The SATTVA School of Yoga – Ancient Practice in the Modern World
The survival of our species and of this planet depends solely on our ability to leverage the best and brightest ideas and ideals, in order to execute a firm, yet realistic plan of progressive and sustainable global development. As Albert Einstein once said, we cannot solve our problems with the same mindset that has created them. Innovation, agility and change management are no longer just catch phrases; they are now becoming the building blocks of our new emerging economy.
This blog post examines the relationship between best progressive leadership practices and the ancient practice of yoga, waving through some real-life examples and context from the interview with Rameen Peyrow who is the Founder and Principal Teacher at the SATTVA School of Yoga.
Since, “the true purpose of the ancient practices of yoga is to bring a proper balance between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of a person and to awaken the subtle energies of the body”, we will also examine what it would mean to ground these ancient principles as a foundation for developing communities on the glocal scale (Saral, 2020). “Emerging locally driven, grassroots peacebuilding programmes are being influenced by the multifaceted sociocultural expressions of yoga and this manifests differently around the globe” (Lefurgey, 2017).
As within, so without.
Yamas – the first limb of yoga
During our interview, Peyrow has mentioned that the practice of yoga is about “finding equanimity and balance within a dynamic world” (2020). Furthermore, he described how bringing the tradition of yoga practice to the West, did not involve as much changing the practice, but more so changing the perception to make it feel more approachable. It is safe to make the assumption that everyone wants to achieve happiness and avoid suffering. Therefore, the SATTVA Yoga philosophy and practice become about grounding the esoteric principles into personal experience through the self-development of an individual (Peyrow, personal communication, April 20, 2020).
“Yoga has been practiced in India, in one form or another, since the sixth or fifth centuries BCE. More than two thousand years ago, the Indian scholar Patanjali codified the various yoga practices into a written collection called the Yoga Sutras” (Sarala, 2020). Patanjali introduced the eight limbs of yoga which will guide the structure and the flow of this paper (Satchidananda, 1978). The first limb of yoga deals with how an individual relates to his or her environment. “Yama consists of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-greed” (Satchidananda, 1978).
The key learning here is the importance of proper alignment between outwardly action and inner principles. The yogic principles of oneness and interconnectedness guide the seasoned practitioners into balancing all their actions with a compassionate attitude at heart. When these principles are fully understood, the glocal mindset is achieved. “Historically, Gandhi’s campaign to free India of colonial rule integrated the doctrine of ahimsa [non-violence] and was based on the principle that people need to first examine themselves before assisting others”; thus, interpreting peace as a personal virtue, as well as a tool for activism (Lefurgey, 2017).
According to Murgatroyd and Simpson, renaissance leaders take on a glocal mindset, meaning they are able to ‘think globally, act locally’ (2010). Furthermore, they mention that “quantum perceptions of reality may help us understand why thinking globally and acting locally is exactly the right approach” (2010). Although Peyrow did express the sentiment that he would like to see a progressive global movement towards increased sustainability and living in-sync with nature, currently his main focus is on building the local community. “Community is important for individuals and the society” (Peyrow, 2020).
Peyrow wanted “for the [SATTVA Yoga] studio to become a shared space for like-minded individuals to develop their own community and feel supported so that they can innovate life” (2020). During the Covid-19 crisis, the organization pivoted and grown by taking a lot of their communication online. Offering online workshops and classes continues supporting the local community, which is also then stimulating the economy.
Although leading an organization through a change or transition (such as the Covid-19 crisis) is inexplicably challenging, connecting all communications and decisions to the eight limbs of yoga helps with alignment between action and principles. Furthermore, non-grasping or non-attachment allows the yogi entrepreneur to quickly adjust to the changing external and internal conditions without delay. What I would recommend to further improve the performance of the SATTVA School of Yoga is an even more extended level of instruction and communication on the philosophical applications of the yogic lifestyle, beyond just the physical postures or asanas.
Niyamas – the second limb of yoga
“Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books and worship [self-surrender]” (Satchidananda, 1978). This is congruent with the aspect of renaissance leadership known as “personal mastery” (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010). Murgatroyd and Simpson further explain the three dimensions of personality dynamics to include: mental, emotional, and physical development (2010).
