How to achieve personal/professional performance excellence?

Achieving personal excellence has been my biggest quest for many years. I tried many things, including higher studies (Master’s in business leadership), read several books on achieving the professional excellence, read scriptures, attended many workshop and seminars. However, I could not find a satisfactory answer. I found them more intellectually oriented. Sometimes my mind used to get satisfaction with an excellent definition, or by reading about people who achieved excellence in their lifetime. I also wanted to experience the feeling of achieving excellence within. I wanted to experience the level of confidence one feels that does not need any further proof.
It took me several years to understand the real meaning of excellence, to be in that state of mind where whatever I do, my performance is excellent, or I am progressively moving to excellence without comparing my results with anyone. There is no regret, no half-hearted attempt, just living life hundred percent, from moment to moment.
It didn’t happen overnight, it took several years of practising yoga, meditation, and being in knowledge. When I first time experienced the feeling of personal excellence, it came with a sense of completeness and calmness. For those many moments, I was enough to be happy.
K. Anders Ericsson has studied expert performance for more than 30 years and has documented how expert performers attain their superior performance by acquiring complex cognitive mechanisms and physiological adaptations through extended deliberate practice (Ref.1).
Thousands of years ago, Patanjali defined the meaning of practice, it is in being in the moment. According to Patanjali, being in the ‘Moment’ is the practice. What Ericsson has referred as deliberate practice, it is nothing but doing something with 100 percent attention. It sounds very SIMPLE, but it is not easy.
Try practising the easiest thing that you think you can do without any problem, e.g. reading one page of your favourite book daily without any break. After few days, the mind will start playing a trick, today I am bit busy, no problem, I can read two pages tomorrow, and very soon you will realise that a week has passed!
I have reproduced the shloka from Patanjali Yoga sutra (Ref. 2) as one will pronounce in English (Shloka is in Sanskrit)
Sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkara sevito drudha bhumihi
Sa tu dīrgha kāla  – it takes a long time. Nairantarya – without a break. Satkāra sevita – with honor and respect. Receiving it and practicing it with honor and respect. Dhrudabhūmi – then it becomes firmly established.
If you want to master any skill, you need to practice it for a long time, without a break, with honor and respect then only you become a master in that skill. The problem with this universal success formula is in implementation. We want success quickly; we lack the discipline to practice anything for a long-term and quite often get bored in doing the same task again & again and ultimately lose the respect and honor in doing the task.
There is now ample evidence from many different domains that the number of years of experience is a poor predictor of objective professional performance (Ref.1).
Why is the number of years a poor predictor?
When we learn new things, mind fully gets involved with all the five senses busy in gathering information, and intellectually it tries to correlate with prior learning, drawing new conclusions, and send coherent signals to the body to practice the task in hand. As it becomes more familiar with the work, rather than going into more depth, the mind starts wandering into past or future events. It is the first barrier one must cross if one wants to attain professional excellence.
How to remain focused in these circumstances? Observe the changes in your body, in your breathing pattern, in your behavior, in your routine. Are you making progress? Have you reached the desired level success or just because you can perform the task, you have lost interest?
Don’t try to reach the result in a hurry because it is the surest way of losing the interest and it will delay your journey of achieving personal/professional excellence.
Let me share with you a simple example. When I started practising yoga, I was not comfortable with my head stand. Instead of learning the right technique from a teacher, I used the wall support to do the head/hand stand. I could easily do the head stand with the wall support, and it gave me the feeling of falls accomplish and at the same time a sense of failure that I can’t do proper head stand ever. It continued for fifteen years! It was only when I went for the advanced yoga training, I learned the right technique of performing the head stand, and within few weeks I could do the head stand without any support. That was a great feeling. When my body starts listening instruction from my mind.

  1. Development of Professional expertise – Towards Measurement of Expert Performance and Design of Optimal Learning Environments- Edited by K. Anders Ericsson
  2. https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/yoga/patanjali-yogasutra/knowledge-sheet-8

Are you a commitment driven or feeling driven person?

Now be completely in this ‘Moment’. Observe your breathing, are you breathing from the right nostril or the left nostril or both? Yes, we don’t breathe through both the nostrils. Most of the time, we breathe either from the right or left nostril. Do you know, when we breathe from left nostril our right hemisphere of mind is active, and when we breathe from right nostril our left hemisphere of the brain is active. What is the implication of this awareness? How can we benefit from this information?
You might be knowing that right hemisphere of mind is more intuitive, artistic, creative, feminine and the left hemisphere is more analytical, logical, rational, masculine. Every living being has right and left hemisphere mind. Is it possible to change the breathing pattern as per the situation? The answer is YES!


