One of the most effective ways to break down barriers within your company is to experience yoga retreats. Catherine Kontos sits down with Bhaskar Goswami, the Founder of BODHI Principle that uses the profound tool of yoga practice to bring optimum health and wellness to employees. Bhaskar shares how retreats create a deep sense of community. People come in carrying their job titles, tensions, and stress, and come out bringing the highest versions of themselves. As a result, you’ll witness how your employees become healthier and more inspired to co-create together. If you want to learn more about yoga retreats for employees, tune in!
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Companies Breaking Barriers With Yoga Retreats With Bhaskar Goswami
Bhaskar Goswami is the Founder of the award-winning company BODHI and his nonprofit organization daana. He’s a well-respected yogipreneur. He has led numerous international retreats and is an acclaimed speaker having presented in prestigious organizations and events like the COP 22, which is the UN Climate Change Conference in Morocco. Bhaskar, I’m so happy to have you here.
I’m so happy to be with you, Catherine.
We know each other beyond this Zoom interview. I have such high respect for you because of what you do. You are very well known in the Montreal-Quebec area and internationally. I have been following you and been a fan for a while because I love your message and method of teaching. You are quite an inspirational person. I was excited when you said yes to coming to the show. Thank you for being here.
I’m delighted. What an introduction.
You have been doing this for quite a long time. I would like to know what your story is because you have a Master’s in Engineering and you were practicing that for quite a few years. How did you go from a very different practice? It’s a different career. What happened? What is your history? What transformed you or appealed to you in the yoga space that made you make this your life choice or career?
Like most big changes, there’s usually some trauma involved. My story goes back to my early twenties when I was doing some part-time work. I was lifting heavy equipment and also playing semi-professional tennis. I certainly started developing very intense back spasms. It created a lot of anxiety in my life. It came out of nowhere.
Hang out with healthy, happy, and peaceful people to be more productive and creative.
My mother told me that there is a yoga master who was here. She said, “Why don’t you go meet with him?” The moment I laid my eyes on him, I was in awe. I had never seen a human being like that. He was this what I call a Hollywood Director’s dream of a Yogi. Perfect posture, shining bright eyes, and long matted hair. The way he spoke and moved made life look easy.
I remember thinking in my younger days, “If I could be a little bit like him, this is worth diving into.” I was engaged by this amazing teacher and I’m very grateful to say that he took me in as a son. I made the most peculiar discovery that this practice of yoga has very profound, scientific mechanistic principles that I was not even aware of, psychological transpersonal principles.
My engineering brain was very intrigued by the practice. The way he taught it, there were no beliefs, philosophies or grandiose concepts. It was very tangible, practical, and experience-based. I discovered so much about myself that I was not aware of. My back pain, fortunately, went away a long time ago but what stayed with me is this tremendous enthusiasm for what I would call a science of self-awareness, which is what I call yoga.
Except for what scientists would call experimenting, a yogi is called experiencing but it has the same scientific rigor and has been tested, validated for generations. Here we are standing on the shoulders of all these giant scientists like the Buddhas and Patanjalis in the world. When I teach yoga, it carries that engineering aspect. How does it work? How do you utilize it? What are the mechanics behind it? Even when we talk about the invisible like the energy system, the breath, and so on. There are mechanistic principles behind it, which I find are very profound. All I do is share my enthusiasm from an engineer yogi perspective.
I never thought of it that way. That’s a new perspective for me. It’s a lot of science because there are energy, physics, and all these things that are utilized during a yoga practice. When you combine that with the mantras, it creates this crazy energy I find when you are in that space. You feel you could do anything. That’s how I feel. I feel like I’m at another level or consciousness even at times.
I want to share that with the world. It is euphoric and healthy.
I have never done drugs but I’m like, “This is what a high must feel like.” You dove deeply into the yoga space. From what I saw in your bio, you have a few people that you were learning from. What was that like for you to dive into it so deeply, be enthralled by it, and have it be who you became?
I feel so grateful. I have been remarkably blessed in my life journey. The way I see it amongst 1,000 yoga instructors is you will be very lucky to find 1 yoga teacher and 1 yoga master. In my life, I was blessed with two amazing next-level yoga masters. There’s no way to compare it. They create a state change that’s so profound. The second master was here in Montreal when I came.