The SATTVA Ananda meditation method according to Peyrow is “the ultimate bar of developing homeostasis within the body”, which then leads to a “more subtle esoteric experience” (personal communication, 2020). Peyrow’s instructions on this technique deal specifically within the realm of subduing body, breath and mind in the direction of meditative bliss (2019). Furthermore, Peyrow suggests that “it is our attitude and relationship to ourselves through thought and emotion which is guiding the mind to manifest” and that “this reality is further grounded through the connection that the mind has with rhythmic breathing and sensations of the body” (2019).
This rhetoric sounds simple, yet the implications of proper application are profound. In terms of insights into opportunities and barriers to personal and organizational performance, personal mastery is huge. Ribera and Guillen write that “mindfulness raises productivity in a number of ways (...) full attention in the present moment leads to a state of improved concentration, allows practitioners to reduce the extent and frequency of their mind wandering, and enables them to maintain focus for longer periods of time” (2014).
Although, Peyrow suggest a very grass roots approach to innovation, he is also full of creative ideas for new projects that could further support the individuals in his community in reaching their personal potential. One of such projects is the Science of Self – a meditation app designed exclusively to take the practitioner through all the steps of the SATTVA Ananda method (https://scienceofself.com/mobile-app).
According to Peyrow, dynamic stillness as achieved through a pristine and clear body, breath and mind connection, provides an increased awareness of the interconnectedness of life and how we function creatively within this substance to manifest and maintain our personal reality (2019). Again, this aspect of purity or niyama comes into place as the essential puzzle piece for tapping into the universal flow of energy around us. When we look at reality from this space, the illusion of self dissipates, and we become open to infinite possibilities.
From a strategic perspective, having that increased awareness and being able to anticipate seismic shifts in the economy and culture, set successful leaders apart from everyone else. As suggested by Murgatroyd and Simpson, life is like an artwork in progress (2010). The only challenge here would entail maintaining equanimity throughout the day, between the formal meditation sessions.
Asanas – the third limb of yoga
Patanjali defines asana as “steady, comfortable posture” (Satchidananda, 1978). This is the aspect of yoga that is typically known the most in the Western culture. According to Patanjali, first we understand the body, then the heart is purified as well. Once the heart is pure, we will always be in a happy sattvic state of mind (Satchidananda, 1978). “Research suggests a wide variety of positive health effects from the daily practice of yoga, including, but not limited to, pain reduction, lowered heart rate and blood pressure, improved strength and flexibility, improved sleep quality, increased blood flow, improved immune system function, and reduced stress” (Sarala, 2020).
To dive a little bit into the history of my personal practice, I have been introduced to meditation about sixteen years ago, but I only started asana practice about six months ago. The realization that I have had of how the asana practice supports my meditation has recently led me to pursue the Yoga Teacher Training through the SATTVA School of Yoga with Peyrow. Peyrow describes his personal practice of self-mastery as consisting of meditation predominately with supporting physical asanas. So, this is where we are at currently.
I can’t help but let my memory wonder into this perfectly brilliant yet hilarious TED Talk by Derek Sivers on how to create a movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V74AxCqOTvg
Long suggest that “yoga practitioners can benefit from the application of Western science to their practice development” (2009). This concept here is described by Murgatroyd and Simpson as “cross boundary learning” (2010). Furthermore, their very definition of innovation is “a process for extracting economic and social value from knowledge; (...) putting ideas, knowledge and technologies to work in a manner that brings about a significant improvement in performance” (2010).
“It has become an axiom of the global knowledge economy that the ability to learn and innovate faster and better than the competition is now the key to sustaining competitive advantage and success” (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010). Peyrow has dedicated a lot of time and effort into perfecting the curriculum of his signature Yoga Teacher Training – Finding the Teacher Within. What started as a two-year apprenticeship program, has now flourished into a community of senior instructors who are dedicated to the SATTVA School of Yoga.
From a student perspective, this long-term investment in human capital makes SATTVA a very memorable and unique place to practice. As a Human Resources Consultant, I often advise my clients that people are their only source of sustainable competitive advantage, and I would say it is true in this case. The SATTVA School of Yoga is where magic happens.