What happens when there is unbalance in breathing pattern, and it lasts for more than few days? It starts affecting our physio psychological status and may end up in illness. However, since most of us are not aware of these, we only react to these symptoms (disease) and take corrective actions to get rid of them quickly. So, our remedial measures are also limited to get the immediate relief rather than eliminating the cause of the problem.
What is the source of this imbalance?
This universe is always sending billions of signals to the brains so does our body. As per quantum physics, we all are part of an electromagnetic field. When the signals emanating from our body are in alignment with the universe signals, we find that we can achieve higher results with fewer efforts else we struggle. What to do in those circumstances? Listen to your body, listen to your breath. Is there an imbalance in the breathing pattern? Are you breathing from the right nostrils most of the time or from the left nostrils?


This imbalance in the breathing pattern impacts our emotions, feelings, and thoughts. We get carried away by our emotions, feelings, thoughts, thinking that they are real and at the end of the day wonder why didn’t we achieve the desired result? The question is when we should listen to our thoughts, feeling, and emotion and when we should ignore them?
Are you a commitment driven or feeling driven person?
If you are not centered, you can easily get carried away by flickering emotions.
What are the practices one should do, to become more centered? We are going to discuss these techniques later.
Most of the personal development literature is also focuses on superficial elements, e.g. communication skills, getting more efficient in doing things and hence it does not give lasting results.
We need to go deeper to understand the interaction between the universe and us.

Ref:

  1. Swar Yoga- Swami Muktibodhanand – Yoga Publication Trust

When do we seek Personal Transformation?

We seek personal transformation when we are not able to achieve the desired results with our current set of skills based on deeply rooted habits, learning style, and our belief system. Our existing habits and belief system are the results of our behavioral interaction with the environment. The key element here is an INDIVIDUAL who is always interacting with the dynamic environment. We as an individual are equally dynamic and made up of the same constituents as the environment. It is because of our habit of looking outward, we consider ourselves as a static personality and gets frustrated and develop a negative attitude towards the world.


The fact is that the outer reality is the manifestation of inner reality. The world is full of possibilities, and so we are. Whatever results, we want to achieve in life they are achievable. The required elements of your dreams already exist in the outer world. It is a matter of finding those elements and integrating them, and that’s what an entrepreneur does. The problem is, an ordinary person is not able to see those elements of success in the outer world with the existing set of belief system, and he can’t take the right action because of the existing habits. This results in frustration. The irony is that solution is not far away, it is too near (within us), and that’s why it is difficult to identify and take corrective action.
The key is in the awareness. Just being aware of what is happening in this moment?
Life is all about awareness, how many minutes during the day we spend in the present moment? Those many minutes we have lived our life, rest we just wasted either regretting about the past or worrying about the future. The present moment is the sum of all the past moments and the upcoming future moment in it. The present moment is multi-dimensional, and it is vast. At this very moment, at this very place, we are connected with the universe in totality. It is a matter of awareness. Our present situation is the sum of all the past (How we lived our life till now?), and it has all the potential of what will be the life in the future. It will be foolishness to predict the future based on the past. Life is not linear; it has infinite possibilities.

How this concept of being aware of the present moment, is linked to the personal transformation? By being in the moment brings the acceptance of the current situation. You stop complaining and take the full responsibility, and that is the starting point of the personal transformation.

Be prosperous early to practice more Yoga!

Prosperity and Yoga are complementary to each other. It is a good idea to be prosperous and be on the spiritual path to keep a balance in life.

Everyone wants to be prosperous, but while some people can achieve his or her goals, others keep struggling and find prosperity in life quite elusive and end up his or her pursuit with some of the following excuses.

–    Only if I would have been blessed with natural talent like that person as if every successful person has born with the natural talent!

–    At least I am honest- as if all rich people are dishonest

–    I am a happy and contented person. There is nothing wrong with this concept. However, the fact remains that most of them secretly wish to have more wealth.

–    I do not have contacts

–    I do not have enough money to start the business

–    I have lots of responsibilities

–    …

The list goes on and on.

Some people just focus on becoming prosperous, and once they achieve prosperity, they start wondering what next? While others focus only on spirituality and after sometimes they find it very dry unless they are also involved in helping others.

