Category Archives: self-love

“I’m Here, But…”: thoughts on making your practice your own

image1Often, my newer students come into class with disclaimers: “‘I’m here, but…” or, “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to do tonight…” they start, sometimes with a shamefaced look, “because I’m just really tired,” or, “Something’s going on with my left wrist,” or “I tweaked something in my back,” or “I’m still recovering from this cold I had last week.”

I think most of my regulars know me (and our studio) well enough by now to know what I’m going to say. It’s okay. I’m glad you’re here. You can do as much or as little as you want, and if you need to lie down for the next 90 minutes, nobody else minds a bit. You don’t need to apologize for the state of your body. 

During class itself, as I observe our students,  I can tick off the issues mentally: this one has tendonitis, that one a neck issue, she’s going through a hard time with her family, another one is suffering from almost crippling anxiety, there’s a foot issue in the front row and an ankle problem behind her. My friend in the back can’t raise his arms above his head or support weight in his shoulder. In other words, we’re all kind of messed up in some way. Or maybe, better said: our bodies function on a spectrum of change, and it’s pretty rare that any of us are in peak athletic form. I think that’s pretty average for the general population.

What’s not so “average” is that in this group, we’re learning to be okay with this. Throughout the practice, my students have learned to modify for themselves. So it might look a little bit like controlled chaos (are we all even in the same yoga class?!)– but we’re learning, together, that we can all do yoga and it doesn’t need to look the same.

In my early yoga years, I was a slave to my practice. I struggled to force my body into shapes– binds, backbends, balances– despite the messages of pain that my body was giving me. I practiced whether I was sick or tired. I never allowed myself a day off or an “easy” day.

This worked pretty well for a few years. My body adapted and compensated- I hyperextended some joints (developing a chronic elbow issue), aggravated an existing lumbar issue, and learned to push through the pain to achieve an end goal. I allowed teachers to push and pull me into poses that my body was begging me not to do. I had a beautiful yoga practice, strong, fluid, graceful, and a body that was crying out in pain and neglect.

I recognized that this wasn’t working when my body began to give out on me. I was exhausted all the time, unable to walk up a flight of stairs without resting. My muscles no longer responded to my commands. I couldn’t go on. “If my yoga practice were my spouse,” I said to a friend, “someone would have called the police by now for domestic abuse.”  I simply couldn’t do what I had done before, and had to modify my practice. At first I felt apologetic, and ashamed. Like my students, I wanted to explain, justify, what I was doing.

So many vinyasa yoga classes speak contradictory messages. We verbalize self-acceptance, self-love, encourage compassion. And yet the unspoken message is push yourself a little further. It’s not okay to rest. Intricate sequences without pause, countless chatturangas, and no options given to modify. Our culture (and by osmosis, our yoga culture) values hard work, discipline. How do you know you did a good job? It hurts. How do you know it was a good yoga class? You feel a sense of relief when the effort ceases and you can relax.

This was how I taught for many years. As my own practice changed and I could no longer ignore my body, I found that my teaching had to change. I don’t want my students to hurt, or collapse, or ignore the signs that their bodies are giving them. I want them to know that it’s okay to have an injury and you can still practice mindfully. That some days are strong practice days, and other days are for nourishing and restoring. This is a truly mature yoga practice- working with the body you have, rather than forcing your body to work beyond its capacities or resources.

It makes my heart happy when I see our yogis modifying their practice. During a vinyasa, for example, some students will skip it and take dog or child’s pose. Others take cat-cow, or do cobra pose, or locust. Some will do extra chatturangas or practice a handstand. I do my best to create a community where students know what the options are, how they can modify, and that they are always encouraged to engage in inquiry and dialogue with their body.

After a while, when students come in the door, they don’t need to apologize or disclaim their practice anymore. There’s a confidence that comes from understanding that our body is not an object to be used but a source of strength and vitality, which requires deep listening and nourishment in order to be our thriving partner on our mat and in our lives. As we learn use our energy and our bodies skillfully, we become more available to ourselves and others, and our kindheartedness can encourage others to do the same.

