qualified Iyengar yoga teacher.


Pritchard believes that yoga is ‘mindfulness in action- a form of action enquiry into the nature of leadership of the self and of others’ and that the question of how to differentiate motion from action reflects the leader’s question of how to take transformative action rather than merely expending energy through motion.


Pritchard outlined some of the core principles of the philosophy of yoga and explored how they might be applied to leadership. The ethical guidelines of the yamas and niyamas, for example, offer a framework for ethical leadership. The yamas include ahimsa (nonviolence), and satya (truthfulness), and the niyamas include tapas (self-discipline), vadhyaya (self-study), and ishvara Pranidhana (surrender).


He also explored the potential application in leadership coaching of the framework of the three gunas or qualities set out in the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. According to this worldview, there are three gunas that are present in varying ratios in everything, including people: sattva (goodness, constructive, harmonious), rajas (passion, active, confused), and tamas (darkness, destructive, chaotic). The interplay of these qualities is different in each person, and emotional intelligence can be enhanced by understanding and working with this interplay.


“Guna theory helps us look at what gets in the way, what makes us different from one another, and what masks pure consciousness. Yoga practice helps us reconnect with our true nature,” he said.

“Yoga stills the consciousness, which allows us to see what is. It reduces the mind chatter, the talk super-imposed on what we’re doing.”


“Mindful action coaching is about applying this mediated through the yamas and so on. Is a client depressed or really up and at it and needing to calm down, for example? The aspiration is to sattvic energy, the aim is for a balance of the gunas and for a bit more sattva, although still with some rajas and a little bit of tamas.”




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