Photo: Keely Thomson - 432 Yoga Studio
I think we’d all agree with the sentiment behind this popular 60’s song, but have you ever wondered how your own actions could help spread more love into the world?
The answer comes in two parts:
Firstly, a more loving world starts with a more loving you.
And a more loving you starts with a more self-accepting you.
(Still with me? Great! Now let me explain a little..)
The truth is, it’s only when we can love and accept ourselves, warts and all, that we are able to radiate love out into the world, and generate a positive effect on everything and everyone around us.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? (And, very worthwhile, by the way)
But for many of us, learning to love and accept ourselves is a tough gig. There’s self-criticism and comparison-itis to contend with, for starters.
So how do we cultivate a love and acceptance of self?
Well, one very effective way is through yoga practice, of course!
How yoga can help
The philosophy of yoga is big on self love and acceptance. Yoga’s ethical guidelines, the Yamas and Niyamas set out a practical framework for living and loving well.
The first Yama espoused by the ancient sage Patanjali, Ahimsa, is a particularly useful reference for cultivating love and acceptance of self. Ahimsa suggests an embodiment of non-violence in everything we do - thoughts, words and actions. This attitude of ‘do-no-harm’ is best applied, first and foremost, to one's self.
Violent? Not me!
Admit it, how many times have you willed (or even physically pushed) yourself into a challenging yoga pose?
Berated your body for not looking, feeling or performing in a certain way on the mat?
Chastised your racing mind during meditation when it ‘should’ be still?
Beaten yourself up over something you have thought, said or done?
(Don’t worry, we are all guilty!)
Such critical thoughts and potentially harmful actions count as a breach to the loving principle of Ahimsa.
Ahimsa asks us to choose kindness over nastiness, gentleness over force - for ourselves and everything around us.
Here are some practical ways to practice love and acceptance of yourself on the mat:
Catch, acknowledge and release
When you notice judgemental thoughts or unhelpful behaviours creeping in, firstly pause and take a few moments to consciously breathe in and breathe out.Be grateful that you noticed - it’s actually a huge nod to your self-awareness that you caught them. Next, acknowledge your human-ness - we’ve all got an inner-critic*!Take a moment to let the inner-critic feel heard. You may like to address your mind and say something like; ‘Thank you for your input. I lovingly see each and every thought that arises in my mind. As I establish myself in awareness, I see I am so much greater than my thoughts, I am doing a great job’.
It pays to remember that our ‘job’ as yoga practitioners is to be present and simply observe what is, leaving attachment and identification with our thoughts and actions off to the side for a period of time. A heartfelt conversation as suggested above may inspire deeper self-study and be helpful in bringing awareness and greater clarity to any patterns or common themes to your mental chatter.
Loving practice thought - the only moment that matters is right now.
Favour function over form
Scroll through any social media channel and you’re bound to see ‘perfect’ bodies performing ‘perfect’ yoga poses. Harshly comparing ourselves to others can be a recipe for disaster. It pays to remember that away from the glamour and photoshopping, the function of any yoga pose trumps the form every time.
Maybe your Paschimottanasana resembles more of an ‘L’ shape than the neatly folded sandwich-shapes depicted in photos…. But you know what, so long as you maintain correct alignment, your version of the pose likely ticks all the boxes of a legitimate forward bend. Plus, you are reaping the same benefits as the ‘textbook’ version - and it’s the benefits that really matter.
Give yourself a break. Lovingly accept and graciously celebrate what your body is capable of - because it’s pretty darn amazing!
Loving practice thought - I love and appreciate my body for all that it can do.
Open your heart
The heart is of course the body’s energetic centre for all things love. Check in with yourself - are you actually open to giving and receiving love? Your physical posture could hold the answer. A slumpy posture may close off the heart to love and acceptance, while an open, joyful stance signals readiness for love. Amp up the potential for love by including heart-opening backbends such as bridge and camel pose in your practice, and direct your breath into your heart space.
Loving practice thought - My heart gladly receives and gives love.
Honour and thank yourself
I bet you do lots for others to show you care, but what about you? Put yourself at the top of the love list more often than not, and watch your reading on the self-love scale rise! How about dedicating your next yoga practice to you? Then at the end of your practice, thank yourself for showing up on the mat for an activity that nurtures your body, mind and spirit. Heck, why not give yourself a hug in Savasana while you’re at it - you deserve it!
Honour yourself by selecting the type of practice you really need. (Noting what you need can differ dramatically to what you want!) Tune into your heart as you ask what is genuinely required from your practice. Perhaps a slow, restorative practice would heal your frazzled mind and tired body. An active practice could help boost your energy levels. A meditation session would help you to connect with the beautiful presence of awareness inside you. Or maybe a yoga practice isn’t what you need at all right now. Accept what comes up and run with your inner wisdom.
Loving practice thought - I lovingly accept myself exactly as I am right now.
Send loving kindness to all
Now, back to that idea of creating a more loving world. It can certainly feel that the world’s problems outweigh any impact that you or I could make, don’t you think? But we can make an impact, or at least try, and even the smallest effort to boost love is worthwhile.
Cue the Loving Kindness Meditation. As one of the most popular meditation techniques around, it’s easy to learn, has amazing potential to spread compassion (inward and outward), and is a joy to practice. The premise of the Loving Kindness Meditation is to direct sincere and loving energy toward oneself and toward others. In doing so, we can create a far-reaching ripple of acceptance, wellbeing and love. In this meditation, we are invited to think of 4 people in turn. Your good self, someone for whom you feel strong love, someone for whom you have neutral feelings, and lastly, someone for whom you find very challenging to have positive feeling toward.The meditation prompts us to send each of these people, in equal amounts, a sincere wish for happiness, peace, and freedom from suffering.
This Loving Kindness Meditation generates a triple-whammy of benefits. Not only does the practitioner experience all the regular benefits of meditation, (stress relief, calmer disposition, more positive outlook, to name a few), but there’s the feel-good factor that comes with simply thinking thoughts of love and acceptance. OK, this last benefit is hard to prove, but wouldn’t it also be nice to think that the ‘others’ in the meditation receive an unconditional helping of love too?
Ready to feel the love?
Experience a simple Loving Kindness Meditation
All we need is love
The practice of yoga offers an open invitation to accept and love who you are on a soul level. When we are at peace with ourselves, it’s oh-so much easier to give love and acceptance to others, even strangers and those we find difficult.
Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ Let’s flip that a little. How about ‘Be the love you want to feel in the world’?
So come on, my friend. Let’s boost the love in the world, one loving thought at a time.