 

 

 

 

My Big Brother: On the Gift of Compassion and Love

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In the back of my closet, under a mountain of dust bunnies, there’s a packet of letters. Not, as you might imagine, letters from an old lover, or anything so romantic. These are letters that I wrote over 20 years ago to my older brother. I was in middle school, or high school, and he was at college (before the Internet was available to us, can you imagine?).

The thought of this package makes me cry, not so much because of the heartbreaking content- and it’s pretty wrenching for me- but because of the great kindness and love that it created.

I wrote these letters to my brother during one of the first great bad times of my life. I had always been a depressed and anxious kid, but adolescence was really pretty awful. I woke up every day sick and miserable at the thought of having to go to school, where I felt that I never fit in- that I was too ugly, too fat, too literate, too just not cool. I had some friends, of course, and there were always those who were worse-off than me, but I took my share of bullying* and there was no escape- nobody to tell. My friends all knew and their lives weren’t much better. What could I say to my parents- I’m miserable because nobody likes me? Who’s going to admit they’re a total loser? Of course I wouldn’t disappoint and hurt them like that. Instead, I cultivated a sort of evil mantra for myself that sticks with me still, two decades later, in moments of great darkness- I wish I were dead. 

Seth, seven years older, had escaped to Pittsburgh for college, and wrote me faithfully. I don’t know why, but he found time in his life to think of his little sister, who had always idolized him and generally been an irritant- but there was some good karma here, and he wrote asking how I was. I found that I was able, in writing, to share the pain I felt. Don’t tell Mom and Dad, I said. I’m so unhappy. I don’t know how I am going to make it. I just want to die. 

Rural central Pennsylvania is not a place to be different in any way, as my brother had found out 7 years earlier. He’d grown his hair long, and I’m sure he was called names, as I was when I shaved my head a few years later (Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” always makes me think with pride of us both: “Most times you can’t hear ’em talk, other times you can/ All the same old cliches: is it a woman or a man?”). He was a becoming a vegetarian and an animal-rights activist in a time when that could have been a recipe for someone kicking your ass. Like his little sister after him- like so many people in small towns, and everywhere- he was just trying to be himself in a culture that valued conformity deeply. In a bigger city (our town had one red light and two gas stations), neither of us would have been anything out of the ordinary.

But here is the great gift he gave me: having “survived,” so to speak, he remembered the difficulty he experienced, and instead of turning away from it, he let it open his heart. He felt such compassion for me that he continued to send me letters encouraging me. You will make it. I promise it gets better. I know it seems like it won’t, but it all gets better after high school. I love you. I understand. I’m sorry you’re going through this. He told me I was smart and beautiful and interesting and cool, when nobody else** believed it, including myself.

Over the years, Seth has become closer to me than a friend or family ever has to be. In typical Seth & Laura fashion, he sometimes has felt very self-critical of his treatment of me. I’m sorry I wasn’t more there for you. I’m sorry I was mean to you. This too, makes me feel quite bittersweet sad- because I understand regret and shame, but there’s just no need for it anymore. I can’t overemphasize for you the depth of the gratitude and love I feel for him when I think of the  depth of his unconditional love.  In times of distress, I have always been able to call him and, like a gentler reflection, been shown the situation from his perspective. He understands- he does not judge- and he says, this will end. I understand, I love you, I’m sorry you’re going through this. He reminds me that things will change, as they always do, and that I can get through whatever it is.

I’m fortunate to have had this close relationship with someone who has understood me so fundamentally that he can be a light in the darkness- not only because of the help that it’s given me in my own life, but because it has shown me that I can be a light for others. I can be a well of unconditional understanding, compassion, and love for those who are broken-hearted, suicidal, don’t fit in, think the pain will never end. I can listen, and, instead of saying, I wish I were dead, say I understand. I love you. I’m sorry you’re going through this. 

