“It can be very difficult to attain true wisdom without life experience,” says Subba Vaidyanathan. Subba is a Senior Banker with close to 25 years of experience in Asia, the Middle East and South Asia. Subba has brilliantly brought together his successful career in banking and his passion for yoga and consciousness into his day job. As a practicing Yogi, his focus is on building inner resilience at the workplace, particularly in the context of financial services, which as an industry is going through some challenging times.
Subba, How did you get introduced to Yoga and Wellness?
In the year 2000 my mum had been diagnosed with cancer. I left my banking job in Qatar and moved with my young family to India to be with her. She underwent chemotherapy and at the same time she also chose to try energy healing. I was fascinated to see that she derived great benefits from it. No side effects such as loss of hair nor bad food days. Eager to know more I trained in the art of energy healing. To improve on my skill of energy healing I took to the related field of yoga – stretches, breath practice and meditation, the whole nine yards.
My mother eventually recovered and I went back to Banking, but this time in Singapore. I was motivated to train for the Singapore Standard Chartered Bank Marathon the following year running long distance for the first time in my life. I trained in small steps growing a kilometer at a time gradually building to the full distance. Over time, I went on to run quite a few races.
Before I knew it I was touching fitness, restorative yoga, nutrition and mindfulness. I am still adjusting, growing and finding new ways to keep my body, mind and spirit energized and resilient. Today, after years of practice I see immense benefits – for example I haven’t taken a day off work for sickness for over 8 years. Rarely do I even experience a cold or cough and that too living in a tropical country!
My personal formula is to build habits one small achievable step at a time and grow with the motivation of the success in locking these habits in.
How did the opportunity for a conscious activity like Mindfulness arise within banking?
In 2002, whilst working in Malaysia and subsequently when I was in Jakarta, I was away from my family allowing Singapore to remain the anchor location. These were the days where I had time for self-practice to meditate and do yoga daily.
When I returned to Singapore I decided to take up the task of teaching yoga to my team, more as a demonstration of care for their wellbeing. Over time, this morphed into a movement for wellbeing at the Bank encompassing things like ergonomic chairs, wellness centers, access to healthy food and the like. In 2011, some of the regulars asked if I could pull together a program that included mindfulness and how people could stay on top of stress. And from there this has grown into a program that has now touched close to 1,000 people.
Today, there are weekly practice sessions on restorative yoga and mindfulness at our bank that helps people decompress. There are also quarterly programs that are based on mindfulness and the science of positive psychology, to help people learn the art of self-leadership. In summary, this has developed into a holistic program that helps people in the corporate world to build resilience. Of course, this has primarily been applied so far in the Banking context and perhaps just as well, given the challenge and change that’s underway in that industry. It could do with some resilience!
What was one empowering moment for you in your teaching career?
There have been many moments that I have felt empowered to carry on with this mission. Some people have come back saying that they have lost their migraine and were able to cope with particularly challenging situations at work much better or have been motivated to take this up as a deeper lifelong practice.
Recently I caught up with my erstwhile team in Malaysia over dinner. This was a team for whom I had conducted a few yoga sessions to expose them to more possibilities in this area. After over a decade this remained distinct in their memory. To me they perhaps remember this because they found a demonstration of care by their leader for their wellbeing. And such care makes a big impact on engagement and team building.
If you had a chance, would you change anything in your past?
My thoughts to this question vary depending on where I am in life. If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I may have said I made the wrong career choice. I should have perhaps taken up philosophy or psychology. But today, my answer comes from one of our leaders at the bank. He told me that the beauty of my program is that it is grounded in the real life of a corporate setting.
25 years in Banking and being in a leadership position has helped me to connect with bankers credibly with real life examples and motivate them to believe that they can integrate these practices into their daily lives. I do believe that my program has the potential to make a real impact on many people in the corporate world.
Where do you see your Personal Mindfulness Program growing next?
