By Renée Tillotson
When our family member Diana arrived in Mumbai, India, she and her cohort of yoga teacher trainees were enveloped in blossoms. Literally. She had landed in the middle of a joyous, devotional festival in which people were pouring thousands – no, probably millions – of flowers over statues of deities and over one another. It felt like something out of a dream!
I think of Diana as deep into her Silicon Valley job. When said she was going to India to take a yoga teacher training, I was startled. Wait. This is a successful young businesswoman from the tech industry… How does it happen that SHE wants to learn yoga in India???
Is there something about the Tech world that I don’t understand? I got curious.
I mean, you don’t go to India for teacher training if you don’t want to go deep into the practice. You’re not likely to get a sanitized “yoga without the om – we teach you 99 ways to turn yourself into a pretzel” American version of yoga. Not that all American yoga teacher trainings are like that, nor are all Indian teacher trainings deeply spiritual. Yet India is the homeland of this ancient and highly philosophical practice.
Now, I have never considered the world of technology to be a particularly spiritual environment… hmmm… I thought to myself, am I ready to bust through my stereotypes? Heck yes!
I couldn’t wait to hear Diana’s story! Did she go to the yoga teacher training DESPITE the fact that she comes from the tech industry, or in part BECAUSE she’s in tech?
Our Indian friend Peeyush Kumar, a frequent guest at our Still & Moving Center conversations and meditation sessions, works at Microsoft – the grand dame of much of the software world. He says that the people around him are very busy with very busy brains. In fact, I had to wait until 9 pm on a Monday evening for a conversation with him. Then he had to jump off at 10 pm for his next meeting! So his first response to my question was: “Despite”. Diana went to India for yoga DESPITE working in tech.
So what was it that drew someone out of a very engaging life in the business world to a more interior, reflective experience?
Diana is one of the more “successful” young business people I know, always a yearly winner of a trip to Mexico or Hawai’i as one of her company’s most effective employees.
Why, of all things, did this top-notch businesswoman choose to take three weeks of her vacation time to study yoga on the Sub-Continent?
Wouldn’t it be more attractive to go sample Italian wines in Tuscany? Or ski her heart out on this year’s excellent snows in Sun Valley, Idaho? Nope. Diana flew to India to attend a 200-hour yoga teacher training in an eco-village.
And it was one of the most impactful experiences of her life.
As it turns out, Diana has been practicing yoga for about a decade, starting with a teacher in Los Angeles when she was a dance major in college and needed something that would actually take care of her body and calm her mind.
“I now see that what was driving me to my yoga mat was the deep, spiritual connection it gave me to myself. But at that time I didn’t know why it gave me so much joy, balance, and happiness,” Diana muses. “I really wanted to find that out.”
Many people in the West brush over seven out of the eight limbs of yoga and present yoga as a mainly physical practice. The tradition of yoga, however, is much more profound. About 2500 years ago an Indian philosopher named Patanjali canonized the yogic teachings into what he called the “eight limbs” of yoga. Only one of the sections consists of the physical postures, another constitutes the breathing practice, and all the rest are spiritual and philosophical approaches to living and meditating through life.
So, of course, if Diana were to study yoga in its place of origin, she might learn why yoga was having such a transformative effect upon her.
Approaching my question, Diana explains that she went to her YTT (Yoga Teacher Training) in part BECAUSE her company sponsors a Recharge program for their employees to leave work for a while and dive into an interest of their choice – maybe a guitar-making retreat or archeological trip to a remote spot.
Hmm… I wonder why a tech company would sponsor such a program?
“Creativity is really celebrated in this industry – no matter what avenue we take to achieve innovation. What’s important is unlocking our creative side,” Diana tells me.
Ah…. as she says this, I realize that I’ve had an image lodged in my mind for decades of computer nerds who just want you to leave them alone in a room with computer equipment and occasionally slide pizza under the door. Boy oh boy! Just look at that stale old stereotype tucked away in my brain! And Diana is taking a sledgehammer right through it.
Diana continues: “There’s a well-known entrepreneurship book called Zero to One by Peter Thiel that I love. It was one of the books I read in college that inspired my career path toward tech. He points out that just bringing an existing idea from one context to another is unoriginal, just a matter of going from “1 to 1” – meaning horizontal progress. But he says that the goal in tech and innovation is to go from “0 to 1”, vertical progress. That is, we are creating something from nothing, the first of its kind. We’re trying to operate at a higher level of creativity here.”