For many of us, there are times where we’re not strong enough to endure our own lives without this kind of support.  I’ve spent the last five years learning to believe what Seth has always said. I am smart. I’m cool. I’m beautiful. Everything does end, and I can be kind and support myself with love and understanding. As a result, my way of handling pain has shifted a bit. Now, in times of great personal misery (and those will still come, I believe, as long as we’re suffering through this human life), I allow myself to feel the pain, and I ask: May this open my heart. May this pain be of service to others.

So, you might wonder- how did the letters come to be in my closet, if they were the ones I mailed to Seth in Pittsburgh? About seven years ago, Seth called me. He was moving out of state, and cleaning out his own closet. If you could have heard the emotion in his voice, you would know what it is to love someone fully. “I found these letters,” he said. “They’re so, so sad- I can’t just throw them away-” We agreed that he would mail them to me, and I would keep them in my own closet. I’ve never opened them- I don’t need to- but oh, what a reminder they are.

In recounting this story to you, I’ve cried quite a bit. Please understand that it’s not my own pain, grief or sorrow I’m feeling- it’s deeper, broader than that. It’s a thank you, to my brother- to the misery we both suffered- for giving me this love I have for those who need it. I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience.

Happy Birthday, big brother.

 

*Speaking of compassion- the girls that picked on me- well, looking back, their home lives were much worse than mine. No “forgiveness” needed; they were doing the best they could to manage their own unhappiness.

**Mom, I know you and Dad always did. The fault was mine for not telling you how unhappy I was. You’re wonderful and I love you.

Laura’s Magic Kitchen, Now with Expanded Menu Options

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A few months ago, I started reading The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, and it’s had a serious effect on the relationships in my life- including that most treacherous of relationships, the one with myself.

I could say a lot about this book- but today I just want to share with you one of my favorite themes in this book- Ruiz’s “magical kitchen.” He says:

Imagine that you have a magical kitchen in your home…you can have any food you want from any place in the world in any quantity. You never worry about what to eat; whatever you wish for, you can have at your table… Then one day someone knocks at your door, and it’s a person with a pizza. You open the door, and the person looks at you and says, ‘Hey, do you see this pizza? I’ll give you this pizza if you let me control your life, if you do whatever I want you to do. You are never going to starve because I can bring pizza every day. You just have to be good to me.’ Can you imagine your reaction? In your kitchen you can have the same pizza- even better. Yet this person comes to you and offers you food, if you just do whatever he wants you to o. You are going to laugh and say, ‘No, thank you! I don’t need your food.’

Ruiz goes on to describe what it’s like if you forget that you have a magic kitchen. Suddenly, you’re starving, and the pizza deal sounds not so bad. And then you’re hooked on the pizza- and dependent on the pizza pimp.

Your heart, of course, is the magical kitchen, and food is the love that we have for ourselves and others. Our ideas of self-worth, self-appreciation, are all cooked up in this kitchen. When we forget about the kitchen, then we try to look elsewhere for love, appreciation, validation. Sometimes we get pretty desperate and do some stupid stuff to try to feed the unending hunger.

This metaphor was really powerful for me (because I love food? I dunno) and came at the perfect time in my life. I realized that, despite all the work I did, and continue to do, I’d forgotten that the power to feel loved, valuable and worthy was in my own hands– not in someone else’s. And yet, I kept forgetting it- I was looking for someone to feed me.

If the thought of falling in love with yourself sounds overly dramatic or self-centered, perhaps the magic kitchen metaphor will appeal to you more. To me, it’s so silly that it’s sort of fun to work with. Sometimes I like to imagine myself turning around and saying, “Oh, there’s the kitchen!”- as though I’d forgotten about this room in my house for a while.

