Yoga for Self Love…?

P1020670This weekend’s workshop, Self Love Through Yoga, may seem like a nice thought… but what will this look like in terms of practice, and experience?

When we perceive our thoughts, feelings and actions to be “good,” it’s easy to “love” ourselves, or at least feel capable of receiving  love, appreciation, acceptance, or attention. These feelings build up a healthy form of ego, an ability to appreciate oneself independently of any comparison of competition with an external frame of reference. (In a cosmic sense, the ego, that perspective of separation of the self from all that is “other,” can be a hinderance to our realization of wholeness; however for the purposes of this discussion, in the context of our human existence, having a healthy sense of self, so that we can be capable and responsible, keeps us balanced and available to connect outside ourselves, rather than swinging into the extremes of self obsession, either by placing ourselves way below or way above other people.)

However, when we only feel deserving of love when we judge ourselves as “good,” then anytime we feel our “goodness” is challenged either by others, or our own self, this conditional form of self love diminishes. Because the human mind often generates discontentment, and tends to focus on what needs work, what is “wrong”… we can get stuck in ruts where on some deep, hidden level, we believe we don’t deserve love and appreciation unless we are “good,” perfect… and this self criticism loop tends to bind our attention to ourselves, so we have less attention for the people we love, our projects, our work, our dreams.

When we can learn to appreciate ourselves, even when we are face to face with a challenge: a mistake we have made, an unpleasant emotion, a situation that points to our lack of intelligence, sensitivity, or skill, THEN, we are building our ability to love ourselves. When we are challenged is often when we most need love. This moment of compassion can create the shift we need (often by diminishing our resistance to experiencing what is there) and the external world shifts too: we discover a step we can take to make things right, have insight towards a solution, or have some more space emotionally to breathe through what is there.

In our yoga practice, we can change the nervous system’s patterns in terms of  how we react internally to challenge. If a pose is physically, emotionally, or psychologically challenging, we can either go into self criticism, or pause, breathe, back up, and observe, working through the re-patterning with awareness, creating a new way, breath by breath. This process is more accessible when we are not rushed, and if we feel safe to be in our process. This is one reason why the goal of organization, rather than range of motion, in our asana practice serves us greatly.

Asana can affect our ability to sense, release resistance to, and even appreciate, where we are at in our journey. Through practice over time, and even in just one session of asana practice, we can gain a palpable sense of how much more stable and grounded we feel through organizing the bones -the inner scaffolding- so that the soft tissues can release, the organs can cleanse though increased circulation, the breath becomes more available, creating a sense of lightness, and wellbeing, etc. By aligning our physical form, the way prana moves through us is altered, allowing us to shift out of old patterns and into more neutral perspectives.  These practices also affect our mind’s dialog of self assessment partly by interrupting the inner critic, and also by quieting the nervous system and releasing tension patterns associated with emotional stress and feelings of failure, anxiety, or regret.

In my workshop this Saturday, I am excited to explore with students, first creating a safe internal space. Restorative forward bends, warmth, darkness, and an embryonic begining will establish a home base in the nervous system. From there we will gradually branch out into stability work, to support us in lengthening versions of backbends, which not only have an energizing, joyful affect, but also can be a bit scary and confrontational, so that in a slow and safe manner we can explore loving ourselves through the challenge of opening.

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Another way to look at this sense of appreciation is through the niyama santosha, contentment. Through growing and changing, moving through feelings, challenges, highs, and lows, this healthy form of self love helps us have compassion for ourselves as we change and grow, and therefore compassion for others. Our relationships with others echo the ways we relate to ourselves. As we cultivate and strengthen our ability to accept and love ourselves through the ups and downs, we can more fully love and give attention to our lovers, partners, family, and community.

home circling

(avery at high desert yoga, new mexico, november 2012)

in the space we create internally, there is that silent neutral, beyond temporality and our ((mis))identification with it, a place of home in the equilibrium resonating inside. how do we taste this silent center? what practices bring us into the space where we can simultaneously ascend//descend into ourselves? how do we experience that threshold, where is that tender edge, where we loose touch, and how long do we go in the haze of karmic pattern, the prana rivers flooding deeper into those familiar canyons, before we realize we have been swept away in the momentum? calling ourselves back, again and again, back to the breath, THIS breath,  back to this moment, back to the work at hand, the lover gazing into our eyes, the sink of dishes, the curve of the road ahead, the crying child needing attention, the interface of our body and the pose… at home in the moment, we have all we need to do what needs to be done.

Pranic Alignment

Recently, I had the pleasure co-teaching a workshop with Judy Mortellaro exploring entry points to experience prana and creating our physical asana based on this energetic alignment.

When we practice yoga, many times the main focus is on the outer layer of our being: our physical bodies. However, the shift we feel in the subtler layers (or koshas) –our energy levels, our emotions, our thoughts, and our connection to center– reveal how interconnected and dynamic the effects of yoga are to our whole being. How do we access understanding to these subtler realms? What IS the connection between the body and the mind? When we begin to explore prana, from an experiential level, we can gain insight into the dynamic relationship between the body (ana maya kosha) and these subtler layers. As we learn to feel/navigate the inner map of how energy flows, we can create our poses, and our movement through the world, from an inner listening to how the energy moves, and what combination awareness, action, and release guides the prana into a balanced flow.

Prana is the current of life. “Pra” mean consistency, “na” means life force. Prana flows through all that is alive, and is what’s missing from the body when we die. Prana is the electromagnetic field that animates and coordinates the tides of consciousness, the subatomic dance of particles and waves, the cells, the body, the systems of life on earth, and the greater universal movements and rhythms. It is what moves the breath in and out of our bodies. The circulation of fluids and the body, the currents of response echoing throughout the nervous system, the patterns of thoughts and feelings we experience, all are facets of these different layers of our being, all of which reflect how prana is moving –or not moving– through us.
Just as a river carves the earth, and creates the pathway for the movement of its waters, our habitual ways of breathing, moving, thinking, and feeling carve the path within us that guides where the prana will flow. As we develop a felt sense of these pathways of energy moving through the body, we can learn to sense where and how to open the flood gates, and where we need to contain that flow, to create balance. A crucial element to this work is, of course, the pelvic floor. As we open to cultivate apana vayu, the downward grounding  flow of prana, of energy, creating a container for our energy, sending it upward through prana vayu, becomes exciting and empowering work. Through exploring these patterns to learn what biases exist, and using yoga practice to re-organize our multi dimensional selves, we can align our bodies, minds and spirits with the greater rhythms of pranic movement, creating vital harmony within, and in the world around us.