I do not see the people taking this program becoming yogis or even setting off on a spiritual journey. I see them building habit changes into their daily lives to become more resilient and effective leaders.
I expect that there will be a shift in their personal resilience – physical mental and emotional. Over time, I believe this will have an impact on how they make their decisions, work with their teams and even peers and clients,
For the corporation, I believe, this will likely at one level lead to a more productive and engaged workforce, At another level this will likely support organizations to deploy softer changes such as culture, ethics, conduct etc.
So the applications are many – perhaps integrating this with talent management and leadership development journeys, building more diversity in the workforce by empowering communities, engaging client facing front line teams are some specific examples I can think of.
But in all, the program will see practical applicability in any industry that’s growing or changing fast,
What are your thoughts on Money and Success?
For me, money brings with it a sense of security. I used to think I was a “have not” especially since I lost my dad very young. I was trying to get on the other side of money so that my family would never have that feeling. This would perhaps be reflective of many middle-income households that are trying to breakout.
But my life lesson is that when it comes to money, we tend overrun the finish line by many miles because the same sense of insecurity that gets us to finish line makes us go on and on with this. And before we know it, security gives way to self- esteem insecurities as the reason and then we keep moving the line forward.
How does one find a balance between the point at which money helps you find yourself but also the point at which money becomes an illusion of keeping you secure? When do you begin to realize you are doing this to seek another’s approval? These are very personal questions but the rising of the awareness of these in itself is the most important starting point.
As for success, there are so many definitions of success out there. Your partner, your neighbor and your colleagues – all of them have definitions of your success. And these change over time. So trying to satisfy them just means we will never achieve success.
Success is how you feel. I believe that it is when you realize this simplicity that you begin to see that wealth and success are means to empower others. Wealth exists with me; therefore I am empowered to use this wealth. The next question is, am I ready to give my wealth? If I am not yet ready, can I give my time?
Time is actually the only true currency we have in life. We truly come with nothing else. So, how you choose to spend this time is all that matters.
What role does Insecurity and Fear play in your life? How can we handle this better?
Pain is a “Now” feeling. Fear is expected pain in the future. So fear cannot be solved but pain is of great value.
For me, pain is a good thing. It presents a challenge to you and an opportunity to grow. The choice is yours. Sometimes you overcome fear by making a choice logically and sometimes you need to take a leap of faith. But either way, you grow. Without having faced that pain, you would not have the wisdom you gain from overcoming it.
For me, insecurity was the experience of lacking in something. Insecurity reflects that something is not stable within me. Finding balance is the core of our lives.
If you can see and acknowledge that you are off balance, you have won 80% of the challenge. The moment you can watch your thoughts, your thoughts lose control over you. It is at this point that you can finally see that you have freedom to choose.
What are your thoughts on Consciousness in the Corporate Space?
Corporates have a large role to play in communities. In fact, perhaps they are the largest influencer of what happens in communities.
I think that a shift in the energy of leadership and capital will transform corporates towards more conscious models. It will help organizations think of their value beyond their stock valuation. This will have a deeper impact on culture, ethics and people engagement resulting in a more valuable corporation that’s more engaged with communities.
What are your thoughts On Conscious Leadership?
If I care for myself, if I am willing to be my authentic self, if I can stay true to my purpose and trust in myself I will stay true to others.
I have to learn to lead myself before I can earn the right to lead anyone else.
Do you have any advice for employees embracing consciousness in their careers or seeking a career change?
I feel everyone should be allowed the space to discover himself or herself. I would encourage people to look at 3 core aspects – resilience, balance and self-leadership. If I am a resilient person, I will remain in balance but to achieve resilience, one needs to have self-leadership.
For us, Subba’s journey to creating resilience in the workplace reflects Mahatma Gandhi’s humbling words “Be the change you wish to see”. Is there a conscious passion you have that you can share in your workplace? Have you allowed this new journey to begin?
Written by : Varinder Gill