I’m so passionate about yoga practice. I went to the temple nearby to practice and the priest said, “You need to go meet with this person.” He directed me to an Israeli yoga teacher, Yogam, and his yoga name was Siromani Sriram. He’s another magnificent human being and was a soldier in Israel. He was traumatized, almost took his own life, and then discovered yoga.
He teaches yoga from a place of, “This saved my life.” There’s so much strength and also heart in this man. He took me in as a son because he felt my passion. I moved into the yoga center. He was living downstairs. I was living upstairs. Every morning at 5:00 AM, a small group got together and we had an intense, deep, and advanced practice, the Asana, Pranayama, and Meditation.
I went to work as an engineer, completely lit. I felt super healthy. I saw my colleagues not doing well, struggling up the stairs, having six cups of coffee or so to wake up, aching, in pain, getting anxious. I knew that this was simple practice could help them much. As an engineer, I could not have the impact. I was treated like the cute yogi engineer. My screensaver was yoga. It was like my thing. I had to come out of that engineering setting and come back in as a yoga consultant to share this beautiful practice. This is why I transitioned from an engineer to what I call a yogipreneur and started my first company BODHI to bring wellness into workplaces.
How does that work? Do you go into the corporate world or the company and you offer courses? What is it that you do? Do you teach them mind peace?
Imagine this, in 2007, I have no business background. I show up empty-handed, with no paper and PowerPoint. I’m speaking with the HR director of a major company in Canada. It was a miracle that I even had the interview. I remember expressing, “This practice will make the people here healthier, happier, and more peaceful. This I can guarantee. What it does to your ROI, profit, and things like this, it’s none of my business. I have no idea. To spend most of your waking hours here with these people, why not hang out with healthy, happy, and peaceful people? Chances are, they will be more productive and creative.”
Simple points, she seemed to agree with this point of view and also said, “I want you to know we have no budget for this.” I gave a one-hour presentation to the communication team, medical team, and also their top executive team, and then less than one month later, I have a $50,000 check in my hand. It’s never a question of not having enough money. It’s usually not enough value. Once you understand what this practice is and that your employees are your primary asset, it’s a very simple thing. My methods are very simple and logic-based.
To your point, it’s anything the company wishes for. Sometimes it’s an executed retreat, team building event, seminar, workshop or weekly class. I listened to what the company’s needs are, what their stress points are, what they wish for the company to be, what is the culture that they are trying to create, and support that. I see myself more as a consultant for the company and providing the services that can bring about that culture in an embodied way.
Retreats create a deep sense of community.
This is what I try to make corporations understand through my posts on LinkedIn and when I speak to them because this is my business that retreats in specific is truly transformational for their company culture, values, vision, camaraderie amongst the teams, team building, and loyalty towards the company. They are healthier and happier so production is higher and all these things. I’m glad you brought it up. What do you see after a retreat? What’s the feedback from the companies that you have done retreats for? They must rehire you. It works. Do you see a difference? Do they see the difference and tell you about it?
Having done this for many years, I resonate with what you have expressed. This is the most effective way to instill a corporate culture. When you wake up with your team and colleagues, practice together, eat together and share a human connection outside of job labels, titles, and so on, you touch upon something that’s much more cohesive and co-creative that you can’t get when you have a seminar or a weekly class. It’s good.
Seminars serve to inform and inspire. Weekly classes maintain the body and mind. When you do a retreat, then you create a deep sense of community. I’m privileged to have a front-row seat in these retreats. It’s incredible to see these good people come in with their stories, job titles, tensions, and stress. When they leave, they leave as the highest version of themselves. You can see them becoming healthier, joyous, inspired and co-creating together.
It sets the scene for deep creative work. Very often companies use retreats for connecting at a human level and also co-creating. Maybe they are envisioning what their future will be like, creating meaningful dialogue and doing practice before the dialogue. When you approach it from a whole different state, you get a whole different conversation. It’s one of those things that is hard to express in words. It has to be felt in experience. How powerful it is for executives to get together in a retreat setting, hang out as human beings and speak in a very authentic way outside the mask of a job title.?
How do you get the executives who are maybe never done any type of yoga or retreat? How do you transform them during a retreat?
Honestly, they transform themselves because, first of all, the retreat setting is conducive to that. When you go onsite, a corporate is good but you have that whole corporate vibe so they still hold on to their job title. When you go outside into a retreat setting, suddenly the scene invites in a more humanistic approach so the mask becomes a little loose.
