Although many people know of yoga as a physical practice, in reality, it is a lifestyle. Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga also include breathing and meditation and key values to live your life by in order to embody the yogic lifestyle. The very first value is Ahimsa, ‘non-violence’. Of course, this is meant in the vulgar, physical sense, but Ahimsa also encompasses a subtler, deeper emotional plane asking us to remove negative thoughts of judgment which disturb our joy.
We live in a world where we’re constantly moving and changing, often being thrown into situations where we feel isolated, uncomfortable, and out of our depth. This can often result in us creating negative feelings towards ourselves – especially when we’re under pressure. But how many of us have a positive way of dealing with those self-doubts and insecurities which crop up? And how many of us let violent or judgemental thoughts disrupt us.
Some people may be lucky enough to have support networks to discuss with and be reassured by, but another solution, accessible to everyone, is loving kindness mantras – a form of mindfulness which can be highly beneficial for self-love (the antithesis of violence). A loving-kindness mantra is a form of statement that you can affirm to yourself alongside meditation, or at any moment you have to yourself. It is a positive and loving statement which helps to promote well wishes upon yourself and anyone else you may want to think of. The following mantra written by Job Kabat-Zinn, a man who was pivotal in mindfulness becoming so popular, is a great place to start.
“May I be safe and protected, and free from inner and outer harm. May I be happy and contented. May I be healthy and whole, to whatever degree possible. May I experience ease of wellbeing.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
The theory is there: focus on giving unconditional love to yourself and others, truly wish for happiness and ease of well-being, and you will find your self-love. The reality is, of course, that self-love is incredibly hard, and that there is so much more to non-judgment and self-acceptance than simply reciting a mantra. This is where connection and compassion come in.
“Loving yourself is hard. But listen: you are loved, you are worthy of love and respect and you can be loved even on the days when you see nothing in yourself to love”
In reality compassion, self-love and vulnerability are all so wound up in each other that you have to allow all, to experience one. A TED talk by Brené Brown on vulnerability perfectly summarises this theory. Why are we here? What gives us purpose? Her answer is connection. The connection we have with the people in our lives gives us joy, gives us purpose. We are at our most unkind, selfish, and destructive when we feel disconnected from others. However, in order to feel a connection, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.
When do we ever feel more vulnerable than when we allow ourselves to be seen – transparent and true, with all those walls we like to build up being brought down. Brené Brown says that in order to be comfortable in vulnerability, you must have a strong sense of worthiness, a strong sense of love and belonging. You must have the courage to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart and show compassion to self and others. With this authenticity comes connection. Those who have this strong sense of love and belonging are able to embrace vulnerability because it is beautiful and necessary. Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.
But what about the rest of us? Those who are scared to connect, terrified of rejection, innately believe that we’re just not worthy of being loved in the way that we actually deserve. Well, we have to tell ourselves that we are. You might not believe it at first when you’re reciting your mantra, but allow yourself to be vulnerable with yourself primarily, accept that lack of belief in yourself and look inwards to find evidence to the contrary. Look for evidence of why you do deserve to be loved – because it will be there. When you come from that place, suddenly it won’t seem so frightening to let yourself be seen for who you truly are and, hence, to love yourself and others wholeheartedly.
If yoga teaches you anything, it teaches you about vulnerability. We often find ourselves in positions on the mat in which we may feel incredibly vulnerable, however as you get deeper into the practice and lifestyle you’ll realise there is no judgement but only acceptance within your practice – and self-love will blossom from this. Use the time you give yourself on the mat, and use loving kindness mantras to believe, and tell yourself, that you are enough. Because you, without a doubt, are.