It also lends itself to more elaborate metaphorical musings. For a while, I was really longing for a relationship. ‘Sure,’ I thought to myself. ‘I’ve got a magical kitchen, but all it makes is burritos. I’d just like a freaking panini once in a while.’  With time and distance, I came to feel that the panini wasn’t so great. Laura’s Magic Kitchen Brand Panini is way, way better.

Here’s an inferior panini story: I dated someone not too long ago who expressed great appreciation for me in many ways. At first, it felt good- yay, pizza!- but occasionally the (still metaphorical, are you tired of it yet?) pizza supply would dry up a little bit. “You know,” he’d say, “If you want to lose weight, you should….” Or, “I even like this about you.” This hurt, of course, because I was depending on the pizza to fill my growling tummy.

I saw the panini guy not too long ago (he’s no longer dealing, or at least I’m not buying, so to speak). He has also read The Mastery of Love, and we spent a little time talking about the Magic Kitchen. When we hugged goodbye, he said to me, “Thanks for letting me bask in the warmth of your Magic Kitchen for a while.” I loved this!  I’m like a food truck, y’all, out driving around loving myself, loving you, just doing the best I can to remember that I’m behind the wheel, standing over the oven…(this metaphor is really getting out of hand, I think I’m about done with it).

Okay, but one last little story to share. That picture at the top of this post- me doing a handstand? That’s from a photo shoot by the genius, talented Jennifer Sampson of Sampson Photography. And it almost didn’t happen because I forgot about the kitchen.

I’d had that photo shoot scheduled for months, and when it finally arrived last week, I was feeling pretty lousy. I weighed more than I wanted to, my skin was utterly broken out, and I felt, in general, like a hideous beast. I know how stupid this is. I do, I promise. But I also imagined people looking at the finished photos and picking out flaws. Once again, I’d put the power of love and appreciation and worth in someone else’s hands, rather than in my own.

Don Miguel Ruiz puts it this way:

There’s no problem at all with being beautiful or ugly, short or tall, thin or heavy…There’s no problem with being gorgeous. If you walk through a crowd of people and they tell you, ‘Oh, you are beautiful,’ you can say, ‘Thank you, I know,’ and keep going. It doesn’t make any difference to you. But it will make a difference to you if you don’t believe you are beautiful and someone tells you that. Then you are going to say, ‘Am I really?’ This opinion can impress you, and, of course, that makes you easy prey.

I do believe I am beautiful, and that things like weight, skin, and hair will come and go. Sometimes it takes me an embarrassingly long time to remember that I believe these things, but it’s getting easier. Not everyone is going to think I’m beautiful. Not everyone is going to fall in love with me. And, with my new extended menu options of self-worth and appreciation, I really don’t need them to.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone-  may your kitchen be full of delicious options today.

 

 

“Perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.”

You can hold back from

suffering of this world

and you have permission to do so,

and it is in accordance

with your nature,

but perhaps this very holding back

is the one suffering

you could have avoided.

-Franz Kafka

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The biggest challenge in my own asana practice is backbends. I am not a naturally flexible person (as a child I was unable to complete the Presidential Physical Fitness Award due to my inability to touch my toes. I remember so clearly the look of frustration on my gym teacher’s face).

Part of the problem is my natural tendency to slouch, to round forward- even as I’m typing these lines, I’m hunched like a bridge troll over my coffee table. There’s not even a suggestion of a straight spine, let alone an extended (backbending) one.

Those of us who round forward (let’s call us “most of the Western world”) do so because that’s how our lives are arranged. We type, we drive, knit, text, etc., all with our shoulders medially rotated and our spine flexed forward, which is exactly the opposite of what we’re looking for in Urdva Dhanurasana- wheel pose. But there’s more to it than that. This natural rounded position has an emotional component as well. With rounded back and curled shoulders, we’re guarding ourselves and our most intimate emotions from the pain of the world.

This is easy to see when you look at someone who is introverted. The entire posture is one of self-protection. A confident person, on the other hand, has an open chest- shoulders rolled back, collarbones wide- think Superman with his hands on his hips. Amy Cuddy has a fascinating Ted Talk about how body language shapes self-image that is worth checking out if you have 20 minutes.

