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

A fascinating and insightful Q&A between Gayatri Iyer and Yogi coach Raghu Ananthanarayanan 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.

How to Survive – and Thrive – in a Startup

The start-up world is the latest attraction for young professionals but once they’re in, many struggle to cope with the heavy demands of long hours and tremendous agility and drive. Nora von Ingersleben-Seip gives an insider’s account of what it’s like to work at a start-up and ways to not only cope with its many challenges, but to also thrive in it.

Tech & Start-up World Hack Spirituality to Boost Performance

Steve Jobs’ obsession with the Autobiography of a Yogi, Mark Zukerberg’s visit to a temple in Nainital and the latest attempts by start-ups to ‘hack’ spirituality – what’s with Silicon Valley’s fascination with spirituality?


Perhaps the foremost example of the tech world’s fascination with spirituality is Steve Jobs’ deep appreciation of the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Parmahansa Yogananda. It was the only book Jobs downloaded on his iPad and read every year since he first came across it as a teenager. Jobs even asked for copies of the book to be distributed at this memorial service.

Mark Benioff, CEO of said at a TechCrunch conference in 2013 (2 years after Jobs passed away): “Yogananda…had this book on self-realization…. [Steve’s] last message to us was that here is Yogananda’s book…. Actualize yourself….I look at Steve as a very spiritual person…[Steve] had this incredible realization–that his intuition was his greatest gift and he needed to look at the world from the inside out.”

Seemingly continuing in the company founder’s tradition of an affinity with Indian spirituality, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited a famous 200-year-old  Ganesha temple (Siddhivinayak) in Mumbai on his visit to India in May 2016.

It appears that Steve Jobs also inspired Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg to visit the Kainchi Dham temple in Nainital, India. “He [Jobs] told me that in order to reconnect with what I believed as the mission of the company I should visit this temple that he had gone to in India, early on in his evolution of thinking about what he wanted Apple and his vision of the future to be,” Zuckerberg told India’s PM Modi at a town hall meeting in 2015. Google’s Larry Page and Jeffrey Skoll, co-founder of eBay, have also made the pilgrimage.

There are several other instances of the tech world drawing inspiration from the spiritual domain. Google, for example, is well-known for its mindfulness meditation training (having its roots in Buddhism) offered in-house. The tech giant has also given a platform to the views of spiritual leaders – Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev for instance recently spoke about ‘Developing Inclusive Consciousness’ at an event hosted by Jonathan Berent, Director of Customer Experience at Google.

The Temple of Transition at Burning Man (2011)

A ‘ritual’ of sorts for tech titans like Zukerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk is the annual pilgrimage to the Burning Man festival in the deserts of Nevada, USA. According to Silicon Valley venture capitalist Greg Horowitt, “You come into Burning Man knowing that your values align with the values of the people here, and it’s all about creation and experimentation.” The festival has taken on a ritualistic reputation, almost like a religion or spiritual process for the faithful.

Coming to the new crop of Silicon Valley start-ups, there is a growing fascination with “bio-hacking” techniques. For instance, Nootrobox, a San Francisco company that makes brain supplements, has adopted a practice (what they see as a “ritual”) where the entire company collectively fasts for 36 hours every week. According to the start-up, the fast days are one of the most productive days of the week! Fasting, as we know is an ancient spiritual practice followed by almost all religions in some form or the other.

Then there’s the growing fascination with the mind and consciousness altering herb ‘ayahuasca‘ found in the Peruvian Amazon, that has been dubbed as Silicon Valley’s new craze. Apparently the psychedelic substance is becoming as ubiquitous as coffee. Its popularity with young entrepreneurs is based on its supposed ability to abate the insecurities and pressures they face in the start-up world and the fact that the Peruvian trips serve as much as a networking opportunities as spiritual retreats!

But should spiritual practices be hacked for productivity? Or should increased productivity and creativity be viewed as the beneficial side-effects of a deeper inner transformation which should be the aim? Surely some entrepreneurs’ trysts with spirituality will be more genuine than others’. One can only hope the genuine prevails.

Related: The Need for India’s Spiritual Light

Can a Banker be a Yogi?

Every morning, as I put on my suit after my daily session of yoga and meditation, I know that I am putting on my armour, ready to be the ‘warrior’ (like the yoga pose) and roam the floors of the bank as a yogi in disguise.

I also know that I’m just doing my job, a job I ended up falling into after leaving university. I’m feeding my inner drive to be successful and ambitious; after all, I’m doing what I’m good at, and I’ve worked hard to get this far, too. Five years at law school wasn’t a walk in the park.

A living oxymoron

Some people may say that being a yogi in an investment bank seems incomprehensible. I beg to differ. For me, it’s about finding a way to optimise your performance at work while maintaining a philosophical view of the role you play in the institution, and the contribution you make to society, no matter how obscure that view may seem…

The inner Agni (or fire) of the modern-day City yogi burns brightly as an example that one can show to others.

However, some may challenge this in the light of the 2008 financial crisis and the scandals that have emerged since. The values of a yogi seem in stark contrast with the actions of a few people who have tarnished the industry’s reputation.
But, the conditioning of humans means that such events are almost inevitable, and not just limited to the banking sector. Greed and deception has found its way into many forms of corporate organisation.

Spiritual banking

In fact, science itself is not immune to the worst aspects of the human mind. Nuclear weapons, human cloning, genetically modified food; the ego knows no boundaries.

Fortunately, ethics and spirituality ultimately decide whether the discoveries of science are, in fact, right. I have realised that spirituality also has a role to play in the world of high finance. Acting like a ‘third eye’, finding the right balance between financial institutions’ need to be profitable and an appropriate level of prudential supervision, the ‘spiritual regulator’ is essential to ensure a successful but safe financial sector.

Stability is key

We saw after the most recent financial crisis that regulation, controls and infrastructure were inadequate; and now we are consumed by them, perhaps a little too much. But a stable financial system is what ultimately permits a society to flourish, while at the same time allowing for the most efficient allocation of risk. This is when capitalism can be at its best.

Buddha said: ‘contentment is the greatest wealth’. I would argue that ‘contentment’ can mean a harmonious society where banks facilitate the extension of credit, while allowing for the risk-taking by sophisticated investors in a safe, well-capitalised banking system; then we can truly say that we have found a state of capitalist ‘nirvana’.

Finance is also an environment that caters for the aspirations of bright, ambitious young people in a complex yet fascinating world – and, more often than you realise, underneath that pin-striped suit lies a simple yogi – striving to find that balancing point, each and every day.


This post was first published in Balance magazine and has been reproduced here with the author’s permission.


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