Yoga for self-love
I began my yoga journey with misguided intentions. I wanted to be skinny — that was my intention.
Gradually, I began to absorb the real juicy benefits of yoga — the stuff beyond the physical.
Self-compassion and self-love were foreign concepts to me. For years I battled an eating disorder and had built up a lot of self-hate. Then, without really knowing what was happening, I cried in camel pose. I wrote about that breakthrough here. (I consider this my biggest breakthrough in my yoga journey. Even bigger than teacher training.)
Before I go into yoga for self-compassion and self-love, let me clarify something. Self-compassion and self-love are not the same as arrogance and narcissism. Self-compassion is being kind to yourself in moments you feel inadequate or like a failure. It's extending the same compassion you would share with another to yourself. Self-love goes even further. Self-love is believing that you are worthy; that you deserve happiness.
So what I'm saying is, this isn't "yoga for narcissists." I strongly believe the world would be a more pleasant place if we all held ourselves in a little higher regard. And for many of us, that takes work; practice. And like anything, practice makes progress. With practice, it comes more naturally, until you're a self-loving, beautiful, happy soul.
Let's yoga, shall we?
Heart openers are the key here. The heart chakra is associated with love and compassion, not only of yourself but also of others (BONUS!). It is the center of the connectedness you feel with yourself and with others.
When your chest is tight, you might have negative feelings toward yourself and others. Maybe you hate what you see in the mirror. Maybe you think you can't do anything right. Maybe you criticize and nitpick at your significant other ...
Maybe we should do something about that.
Here are some of my favorite heart openers. I'm starting with the gentler heart openers and progressing to more advanced poses, so you can gradually get deeper into the poses. Get yourself some loving yoga!
Heart & Shoulder Opener on Blocks
Grab two blocks and set them on the ground in front of you at arm's length. (Dog is optional.) Let the blocks support your forearms as you sink into a child's pose — hips sinking back, forehead to the mat. Release the tension in your chest by letting gravity pull it down toward the mat. (This is also a great shoulder opener!) This is a restorative posture, so hang out here for a while — 1-5 minutes.
Forward Fold with Strap
(Apparently Lucy likes heart openers, too.) You can stand with your feet together if you'd like. I prefer them wide and slightly pigeon-toed. Grab a strap (or you can use a towel if you don't have a strap) with palms facing away from the body. Hinging at the hips, fold forward, pulling the strap toward the ground to open the chest and shoulders. THIS FEELS SO GOOD. Let the head hang heavy and relax into the posture for 4-5 breaths.
Reclining Supported Heart Opener
Place a block at the base of your shoulder blades. Gently recline onto it, then place another block under your neck. You can bring your feet together for bound angle as shown (a hip opener), or cross your legs. This is a restorative posture, which means you get to (and will want to) hold it for a while — at least five breaths. But I recommend 3-5 minutes.
(Alternatively, if this is uncomfortable, you could make it gentler by using a rolled up blanket under your shoulders like this.)
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
The top photo is traditional camel pose, the bottom is a deeper variation. Start with the hands supporting the low back (SUPER important!). Very slowly and mindfully start to bend backward, looking behind you. If you feel a sharp pain, BACK OUT OF IT. Your body is telling you to stop. When you get far enough, you can reach down and grab the heels with the hands. Imagine that a string is attached to your heart, pulling it up toward the ceiling. Hold here for five breaths and back out of it as slowly and mindfully as you got in — supporting the low back with your hands.
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Start lying on your back, knees bent. Place the hands beside your head, palms facing your shoulders. Simultaneously press into the feet and hands to lift yourself up. If you have a friend (PICK ME!) with a strap around, they can assist you by wrapping the strap around your back and helping you lift up until you gain strength/confidence to do it on your own. Continue pressing into the mat with your hands and feet, focusing on bending the back. You can play with bringing the feet closer to the hands, lifting onto the tip-toes or raising one foot at a time for more of a challenge. Lots of options here! This pose makes me feel like a child — it's so playful!
Heart openers can release a lot of emotions, so just breathe and let them flow. Releasing those stuck emotions is one of, in my opinion, the biggest benefits of yoga. Laugh, cry, smile ... whatever you need. I am officially giving you permission (not that you needed it).