Which brings me to the Kafka quote. I like to ask myself (and students), as I come to a challenging posture: “Where are you holding back?” I often find that I am deliberately tensing or guarding myself to prevent further opening- to “protect” myself in some way.

For example, as I push up into my third wheel pose, and my anterior deltoids crackle in protest, I might initially feel that I’ve gone as far as I can. Pausing here to smooth out my breath, I ask myself- “Where are you holding back?” and notice that I have stiffened into what I think is my full posture. Relaxing, I begin to refine- I can engage my rhomboids to draw my shoulders together, that my lats can now be recruited to draw my shoulder blades toward my hips, my armpits can begin to hollow more as I laterally rotate my shoulders, and as I look back toward my feet, lengthening the front of my neck, I feel a deep opening between my shoulder blades as my thoracic spine creaks open a bit more.

At this point, if I’ve ever doubted the emotional component to the stuff that we hide in our bodies, I am, as the Monkees say, a believer. The rusty cage of my heart is creaking open and I can feel a wild sob- almost a laugh- curling up from my belly into the splitting expanse of my chest. Emotions are boiling like hot lava at my sternum and oh, I feel so close to letting go of everything, all of the fear and insecurity and sorrow and grief and rage that comes with being human- and then it’s time to come down, to rest, and to nurse my aching parts.

“We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.” -Charlotte Joko Beck

Where am I holding back? I have a lifetime of holding back. My (now ex) husband would say (with some affection, truly) that it was a stick up my ass rather than a cage around my heart, but it’s not a coincidence that we use these physical descriptions to describe emotional blockages. They are real and they manifest in us in the way we hold our bodies.

During the last month, as I am learning to unwind decades of tension, fear, and withheld truths through my painful backbend practice, I have begun to unlock long-held truths. Suddenly I’m not afraid to face parts of myself now that seemed too ugly, too mean, too embarrassing to acknowledge before. I have been able to make contact with people from my past that I was too ashamed to talk to before. I can reach out to my ex-boyfriends and to my ex-girlfriends. I can say to you that there are ex-girlfriends and be peaceful with whatever you think of that. I feel more confident in myself, as though I’ve unchained my heart and it is free to be loving and kind to itself once more.

Franz Kafka had it right. The holding back has been one of the greatest sufferings of my life. I’m doing what I can to let go. But Charlotte Beck has it right, too- it’s a searing pain. Transformation isn’t easy.

As you practice today- on the mat or off- I challenge you to ask yourself, “Where am I holding back?” What suffering are you perpetuating when you refuse to let go? Where can you give a little more, allow a little more, soften into the experience? 

Size Banana: Can I Stop Measuring Myself?

Recently, Geneen Roth posted this on Facebook:

Almost every woman I know has three sizes of clothes in her closet. Thin clothes, fat clothes and in-between. The fat clothes–what I call the “just-in-case clothes”–keep you frightened of gaining weight, and the thin clothes keep you waiting for your life to begin.

Your thin clothes, the ones you need a shoehorn to shimmy into, function as baseball bats to the head. Get rid of them. You have enough mean, abusive voices in your head without having to hang them in your closet. Replace them with clothes that fit you now. Clothes that are soft and gorgeous and allow you to feel the same.

This has given me some material to work with recently. Yes, I do have many sizes of clothes in my closet, and how I feel on any particular day might have something do with the clothes I put on (Note: In this post, I am going to refer to the sizes by fruit names to help illustrate how stupid and arbitrary the measuring system is). If I can fit into a certain size, let’s call it “Size Banana”, for example, I feel svelte, sexy, as though I’ve won some secret prize. Yes, Size Banana, I think with quiet smugness, deep down below the level of conscious thought, I knew there was a reason I kept you hanging around.

