A Yoga Perspective on Finding Meaningful Work

This post originally appeared on Relax and Renew Events, a company that I co-founded with business coach Helen Puddefoot, providing coaching and mindfulness events for women in business.

 

Definition – Dharma

Dharma is a Hindu, Buddhist and yogic concept which refers to the idea of a law or principle governing the universe.The implication of dharma is that there is a right way for each person to carry out their life. If an individual is following their dharma, they are pursuing their truest calling, serving all other beings in the universe by playing their true role. ~ Yogapedia

 

As a yoga teacher I have witnessed some fascinating transformations of students who started yoga and fell in love with the practice. I wrote a blog piece some time ago about how a consistent yoga practice can have a far-reaching impact on seemingly unrelated areas of your life.
 
I have watched as students became absorbed in their yoga practice, and at the same time, started to question and change other areas of their lives. Some started by changing their diets or integrating other health habits, such as getting more sleep, into their daily habits and routines.
 
All too often though, I saw changes that had seemingly no connection. Students on my teacher trainings would realise they no longer had anything in common with their partners or friendship groups, and would start the painful process of letting go of old relationships that no longer served them. Others would talk of their frustration, boredom or lack of connection with their work and fantasise about other career options that would be more in line with their values. I have seen this too many times to think it just a coincidence.
 
Why does this happen? 

There’s something about this practice of yoga that invites us to question and reflect deeply. I often joke to my students, that there’s nowhere to hide on a yoga mat. It’s just you, your body, your breath, your mind and the clear empty space of your yoga mat. The yoga practice will reflect back to you everything you bring to it. If you step onto the mat with anger or frustration – that is what will bubble back up to the surface. Not that there is anything wrong with this. The yoga practice is neutral and just honestly reflects back to us wherever we are at in the moment.
 
What this means is that if you are unhappy about an area of your life, such as your work-life or career, this is what will start to come up for you on your yoga mat to the point that the initial whisperings of discontent may become too loud for you to ignore.
 
Change may be on its way.
 

In yoga we have appropriated the concept of Dharma from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions – the idea that to live a good life means to live in a way that taps into and expresses our fullest potential. We may have several dharmas to carry out in one lifetime, for example, to be a mother, a writer, an investment banker or a carer for an ailing parent.

 
The essential idea is that life flows best, and we are at our happiest, when we recognise and connect to the specific roles that we have been invited on this earth to carry out.

 

This does not mean to say that our dharma is all plain-sailing and joyful. Any career path, no matter how well aligned to our values will have good days and also its challenges and uphill struggles. I absolutely love my work as a yoga therapist but I still moan about doing certain tasks – accounts, emails, maintaining my social media presence to name a few! However, generally speaking, we know we are in accordance with our dharma when we cannot think of anything else we would rather be doing with our life.
 
So how does one find their dharma? This soul-searching is part of the rich journey of life. Some may find it easier or earlier than others, but it really helps when we carve out enough quiet time in the busyness of our day-to-day schedules to tune in and really listen to the callings of our hearts.
 
Yoga and meditation practices are perfect for this deep inner work because they give us the time and space to sit with ourselves and to allow insight, self-revelations and mini-epiphanies to rise to the surface.
 
With this in mind I have recorded a brief 10-minute meditation designed to help you explore this idea of dharma and its personal relevance to you. This meditation aims to help develop greater personal insight into your current relationship to your work and to develop clarity around your future career dreams and aspirations.

 

I recommend doing this meditation on a regular basis as our dharmic roles will change and evolve with time – what may be right for us now, may and probably will change a few years down the line. The questions in this meditation are also perfect for a journaling practice. Click on the Soundcloud link below to access the meditation:
 

Yoga – The Ultimate Keystone Habit

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit” ~ Aristotle

 

There has been a surge in recent years exploring the science and psychology behind habits – how we build new habits and how we extinguish unhealthy ones. One of the most interesting books to come out of the research is Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habit’, in which he introduces the fascinating concept of ‘Keystone Habits’.

