A Different View of Dharma that Can Change How You Show Up Today


I am the kind of yoga teacher who prefers to be in the background, softly suggesting that you are magnificent and inherently worthy of love. It is not important for you to see me, but for you to see you. And my hope is that through that inner-seeing you open to a blossoming of inner peace and self-acceptance.

Throughout the 25 years that I have taught yoga—in classes, private sessions, and workshops—I have always invited my students to enter a deep state of introspection, no matter what pose they’re in or what topic we’re exploring. It is my belief that our wisest Self can be heard most clearly amid the cacophony of our being when we’re in a space of passive listening in a peaceful environment. 

This is a place where we can learn to love ourselves.

I feel this because I continue to experience it myself. I spent my teens and early 20s in a battle with my body image, attempting to bury an ingrained sense of “not enough” with self-soothing habits and avoidance. I took on causes and global pain, always looking outwardly and avoiding inwardly. In my mind, it wasn’t safe to be me, and so I chose to disappear behind whatever I had available.

My body and I were not friends, and I truly thought I could right humanity’s relationship to the world without first working on my relationship to myself. 

Sometime in grad school, a path of change opened up when I attended my first Kripalu-style yoga class in Toronto. I didn’t feel my body necessarily “fit” the yoga type (I am not lithe, and my fascia is persistently dense and tight), but my teacher Annette made me feel like I did, like I was enough. I distinctly remember one class in which I was hugging my knees to my chest and feeling healing tears streaming down my cheeks. Within two years, I had chosen to become a yoga instructor so that I could help others the way Annette helped me.

I eventually opened my own studio, which, over 22 years of existence, became a sanctuary for my community and for me to continue doing this work of self-unfoldment from not enough to inherently magnificent and worthy of love.

Then, in March of 2020, along came the pandemic cyclone. In that whirlwind, everything changed and this woman who still had body-image issues and a penchant for teaching in low lighting went onto Facebook live. 

Every. Single. Day. 

The daily rallying cry from an inner committee of my closest dwelling self-doubters became: “What are you doing? Who are you? Who do you think you are?” These voices were trying to put me back where they thought I belonged: in the background, with the lights down. Regardless, I continued showing up.

My community needed me, and frankly, I had to for financial reasons.

I have always been self-employed and was single for much of my career, therefore solely responsible for my income. Even when I met my current partner of 14 years and we decided to make a life together, health issues periodically but profoundly hampered his ability to contribute, so I have always had to focus on finding a way to keep the roof over our heads.

While many of my friends have been able to say things like, “I think I will stay home today, it is snowing,” I have had no choice but to chisel my car out of ice and snow or layer on more clothing so that I could walk to work.  

Times of scarcity such as this have always awakened my inner fire. In the past, I’ve created workshops, courses, and special events to plug my financial dam of its many leaks. I am immensely grateful for this motivating factor; it has provided fuel for my creativity and this obligation, this necessity, has helped me to hone and own my craft. 

So, with the fire lit beneath me, I forced myself onto the bright light, live-streaming platforms of Zoom and Facebook. What I didn’t realize is that through this uncomfortable pivot, a deeper understanding of my dharma would unfold. 

My dharma is not only to teach, it is also to show up, to be heard and seen just as I am: complete with foibles, insecurities, and uncertainties. 

And at the heart of wanting to feel more connected is wanting to feel loved.

What I came to see on Facebook Live with absolute certainty was that, when I showed up and spoke my truth, people connected with me. When I admitted to insecurities and uncertainties, I heard YES! My need for both vocation and income met the needs of others to feel connected and supported. 

The desire for connection and belonging is universal. We crave it, and without it we starve. And at the heart of wanting to feel more connected is wanting to feel loved.

Love as Dharma

On CBC Radio’s The Current, an Indigenous Elder from Manitoba was quoted as saying that upon dying, we will be asked one question: “Did you bring love into the world?” Similarly, while my cousin’s 50-year-old body was being ravaged by cancer, she said, “I am not lying here thinking of how great I was in business. I am wondering if I loved enough.” 

Ayurvedically, love is named as the oil, the balm, the nectar (soma, amrit, kapha, and ojas). This nectar is also found in the waters that bind our tissue and carry our life energy. It is that which runs through the aorta of life. It’s my understanding that dharma is the way in which you, I, we, all bring love into the world. Dharma is the fulfilment of purpose, our reason for having been born, the way we bind our part of the cosmos. If we are doing that with integrity and honesty, we will have resilience. 

It’s my understanding that dharma is the way in which you, I, we, all bring love into the world.

According to yoga philosophy, to get to this place of resilience and dharma, we need to really get to know ourselves; we need to engage in a practice of self-study. This won’t come from drive-thru small-talk, but from an ongoing daily conversation spanning a lifetime of action and reaction, heartache and healing, stillness and contemplation.

We may feel that we don’t have time for a deep dive like this: Who has time, after all, to gaze at their navels for knowledge when orders must be filled, kids must be driven to activities, and bills must be paid?

But we can make time whenever we step onto our mats or even just take a conscious breath; all we have to do is readjust our intentions and will ourselves to look inward. 

So many of us are also forced into self-knowledge and made to take this time, after, for example, an injury has taken us out, or an illness has stopped us in our tracks, or a pandemic has devastated everything we have built.

I needed the push. What if there had been no pandemic, no bright lights? Is it possible that I would have leapt on my own or would I have remained hidden under low lights?

It took this rug being pulled out from under me to really shift gears, to allow myself to be seen, and thus, see myself. To love myself on a bigger level, and thus love others from a deeper place. Over time, I found my inner council of sages, elders, and wise ones who now guide me instead of the inner committee of self-doubters. 

I see now that I matter, full stop.

Take the Time

So maybe you are asking yourself, “What is my purpose? What is my dharma? What now?” If that’s the case, perhaps you might consider how I have defined dharma here: as the way in which you, I, we all bring love into the world.

You might ask yourself if you are able to express more love to yourself. You might also inquire as to how you personally bring love into the world.

It need not be your 9 to 5 job, it might simply be the way you parent. It might be the kind of friend, spouse, or neighbor you are, or the way you volunteer. Your 9 to 5 job might provide the means for you to pursue your dharma off hours. And when you step into that (your dharma, your way of loving) with purpose and intention, an inner strength will arise that can hold you through the strongest of winds. 

Like a tree that stakes its claim to space by sending its roots deeply into the earth and saying, “I am here, I am enough,” you will not fall. You will chisel your car out of ice and snow because you know your community needs you. Any opposition you encounter (money crises, body image issues) might in fact be the catapult toward your heartsong. 

Again, ask yourself this simple question (and please wait for the answer):

How do I bring love into the world? 

Come out of the background and turn on the lights. 

We need you.

About the Teacher

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Allie Chisholm-Smith
Allie Chisholm-Smith, E-RYT, MES, has been teaching yoga since 1997, teacher training for most of those... Read more