Let’s explore a middle path.

Prosperity and spirituality are not two mutually exclusive sets of paradigms. Prosperity is not something that you can achieve once and then you can sustain it without following certain guidelines. There were many examples when a person got suddenly rich by winning a lottery or a windfall gain, but within a short span of time, one becomes in the more worse situation because of habits that are not congruent with prosperity.

What is required to become prosperous can be achieved by practising Yoga on a regular basis?

To achieve prosperity in life, one must

–    Have a purpose- what service or product one can offer to wider community

–    Complete faith in one’s purpose

–    Develop a set of skills relevant to chosen field, and

–    Grace

I will discuss and elaborate more about these in my upcoming blogs.

Yoga creates the space that allows us to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually

Each one of us needs the space to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually.

It is easier to visualise the requirement of physical space to grow anything e.g. body, plant, and building all need a space to grow. As per the Ayurveda, our body is made up of five elements viz. Earth, water, fire, air, and space. Space is the pre-requisite of all the elements to exists. When the space between the joint is reduced, we experience, extreme pain in that area. This can happen because of various reasons e.g. our sedentary lifestyle, food habits, and stressful work environment. Yogic breathing techniques and postures help in regaining the lost space, and that’s how we experience more flexibility and light with regular yoga practice.

However, it is a bit difficult to perceive the role of space in our mental growth. It is directly linked how do we acquire knowledge and whether that knowledge is correct or not? Sometimes our mental growth gets stifled because of our belief system, and wrong knowledge. Over a period, our upbringing environment lay the foundation of our belief system. This belief system may or may not be conducive to healthy mental growth. It may create rigid boundaries, not allowing free inflow of new information leading to the incorrect understanding of the situation. Did you ever try to question what the basis of your belief system is? For example, if my I have a belief system that all rich people have accumulated their wealth through corrupt means, indirectly I am justifying my poor living conditions and prohibiting myself in making an effort to get rich because I can’t get rich and honest at the same time. Each one of us should review one’s belief system on a regular basis, especially if one is not making progress on his chosen path.

To grow spiritually, one needs to go even deeper and certainly need the grace, gratitude, and a Guru to realise that freedom of space. Spiritually we all are made up of the same consciousness, the universal consciousness. However, it is tough to comprehend and to practice in real life. We get caught up in likes and dislikes. To see beyond the likes and dislikes creates the space for spiritual growth.

References:

  1. Patanjali Yoga Sutra- A commentary by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
  2. Various talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the public forums (The founder of the Art of Living organisation).

How to be more efficient and productive in using all the sources of energy?

How many times we wish for the more energy to accomplish our goals in life or simply to enjoy the life? Did you ever wonder, how some people can achieve so much in life while others struggle to achieve even small goals? What if you can manage your energy level and increase your productivity significantly? Many of our problem in life can become an opportunity if we have more energy to handle our problems in life.

Let’s discuss the sources of energy and how we can use them efficiently to increase our energy level. There are four primary sources of energy 1. Food 2.Sleep 3. Breath 4.Calm and meditative mind

Each of the above source of energy plays a significant role in our life.

Food: It is the most direct source of energy. However, not all types of food are suitable for everyone. Each one of us is unique and should eat food as per his nature. As per the Ayurveda (Science of Life), each one of us is made up of five elements i.e. earth, water, fire, air, and space. Each of these elements has unique characteristics e.g. Earth element is associated with stability and heaviness, water is more fluid and cool. However, the percentage of each element in each one of us is different, and hence each one of us has a unique nature (Prakriti). One should check his nature (Prakriti) through Nadi Pariksha (Pulse examination) from a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner. He can also guide for the type of food one should eat according to one’s Prakriti.   

Sleep: Like food, sleep should also be used in a balanced manner i.e. although both food and sleep are good sources of energy that does not mean that more the merrier! Quite often, the busy people try to manage with less sleep during the weekdays and think that they can compensate by sleeping more during the weekend! It does not work for long! One should maintain a balance in food and sleep habit for the optimised energy level. You may also like to read my earlier blog ‘ Know your sleep to know your life’

Breath: One can live without food for a week or so and can survive without sleep for few days, but one can’t live for more than few minutes without the breath. Our life starts when we breathe in and ends with the last breath out. Kids are the real examples of how one should breathe as they use most of their lung capacity very efficiently. However, as we grow up, gradually our breathing patterns get affected by stresses, diseases, and the type of environment, we live in. Breath is an instant source of energy, and by learning and practising few breathing techniques, one can significantly enhance his energy level.

