What’s Love Got to Do With It?
When you unroll your mat in preparation for a yoga session, it may not be immediately evident that you have just performed an act of love. But it’s really not too far-fetched to describe it that way. By now, we all know that doing yoga opens your hips. It’s also pretty good at opening your heart.
The way your body feels is closely tied to your emotions, which in turn affect your interactions with other people. When you’re coiled tight, you feel stressed, angry, and in pain, ready to lash out at the smallest provocation. As you begin to move and stretch, you release tension and create space around the places where you have been holding so firmly to your antipathy. Given space, these aversions can unwind and eventually be released, leaving room for positivity, and, yes, even to love and be loved. We’re not talking primarily about romantic love here, although that’s also a possibility. We’re talking about love that stands in opposition to hate. Cosmic love, in which you can recognise a commonality in all living beings. It may seem like a lot to ask from a few Downward Facing Dogs but it’s actually not.
Stretching Your Love Muscles
One of my teachers introduced me to this simple but powerful exercise that may just turn your idea of what love means on its ear. While sitting quietly at the beginning or end of a yoga session, send out a feeling of love to someone you care about who’s going through a rough time. Someone you feel genuine empathy towards. Whether or not you believe in the power of vibes, it’s pretty easy to imagine your heart opening up and just letting the love pour out in their direction.
Now comes the harder part. Do the same thing, but send all your love toward someone that you find really challenging in your life. The most annoying person you can think of, the thorn in your side, your frenemy, your nemesis. It feels a bit weird to open your heart toward this person, but all of a sudden it humanises them. They are no longer this nefarious force in your life, but instead just another person, facing struggles, worthy of compassion. Their negative power is diminished and they haven’t done a thing. They haven’t changed but you have.
Take this newfound skill out and trot it around town. Admittedly, it’s hard to do in the direct presence of someone who really pushes your buttons. But the point is that you’re neutralising that person’s effect on you, not actually changing them in any way. Instead of becoming hard, rigid, and angry at the thought of this other human, you can soften your heart toward them over time. Emanating love in all directions is a practice.
It’s a practice that goes hand and hand with asana, flourishing in yoga studios and living rooms, wherever you lay down your yoga mat. In studios, you get the benefit of face time with other yogis who are also discovering that love is the answer. As you feel the effects of the physical practice on your cold, shrivelled heart, you may also be learning about opening the Anahata (heart) chakra so that love can flow freely and the principle of Ahimsa (non-harm), which encourages the love of all living things.
But while it’s helpful to be aware that these beliefs have been codified and are validated by yogic teachings, the simple three Oms at the end of a particularly wringing class are proof enough that when we experience something profound as a group, it brings us together (after class bro hugs are an optional bonus). The good old fashioned feels you get as a member of a group where people care about each other radiate in an ever-growing circumference. At their best, online yoga communities act in the same way, with the added benefit of dissolving outdated barriers like physical distance.
Let the Love Grow
Take the expanding reach of yoga as an encouraging sign since it’s difficult to do this practice with your body and not feel the effects in your heart. In times when hate seems to be gaining the upper hand, it’s particularly important to nurture the things that plant the seeds of love. Hate exists when we see others as different from ourselves. Love grows when we see that everyone is actually the same.