One of my primary charges as Executive Director is to bring our mission to life – are we doing what we’re saying we do in a way that we say we will? A core question implied within this charge as an Executive Director of a yoga studio is – within this mission work, are we bringing the precepts of yoga to life both in what we do and how we do it?
Ten-plus years of asking myself and my colleagues these questions has made me particularly aware of how challenging it can be to unequivocally apply the values we explore on the mat, off the mat and in “real” life. On the mat we may taste a range of sensations, emotions and scenarios from sweet to unseemly but the overall experience tends to be relatively bounded. There’s a palpable feeling of connectedness when a teacher highlights an aspirational sutra in a room full of clearly dedicated practitioners. There’s an easier awareness around unpleasantness that “this too shall pass” when taking part in a timed and structured practice.
Things get a bit messier when we leave the cultivated boundaries in the studio to resume daily life, business and relationships. That is, when we’re no longer surrounded by “dedicated practitioners” but rather flappable humans, or when there isn’t necessarily a clear end in sight with a situation that feels raw or horrible. It can be easy to forget that the same tools and values we just played with on our mats could quite effectively still apply. Sure, sometimes we do stop, breathe and respond. Frequently though, our wisdom voice gets overshadowed by our monkey mind voice.
Monkey mind refers to that unconstructive chatter we all have in our heads. Rooted in primal survival, it’s our defensive voice that clings to status quo or personal position; it’s our voice that gladly puts up blinders to maintain a more comfortable worldview. From an 8 Limbs perspective this might be the voice that says, but that’s just how things are done in business. Or it could be that voice that takes for granted that we are unequivocally a welcoming and inclusive studio just because our mission says we are and our intentions are good.
As I mentioned last month, in this year of committing to difficult and brave conversations, we’re actively rediscovering the voice we use and, more importantly, want to use. This past year has shown us ways in which we’ve defended ourselves in the name of common business practices not realizing just how many more opportunities we’ve had to simultaneously do good business and be yogic. These past few months have also highlighted how we thought we were bringing our mission to life but were really just beginning to scratch the surface – we have much to learn about what it takes to be welcoming and inclusive within a society where institutional racism and social injustices are a routine part of life.
Also as I mentioned last month, some of how we’re disentangling ourselves from well-worn paths of defenses and blinders is digging deeper into our roots, into yoga itself. We’re doing this out of recognition that living yogically puts us squarely on the path of social justice. One of the early steps in this disentangling has involved tasking Anne Phyfe Palmer, Owner and Studio Director of 8 Limbs, with rewriting our mission in yoga sutra terms. Yoga is often described as a way to yoke (bring unity to) mind, body and heart. In rewriting our mission in this manner we’re attempting to bring that sense of yoking to life. We’re actively working on creating truer unity between the business operations, studio spaces and teachings of yoga.
Another initial step comes this Wednesday morning at our monthly Leadership Team meeting where we’ll further explore this yoking process. Every one of us in the admin team at 8 Limbs has been asked to describe our role at 8 Limbs in terms of our mission (you can read what we say in our staff bios). This Wednesday, we’ll play around with describing what our roles call upon us to do in yogic terms. The idea is to distinctly yoke what we’re charged with doing not merely to the general understanding of our mission but to the yogic implications of that mission as well.
If, like us, you find it sometimes difficult to apply yoga off the mat when your material or emotional safety is at risk, I invite you to explore these types of questions. From a yogic perspective, how do you, or how do you aspire to, further brave and difficult conversations? How do you work with your monkey voice? What are the unique gifts of your wisdom voice? I always love hearing from people so feel free to share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by: Ashley Dahl, 8 Limbs Executive Director