My advice would be to continue investing time into further personal and professional development of this core team and encourage them to start mentoring others.
Pranayama – the fourth limb of yoga
Patanjali describes the fourth limb of yoga as pranayama or breathing (Satchidananda, 1978). Iyengar suggests that pranayama helps to bring the wavering mind into stability and sound judgment (2018). In terms of securing sustained change and dramatic improvements within an organization, sound judgment is a great place to start. As a matter of fact, I am currently working on a Mindful Leadership training program curriculum that would be offered to my corporate clients. Pranayama or breathing techniques are the perfect gateway for beginners’’ mindfulness meditation practices.
“Prana means the breath, the air and life itself, (...) it is the very essence of the energizing principle of the animate and inanimate world” (Ivengar, 2018). This concept is aligned with Murgatroyd and Simpson’s credo of “driving performance with passion” (2010). Afterall, Renaissance Leadership encompasses so much: innovation, collaboration, learning, integrity, focus and humor (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010). Prana is the simple, yet profound principle that connects all these elements together.
On the more pragmatic side, the practice of pranayama helps to purify the body of toxins through optimization of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, which are further connected to the major energetic channels of the body (Ivengar, 2018).
From my experience and study of psychology, I have discovered that pure intrinsic motivation is born as a result of following one’s inner rhythm or life purpose. For example, in the past I often couldn’t wake up happy having to go to work for someone else, even though that work gave me financial rewards and other privileges. On the other hand, recently being stuck at home because of the Covid-19 crisis enabled me to tune into many remote meditation seminar retreats, during which I would wake up happy and energized every day. It is our life purpose that drives our happiness. Thankfully, even in stressful situations, our breath is always there, guiding us, as our best friend would (Peyrow, 2020).
Renaissance leaders set the tone for organizational performance by talking about their vision and goals in concrete terms (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010). Peyrow’s vision has always been about bringing the ancient practice of yoga to the West (2020). Furthermore, he distilled three integral elements of this practice as being: body – increasing physical vitality, breath – optimizing the nervous system, and mind – spiritual gateway to meditation (2020).
In terms of Peyrow’s passion about teaching, it is undoubtedly there. He often describes that he will continue teaching until he is in a nursing home and / or there is no one left to listen. The only caution needs to be applied around the Western perception of the very concept of a guru. As described by certain practitioners such as Lukas, the Western culture may have differing definitions of appropriate conduct when it comes hands-on adjustments practiced in teaching yoga, then historically other cultures would (2013). All in all, effective teaching boils down to communication and there are many forms of communication.
Pratyahara – the fifth limb of yoga
Pratyahara is described as supreme mastery over the senses, or the ability to withdraw the senses from all external stimuli to accurately reflect the purity of inner light (Satchidananda, 1978). Since the senses act like a mirror, when they are turned outwards, they reflect that environment. In other words, pratyahara is a technique of increasing self-awareness and ultimately controlling the mind.
When Murgatroyd and Simpson describe the concept of “thinking back from the future”, they acknowledge that our thoughts have the power to turn into self-fulfilling prophecies (2010). The very process of becoming more aware of our thinking patterns inevitably gives rise to personal power. Many individuals are not explicitly aware that their minds influence their emotions, and that in turn their emotions influence their actions and their reality (Peyrow, 2020).
“A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in time of increasing uncertainty” (Snowden and Boone, 2007). To have the ability to go through alternate scenarios in your mind and to trace back the pathway into the current moment, does require a certain level of mastery over the senses.
“Systematic looking at the future while at the same time developing an understanding of history of a particular issue, idea, opportunity or region enables renaissance leaders to ground their thinking in time and space” (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010). In his meditation instructions, Peyrow often encourages his students to let go of thoughts and mental habits which no longer serve us.
Letting go of our pre-conceived notions of reality indeed opens us up to the infinite potential and intelligence that exists beyond our patterned thinking. Furthermore, Peyrow believes in “the ability and power of an individual to heal themselves physically, mentally, and societally” (2019). This doesn’t sound easy, but it can be accomplished through prolonged and dedicated practice of mindfulness meditation, which we will get into in the next section.
