One of my favorite quotes about love -about saying I love you – is from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It’s a quote that is about the self, when her character says one “must first know how to say the ‘I'”.
Now I realize quoting Rand in a post about yoga may seem like an interesting choice, but stay with me. The quote is about knowing oneself, about not disappearing into another person in a relationship and, to me, ultimately about self-acceptance. What I have always loved about this quote is how true it is. It means that you know yourself, that you can stand alone in confidence and happiness and that you can approach a relationship as equals.
For some time, I prided myself on being independent. On reflection, I’ve seen how my yoga practice has provided an even stronger foundation to say my “I”. Practicing yoga is a way to connect deeper with the self, both mentally and physically. It’s through seeing the way I’ve become stronger, losing myself in a graceful flow and the breath, that my confidence has grown. So with February being a month of love – thank you Valentine’s Day – it seemed like a good time to talk about how yoga helps to show me some self-love.
I’ve grown stronger with a regular practice. Over a year ago when I came back to my practice, lowering to chaturanga dandasana (low plank) from high plank was difficult, but practicing with my knees on my mat, I slowly built up the strength. I was ecstatic when I could first do one and then two full planks and lower in classes. I didn’t even attempt side plank without modifying and holding crow for even one second was such a great feeling. All of it was gradual. This is simply where I started and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a starting point.
Reflecting on my starting point allows me to better appreciate where I am now in my practice. I remember the first time I attempted side plank and held it the full cycle of breaths – albeit a little shaky. It was a great feeling to think “hey, I can do this.” And to be honest, it can still be a little shaky! I’ve seen the strength I’ve built in classes and that muscle strength does translate into mental strength. If I can work this hard and each class flow through a strong, controlled chaturanga, or if I can hold crow for a couple of breaths now, what else can I do?
Your practice is so beautiful, isn’t it?
A yoga sequence can feel as graceful and beautiful as a dance. A seemingly simple sun salutation is beautiful. Your body lengthens, stands tall and with a graceful forward dive you fold into yourself and lengthen in new ways. All that movement timed to your breath, a celebration of what your body is capable of and a celebration of breath…of life.
It feels good. Think of how you feel when walking out of the studio after class. As you practice, that beautiful feeling starts to stay with you, carrying that beauty and strength as you leave class, or your space at home. That in itself is a beautiful feeling.
I hear it from my teachers in so many classes. And while the wording changes, the meaning is essentially “accept what your body can do today.” What my body can do for me will change and continue to change day to day. Some days I can fold more forward and other days I need to show my hamstrings a little love and hold back a little. It’s not good day vs. a bad day, it’s just different days and different situations. I accept what my body does for me because of what the things above have shown me: strength and beauty.
The thoughts above have come to me over time, but it’s the subtle shifts that can sometimes create the stronger foundations in our lives. But the feelings of strength, beauty and acceptance began to come with me off the mat and stay longer and longer. My practice has helped me to see what I’m capable of, and for that I am grateful.
Our bodies are capable of so much! It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?