Yoga and Work

Dr Karal Nespor, MUDr (Prague)

A friend of mine teaches in a school for mentally retarded children. His work is laborious and demands a great deal of patience. He has practised yoga for many years, and according to him he is obliged to this daily practice for his continuing good mental and physical health. His colleagues need not support him, yet he is able to support them whenever necessary.

Today, medical men agree that physical activity is a virtual necessity for people with a sedentary lifestyle. Here hatha yoga practices are very suitable and also interesting to perform. Herbert von Karajan, a world famed conductor, practises yoga asanas regularly. Meditation exercises can also be useful. According to a rehabilitation counselling expert, they improve working ability, job adjustment and satisfaction.

Another factor may be important. Many jobs demand a creative approach, and decision making on the basis of poor or contradictory information is often required. Meditation, which opens the door of intuition, becomes very important in these circumstances.

Work as therapy and pleasure

The importance of work has been recognised in rehabilitational medicine and psychiatry for many years, and work therapy is used in many hospitals and mental homes today. Even grossly disturbed and very old psychiatric patients are able to perform simple mechanical activities. Quarrels and distress among them increase during the weekends when work is not available.

In the course of military service, I observed that soldiers hard at work while on duty and engaged in various activities like carving during their free time, were generally much happier than those who were only counting the number of days until their discharge. Today, many people take an interest in various hobbies like gardening or handicrafts because they find them pleasant and refreshing. Some people consider their job as a hobby, while others claim to dislike their job but nevertheless continue it even after they can retire.

Troubles and risks at work

A man usually expects that he will be praised for good deeds, but this is naive. The right ratio between courage, adaptability and knowledge about people and situations is required, together with good intentions. Not only conflicts with the outer world but also with internal unconscious desires and inhibitions can be provoked during the course of one's work. Illogical repeated failures may result. Suitable yogic practices and qualified guidance are very useful here. I have good personal experience with antar mouna and japa in this respect.

Another risk of work is one-sided development-Many jobs strain certain parts of the body or certain mental faculties. This should be compensated for in a suitable way. Some people perform their jobs in dirty, noisy, or unusually stressful conditions. Resistance to stress should be developed and a hearty spirit preserved, even under unfavourable conditions.

A degree of tiredness is natural and healthy, but immoderate exhaustion should be prevented by interchanging mental and physical activity or by sufficient rest. Relaxation and other yogic practices accelerate recovery and increase resistance to stress.

Karma yoga

The right internal attitude is emphasised in karma yoga. A man should cultivate detachment from the fruits of his actions. 'Fruits' need not be material only, like a salary, but can also be psychological like the acknowledgement of a superior, the respect of society, love of parents, husband and children. The detached man is invulnerable. Even if somebody picks on him excessively, dissatisfaction seldom disturbs the pleasure he derives from his work. Egoism is deep rooted and it can be difficult and painful to get over it. Every partial success makes life better and increases the capacity for true service.

Another important principle of karma yoga is to act in accordance with one's inner source of wisdom or intuition, using head, heart and hands as instruments. This attitude was also cultivated in Japanese archery and other arts influenced by Zen Buddhism. It is interesting to note that many scientific discoveries were made during the relaxed state of mind which dawns after intensive work or during dreams, when the voice of intuition becomes stronger and the firm grip of reason weakens.

A man must be ready to follow ways quite contrary to his selfish personal expectations. His mind should be flexible enough to learn from failures and to accept new data. The famous scientist, Hans Selye, searched in vain for new hormones, nevertheless, this work enabled him to create his now famous theory of stress.

Karma yoga also teaches us to perform even boring and unpleasant duties with awareness and concentration. Many of them may later become interesting; some train our patience and others destroy inhibitions.


Yoga can substantially improve the ability to work, while on the other hand, properly performed work accelerates progress in yoga. The non-poetic greyness of life can be entirely vanquished by karma yoga.