A week ago I had posted in my social media about the sad demise of 40-year-old Mihir Dayal, Director, Sales BMW, whom I have personally known. Monday,20th afternoon brought the shocking news of the passing away of Rudratej Singh, 46, CEO BMW India, owning to a sudden cardiac arrest. It could just be a coincidence that the two happened to have been working for the same organization.
I don’t know how many of you would remember Ranjan Das, CEO of SAP India, who died of a cardiac arrest, a decade ago, at 42, as he returned from his morning gym regime. He was perhaps the youngest Indian CEO of a multinational corporation. There were lots of discussions, then, around corporate stress levels and how people, particularly those in leadership positions, needed to be mindful of themselves and not put dreams and ambitions ahead of their own personal wellbeing. Cut to 2020, nothing much has changed. The lockdown may have only triggered the stress for many at multiple levels, including relationship situations. And the post-pandemic scenario is not going to be any brighter, either.
I took a decision to hang up my corporate boots, after having made some contributions to the organizations I worked for during the 23 years of my corporate journey. I arrived at this decision after some consideration as I felt there existed a space for an Un-agency. The initial few months after this decision to be on my own was daunting as I was consumed by a thought as to whether I did the right thing. The stress (Most of us perhaps don’t even realise that continuing thoughts in our heads is nothing but stress) was starting to show on me; disturbed sleep, acidity, mouth ulcers etc came as my companions too. I knew something wasn’t right. And as someone who do not believe in leaving anything unresolved or undone, I started on a fact-finding journey. The path I chose was the one where the words “Transformation begins with YOU” was deeply and boldly engraved.
I thought it would be worth sharing some of what I researched, learnt and applied on myself, through deep conversations with people, from yoga instructors to life coaches to medical professionals.Special credit tomy dear friend Dr Abhinav Gupta.
Nothing of what I’m sharing is rocket science or a new discovery. Most of us have perhaps known these in bits and pieces. But since a structured look normally helps people develop perspectives, my attempt is to present what I discovered in a manner most of you will be able to relate to and perhaps appreciate as well.
Basically there are two types of stress; acute and chronic. And body’s response to either of the situation is fight or flight. Acute stress (if infrequent) to some extent is not very bad as it is keeping a check on the body’s response mechanism. Let’s say someone jumps in front of your car and you need to apply sudden break and then you realise everything is okay and the scenario settles down. However not being mindful of the fact that the incident is done and dusted, can lead to chronic stress, which is what was happening in my case; the continuing thoughts. You start creating different stories in your head about what could have happened and the thoughts start snowballing. In chronic stress, anything that will bother you for longer periods, let’s say un met targets, financial burdens, some close relationships being on the brink, loss of someone dear etc is compelling the brain to keep the functioning of the body in an always alert manner, ever ready to fight or flight. Blood pressure will be high, body produces excess acid (to digest whatever is coming in, presuming that the high-intensity physical activity will be supplemented with food) blood sugar levels are high, muscles are stiff, clotting process becomes faster (a response mechanism, in case you get injured.I’m sure you can understand the danger of this). And without your active knowledge, you start breathing shallow and fast, resulting in oxygen levels getting depleted and lung capacity being rendered unoptimized. Imagine if this is the condition of your body most of the times. There’s no doubt that you will develop chronic illnesses or a sudden cardiac arrest, like a car engine, which is being pumped up all the time, just snapping up suddenly.
Now the question is can you control your company pushing you for targets, can you control your boss screaming at you, can you control the banker chasing you for the EMI payment, can you control your husband’s/wife’s erratic behaviour? These are the E (Effects) Similarly when the boss screams for an unmet target, you just cannot either change the way the body will function which is wired in a certain way to respond to any potential danger. So what can you possibly do?
Here’s where the role of R (your response) gets pronounced. What you can do is to reverse engineer the body mechanism just by being mindful of your shallow, fast breathing the moment you understand that stress is around the corner and start moderating your breathing.It can become an effective counter to the alarm produced by the body. This moves your mind from what just happened and brings your entire attention to your breathing. This will allow you to prepare your body to be normal and then focus on the task at hand.
If you have a smartwatch that monitors heart rates, just as an exercise, wear it on your wrist and do very fast shallow breathing. You can immediately see the heart rate shoot up.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work more or hard to deliver the numbers or resolve a relationship issue. In fact you will do a much better job as a calmer mind will bring in multiple perspectives. However, it will also make you realise that work is just one part of you, where you are utilising your skills/ knowledge/ experience to be paid for; which is your Vocation. Soon you will start adding a different meaning to your life which helps you discover what you are very good at and how can others benefit from it; your Profession and you will find time to focus on what you love doing; your Passion and you will open your eyes and mind towards the need of the world; your Mission. Now you are on the path where words “Transformation begins with YOU” are engraved and also well on your way to meeting your Ikigai. This is the O, the outcome of your R – Response. You do not have control over the E – Effects, but by controlling the R, you have effectively created an acceptable and sustainable O for yourself and even for the others around you; E+R=O
And for those who think yoga is something that’s helping you get physically fit, at a fundamental level, in pranayams, which is an integral part of yoga, great attention is paid to controlling the breathing and thereby controlling thoughts. As Lao Tzu said “Watch your thoughts, they become words; words become actions; actions become habits; habits become character; character becomes destiny.”
As for my Vocation, I get paid by clients today for being able to apply my thinking to their business. I teach students, speak at seminars, mentor some start-ups, write articles with a view to sharing what I believe am good at and also trying to build a network of courageous marketers who are willing to just set aside 10% of their resources for them to see unimaginable results; my Profession. Ifocus on myself, running/cycling, travelling, learning to play a musical instrument, building genuine conversations with people, even strangers;my Passion and working with some friends and a couple of foundations for social causes, in addition to even smaller initiatives like calories people burn during the lockdown becoming food for those who are starving, my Mission. Although am far from meeting myIkiagi, all I can say is just beginning to become aware of my breathing, has indeed made a big difference in my life. Being on the path of “transformation begins with YOU” has also become an unchangeable habit.
“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure” – Oprah Winfrey
Stay indoors and Stay safe, friends !
Authored by S Yesudas, Co-founder, Y&A Transformation