Ritu Bhasin



How Losing My Identity Helped Me Find My Truth

When I boarded the plane to take my yoga teacher training in India nine years ago, I was pressing pause on a life that had stopped feeling right to me. I’d been working in my fancy corporate job on Bay Street (Canada’s Wall Street) for nearly a decade. I had social status. I was earning a really good living. Essentially, I was living the business-world dream. To outsiders, I looked incredibly put together—almost perfect. On (corporate) paper, my life was perfect.

In reality, I felt disconnected. My day-to-day life—the work I was doing, my romantic relationship, some of my friendships, my pastimes, how I dressed, how I spoke, what I talked about, how I behaved—no longer felt like it belonged to me. So much felt off.

Looking back, I can see that I was immersed in what I call performing—that is, changing my behavior because I lived in fear of the negative consequences of being my authentic self. As a Brown woman born in Canada to Punjabi immigrant parents, I’d received confusing messages my whole life about how I needed to show up in order to fit in, succeed, and get ahead—whether it was from my family, my Canadian peers, or from society on a whole. As a result, I had started living as someone I simply wasn’t. Living like this had helped me become outwardly successful, but inside I was exhausted and spiritually vacant.

In my early 30s, I started waking up to the fact that I needed to change my life, but I didn’t know where to begin, or what my life could look like. I began an intense period of soul-searching. Really, I was in search of my authentic self. One of the first major steps I took was to temporarily remove myself from the corporate world by taking a 3-month sabbatical. With the goal of deepening my yoga and mindfulness practice (and, frankly, spending a truckload of time alone!), I headed to my motherland, India, to complete a 2-month yoga teacher training program.

Arriving at the yoga ashram in Kerala, India by myself, the contrast to my life back home was stark—I was immediately stripped of everything that had defined my identity. We were all given the same uniform to wear every day, and what we shared about ourselves after that was up to us. There were no labels or titles. Unlike in the world I came from, nobody asked me about where I had gone to school or what I did for a living, they just wanted to know which country I was from. With my outward markers of status packed away (no fancy clothes, no bling!), I was just one of hundreds in the room, wearing the same yellow tee-shirt and white pants as everyone else.

For the first time in my life, nobody knew who I was, and nobody had any expectations about how I was going to behave—I was free to be anybody. Faced with this situation I asked myself: who am I going to be? I was so used to carefully and meticulously curating my image that doing so had become my default setting. The question of who to be was complicated for me, and felt really scary, because, in truth, I simply didn’t know who I was.

At the ashram, I spent nearly 8 hours a day meditating alongside my fellow yogis, engaged in a range of mindfulness experiences. Forced into an environment of deep self-reflection and vulnerability, I decided to go with it—to be the version of me that was the most raw, open-hearted, loving, kind, and present.

When people asked me about myself, I deliberately talked about my values instead of my education or work background. When people asked me how I was feeling, I openly shared that I was feeling really vulnerable in this experience, rather than automatically pumping out an, “I’m doing amazing!” paired with a performing smile. Most importantly, I emoted freely. This showed up as a combination of sobbing like a baby because of joy, sadness, or fear, laughing my head off, ranting to express my rage, and expressing anything else that I felt.


As someone who had worked very hard to overcome my experiences with childhood bullying and social alienation, I was struck when at the ashram I started making friends quickly—and the people I attracted were genuinely good-hearted and kind people who wanted to connect with the real me. The fact that good people wanted to befriend me in my most raw and vulnerable state validated that I was worthy of love and attention even without the markers of success that I’d relied on for my self-worth.

The warmth, love, and self-acceptance I felt not only helped to draw out core attributes of my authentic self, but also affirmed things about me that I now hold to be my self-truths—that I’m a wonderful person at my core, that I’m caring and compassionate, that I’m both fun and funny, and that I can develop loving relationships with a wide range of people. In short, my ashram experience helped to kick-start my journey towards self-love and embracing my authentic self.

Arriving back home after this experience, everything around me was the same. I sat at the same desk at the same job, I spent time with the same friends, and the same clothes hung in my closet. But I was different. I now knew that it was going to be ok to change my life—and that I no longer needed the things I’d held onto so tightly out of fear. I could let go.

Of course, things didn’t change overnight. But this glimpse of my true, authentic self, and how it felt to live it out, set the wheels in motion for a sea change in my life. I learned from this experience that sometimes you need to take a big, bold step or take yourself out of your current situation in order to identify the change you need.

I also learned that when you awaken to your authentic self, you won’t want to go back.

What big, bold step can you take to help you explore the change you need in your life?

If you went somewhere where no one knew you, and you could reveal your authentic self freely, who would you be? What would you share? How would you behave?


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Are You Living By Your Values? Here Are 3 Ways to Tell

The starting point for changing your life is to know yourself. You simply must know and understand who you are (the good, the bad, and the ugly!) before you can live it out—and the heartbeat of your authentic self is made up of your values.

When we live by our values, they are the compasses that guide everything we do. They ground our decision-making and root our actions in a purpose greater than ourselves. In short, they give our lives both direction and meaning—which is why having a very clear understanding of what your values are is so vitally important.

Once you have this, you can commit to what I call values-based living—the practice of consistently and consciously looking to your values to guide your behavior. While this is an enriching and empowering way to live, it’s no piece of cake, lemme tell you! It takes hard work and effort to make it happen. But it’s worth it.

So how can you tell if you’re living a values-based life? If you are, you’re likely doing these three things:

1. You know what your values are

When you’re living a values-based life, you have a very good sense of the qualities, beliefs, and standards for behavior that are really, truly important to you—in other words, your values. But many of us are either unclear about what our values are, or the values we think we hold are too broad to rely on as a compass to guide specific behaviors and decisions (for example, “respect”).

