How Yoga Makes You a Better (Self) Lover
Self-love is a bit of a buzzword these days and that’s cool by us. In today’s image-driven culture there are a lot of ways that you can get torn down inside until you feel like there’s nothing of value left. Some of us have been bullied for looking or thinking differently than the norm. We’ve had our inner light dimmed by the pressure to conform, felt our failures magnified until they seem like the biggest part of ourselves. Along the way to becoming adults, a lot of us have so internalised external criticisms that they appear to be the voices of reason inside our heads. They don’t have to be.
There is one little problem with all this talk, however. It often falls short on explaining what to actually do to improve your self image. It’s harder than it sounds. If you don’t fit into a cookie cutter world then it takes strong internal and external support systems to embrace the weirdo that resides within. Most people can’t just wake up one morning and say, ‘this is the day I’ll reject the lifetime of conditioning that has resulted in my cripplingly low self esteem. and feelings of unworthiness.’ But you can wake up today and decide to do yoga. At its best, the yoga community has a place for all the freaks and geeks. But there’s something even more powerful afoot. Yoga works from the inside out, creating strength where there was weakness and flexibility where there was rigidity.
Trying and trying and trying some more is the practice. It’s much more difficult to see yourself as a failure when success is revealed to be an illusion.
Freeing the Body
One of yoga’s most powerful lessons is to accept your body where it is on any given day. When you first start yoga asana practice, it’s probably not going to come very easily. You may struggle to arrange your body to resemble the poses you see demonstrated at the front of the room. You have no idea what you’re doing. You can’t force or sweet-talk your hamstrings into a deeper forward bend so you have to accept yourself as you are.
With consistent practice, you may soon start to see improvement and that makes you feel good about yourself. You’ve done something difficult and your body and mind have experienced positive change. If you’ve struggled with your body image, your bad feelings about how your body looks may even be replaced with good ones about what it can do. In yoga, however, there is no end goal, no place where you can stop and rest on your laurels, at least not for very long. There will always be another challenge and other opportunities to repeat the cycle of trying, failing, doubting yourself, and overcoming. Eventually, you may come to see that the failing and the doubting are not the most important part of the process. Actually, neither is the overcoming. Trying and trying and trying some more is the practice. It’s much more difficult to see yourself as a failure when success is revealed to be an illusion.
Freeing the Mind
Yoga and meditation teach us how to be in the present moment. Think about the negative self-talk that happens in your head. You’re beating yourself up over something that happened in the past or stressing over something that’s coming up in the future. But what about right now? What are you doing right now?
When you’re meditating, you’re sitting and breathing. When you’re deep in a yoga pose, your body takes a different shape but you’re still just breathing. Inhaling. Exhaling. Inhaling. Exhaling.
Hey, you’re pretty good at that! The breath provides a refuge where you can hold the past and the future at bay and stay in the present, even if it’s for just a few moments. And this handy tool is always with you, available at any time.
Body, Meet Mind
Releasing tightness and making space in the body are big parts of physical practice of yoga. But it’s also about making space in your mind. The extreme physicality of asana practice (which doesn’t mean circus-style acrobatics; it means the sharp focus and minute attention to detail that aligning your body into any yoga pose requires) has the effect of temporarily emptying your mind.
When you come back, you might find that things have been rearranged. The cramped little attic where you keep your self-judgment jammed up against your negativity may have acquired a skylight. One day you may even discover that neither of them actually looks good in that room anymore. Then you can open the skylight and let them float out.
P.S. Let us know how has yoga helped you become a better self-lover!