Ojas + Corporate America, An Ayurveda Counselor’s Mission

Neelu Kaur Q&A Interview published in Chit Chaat Chai on individual, team, and organization vitality through the lens of Ayurveda

How did you begin your career at the intersection of leadership and wellness? 

My background in Social and Organizational Psychology, corporate training and facilitation led me to the world of leadership development. My background and studies in Yoga, Ayurveda, NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming), Mindfulness, Energy Management let me into the world of Wellness and Self Management.

I decided to merge the two areas in 2013, when I was downsized from a very large financial services organization where I was responsible for Learning and Development initiatives within one of the Technology divisions.

When I was downsized, I said to myself – “I will never let anyone tell me they don’t want me anymore.”

From then, I attempted to merge these two worlds and that is really how it all came together through much trial and error. Even now, I do not think I have the perfect formula; however, I am a lot further in the process than I was six years ago. 

In your coaching work either with teams, managers or individuals, what are the some of the common challenges? 

Typically when someone comes to you with an issue, whether it’s at the team or individual level, the presenting problem is rarely the issue. It’s through layers of questioning, that you begin to uncover the root cause(s).
I think the challenges can be for the individual or leader to come to terms with their piece of the root cause.

We often look at others through a microscope and through ourselves with a telescope. One of the challenges I find is for individuals to really look at themselves through a microscope.  

How do you work with them on these challenges?

A hybrid approach. I will give you an example to explain. I was brought in to coach a manager at Google who was dealing with dysfunctional team dynamics. I thought my work would mostly be to understand the team purpose and goals aligned with their deliverables. After a few minutes sitting across from (let’s call him Ben), I realized that he did not look well. I asked him some questions related to his sleep cycle and also I could immediately tell that his pitta was extremely imbalanced. We spent the first few sessions discussing sleep hygiene, meditation, and mindfulness techniques to help him with his lack of patience with his team. The presenting problem was a dysfunctional team. The root cause was his individual imbalances that needed to be addressed before he could serve others. 

So, how do I help, I first attempt to uncover the root cause, decide which method of coaching will work best – NLP, yoga, Ayurveda, mindfulness, energy management or navigating organizational or team dynamics. It’s typically never one mode or method. It’s a hybrid approach, which is why I say that the best way to describe my work is at the intersection of leadership and wellness.

What are some Ah-Ha moments organizations have with your multi-disciplinary approach? 

I think the biggest Ah-ha is typically the realization that if you don’t put the oxygen mask on yourself first, you will not be able to serve your team or organization. Often times, when I am brought in for professional development – designing and delivering classes such as Giving and Receiving Feedback, Managing Unconscious Bias or Presenting with Confidence – the thought process is that I as the leader need to fix my team, or I as the leader need to fix my organization. The Ah-ha comes when the individual realizes that self-care and being in a resourceful state might ‘fix’ one huge piece of the puzzle.

Understanding the concept of ojas created a shift in your life, aside from your studies in Ayurveda, yoga, Neurolinguistic Programming, and work experience have you come across the word or a similar concept equivalent to ojas?  

The closest word to ojas that I have come across is vitality. I think that ojas is very unique and specific to Ayurveda but when we take the essence of ojas, it boils down to vitality and this concept is infused in NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) – in order to be filled with vitality, you have the ability to change your personal history by reframing. You have the ability to build rapport with people – NLP gives the tools and techniques to communicate this vitality to the world. 

I have also been exposed to vitality through spiritual texts from Kabbalah. Our vitality comes from our connection to our creator. The more connected we feel, the more vitality we have.

Meditation, pranayama, mindfulness are all connected to vitality in my opinion. These techniques help us connect to our soul, which is where our true essence lies.

How can leaders, organization benefit from having an understanding of ojas? And how does it differ from what they may already know?

I go back to my analogy of putting the gas mask on you before you can serve others. I think learning how to manage your ojas/vitality is crucial as an individual, as a team leader or as the CEO of an organization.

At every level of the system (self, team, organization), ojas flows. Once you understand the power of ojas at every level, you will see the benefit.

Based on your learnings and expertise, if you had the ear of the CEO, what shifts would you recommend an organization make? 

I love this question!  My answer will take a systems approach:

Self: Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you attempt to serve others. Learn a rhythm or routine that helps you manage your energy and work at it every day so that you can be the best version of you the majority of the time. 

Team: The way you manage your team, will be the tone that sets the stage for the entire organization. Your team of high-level execs represents the tone at the top. Treat each other with respect, allow space for healthy dialogue, treat others on your team as you would like to be treated – be compassionate towards their needs.  If you are able to create this culture with your direct reports, it will become a parallel process with all other layers of your organization. 

Organization. Psychological Safety is of the utmost importance. Your people will be more engaged, committed to the organization and feel happier on a daily basis if they feel psychologically safe. 

Instill a sense of curiosity. Create a culture where it’s safe to speak up so all feel included. Promote effectiveness vs efficiency

What are some key things we can practice to build our emotional resilience? 

Learn to manage your triggers. When we are triggered, we feel imbalanced. The key to managing triggers is to learn strategies that help you be in your most resourceful state. Our amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for fight, flight, or freeze. When we feel threatened or attacked in any way, our amygdala is hijacked (i.e. triggered), we go into fight or flight mode. We are not able to make rational decisions. The blood literally leaves our brain and our prefrontal cortex is flooded with hormones in preparation for fight or flight. 

It takes 6 seconds for the blood to return to the brain for rational thinking. In the moments we are triggered, deep abdominal breathing helps us to not react impulsively. 

Other strategies that help us when we are triggered are: 

“Name It To Tame It” – a term coined by Dan Siegal.  Name what you are feeling and how you are feeling. By virtue of naming ‘it’ – you will give yourself time to return to the now and lessen the magnitude of the intense emotion.

Breathe – deep long abdominal breaths to help you get into the parasympathetic nervous system.

Create and Learn Longer-Term approaches that work for you to deal with difficult situations (breath work, mindfulness meditation, healing your fear-based thoughts about the future.