Self-Love as a Practice
We all know there’s great value in loving ourselves. Self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-compassion can get us through painful times in our lives, help us to bounce back from failure, teach us to love others better, and help us reach our goals.
For many of us, however, self-love isn’t a given. We haven’t all learned to hold ourselves with kindness in the wild, unpredictable world. So how do we show up to self-love?
Just like anything else, we practice.
When we do yoga or meditation, the major thing we are doing is paying attention. We show up to what’s actually happening. Rather than trying to fix, analyze, or criticize what arises, we practice catching it as if with an open hand: holding without holding on.
The yoga practice isn’t about getting into a certain posture or improving your physical abilities, though that’s an aspect of it for many people. In a lifelong yoga practice, what we learn to do is observe what happens in our minds when we don’t get into a certain pose, or when we show up to our mats with pain and limitation. How do we talk to ourselves in those moments?
It can often feel, further, that we have very little control over the thoughts pinging around in our minds. The internal logic of that mean little voice in our heads that tells us we are not good enough doesn’t always respond to reason. It’s pretty hard to choose our thoughts.
We can, however, choose our actions. When we get better at being mindful, we can show up to what we feel, what we might need, and the different options we have available. When we find ourselves struggling in a yoga posture, gritting our teeth to try to prove to ourselves that we can do it, what if we pause and ask ourselves, “But is this kind?” Choosing to stop and take child’s pose teaches the body that we deserve to rest. That it’s okay to slow down. Pauses are loving.
I’ll never forget the words of a participant in a course I was taking on mental health practices. She said, “I may not always believe I deserve love, but I can behave as if I do.”
It’s challenging to change our thoughts or our emotions, but it is a little bit easier to choose our actions. When the mean thoughts start shouting in our heads, we can notice them and decide to take a walk outside or have a warm shower. As we take actions of kindness towards ourselves, behaving as if we loved ourselves unconditionally, we are sending messages to our subconscious minds that we do actually love ourselves, that we deserve the kindness we are experiencing.
The mindfulness we practice in yoga or meditation helps us to recognize when the voices in our heads are getting cruel. When we learn to practice this in our day to day lives, we can start to see when we are being hard on ourselves and create more opportunities to extend kindness to ourselves. We can catch the emotional spiral before it spins us down the drain and gives us a chance to ask, “wait, have I eaten today? Do I need a nap?” As we slowly learn how to love ourselves better, we start to expect others to treat us with kindness as well. We start to realize that of course we love ourselves. Of course we deserve love.
Self-love, for most of us, isn’t innate. It’s a practice. We can start right now.