Calm and meditative mind:  The Calm and meditative mind is the prerequisite for harnessing more energy from the other three sources of energy (Food, sleep, and Breath). Mainly because, if our mind is not calm and is devoid of clear thinking, even if one is efficient in utilising the other three sources of energy very soon the energy will go waste. Calm and meditative mind can use the energy more productively as compared to confused and restless mind. How to be in calm and meditative is also depends on how efficiently we use the other three sources of energies. At a deeper level, the other three sources of energy are connected to each other. For example, if one is not judicious in eating the right kind of food, it will impact the sleeping pattern. Breathing pattern is more linked to calm and meditative mind e.g. if one is angry his breathing pattern changes immediately. It will be more shallow and faster breathing pattern. Some of the techniques that can help in achieving calm and meditative mind are through the practice of meditation and being in the company of good people.        

Reference:  Various talks by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the public forums (The founder of the Art of Living organisation).

Know your sleep to know your life

It is a very interesting fact that we sleep every day and we don’t know much about the sleep. When one go for the sleep, one has to drop everything including one’s thoughts. One can’t sleep if someone is thinking about something very hard. In sleep, to some extent, we also lose our identity. No one is rich or poor during the sleep; there is no male sleep or female sleep. However, as soon as we wake up, we find ourselves bonded by so many things. We think we can’t live without our personal belongingness; we lose our peace on a slight adverse comment from our colleague, a scratch on our car leave a bigger scratch on our heart!

We all know that one day we have to drop everything and we will go empty handed from this world. The same lesson we can learn from our sleeping experience. The only difference between the sleep and death is that when we wake up from sleep, we recall everything from the point from where we had left last night. However, when we die and take rebirth, we start fresh as we do not remember anything from the past life. That is a good mechanism else it would have been tough to live in this world.

I am not saying that we should not make an effort to achieve the material things but I am trying to emphasize is that we should not lose our peace of mind while living our life. At the end of the day, each one of us wants to sleep properly and in sleep, ones can’t carry any of the stuff one was working during the day.

We also see dreams when we go to bed and start trying to interpret them. Someone has well said, intelligent people see reality as a dream, only stupid people see the dream as a reality!

In Patanjali Yoga Sutra, five types of dreams are described. The first type of dream is based on the unfulfilled desires e.g. you wanted to eat the ice-cream during the day, and somehow you could not eat it. When you go to the sleep and in the dream, you start eating an ice-cream. The second type of dreams are based on experience, and you dream about the same event that had taken place in the past. The third type of dreams is linked to future events, just like a premonition. The fourth type of dream is linked to the place e.g. if you go to the Japan first time. You might start speaking Japanese in the dream although, you have never learned Japanese. The fifth type of dream is a mixture of all these and 90% our dreams are of this type. So, it is wise not to interpret the dream and enjoy your sleep and life.

References:

  1. Patanjali Yoga Sutra- A commentary by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
  2. Various talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the public forums (The founder of the Art of Living organisation).

Yoga can help you to bring the change you want to bring in your life

You might have noticed that whenever we try to develop new habits, we come across a significant internal resistance. For example, if you want to start regular exercise, practice meditation, or to start learning music, in spite of your best intentions, quite often you are not able to sustain it for a long time.
Would you like to know, why it happens and how we can overcome the internal resistance?
Well, according to yogic knowledge, our behavior is governed by three Gunas i.e. tamas, rajas, and sattvic. The tamas is characterized by lethargy, dullness, and low energy. The rajas is associated with ambitions, feverishness, and activities. And sattva is related to peace, calmness, and happiness. Each one of us has all three gunas in different proportion. When rajas dominate, we get more involved in getting things done, when Tamas dominates, we feel more lethargic and dull. When sattva dominates, we feel more contented and peaceful.
When we want to bring a change in our life, it originates from the sattvic state of mind. However, if sattvic tendencies do not drive our action (Rajas), it will be difficult even to start the change forget about sustaining the change. The tamasic tendencies in the body will make it difficult to bring the change.
The yogic practices e.g. asanas, pranayama, and meditation help in increasing the sattva in us that in turns help in bringing the positive changes. It is like, although the sun is shining and our window is covered with a curtain (tamasic tendencies), light can’t enter the room. We have to simply open the window to allow the light into the room. Food also plays a major role in balancing the three gunas and this I will discuss in a separate blog.
Increasing the sattva by practicing yoga is like removing the hurdles in our pathway and clearing the way to flow the energy. Practicing yoga facilitates in bringing out the best; that’s why it is called skill in action is yoga.

