As a yoga teacher, someone who often tries to incorporate all limbs of yoga into their life, I believe that living a yogic life is more about living a life of value than one where I continuously work towards that elusive Handstand. I have decided it’s going to stay elusive for some time, and that’s A-okay!
As someone said on the internet (tell me if you know who this is) - ‘Yoga isn’t about one asana, it’s what you learn on the way to it.’
And folks, do we learn so much!
I learnt yoga as a daily practice from my grandfather who practiced pranayama (breathing) and dhyana (meditation) every day. I never saw him doing any physical asanas to be honest. He focused on his breath and mind through pranayama and dhyana solely. That was his yoga. For his physical body, he did and still does long walks and that is all. He introduced me to yoga as a way to understand the self, to understand what matters to me the most, my values. For him, his core values were learning, creativity, and relaxation, and he built his life around his values. He built the house I grew up in, the swing in the garden, and the several pieces of driftwood scattered around the house that he spent months sanding and designing into art.
So how do we find our values and what does yoga have to do with finding them? I don’t think I am entirely qualified to answer this question and I can’t give you a list. What I can do is tell you how I found my personal values and how I use yoga to often go back to them.
When you read about the eight limbs of yoga, there is a lot to unravel, and it sure arouses some strong feelings. Amongst the ‘Yamas’ (regulations in life) is ‘Ahimsa’ which translates to non-violence. I have often heard people talk about ahimsa as a response to staying away from social justice issues or being accountable. There is a belief that a yogi should be detached from the world’s issues. It’s political and we should only focus on our practice.
Gandhi practices Ahimsa as a political statement against colonialism. He was also a huge supporter of yoga.
To me ahimsa means making sure you don’t cause harm to anyone, and if there is harm, you use your privilege and knowledge to fight for what’s right. One of my core values is ‘Justice’ and I align the principle of Ahimsa with my values of creating a just world. Never through violence, but with my voice and my privilege.
So how did Yoga help me find these values?
Sitting with myself. Understanding myself. Knowing myself.
You wouldn’t believe how much you learn from sitting with your breath and observing your mind play out every thought it wants to engage in and overthink it. Let it, let it show you what it wants to show you.
On days that I feel disconnected from myself, when I feel like I don’t know what my life’s purpose is, I do this exercise and it gives me joy to be able to share this with you in the hope that it helps you find your core values.
Do your yoga practice, at your pace and comfort level. Pranayama, Asana and Dhyana.
As you feel comfortable and your mind feels relaxed, find a comfortable spot, your couch, your bed, wherever you feel your mind calms down. Let your mind wander for some time and stay distanced from it. Observe as an outsider. Imagine sitting at a train station, the thoughts are your train and you don’t need to get on. Let the trains come and go as you just observe them.
Slowly, as your mind starts to calm down, start to ask your mind, what’s your happiest memory from the last 6 months. It could be anything, from finding the perfect ice cream flavor to laughing with your friends.
Now think of the value you most cherish here. It could be anything, maybe it’s community, friendships, conversations, or it could be silence, solitude, leisure and relaxation or maybe it’s creativity, achievement, learning.
Now try and associate this value with other moments you’ve felt happy. Do you see a pattern?
If you notice the same values giving you joy repeatedly, this is what makes your life fulfilling, happy.
Repeat this with other feelings. What made you angry or upset in the last 6 months?
What enriched your life in the last 6 months? When did you feel deep gratitude in the last 6 months?
Every feeling evokes a set of values that are most dear to you, what makes your life yours and once you know what these are, you can build your life around them.
Tell me how you felt after this exercise? What are your core values?