10 Ethical Principles of Classical Yoga as helpful guidelines for Conscious Leadership (1/3)

Around 1600 years ago, the Indian sage Patañjali explained how one can attain the state of Samadhi, a state of liberation, by practicing the Yoga Sutras, the 8 limbs of Yoga:

“[…] yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration of the mind), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption). However, its main aim is kaivalya, discernment of purusha, the witness-conscious, as separate from prakriti, the cognitive apparatus, and disentanglement of purusha from prakriti’s muddled defilements.”

Source: Wikipedia

Through my own practice of Yoga over the years and my experience teaching and training leaders all over the world, I have noticed how these eight limbs of Yoga can be of help for leaders to become more whole and effective in the world. For instance, the regular practice of meditation (dhyana) brings high benefits by decreasing stress, increasing focus, creativity and keeping one’s psyche in balance.

Recent research has shown extensively both the benefits of meditation, and the quantifiable return on investment for companies who deploy meditation programs for employees (up to $2000 saved per employee in health care costs and an additional $3000 per employee in productivity, according to Aetna as cited in Kotler and Wheel, Stealing Fire, p. 175).

Research has also shown that the practice of yoga has shown significant improvements, from increasing cognitive function to decreasing blood pressure (Kotler and Wheel, Stealing Fire, p. 175).

In the context of this article, I would like to focus on the ethical principles of the Yoga Sutras, namely the yama (abstinences) and niyama (observances).

Using these ethical principles will help you in the following areas in direct and more indirect ways:

  • Improving your self confidence and self-centeredness
  • Increasing your integrity and your energy
  • Improving your time management
  • Helping you show up as a leader and a role model
  • Improving the quality of your relationships
  • Increasing your clarity and discernment
  • Increasing your personal effectiveness
  • And much more…

Without further due, here are the ten principles, and how you can apply them to leadership:

1. Yama – restraints or ethics of behaviour ; Yama consists of Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacharya (Chastity) and Aparigraha (Non-possession)

2. Niyama – observances ; Niyama consists of Saucha (Cleanliness), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Austerity), Svadhyaya (Selfstudy) and Isvara Pranidhana (Devotion to the lord).

Source: Wikipedia

1. Ahimsa: Non-Violence

The principle of Ahimsa has been popularized thanks to Mohandas Gandhi’s example. In the context of Leadership, it obviously means not resorting to physical violence to reach your goals. But more than that, it means becoming aware of how much violence and aggression you might be using when dealing with others: your colleagues, employees, suppliers and clients.

More subtly, it is also about becoming aware of how much violence you might be exerting towards yourself:

Violence to stay in that job that you hate, in that relationship that no longer serves your growth and evolution, violence towards yourself to make yourself execute and perform, violence against some parts of you that want to express themselves (your inner child which wants play and innocence, your inner Sage who is guiding you on the way, your inner adult who knows what the responsible thing to do is in a particular situation, …).

When you notice an area in which you are exerting violence, you might ask yourself:

What if there was a more loving way to go about this?

What would that look like?

What could I do differently?

How would that serve me, my purpose and others around me?

If you would like to explore non-violence further, I would highly recommend you to learn about Non-Violent Communication, as developed by Marshall Rosenberg (a good reference is the book NVC: A language for Life).


There are moments where some amount of violence can be healthy, in the form of aggression (not aggressiveness). It can be about expressing your anger, or asserting your rights and your boundaries when necessary. As long as you are mindful of your intention (are you trying to hurt someone? Trying to be right? Trying to get revenge? Or are you trying to assert truth and justice a particular situation?).

2. Satya: Truthfulness

Jordan Peterson’s rule #8 states: “Tell the truth, or at least, don’t lie.”

That is the essence of Satya.

This principle resonates also with the Conscious Leadership Commitment #4 to Candor (Revealing rather than concealing).

The obvious application is, to tell the truth, to your teams, your clients, your boss, as well as other stakeholders. But less obvious is to reveal one’s inner states and feelings: one’s emotional sides, practicing vulnerability as much as one can, and engaging in difficult conversations (see Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen).

What is one area which might feel edgy, but where you believe that speaking the truth could help the situation?


There are some moments where revealing would hinder a project negatively. For instance, in my experience, during the first phases of a project, when it is still a seed, it is better for it to stay underground. Later, when the seed has grown enough, it will appear above the ground and one might need an indication to notice it. Later on, when it becomes the biggest oak in the valley, it will be hard for people not to notice it.

In the same way, to build internal power and self-confidence, it is healthy to perform some actions that you don’t tell anybody about (see further the practice of Tapas, Austerity). You might have some secret routine or ritual. Keep it to yourself. Don’t tell anyone.

3. Asteya: Non-Stealing

Non-stealing can be tricky in the context of business. It means being mindful of the relationships and the exchanges you engage in. It might entail practicing conscious pricing, making sure you deliver value to your clients, your employees, the planet, the people, society, and the planet. Regenerative businesses and regenerative leadership enter this category: instead of depleting the people and the planet from their energy and resources, they seek to replenish them (that doesn’t happen in “Soul-sucking” jobs and organizations).

At a micro-level, it also means becoming aware of your externalities and boundaries: are you using resources from another department? Have you given back the pen you borrowed from your colleague? Are you not stealing anybody else’s time (being aware of your intention when you engage with someone)?


Sometimes, “stealing” is the best thing you can do: when you borrow an idea (it’s not stealing if you quote the source, if you make it better, and make sure about the legality of what you are doing). For inspiration, read Austin Kleon’s book Great Artists Steal.

What have been your insights from reading this article?

Which actions are you going to take?

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