References:

  1. How to know God- The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali: Translated by Swami Prabhananda and Christopher Isherwood
  2. Various talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the public forums (The founder of the Art of Living organisation).

How do we acquire the knowledge that makes us free to achieve great success in life?

How many times have you felt that you are not free and want to break all shackles? In those circumstances, you are not able to give your 100% and feel suffocated. You work harder and harder with increasing level of inefficiency. It may end up in total burn out situation.

To achieve great success in life, we need to break all shackles so that all our efforts are directed towards productive activities. The shackles we experience in life are a by-product of limited knowledge.

How do we acquire the knowledge that makes us free to achieve great success in life?

The mind collect the input through five sense i.e. seeing, tasting, listening, touching, and smelling. The intellect analyses the information and decides what action to be taken. Our memory and ego also play an important role in knowledge acquisition. Past impressions (memory) and extent of our attachment to those impressions (ego) colour the incoming information, resulting in a unique interpretation of the given situation. That’s how we acquire new knowledge and if this knowledge is too much influenced by our experience and our pride can become a shackle in our path of success.

What is the source of all knowledge? Just a few decades ago there was no internet in the world, a couple of centuries ago there were no automobiles. One thought came to someone’s mind about the TV and a few years later; it gets manifested in physical form.

What is the source of thought? How the thought arises in mind? It has been beautifully explained in Upanishad. It says, when the mind and the memory get agitated, a thought arises. We all know that the mind gets input through five senses i.e. seeing, tasting, listening, touching, and smelling. When the mind is active through five sense and triggers something in the memory, a thought arises. If there is no memory related to the input information, no thought can arise in mind. It clearly indicates that human consciousness (memory is part of it) is the store house of all the knowledge. It is only our limited knowledge (ego) that inhibit us to access the ocean of knowledge.

How to overcome this limitation? Attempts to understand ‘What is this?’ without understanding ‘Who am I?’ often ends up in wrong knowledge (colored by past impression and ego). The more we try to acquire knowledge, the more it gets mysterious! Knowledge is inherent in the consciousness but to experience that knowledge, we need to deep dive in through meditation. The meditation helps in going beyond the memory and the ego.

I will continue this discussion in my next blogs…

References:

  1. Yoga Sara Upanishad – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
  2. Various talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the public forums (The founder of the Art of Living organisation).

How to drastically improve your yoga experience

In this post, I have explained, how we can drastically improve the yoga experience by following few simple techniques. The purpose of yoga is to bring body, mind, and the universal conscious in harmony. The mind has three unique tendencies and these tendencies act as a barrier in bringing harmony between the body and universal consciousness.

The first tendency of the mind is, it likes to dwell in the past and the future. You might have observed that when you start working on any activity, rather than directing all five senses to the task, mind likes to think about some past incidences or future outcome of the effort. In either of these states of the mind, it impacts our body accordingly e.g. if you have failed in your previous attempt in doing the similar activities and mind is visualizing the failure; the body will try to reproduce the similar action and will end up giving the similar results. If the mind is anxious about the future outcome, it will again impact the body movement and the outcome.

The second tendency of the mind is that it clings to the negativity. If someone gives you the ten compliments and one negative remark, the mind will forget all the ten compliments and will cling to that one negative comment.

The third tendency of the mind is that it examines the incoming information and either agree or disagree with the new information. It will keep on saying ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ internally. In either case, there will be no new learning. The mind will act as a filter, by agreeing to the information that reinforces the existing knowledge and excluding the new information that is contrary to current understanding.

Now with these three tendencies of the mind, it will be difficult to bring the harmony to the body, mind, and the universal consciousness. It is hard to control the mind at the mind level e.g. if you instruct the mind not to think about the pink monkey, we all know what the mind does.

Breath is the connection between the body and the mind. We can feel the breath and at the same time it is very subtle and acts as a bridge between the body and the mind. If we bring our awareness to the breath, the mind automatically comes to the present moment, and that facilitate the union of body, mind and the universal consciousness. Then and only then, Yoga start happening and one experience blissful state during those moments.

References:

  1. Various talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the public forums (The founder of the Art of Living organisation).