BANANA PANTS

But because I am me, and I like cookies, my weight fluctuates, and sometimes Size Banana doesn’t fit as well as it could. Those days I might try on five pairs of pants before I leave the house. Some of them are like, Size-Banana-And-A-Half, and those are okay, but the fact that I can’t fit into the Banana bums me out.

And then sometimes I’m up to another size. Let’s call it Size Mango. The Mango pants are also cute, and they are comfortable. And, something totally miraculous and amazing happens when I put on this larger size…

Although my body weight and shape remain the same, I look and feel much smaller in these slightly larger pants. 

Proudly sporting my Size Mango pants, I leave the house feeling like, “Damn, I’m sexy today,” rather than, “I feel subtly muffin-toppish in these pants. I will be avoiding my reflection in the mirror for the remainder of the day.”

So Geneen Roth is definitely on to something (at least in my book). But I think it’s bigger than wardrobe or body image. It’s about how we measure ourselves. My body is my body no matter what damn pants I put on.  The pants- and the size- are a just a pointless measuring stick. Instead, if I take away the pants and just be naked, so to speak, can I love, or at least accept my body as it is?

It’s not just about physical appearance, either. I can see it pretty clearly in my own yoga practice. Sometimes (usually at home) I’ll feel like a total yoga rock star. Wow, I’ll think, look at this cool thing I can do!  It doesn’t take too long, though, before I find myself in class with someone else whose practice absolutely humbles me… and maybe I feel a little lousy.

Or, I might measure my mental or emotional state.  Recently, a friend told me that I seemed ‘fragile.’ I’ve been struggling a bit with some life challenges, and my history with depression means that it can be easy for me to feel overwhelmed or negative in times of stress. I would love to say I am free of depression- but that’s just another measuring stick, and one that is pretty mean sometimes. What kind of a lousy Buddhist am I? What kind of a yogi? I should have wiped away these samskaras by now.  

If I’m always measuring myself against these standards- thinner, more “advanced” yoga, less prone to depression- then I’m always going to not quite fit. I’ll never be good enough.

How do we re-frame this? At first, I thought that I just needed to measure a little differently by saying, look at how far you’ve come! Way to go! or, look at how good you are- relatively speaking. But this is just like putting on your Size Mango pants.  A  good starting point, but not quite enough, I don’t think. What happens when the Mangos don’t fit anymore? Or if you break your leg and can’t practice yoga? Or if another challenging life event has you in tears? The measuring stick is still waiting in the corner, a quietly menacing presence.

So I think the real work is, eventually, not to give away the clothes that don’t fit, but to throw away the measuring stick completely. I’m going to work to accept my closet full of all-sizes clothing, and my life full of contradictions, and say fat, skinny, advanced, rudimentary, fragile, strong, I am all of these things. Maybe I’m not really any of them. Maybe I’m wasting a whole lot of energy caring about something that makes as much sense as “Size Mango.”

When we stop measuring ourselves so much, when we stop labeling ourselves and our experience, there is a potential for freedom and self-acceptance that allows us to be more accepting not only with ourselves, but toward others. Ladies, have you had the experience where your skinny friend says “I feel so fat”- and you thought to yourself, By her standards, I’m an absolute whale….? While we would never want to make our friends feel bad, by buying in to the whole system of measurement, we’re agreeing that there are better and worse ways to be- degrees of beauty, intelligence, emotional and spiritual maturity-  and that each of us falls somewhere on that scale.  Let’s find a new system.

So perhaps Geneen Roth’s post might be a good place to start. If your Size Banana clothes are feeling like an extension of that mean measuring stick- then get rid of them and do what you need to do to start feeling “soft and gorgeous.” Minus the measuring tools, you are already gorgeous and perfect. Let yourself start to believe it.

P.S. Yes, I would actually wear these banana pants in the picture above. Why not! Yoga teachers get to wear some crazy stuff. Let me know if you find them for sale anywhere. 

A Self-Love Valentine

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It’s Valentine’s Day.

