When Tech Meets Yoga: Sivananda Yoga Teacher Gopi Kallayil
What do a Google executive and a yoga teacher have in common? They are embodied in Sivananda Yoga Teacher Gopi Kallayil, whose job as Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing at Google has sent him throughout the world delivering the company message as well as his thoughtful brand of consciousness-raising.
He doesn’t find the combination of a high-tech profession and a yoga and meditation practice at all contradictory.
“In the midst of all the advancement,” he writes, “we must remember that the most important technology we deal with is right here, inside us.”
At a recent ashram symposium on Mindfulness in the World, Gopi offered humorous anecdotes about his struggles and successes in the quest to live a conscious life, using his decades of experience in yoga and meditation. Even as a member of a business elite — a manager at Google, graduate of the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania — he points out that living consciously, supported by wisdom traditions like meditation and yoga, are ways in which our “inner technology” can live in harmony with the outer.
He considers himself part of a movement that is sweeping the world. More than 18 million Americans practice meditation and mindfulness, and now hard-nosed business and political types are publicizing the benefits of the practice. “Look at Arianna Huffington and U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan,” he points out. “Now Google has a program.”
In fact, Google’s yoga program exists due to Gopi’s persistence and a management that believes in thinking outside the box. His approach now benefits hundreds of Google employees, known as Yoglers, who attend weekly yoga classes. “Yoglers are young, mostly millennials and they have a global view,” he said. “They embrace all traditions.”
Yoga is good for you, both personally and professionally, he argues. When you practice yoga, he writes in his new book, The Internet to the Inner-Net: Five Ways to Reset Your Connection and Live a Conscious Life, “the quality of your interactions improves. You stop checking your email when someone is talking to you. You become a more conscious human being.”
Gopi has taken his message well beyond the walls of Google into communities more concerned with the bottom line than spiritual enlightenment and he is enthusiastic about the challenge. “Doing this is my sweet spot,” he said. “I talk mostly to business technology people; understanding the body appeals to them. They know they function better with this practice.”
Technology, he believes, can be used or misused depending on the individual. He likes to use the analogy of fire, “an extremely useful natural force that can melt steel and can cook your food. But if you don’t use it with care, you can burn yourself.” New technologies do have amazing power, but used well they have a critical role to play in social change.
The challenge, he writes, is to be engaged in the world without getting entangled. “These wisdom traditions that have been with us for 2,600 years have given a lot of tools that allow me to deal with the day-to-day pressures of all of the information and the demands on my life.”
He uses a well-known metaphor, repeated since his childhood in southern India, about the beautiful lotus flower. “It always floats on top of the water, even though the roots are mired in the mud below,” he writes. “When water falls on the lotus leaf, it gently flows off like dewdrops. The message in the metaphor is that we can be involved in life and work without being mired in it. We can let our problems roll off us. We can float to the top.”
In the book, which Gopi describes as his personal journey, he shares some of the rituals he has developed in his quest to find balance. Among them is the practice of gratitude. “For the past 15 to 20 years, pretty much every day, I’ve taken five minutes to focus on my gratitude,” he writes. Early in the day, cycling to work, or running, or before a meeting, he tries to jot down 10 things for which he is grateful.
“Focusing on gratitude shifts my mind and heart away from seeing areas of my life as problematic, worrisome or lacking and toward acknowledging the abundance, what is working well,” he said. He lists all the people who have prepared a meal he is eating, his spiritual teachers, the unconditional love of his parents — and his daily cup of masala chai.
“I’m completely addicted to my daily exercise of gratitude — it is one of the easiest, simplest and most affordable forms of internal practice, prayer and meditation.”
To prepare for practice, Gopi advises, look at all your interactions with others and use what he calls the “namaste principle: the light in me acknowledges the light in you. Sit silently, set an intention with every interaction. All interactions are an opportunity to see the divinity in every other person.”
Another simple mindful practice easily incorporated into daily life is conscious eating. Eat food that is nutritious and visually appealing, be conscious of your choices and how much you need to feed both body and taste buds. “Eat mindfully too,” he writes.” Be aware of the taste, texture and smells of the food you eat.” And be grateful to all the people who contributed to this meal, from the farmer to the truck driver, the chef and the server. Try to remember this and eat thankfully.
People have always known that humans need to connect, he says. We need a community of practitioners to ritualize the practice, and in so doing make it open to everyone. This is clearly one of his objectives. “First I must take care of myself and my own transformation, but I have more reach because I’m a Google executive.”
At some point in his life, Gopi said, “I want to be able to help others who want to journey; I want to be of service. My larger goal, when I have the financial capabilities, is to devote time to transform human beings with skills like yoga and meditation.”
Looking to use yoga and meditation to live and work more consciously? Try our Essentials of Yoga I and Introduction to Meditation courses, offered regularly throughout the year. Find out more.