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The Yoga of Right Livelihood

by Tama J. Kieves

Discovering and living our life’s purpose can feel daunting. But just like in yoga, it’s all about steady, small movements. Many of us want to rush the work of creative self-expression or nail that monster backbend right away. In both disciplines, it’s about releasing our exhilarating potential through the practice of love and dedication. In this article, Tama J. Kieves, author of This Time I Dance!, talks about her journey following her inner voice and shows us how we can begin.

Many years ago, as a suffering attorney and a Harvard Law School honors graduate, I finally abandoned my career to honor an aching desire to write. I had no idea that it would take me 12 years to write my first book, This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love.

As a hotshot young lawyer on the partnership track, I had been entrenched in the world of willpower, mania, and fast-track success. But finding a calling and daring to live it in the world does not come from force and effort—it runs on its own inspired timeline. Step by faltering step, I dismantled fears through listening to that pristine, golden voice within that has no limits. As I began to follow that inspiration, my new career took shape and blossomed. Finally, I realized that right livelihood is not a result or destination but a practice, the practice of staying true to my self-expression, staying devoted to this amazing journey of creating the work I love in the world.

Years later, I understand this in a deeper way through yoga. When I first began, I was terrified of yoga because I am not athletic or kinesthetic. Walking into that first yoga studio, I flashed back to mustard-colored outfits in gym, and to awkwardness and humiliation, especially as I eyed the many lithe creatures around me in trendy, snug yoga gear. I heard things like “sitz bones” and “eyes of elbows.” We did Sanskrit chants and I felt as though even my intellect would fail me in this realm. But it is yoga that has taught me the humility and astounding power of practice. I have taught myself on a physical level that tiny actions and consistent patience brings unimaginable results. I have come to understand that we all have an inner wellspring of possibility and that it’s not industry and clever maneuvers that set it free. It’s the simplicity of stretching beyond our habits, breathing, and cleaving to self-loyalty.

Here are just a few things I’ve learned from yoga that have helped me stay true to creating the work I love in the world:

Focus on Your Drishti

Drishti is a Sanskrit word that describes the gaze of the eyes, through which you can facilitate concentration. In a balancing posture, when I lock my eyes on a speck on the wall, I find ease and stability. You can find your drishti in right livelihood too. What is a point of focus that helps you stabilize or find your way to tolerate uncertainty and instability? My drishti is the thought that I am not alone in this work. Spirit called me to this and Spirit will be with me. One of my clients has adopted this focusing thought: “This is my time to do my art. I will never regret the time I put into it.”

This Is What My Body Can Do Today

My yoga teacher, a beautiful, strong, and compassionate presence who seems to just flow into any pose with ridiculous ease, often repeats, “This is what my body can do today.” She explains that each day presents new possibilities and challenges. She has told us that some days she is more flexible and centered, and on other days she practices self-acceptance. I’ve borrowed that phrase and used it with my writing: “This is what my creativity can do today.” It’s so forgiving and leaves the possibility for greatness to arrive in any second. It also allows me to welcome even my ragged or barren expression.

Those of us who are starting our own businesses, writing a novel, or working to feed the hungry will have days when we are on fire, unstoppable. Then there are those other days when it rains inside and turns hopes soggy and faith into mush. Be kind to yourself and take the steps you can. “This is what my creative energy can do today.”

Supportive Postures

Child’s Pose In yoga, I’ve learned that when I exert myself too much, I can always return to Child’s Pose, a resting posture. For me, it feels like the physical act of surrender, a letting go of trying so hard and a remembering to reclaim my guaranteed invincibility as a child of a loving universe. It is not up to me to make something happen. It’s up to me to be honest, earnest, and daring. Resting is the stance that nurtures my genius. Paradoxically, Child’s Pose helps me to remember that as I relax, I summon more strength, conviction, and inspiration to move forward.

Warrior Pose I love to hold my dearest goals in mind when I’m in Warrior Two—one leg bent into a wide lunge, arms outstretched in opposition, keeping me balanced in the here and now. I feel a fiery devotion in Warrior Two and hold a vibrant physical intention to fight for, protect, and advance my dreams in the face of all obstacles and resistance. Warrior also teaches me to stand firm in the present. If you lean too far back in the pose, you’re in the past. If you lean too far forward, you’re in the future. The real confrontation and exaltation always takes place in the moment.

Savasana Carlos Castaneda, anthropologist and novelist, wrote about how shamans use “Death as an Advisor.” Corpse Pose invites me to absorb all that I have done and all that I have not. As I lie on my mat, I reflect on my life. Sometimes, I imagine that this is it, the moment of my Great Transition. I breathe deeply and probe: What do I wish I would have done? Is there unfinished business? Do I have tension around something? Savasana allows me to pause, focus, and be reborn into the next moment, the next threshold of my life.

As I travel the country and the world, helping inspire others to claim their dreams, I’m still discovering the depths of my own talents and expanding my own dreams. Some days, I’m still nervous about the unknown territory before me. Sometimes, I’m tired and about as passionate as mud. But I’m devoted. I will never abandon my inner voice again. I will honor my creativity and my contribution all the days of my life. I’ll reach the edge of my discomfort, and I’ll back off and comfort myself. But I’ll dare it again the next day and the next. I’ll breathe deep and let go as I push forward into extraordinary new possibilities. I’ll keep practicing right livelihood. I hope you will, too.


Tama J. Kieves is the best-selling author of This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love and is a sought-after speaker and career coach. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter at www.thistimeidance.com.

© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Kripalu Online. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail editor@kripalu.org.