There are ice breaker events and dialogue circles. There are ways to humanize the context. Usually, a retreat starts on a Friday afternoon. It saves the weekend retreat and the first Friday is a buffer zone. To disengage from city life and it’s usually a digital detox, we recommend people to have no or low digital interactions and hang out, eat together and have conversations. The real retreat starts on Saturday morning.
There are many different flavors of retreats. We can have the clubmate retreat to Zen monastery retreat and they all have their pros and cons. My audience is more tourists and monastery side. They are always alcohol-free and vegetarian. There’s a discipline and schedule to it. You almost live that month’s existence for the weekend and it has a very purifying quality.
In India, the system is called the Gurukul System. I have tried to improve it and I cannot improve it. It’s been refined so beautifully over the centuries. I essentially offer what’s called the Gurukul System of a morning practice. It’s usually 2 meals a day, not 3, evening practices and dialogue circles. All of that invites more and more human connection.
By the time Sunday comes along, you have a group of friends, I would even say a family, that is there for each other. They are sharing vulnerably, authentically, and beautifully appreciating each other. Once that stress goes away, we are all beautiful human beings. My role is to create a safe space for that to happen.
I find out everybody become more approachable. That person you see in the office where you have no connection with, you have a deeper connection. This is where the loyalty lies. This is where the employees, the staff or whoever becomes a fan of the company. I find it such a gift as a host to see these transformations happen every single time.
It’s not the IT guy. It is Sam who is an autistic daughter. It is Sally the foreman, whatever her story might be. She loves sailing and traveling. There’s a person behind that. It’s no longer a job title. It humanizes the culture in the workplace and enriches a deep embodied culture of care. I have seen that time and time again. From that, incredible initiatives take place within the organization.
That is so important for the corporate culture to understand that you are like family. You do know that it’s Sam who has this and that. You know more than it’s the IT guy or whatever it is because there’s a name, a story, a human with pain and joy. It creates this dynamic that changes everything. The perspective of everything changes within days.
It’s nice to have a seminar once a week or whatever it is. Those are all great but what you are doing is you are creating like a fast forward. It happens so fast within a few days that may take a very long time or never when you introduce the rest of your life, problems, and issues, as you are doing it once a week, month or whatever it is.
Thank you for bringing all that up because I find it so important that people understand this unique approach because it’s not mainstream yet. This is my goal and I hope your goal too, to make it mainstream where retreats are somewhere where people can connect in ways that they could never daily. I believe it’s the way of the future, especially after this pandemic.
Many of us are longing for that human connection. This Zoom and video are good. It serves a purpose. It does not serve the purpose of coming together as human beings. We are natural people. One of our basic needs is that sense of sharing, being heard, and that human interaction, which fails in comparison when you compare it to a Zoom interaction. I sincerely feel that as you said. These times are very pertinent for offering retreats to colleagues, team, and so on to reconnect as human beings. Much has been lost in all the noise, confusion, and uncertainty in the air. Let’s go back to ground level, human being reality, which is so great for that.
Share your gifts to uplift the human condition.
There’s another different business that you do, which is a nonprofit organization called daana where people come in. It’s donation-based and you have been doing that as well. What made you come up with that? How does it work?
Let’s go back to that story when I was late-teens or early-twenties when I met this great yoga master. It so happens that he was living in a South Indian family’s home. They are strangers to me. I never met them before. I go into a very humble home. They moved their furniture and laid out ten yoga mats on either side. I did the practice and saw people putting money into a box. I was like, “This is in a nice reverential way.” I did that as well.
That was a completely anonymous contribution. That’s how yoga has been taught for centuries. There’s nothing new here. When yoga came into the Western world, it took on the Western mechanics of fitness, the YMCAs, gyms, and so on. There are memberships, subscriptions, and a fixed amount that you pay. Traditionally, yoga, meditation, and all that comes from that have always been generous and spontaneous contributions. The reason simply is, “I don’t know how valuable this is for you.” For somebody, it is a complete waste of time, removes the back pain, and is completely life-changing.
I don’t know what your life situation is. Perhaps you are a multi-billionaire or in between jobs. It’s not for me to dictate what is worth to you. My job is to teach to the fullness of my heart and capacity. Your job is to acknowledge what has been meant for you and contribute accordingly, not necessarily to me but so that these teachings can go on and benefit other people. It’s coming from a place of, “I appreciate this teaching so much. My contribution helps these teachings to benefit others as well.” That’s where generosity comes in.
