Yoga for Self Love…?
This weekend’s workshop, Self Love Through Yoga, may seem like a nice thought… but what will this look like in terms of practice, and experience?
When we perceive our thoughts, feelings and actions to be “good,” it’s easy to “love” ourselves, or at least feel capable of receiving love, appreciation, acceptance, or attention. These feelings build up a healthy form of ego, an ability to appreciate oneself independently of any comparison of competition with an external frame of reference. (In a cosmic sense, the ego, that perspective of separation of the self from all that is “other,” can be a hinderance to our realization of wholeness; however for the purposes of this discussion, in the context of our human existence, having a healthy sense of self, so that we can be capable and responsible, keeps us balanced and available to connect outside ourselves, rather than swinging into the extremes of self obsession, either by placing ourselves way below or way above other people.)
However, when we only feel deserving of love when we judge ourselves as “good,” then anytime we feel our “goodness” is challenged either by others, or our own self, this conditional form of self love diminishes. Because the human mind often generates discontentment, and tends to focus on what needs work, what is “wrong”… we can get stuck in ruts where on some deep, hidden level, we believe we don’t deserve love and appreciation unless we are “good,” perfect… and this self criticism loop tends to bind our attention to ourselves, so we have less attention for the people we love, our projects, our work, our dreams.
When we can learn to appreciate ourselves, even when we are face to face with a challenge: a mistake we have made, an unpleasant emotion, a situation that points to our lack of intelligence, sensitivity, or skill, THEN, we are building our ability to love ourselves. When we are challenged is often when we most need love. This moment of compassion can create the shift we need (often by diminishing our resistance to experiencing what is there) and the external world shifts too: we discover a step we can take to make things right, have insight towards a solution, or have some more space emotionally to breathe through what is there.
In our yoga practice, we can change the nervous system’s patterns in terms of how we react internally to challenge. If a pose is physically, emotionally, or psychologically challenging, we can either go into self criticism, or pause, breathe, back up, and observe, working through the re-patterning with awareness, creating a new way, breath by breath. This process is more accessible when we are not rushed, and if we feel safe to be in our process. This is one reason why the goal of organization, rather than range of motion, in our asana practice serves us greatly.
Asana can affect our ability to sense, release resistance to, and even appreciate, where we are at in our journey. Through practice over time, and even in just one session of asana practice, we can gain a palpable sense of how much more stable and grounded we feel through organizing the bones -the inner scaffolding- so that the soft tissues can release, the organs can cleanse though increased circulation, the breath becomes more available, creating a sense of lightness, and wellbeing, etc. By aligning our physical form, the way prana moves through us is altered, allowing us to shift out of old patterns and into more neutral perspectives. These practices also affect our mind’s dialog of self assessment partly by interrupting the inner critic, and also by quieting the nervous system and releasing tension patterns associated with emotional stress and feelings of failure, anxiety, or regret.
In my workshop this Saturday, I am excited to explore with students, first creating a safe internal space. Restorative forward bends, warmth, darkness, and an embryonic begining will establish a home base in the nervous system. From there we will gradually branch out into stability work, to support us in lengthening versions of backbends, which not only have an energizing, joyful affect, but also can be a bit scary and confrontational, so that in a slow and safe manner we can explore loving ourselves through the challenge of opening.
Another way to look at this sense of appreciation is through the niyama santosha, contentment. Through growing and changing, moving through feelings, challenges, highs, and lows, this healthy form of self love helps us have compassion for ourselves as we change and grow, and therefore compassion for others. Our relationships with others echo the ways we relate to ourselves. As we cultivate and strengthen our ability to accept and love ourselves through the ups and downs, we can more fully love and give attention to our lovers, partners, family, and community.