It certainly seems true to me that exposing oneself to an exotically different culture with music, chanting, dancing, brilliant colors, and sensational food would wake up creative, expansive aspects of ourselves. I just had never thought about how all the evolutionary changes in technology require an imaginative frame of mind.
I ask Diana, “Do you think that folks in tech are more used to dealing with abstract thought than in a lot of other businesses, such as the garment industry, the hospitality industry, or agriculture, for example?”
“Definitely,” she replies. “When I’m teaching our clients how to use our software, it’s not something you can see, physically. It’s all in your mind. That abstract thought is not for everybody. In fact, a co-worker of mine just couldn’t handle how when something went wrong with the software, she couldn’t see what was not working and couldn’t even see what happened when it was fixed. It drove her crazy. Now she’s in real estate: What you see is what you get. She loves it!”
Her friend literally needed to put her feet on the ground, on pieces of land. Diana finds her “grounding” in a different way: on her yoga mat.
Diana also describes the high-stress environment of the information industry. Nothing stays the same. Shifts take place at a mercurial speed. “So going to my mat is part of what allows me to succeed in this business,” Diana reflects. “When I’m practicing yoga, my breathing deepens and I feel myself getting grounded, calm, and centered. It’s a huge help to survive the volatility of my work environment.” So it’s partly BECAUSE she’s in tech that she needed to go deeper into yoga.
I then learn that Steve Jobs went to India, converted to Buddhism and became a practitioner of Zen meditation… and founded the Apple computer company. Maybe I am onto something about this tech / inner reflection bridge.
Our friend Peeyush concurs: “Software is the world of ideas. At this point in human history, this work environment is where more numinous thought is available to people. We’re dealing with nearly limitless possibilities. Lots of people around me see the value of meditating – if not for spirituality, at least for settling their minds. And people here are starting to use AI (Artificial Intelligence) to venture into realms like poetry, which they’ve never gone to before. And I actually got into yoga – and the deeper aspects of yoga – through an Indian friend of mine at Microsoft whose family for generations have been storytellers of Hindu mythology.”
Aha! In my experience, the mythical relates to the mystical. So there is a possible connection between the abstract thought needed for software and the abstract thought needed for meditational and spiritual practices as taught by yoga.
So that’s another BECAUSE vote on why Diana went to India.
Diana eventually solicited the help of her first yoga teacher in LA to learn that his teacher Kumi was giving a 200-hour YTT in India. That did it! Diana signed on the dotted line!
Arriving in Mumbai and visiting the Elephanta caves transported her back, back, back to ancient times, the likes of which we don’t experience here in the States.
Including the Krishna festival with flower abundance, these two quintessentially Indian experiences served as her launchpad, as Diana set out over narrow, winding, crowded roads to Govardhan eco-village.
The eco-village with its twenty temples charmed her. As she learned some of the Hindu mythology, it dawned on her that all the vibrant Indian celebrations she had attended with a college friend of hers actually have deep spiritual significance.
“My intention was to be open to learn and not judge, ready to receive,” Diana shares with me. “I’m grateful for that mindset. I received more than I ever asked for. I was open to share my life experience and others were open with me. Our conversations connected us at a deep level. Being in a place with so much spiritual energy was like nothing I had experienced before. I think in our Western life, maybe we have walls up. I was wide open in India.
“I got so many answers there, and so many more questions!” she concludes.
Diana’s experience has taken me on a thought journey, challenging a lot of assumptions I didn’t even know that I held. How fascinating! I now see that working in a field that I normally associate with just making a lot of money might actually lead a person to ask significant questions about themselves and life. The open space of abstract thinking can provide new vistas into who we really are and what’s actually important to us.
Renée Tillotson, Director, founded Still & Moving Center to share mindful movement arts from around the globe. Her inspiration comes from the Joy and moving meditation she experiences in the practice of Nia, and from the lifelong learning she’s gained at the Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, California. Engaged in a life-long spiritual quest, Renée assembles the Still & Moving Center Almanac each year, filled with inspirational quotes by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Dolly Parton. Still & Moving Center aspires to serve the community, support the Earth and its creatures, and always be filled with laughter and friendship!
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