Yoga For Self-Love
A year ago, I moved to Maine with my husband. There were many things about the move that I expected, such as the stress of starting a new job, or the strain of being across the country from my family. What I didn’t expect were the ways in which our move would shake up my relationship with myself.
As a teenager, when most girls are struggling with newly appearing leg-hair and stuffing their bras, my body was in pain. I remember gasping awake in the middle of the night after a sharp jolt shot along my legs and up my back. My mom took me to a specialist in Boston who delivered a straightforward diagnosis: Scoliosis. But what I heard was something different. I heard, “there is something wrong with your body.” I heard, “you’re different.”
I felt broken. One side of my rib cage was muscled and thick while the other side was tiny and weak. I had a shoulder blade that stuck out behind me, a distorted wing. I struggled to get used to a brace. I would hide it and myself in large sweatshirts and refer to it as my expensive corset. It was not comfortable and I remember scrawling the word “evil” across it in red marker. I hated it, but more importantly, I hated my body. My relationship with myself began to fray and unravel as I spent more and more time avoiding the experience of being in my body.
In a stroke of luck, I found my way into a love-affair with field hockey. The sport allowed me to focus on a goal, which gave me an access point back into movement. Slowly, with time, I came to feel that although my body was a little crooked, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t skillful, wasn’t capable. Pushing myself physically for the love of a sport meant that I had effectively taken my physical therapy for the scolio into my own hands. I was in control. My body began to respond to me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t look perfect; I could run. I could move. I didn’t need to love my body to use it.
For many years, my relationship with my body became about what I could do with it. The more active, the better. But a year ago, we moved to Maine, and suddenly everything was different. I felt unmoored, lost without routine, and struggling to find a good way to ground myself in the midst of daily stressors. Anxious and irritable, I walked around in my new life bewildered by my increasing depression and stress. What was the matter with me? Once again I had come to a crossroads and my body was telling me something.
“It’s not about being good at something. It’s about being good to yourself.“
I decided to take a yoga class. I rolled out my mat and sat cross-legged on the floor. The instructor turned down the lights and encouraged us to connect with our breathing. I sat uncomfortably in the silence. I noticed a wave of frustration, and then a wave of grief washed over me. Those ten minutes in silence, breathing, was the longest I had been with myself in recent memory. Perhaps ever.
Yoga was intended to be a bridge back into physical activity, and maybe even back to a sense of accomplishment. But in one unexpected breathing exercise yoga became a practice of self-love. Of acceptance. Of slowing down enough to pay attention to what my body is telling me, rather than pushing my body to perform, or proving to the world that I’m enough.
Now, I look forward to the quiet beginnings of each Vinyasa class. I feel the tingle of anticipation as my body prepares to relax and release the tension of a long day. I slip into a familiar routine of scanning my body, looking for indicators of the emotion it holds. I breathe into the space and allow myself to feel. Yoga has taught me that movement is so much more than attaining a goal. It’s about being with my body, working with the ebbs and flows, and connecting intimately with myself through attentive awareness.
Yoga is a practice of flexibility – of stretching ourselves a little farther than we did last time and trusting that we’ll grow from the experience. Self-love isn’t all that different. It requires showing up for ourselves, breathing through the occasional disappointment or tension, and trusting that if we give ourselves time and practice, we’ll only get better at loving the unique person that we are.
About the Author: Ariel is a freelance writer from Portland, Maine where she also works in Higher Education. She is a graduate of the Master’s in Writing program at California College of the Arts and the owner/operator of the book review Instagram @acuppabooks18. Find her there for book reviews, articles and recommendations.
About the Editor: Kate is the Marketing Director for the Human Awareness Institute and co-host of May I Have This Dance, a podcast about love, intimacy, and sexuality. Find the podcast by searching for ‘May I Have This Dance‘ on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you find your podcasts.