Some of us are happy- we have someone who loves us, someone we love, maybe children or family that we like to put at the center of our emotions on this day. If that’s you, I am very happy for you! You might want to read this post anyway, just in case.

Some of us have someone, and aren’t as happy about it as we’d like to be. Keep reading.

Some of us are unhappy, perhaps because we don’t have a romantic love right now. I get it. Read on.

Some of us might feel unloveable. I understand, and I love you. Please do keep reading.

I have experienced the pleasure and the pain of each of these situations. I have felt that there is a hole at my center, something missing, something empty. At times I thought the hole was like a cookie-cutter shape, and I could put another person right in it. What happens when the person no longer fits in that hole- or something changes, and that person is no longer in your life? You’re back to feeling empty again.

It sounds cliched. You might not want to believe it- I didn’t, at one point- but until you love yourself, until you accept that you deserve love, that your nature itself is love, until you turn the powerful beam of your heart back on yourself, you will not feel secure in the shifting sands of romantic love. There will always be an emptiness at the center.

Ravi Shankar suggests:

“Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.”

It was at a meditation weekend retreat that I first really understood this concept. When I first looked, I mean really looked and SAW the emptiness within myself, the heart-shaped hole where my own love should dwell, I cried. Torrential, gulping tears.

I thought:  I can’t love myself.  I’m not perfect enough- I’m not always as kind as I should be. I don’t work as hard as I ought. I make mistakes. I hurt people’s feelings. I don’t look the way I think I’m supposed to. I do not deserve love. 

Although we don’t always SEE this cavernous pain within ourselves in such a clear way, the outward symptoms are more evident. I hear it daily. Almost everyone I know has a to-do list of items to be fixed, things they don’t like about themselves, reasons why they don’t give themselves love. Reasons to be limited, in every area of our lives, from our yoga mat to our relationships. To say, this is as good as it gets. I don’t deserve more than this.

How then do we get from this self-shame to self-love? How can we begin to accept that we may already be perfect, lovable, just as we are? Once you’ve noticed these feelings, it just takes a little work to begin to shift your perspective.

Take a few minutes today to cultivate your own self-love with a brief meditation. 

  • Close your eyes and get comfortable, sitting with an upright spine.
  • Take a few moments to notice the sensations of your breath coming and going- perhaps the air in your nostrils, or the lift and swell of your ribcage.
  • Now, begin to call to mind one thing that you have done recently that is an act of kindness or compassion. Perhaps you fed your dog. Smiled at a stranger. Or maybe it was an act of kindness to yourself- had a cup of coffee when you were tired. Ate at your favorite restaurant. If nothing else, acknowledge that you loved yourself enough to sit down and do this exercise! 
  • Allow yourself to acknowledge this act, no matter how small, and smile at yourself. Inhaling, breathe in your own love. You might even say silently, or out loud, Breathing in, I know that I am love. 
  • As you exhale, imagine that you are releasing the limitations you’ve placed around your heart, your love. You might see this as wispy dark clouds loosening and drifting away, or perhaps as an opening, chinks of light shining into the center of your heart. You might even say, silently or out loud, Breathing out, I release the limitations on my own love. 
  • Repeat the process as many times as you like, first remembering something kind or loving that you have done, and then acknowledging your own worthiness, and finally releasing the bind around your heart.

When you are done, spend a few moments listening to and feeling the sensations of your breath before opening your eyes and returning to your day.

Romantic love is wonderful in all of its stages- from exhilarating and breathless to comfortable as an old sock. However, its very nature is unstable as it relies on another person. When we practice lovingkindness and compassion for ourselves, we are learning a love and happiness that will be the most stable thing in our lives.

Learning to love yourself- coming home, as Ravi says- does not take away from the fairytale and firework elements of romantic love, but adds an underlying stability that is the foundation for the most enduring of relationships. Who wouldn’t want that?

Happy Valentines’ Day, my Loves.