According to Snowden and Boone, “wise executives tailor their approach to fit the complexity of the circumstances they face” (2007). The difficulty of leading any organization through change is that our human mind becomes wired to express past conditioning through the process known as neuroplasticity. Although the only constant in life is change, from a psychological perspective a natural response to change is typically resistance. “With mindfulness, individuals can face and accept their own resistance to change”, which is precisely what of pratyahara is about (Hougaard, Carter, and Coutts, 2016).
What I would be encouraged to see from Peyrow is a little more structured and methodological approach of creating the future; such as scenario planning and review, risk and uncertainty analysis and so on. However, I respect the need to balance the analytical and intuitive approaches to business planning, especially in the more metaphysical context of yoga.
Dharana, dhyana and samadhi – the sixth, seventh and eight limbs of yoga
“The capacity that is found through progressive steps of meditation brings life to [the ability to create balance and harmony] and dawns light on the profound implications that exist within the level of individual and how that expresses itself within one’s community and society” (Peyrow, 2019).
Yoga styles have come to include a strong component of meditation to enhance the union of mind, body, and soul. (Sarala, 2020). This section represents the pinnacle of the yogic practice, which is best understood through the process of direct experience.
The last three limbs of yoga take your focus inwards. “Dharana (...) signifies concentration and inner awareness; dhyana [signifies] meditation and devotion; and lastly, samadhi [signifies] union with the divine or a state of complete liberation” (Lefurgey, 2017). If “systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes”, then samadhi would represent the mastery of systems thinking (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010).
Murgatroyd and Simpson describe that “systemic change involves constantly getting all interdependent and moving parts into a proper relationship with the environment and each other to foster organizational change” (2010). When properly understood through direct experience, the concept of samadhi reflects the perfect unity and oneness of the universe. The experience of samadhi is congruent with concepts of elusive harmony between change and constant creation as a way of maintaining order and structure (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010).
Peyrow talks about samadhi frequently and with great reverence. Even when describing the Covid-19 crisis, Peyrow has mentioned that “what some people consider uncertainty is a space that has been opened” (2020). Furthermore, he has mentioned that drastic shifts and changes in the external environment can bring awareness to intergenerational traumas that need to be healed for the system to become whole again. What others see as a challenge; a true master sees as an opportunity.
The truth is one and the paths are many. Based on my personal experiences and observations, I would recommend the paths of yogic and contemplative practices to everyone in our community. I hope that my humble analysis of these concepts becomes helpful for those seeking to gain a greater level of clarity and awareness to improve their ability to influence the world in positive ways. May we all rejoice in the light of our creations.
“We are united by the waters of life
By the breath of the infinite and the fire of our light
From the earth we are birthed, by the stars we align
With it all, live it all, live it all...” – Sophia Fairweather and Galloway Hiatt
The purpose of this paper is to guide the reader on a journey of deeper understanding of the eight limbs of yoga, and how this philosophy and practice can become a basis of supporting individuals and communities on the glocal scale. Through the real-life example of the SATTVA School of Yoga and its founder Rameen Peyrow, and the concepts of Renaissance Leadership as described by Stephen Murgatroyd and Don Simpson, a blueprint for successful organizational change has been established.
Although, “yoga is a practice, (...) it can also be a philosophy of non-violence and peace with far-reaching social implications” (Lefurgey, 2007). Through the application of a glocal mindset, practicing personal mastery, accelerating cross boundary learning, driving performance with passion, thinking back from the future, and leading systemic change; Renaissance Leaders enable sustainable progress and innovation (Murgatroyd and Simpson, 2010).
In the Eastern philosophy, the concept of Lila reflects on the interplay between various aspects of the universe through the process of creation. “THE ENLIGHTENED LILA asks: though every person is endowed with the eight limbs, why does he experience all this agony and ignorance?” (Venkatesananda, 1993). Perhaps the goal of the fable is to become liberated from imprisonment of duality while still alive in the physical form, which adds another layer of complexity to our analysis.
Thinking back from the future, it might be an interesting exercise to trace back the blueprint of a fully enlightened society to the current moment. Maybe the realization will be as simple as; we are all one, there is enough resources for everyone, and there is nothing left to do (Neale Donald Walsch, 1996).
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