The word daana means generosity. When we do this from a generous place, it creates a whole different atmosphere. Not to dwell on it but there’s a little story behind this that I became very sick and almost died. I’ve got a very rare condition. Nevertheless, I came out of it and was not strong enough to keep my two yoga centers going. We have two centers at the time.
I talked to the class and said, “I’m going to have to close the center very soon.” The space became very quiet, heavy, dark, and sad. People started crying and hugging each other because we had built something very beautiful together throughout the years. They asked me why and that’s when I said, “Once I’m done paying the rent like marketing teachers and so on, there’s nothing left and I’m doing it as a labor of love. I can’t do it anymore.”
One student spontaneously said, “I have refurbished my basement. It’s empty. Come teach in my house.” Another person said, “If I move the furniture, it can hold about fourteen people. Come teach in my house.” The third person said, “Come teach in my basement.” It was generous. I felt so moved by that. I said, “Sure.”
After that, I have a box. I’m going house to house doing what I love to do. I come back home, open this box and it’s full of money. $400 plus for a one and a half hour class. It was ridiculous. I told my wife that this is a wonderful and very agreeable way. I do what I do and I don’t worry about anything else. We did a crowdfunding campaign. It’s a three-minute video for an eye, speaking about the daana concept. It raised $17,000 Canadian. It was amazing and that’s what helped us build a website and the app.
What’s great about the story is the idea and funding came from the people and it’s open-source for everybody. We have this platform daana where anybody can share their gifts. If you are a musician, a dancer or whatever you might be, you want to share your gifts that uplift the human condition. You can do it through daana where anybody can come. They appreciate and experience your practice. Afterward, they make an anonymous contribution. The contribution goes 100% to the teacher. When the teacher feels moved to do so, he or she can contribute back to daana. The whole thing is based on generosity.
I knew what you did but I did not know the details of what you said and that’s incredible. It’s all based on generosity.
It’s nothing new. It has been around for centuries. Every single culture has this. Every synagogue, monastery, church or temple is all based on generosity.
When you exchange money, it’s business. We don’t think of it when we go to a church but it is. They need that money to fund what they do. Wherever you go and you are giving a donation, it’s to help to support them and have them continue doing their work. It’s not new but the way you have it and in this way of, “How can I say, ‘You are not a church,’” it’s an idea that you had based on these concepts because of your experience. What if it became into this circle of love that keeps giving.
That’s the world I want to live in. They will go, “Me too,” and then jump in. That’s the daana’s culture and community. It’s by the people for the people, completely non-profit and open-source. Anybody can come and play. Privileged to have a front-row seat and all the great ideas that come up that people are coming up with are brilliant.
I feel privileged to have you here. You taught me so much with the conversation before and during the show. The value that you have given is incredible. If anybody wants to reach out to you, where can they find you?
Thanks again for being here.
My pleasure too, Catherine. Thank you for inviting me.
- COP 22
- LinkedIn – Catherine Kontos
- @Bhaskaratdaana – Twitter
About Bhaskar Goswami
As a senior yoga and meditation teacher, Bhaskar Goswami has led numerous international retreats and is an acclaimed speaker, having presented in prestigious organizations and events like COP22 (UN Global Climate Change Summit, Morocco). From Assam, India, Bhaskar was born into the yogic tradition. He comes from the lineage of Vasishtha, who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of this ancient practice. He has been trained at the Transcendental Meditation School in India, by Yogacharya (Master of Yoga) Nandakumar in Kuwait and by Yogacharya Sriram, the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta and Vipassana Meditation Center in Canada.
In 2007 he founded BODHI, a multiple award-winning company dedicated to offering genuine wellbeing to people in homes, businesses, schools and special care places such as in prison, addiction centers, rehabilitation facilities and elderly homes. He is a specialist in establishing in-house organizational wellness programs.
In 2015 he founded daana, a CBC Award-Winning non-profit organization offering contribution-based wellness activities around the world. Bhaskar has also published two international albums, Open Yoga and Wisdom Stories, and is the author of Wisdom Stories – Book 1.
Bhaskar Goswami has a Masters Honors in Electronic Engineering from the University of Nottingham (England) and a 10-year international engineering career.