Laura

Photo credit: Nastassia Davis [www.nastassiadavis.com] / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Getting What You Need

You can’t always get what you want

but if you try sometimes

you just might find

you get what you need.

-Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones

Mick Jagger in Shoulder Stand. Info & other photos from 1972 tour. 

I was probably 15 years old the first time I heard this Rolling Stones song. I remember it pretty clearly, actually, because my dad really made the most of it as it came on the radio, turning up the volume and singing along, lest his (admittedly somewhat spoiled) teenage daughter miss the point. You can’t always get what you want. I wonder what it was that I was wanting then? Boobs, maybe. A new pair of Doc Martens. A more interesting town to live in. Different friends.

So I already knew about the first part of the lesson pretty well, although not-getting didn’t stop me from wanting (most of the time it still doesn’t, really).  The second part of the lyric- you know, getting what you need- I “got” on an intellectual level, but isn’t it so much more fun* when you get to really experience life’s wisdom firsthand?

Here’s the story. Things are a little crazy in my life: I’m working for “free” so that I can attend a Buddhist meditation retreat in January- handling inquiries, acting as liaison with the retreat facility, playing with schedules and room charts and all kinds of stuff that doesn’t sound nearly as stressful as it feels. The amount of work has escalated in the last few weeks and I’m feeling completely overwhelmed. Simultaneously, I’m teaching my classes, planning those classes (this takes a lot more time and energy than you might think), assisting with a Teacher Training program, working as a Virtual Assistant, planning workshops for next year… and  I decided that I needed to bake cookies for all of my yoga students. Not just any cookies, but fancy yoga pose cookies that would take forever to cut out and be prone to breaking and take hours and hours and hours and then people would say things like, “Oh, you didn’t decorate them?”

And with all of this going on (plus usual daily craziness, PLUS holiday craziness)- I hadn’t been finding time to meditate or practice at all. I would say my yoga mat was gathering dust, but this is Florida, so I’ll say it was growing mildewy in the corner. Sadly, although I teach yoga at least once a day- it doesn’t have the same effect on the teacher as it does on the student.

So that was the state of my mind last Friday afternoon when I decided to lower my stress level by taking several pounds of vegetables to my neighbor’s house. Oh right, the vegetables, forgot to tell you about the vegetables. I belong to a CSA- I get a box of vegetables every two weeks and right now there is no time to cook them (see previous paragraph for excuses). I was feeling stressed out and guilty about the rotting organic produce in my fridge, so I just zipped over to my neighbor’s to deliver some vegetables. Such a great feeling. I felt virtuous, lighter, freer! Ready to tackle the many, many chores still ahead… until…

…I got to my front door and realized that I had locked myself out of my own house. (Now, to forestall my well-wishing friends who will here want to share with me the many reasons that you should have a plan for this sort of thing, and the many brilliant ways they have planned to prevent it from happening to them- thanks guys. I’m well aware. In fact, on my to-do list last week was “make spare house key.”)

You can imagine how I felt. Angry, frustrated, thwarted. I even felt despair. I love my life, but in that moment I longed for something a little more sane.

I trudged back to my neighbor’s house to use her phone. Of course she invited me in, and we shared coffee and cheesecake while I waited for Danny to come home and unlock the door.

And there’s the lesson. I didn’t get what I wanted– an afternoon of frenzied cookie baking and work- but I did get an hour of rest. And cheesecake.

I’m not going to tell you that Fate, God, the Universe, etc., just hands you what you need. That’s more tidy and trite than I think things really are. Plus, it really just sounds like utter crap, doesn’t it, when one is faced with a truly terrible situation (the loss of a loved one, a diagnosis of terminal illness, etc.)?

No, I think life’s a lot more messy and chaotic than that. But what IS true is that we are almost always capable of handling what life hands us, especially when it’s something less extreme than the really life-altering situations listed above. And in a lot of those cases, we do find that what we get- well, it works out okay. It might even be what we need.

*facetious sort of “fun”