What does it mean to love yourself?
To love yourself is more than treating yourself with a slice of cake or getting a massage in your local spa. True self-love means that you accept and love all of yourself. Not only the nice bits but also your imperfections, your quirkiness, without worrying about what others think.
So how does yoga help you to get closer to this attitude of self-love? To figure this out, first we need to understand what “authentic” yoga is really about.
The controversial nature of the “modern” way of doing yoga
What is yoga? The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj”, which means to yoke, unite, join or attach, and to direct and concentrate one´s attention on something. One of the well-respected yogis of our times, B.K.S. Iyengar in his book, Light on Yoga also describes it as “wisdom in work or skilful living amongst activities, harmony and moderation”.
If you dig a bit deeper you will find that the postures we do on a yoga class, called “asanas”, are only the physical aspect of this ancient spiritual practice, which traditionally helps us to achieve self-realisation. The vast majority of the teachings of yoga are actually more of a philosophical nature.
Too often we find that in fitness clubs and even in yoga studios the asanas are taken out of context, and hence they become just another way to sculpt ourselves into a body that is perceived more “acceptable”. Fit men and women performing advanced postures on social media can also send out a message that is not necessarily aligned with the authentic teachings of yoga. All of this could make yoga look inaccessible for some, and instead of encouraging us to reinforce a connection with our body, to “unite”, we could end up feeling disheartened.
There is nothing wrong with stretching and wanting to feel fit. However, if we use yoga purely to control our weight and shape, or to force flexibility to be able to bend ourselves into a pretzel, just to be like the person next to us, we are sort of missing the point. This attitude could contribute to a less than healthy body-image and could keep us in a state of feeling “not good enough”.
When you look at yoga as an opportunity to move beyond any fixations, like “I must touch my toes!” or any limiting beliefs, such as “I am not strong enough”, you can experience wholeness. Yoga then can take you to a place of contentment, where you accept and love yourself at whatever point you are.
How can yoga help you to become your own friend?
To understand how yoga can help you to accept and love yourself more, instead of judging yourself, I would like to share with you some insights that you can find in the ancient yogic texts:
- Practicing to be more kind, forgiving and accepting of yourself on and off the mat can bring a sense of lightness into your experience. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras talks about “santosa”, which means contentment. Santosa teaches us to be satisfied with where we are and what we have. It can also mean appreciating our body as a whole. Next time you are on the mat and find yourself getting agitated for not being flexible enough, focused enough or strong enough, just take a deep breath and try letting it go. Experiment with being present for whatever arises and listen to your body. If it tells you to slow down, just slow down. If it tells you to go a bit further then give that a try, but without being attached to the outcome.
- You can avoid causing harm by overstretching and overexerting yourself in yoga by moving with intention and awareness. This attitude of non-harming is called “ahimsa” in the yogic texts. When you put non-harming into action, you can perform yoga poses gracefully and without force. So, instead of letting the limits of your body create stress, make the conscious decision to respect your abilities, and even love the limitations that your body has.
- There are many different ways we can go into excess in our life. Have you ever felt overworked or ate, maybe drank too much? However, pleasurable things or the way we work are not the only areas where we might run into this issue. We can easily go into excess with physical exercise, the way we look after ourselves or care for others. Doing things in extremes can lead to imbalance and can leave you feeling low on energy and even frustrated. In the yogic texts you can read about enjoying activities with moderation. The first step you can take to restore the balance is to become aware of where you are going into excess. The second step is to ask yourself why. Often the answers that we get here are around expectations and the fear of not being enough. Then you can ask yourself if this is working for you, if it is contributing towards your growth or you feeling content, or is it creating more suffering for you? If the answer is the latter, then this could be an opportunity for you to change that element in your life.
- Has it ever happened to you that you didn´t feel comfortable in a yoga class, or maybe you couldn´t follow the faster-paced sequences? Perhaps you felt tense and stiff, and there was a sense of force in your postures? The concept of “sthira and sukha” from the Yoga Sutras invite us to move through the poses with steadiness and ease, a kind of effortless effort. While finding steadiness and moving into postures doesn´t always seem easy at the beginning, with practice you can develop a sense of how to harmonize working hard without strain or force. This will bring lightness and grace into your practice. A quick and easy way to find out whether your practice is “sthira and sukha” is by checking your breath. (Read our earlier article on yoga breathing). Connecting with your breath is a way of being present. A comfortable, long and even breath indicates that all parts of your body are working together harmoniously.
Yoga is ultimately about transformation
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships”, said T.K.V. Desikachar, another well respected yoga teacher of our times.
While it can happen that we lose some weight and feel happier as a result of a regular yoga practice, ultimately we are not working on transforming the way we look, in order to seek approval and chase happiness. Yogic transformation is when the postures (asanas), breath work (pranayama) and meditation guide you towards transforming the relationship with your body and your whole self. You gain self-awareness and learn to tune in and pay attention to your body´s needs without judging yourself. Yoga can help you to quieten your mind and instead hear the voice of the heart. Embracing the whole practice – asana, pranayama, meditation – on a deeper level will take you to a place where you can nurture and love yourself.
Did this article inspire you to do some yoga? Read about creating your own personal yoga practice here or delve deeper during your yoga retreat here at La Crisalida. You might also be interested to learn more about how tapping can help you to truly love yourself, no matter what – read this month´s EFT article here.