An Indian Paradigm of Coaching: ‘Yoga Sutras’ in Practical Action

A fascinating and insightful Q&A between Gayatri Iyer and Yogi coach Raghu Ananthanarayanan of Ritambhara  about how the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali can be applied to ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’. It is amazing to note how this ancient text provides an enlightened paradigm and methods to cultivate and manage a coach-coachee relationship. Read on to explore some timeless wisdom in practical action.


Q. Yoga Sutras in coaching? I am curious to find out how Yoga Sutra is relevant in coaching?

A. Yoga Sutras is not only about Asanas and Pranayama. In fact, only two chapters of the Yoga Sutras talk about Bahiranga Sadhana and the rest three talk about Antaranga Sadhana. A very key concept talked about is the “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha” which in simple terms means yoga is a way to quieten the mind to experience reality, as is. This is the foundation for coaching as a way of life. The coach aims to be the veeta raga vishyam i.e. a mind that listens to the coachee without the colorations of raga or dvesha.1 Simply put, the coach is a squeaky-clean mirror for you to peer into.

Q. Interesting, what is the relationship between a coach and a coachee?

A. Ahhh…I would like to call the coach as a Sakhi and the coachee as the Nayika. Inspired from Bharata’s Natyashastra, a Nayika is the heroine who is on a journey to discover the self; a more meaningful and Intelligent self. The Sakhi watches Nayika’s deep innocent yearning and offers to help her through the journey so that she can ultimately be united with her Nayikan or in this case the higher Self. The entire struggle is a beautiful poetic depiction of the Nayika’s quest and the Sakhi’s role is of utmost importance. I think the NayikaSakhi is an apt metaphor for a coachee-coach, no?

Q. That it is and the word Sakhi has a lovely ring to it. The Sakhi’s role seems to be important, isn’t it?

A. It is very important no doubt. After all, it is the Sakhi who listens to and reflects every step and mis-step of the Nayika’s quest. She is the one who can look at the deep yearnings, dreams and glimpses of a heroic potential in the Nayika. It is then that the Sakhi enables the Nayika to see, embrace and communicate with these deep aspirations so that she can blossom. In short, she is a catalyst for transformation.

Q. That is so exciting, tell me more about a Sakhi, what are those special qualities that befit her?

A. There are two essential qualities of a Sakhi. Firstly, she needs to be an intent listener. By which, one means that she needs to listen to the enchanting struggle of the Nayika without bringing her own raga and dvesha into the story, just like a clean mirror. Here she reflects not only your outer but inner story as well. Secondly, and I think it is much needed in today’s context is to have oodles of ramyam or compassion for the Nayika, for it is not an easy path to be treading on.

Q. Interesting. Tell us more about listening. How does one cultivate this quality?

A., You see, the practice of listening involves two aspects-:
1-How deep is the ability to listen? Depending on the threshold of the intensity of the seeker, how am I able to listen intently without any raga and dvesha getting triggered in me?
2-How sustained is the practice of listening? One needs to be attentive and concentrate during the entire process.
To develop them, the Yoga Sutras mention practices to develop a healthy physical, psychological and emotional being. There are a range of asanas, pranayama and Dharana practices to help you reach a meditative or a shantam state for being a good Sakhi.

Q. You mentioned avoidance of raga and dvesha in listening, could you elaborate more?

A. In normal life, when you listen to someone or something like a song even, your emotions can get triggered; for example, if a guardian persona gets triggered, I can start being defensive, if a judge in me gets triggered then I start to act like a priest or if a beckoner then I become fluttery in my approach. These kinds of listening are roadblocks to being a coach. But that also does not mean you stay away. Thus, being too close or too far cannot help you see clearly. One needs the right distance to be a curious, compassionate listener.

Q. But what happens if there are triggers? After all, Sakhis are also human.

A. Yes of course, you cannot condemn yourself for having one. Depending on the coachee’s willingness, you can share with them your story. But do not overwhelm them with your story, after all it is their time. One can keep notes of what was triggered for you during a session and possibly do some self-reflection to understand further. Yoga Sutras also help you watch your triggers and go deeper if you wish to.

Q. So, does that mean the coach simply listens and does not say a word?

A. Oh no no! Insights can crop up for a coach which may or may not be valid. But the key is to enable the person to arrive at an insight, so that the understanding is permanent. Else, there is a tendency to use the insight given by the coach as a crutch. I would also suggest playing it by ear, depending on the understanding level of your coachee; to either disclose or encourage them to go figure out themselves.

Q. OK. But do the coaches also offer any solutions or practices to the coachee?

A. Well, a coach does help the coachee to create a sadhana for themselves, something like a regular homework. It may involve a simple yoga sadhana like breathing, Dharana or even asana. Sometimes extensive tools like some mindfulness exercises, art, journaling or dance can help.
But a lot depends on what the coachee is seeking from a coach. As an example, in terms of Ayurveda there are three types of treatments-:
1-Shamanam or symptomatic treatment
2-Shodhanam or treating the deeper cause of the illness
3-Aarogyam or treatment to strengthen the body so that it does not fall ill
One can apply the same framework in coaching as well and create a solution or practice depending on the person’s need.
The openness and willingness of the coachee to integrate the learnings in the mind and body is also to be kept in mind. You see, the mind and body cannot be treated as separate entities, i.e. even if a mind learns something, this learning must be converted into a new physical way of life else the body being a habitual being and goes back to the same behavior. But remember that the coach’s primary agenda is not to rush in with a prescription, but create ways to help the other person to introspect deeper.

Q. Wow, being a coach is not easy, eh?

A. Haha…the coach has to work at least twice as hard as the coachee and be on the path to self-discovery. Though Yoga Sutras clearly say that one need not reach a state of arriveness. This is because, one’s mind can change and be on the quest forever. However, at any given point of time, it should be clear and quiet.

Q. I am really inspired to be a coach now, it sounds so noble! What do you think?

A. It is not merely enough to be inspired but also essential to have a strong intent of ‘how can I be a good listener’ and then work towards it. The Yoga Sutras will help you divert your energies to reach that goal of being a veeta raga vishyam.

Q. But I am also confused between the Yoga Sutras as a guide and the other western accreditations. What is the main difference?
A. The western certifications are just hygiene credentials for you to have. But to develop yourself as a coach in a sustained manner, goes beyond all certifications. That is where Yoga Sutras come in to help you prepare your mind and body for the journey.

Q. The Yoga Sutras are really fascinating, I cannot wait to get started on the journey. What else is needed?

A. Yes, the Yoga Sutras are so versatile that it is a text recommended for all arts like Bharatashastra, Natyashastra etc. You can start your journey with studying the Yoga Sutras, attending the Mahabharata Immersion Lab, understanding the Pandava Mandala framework for coaching, Antaranga Yoga Sadhana, ‘how to start contemplative conversations’ etc just to name a few. These are some of the programs we offer at Ritambhara and if you want you can also apply for the EMCC certification.

Q. Are these coaching modules applicable to a business and individual context?

A. Yes, it is for both contexts. In a business context we offer additional aspects like Indian ideas to examine a business, use of Vaastu to design an organization and alignment of energies etc.


1) raga – attachments; dvesha – aversions

Read also Gayatri’s article: The Spirit of the Mahabharata Coursing Through the Ganga


Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
To make a donation to support this website, click here
To receive newsletters sign-up here.
Follow on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.