If you’re not sure what your values are, or if you think they might not be specific enough, try this exercise.

For one week, take a few moments each day to write down 3 things...

  •  …that made you feel good
  •  …that made you feel bad
  • …that made you feel useful
  • …others did that you admired
  •  …others did that you disliked

Looking at your answers, notice the themes that come up. What do you want to do/experience more of? Less of? Upon reflection, what specific qualities, beliefs, and standards for behavior are at the root of these themes and desires?

This should give you a starting point for defining your values, and understanding how these values show up in individual actions.

2. You look to your values when faced with decisions—big or small

Our values dictate how we speak, what we say, the content we consume, who we befriend, how we make a living, and just about everything else we do. If we live in accordance with our values, we look to them as guideposts when making decisions—small things (like who we follow on social media), big things (like who we choose as our romantic partners) and everything in between (like what jokes we laugh at, what we eat, and who we’re friends with).

When I’m faced with an important decision and feel uncertain about what to do, I do a conscious exercise to help guide me. I ask myself:

  • What is important to me?
  • What larger purpose do I stand for?
  • What is the greater outcome connected to this choice I have to make?
  • Is the action I’m about to undertake in alignment with my values?

This type of self-inquiry makes decisions much easier, because I know that I only want to act in alignment with my values, and it feels really good to know that how I live is consistent with what I believe in.

3. You regularly affirm and check in with your values

To keep your values top of mind, it’s important to affirm them. I find that integrating moments of affirmation into my day-to-day life helps me to stay connected to my values.

To help me do this, I consciously tune in to my emotions. Moments when I’ve done something that feels really good (like helped a friend or a random stranger) or moments of feeling really shitty (like when I’ve allowed someone to overstep one of my personal boundaries) can be good triggers for checking in.

In these moments, I mentally go over with what my values are, and why they are important to me. I also remind myself that living a values-based life has a positive impact on the world, and that, despite how challenging it can be, it’s always worth it to let my values be my guide.

For example, one of my core values is inclusion. My deep desire to help build a world that is inclusive guides everything I do— what I watch, who I befriend, who I work with, what I click on, what I wear, every word I utter, and so much more. This work—helping to interrupt hate and oppression—can be difficult, so it’s important for me to consciously remind myself of the greater purpose that I’m striving for. Feeling connected to this greater purpose makes the individual moments more meaningful, and easier to bear.


When we consciously engage with our values, it’s an incredibly empowering and liberating place to be. There is a lot of power in recognizing that our behavior is a choice. If you aren’t already doing it, I strongly encourage you to consciously try out values-based living for the next few months. A good place to start is right here: define your values, look to them when faced with both big and small decisions, and mentally check in with them every so often. It’s sure to impact how you live.


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5 Brilliant Women I'm Celebrating Today

In my humble feminist opinion, every day is international women’s day. But the official International Women’s Day, celebrated every year on March 8th, is a formal opportunity for each of us to step back and appreciate the contributions made by women at every level—despite the barriers in our way, and despite how far we have left to go. Here are 5 brilliant women who have inspired me recently, and who I’m taking a moment to celebrate today.

1. Oprah


Like millions around the world, I’ve admired Oprah for decades. For me, Oprah is THE ground-breaking woman of color creating change in this world. She’s the person who first opened my eyes to the possibility that I, too, could be powerful. And her power is enduring—she’s never been more relevant or more powerful than she is right now (just check out her recent Golden Globes speech above for proof)! Of the bazillion reasons to love her—her TV network, her philanthropy, her Super Soul Sundays, and so much more—what I love most is the incredible work she’s done teaching people how to heal their own woundedness.

2. Esther Perel


Speaking of woundedness, as I continue working to heal my own wounds related to the infidelity of past partners, I can’t get enough of Esther Perel’s work. She’s been a game-changer in terms of redefining monogamy and how we view relationships. I just read her latest book, The State of Affairs, and was struck by its powerful exploration of how hurt and pain show up in how we treat our romantic partners, and what’s wrong with our current definition of marriage. Her books, podcast, and TED Talks (see above for a particularly great one) are essential for anyone interested in what makes romantic relationships healthy and lasting.

3. Valarie Kaur


Activist Valarie Kaur is kind, insightful, deep, and inspirational. Her message of Revolutionary Love is a salve on the hurt caused by the many acts of racism, violence, and hate that have erupted since the last US election. I’m so proud that a fellow Sikh, Punjabi woman is out in the world making waves with a message rooted in love—both self-love and love for others. Her message is more important now than ever before, which is probably why millions around the world have watched her videos. Valarie’s spirit is infectious, and her newly minted TED Talk above is a must-watch!

4. Verna Myers


Verna Myers is one of the most positive people I’ve ever been lucky enough to call a colleague, mentor, bestie, and sista. She’s the perfect combo of kick-ass social advocate and deep spiritualist, working tirelessly to interrupt biases and build cultural competence in corporate America and beyond. I’m inspired by her commitment to self-growth, her compassion, and her deeply loving attitude. (And I also love that I can yuk it up with her about literally anything.)

5. My Mom


I’d be remiss not to include my mom on this list, because she has continued to inspire me throughout my life. As she courageously battles not one but two life-altering illnesses—rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s—I’ve watched her persevere with grace and limitless positivity. That she can move through such suffering with strength, will, and laughter is incredible to see, and it’s just one of the many gift she has offered me in my life.


I’d love to hear about the kick-ass women you are celebrating today! Comment below or connect with me on social media to share about the women who are inspiring you.

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