Keystone habits are habits with super-power transformative capabilities. They are habits that once integrated into our day tend to have a powerful positive ripple effect into all other, often seemingly unrelated, areas of our lives. One of the examples he gives is the keystone habit of exercise:

 

“Typically people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” ~ Charles Duhigg

 

This sounds very similar to the kind of positive impact that I have seen a regular yoga practice have on my students’ lives.

I remember one student saying to me after one of their first yoga classes ‘Yoga has reminded me how good it’s possible to feel.’ The more removed and disconnected we get from ourselves and our bodies the more we get used to feeling less than brilliant. It’s almost like we forget what it feels like to be well. However, once we get a sneak peak into what it feels like to be healthy and vital again, we’ll often do anything to retain that feeling, which is why yoga can be such a catalyst for positive change and transformation. Yoga it would seem is most definitely a keystone habit.

 

I’ve been privileged to witness many of these personal transformations in my students over the years, and below are just some of the many amazing knock-on benefits I’ve seen from practicing yoga.

 

Adopted a healthier diet

When people start practicing yoga they begin to often unconsciously change their way of eating. For some that may mean cutting down on their alcohol intake, eating less processed foods and takeaways, for others it might be the conscious decision to reduce or cut out the amount of animal products they consume. A regular yoga practice brings you into a more direct understanding of the relationship between what you eat and how you feel. After all it’s much harder to ignore bloating or discomfort when you’re trying to move your way through Sun Salutations. Over time this renewed awareness can lead to a more sensitive and intuitive approach to your unique dietary needs and a more mindful approach to the process of eating generally.

 

Stopped smoking/excessive alcohol-intake/drugs

Yoga has this uncanny effect of highlighting our less than optimal habits and behaviours. Particularly in the early days, our yoga practice can sometimes be a fairly uncomfortable wake-up call to what happens when we neglect our health. As we breathe, and stretch, and ask our bodies to do things we may not have asked of them in a long time, we begin to see the honest impact of the decisions we make. For many, the realisation of how much the body is suffering is enough to kick-start a resolution to take better care of ourselves.

 

Left an unhappy or unhealthy relationship

There seems to be a bit of a pattern of relationship break-ups straight after a yoga retreat or teacher training and I don’t think this is just a coincidence. When we dive into a yoga practice we start to see things from a different perspective and we may find ourselves questioning the status quo. The more contemplative aspects of the yoga practice invite us to ask questions of ourselves that we were previously too busy, distracted or fearful to ask. What makes you happy? Where do you see yourself going in life? The answers to these questions may invite us to see that the person we are in a relationship with is no longer part of our journey moving forwards. Our practice and the community that surrounds us can give us the courage and conviction to move on from relationships that no longer serve us, or that hold us back in old patterns of behaviour that we are slowly moving away from.

 

Improved body image and self-esteem

Yoga can be an incredible tool for helping us to make peace with our bodies and to practice greater compassion and respect for this incredible body we carry around with us all day every day. So many of us struggle with a disordered body image and a yoga practice can give us the tools to practice more gratitude for the body we currently have, whilst also developing a greater sense of confidence as we see our bodies getting healthier and stronger. Learning to arm balance was one of those pivotal moments for me. Having always considered myself a bit of a weakling, to then learn that I could do some pretty extraordinary things whilst balancing on my hands, gave me an enormous sense of strength and empowerment. It was the beginning of a much kinder relationship with my body which has over time developed irrespective of my physical capabilities on the mat.

 

Change a job or career path to something more meaningful

Yoga’s emphasis on becoming more present and awake has the ability to snap us out of autopilot and to question whether we are really making the most of our lives. I have seen many yoga students eventually leave jobs that sacrificed their physical and mental health, and take a leap of faith into new careers that are more aligned with their core beliefs. Just like the earlier student who remarked that yoga makes us realise how good it’s possible to feel, the shadow side is that we become less tolerant of anything that saps our energy, burns us out, or is no longer in line with our deepest values. For many, this realisation is the beginning of an incredible journey into what makes us feel alive, passionate and engaged.