Tag Archives: self-love

The Yoga of Self-Expression

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” -Martha Graham, as quoted in The Life and Work of Martha Graham (1991) by Agnes de Mille

When I was a little kid, I loved to draw. I could draw lots of kind of funny-looking things: people, flowers, animals. Often there was a joy in the simple expression of putting pencil to paper. As I grew older, however, and began to compare my artistic attempts to others’, I would get frustrated. I could see that what I was doing wasn’t the same, but I didn’t know how to make it “right.”

One particularly upsetting day, I was struggling to draw a person. I tried again and again to draw a nose that made sense- that looked like what I thought a drawing of a nose on a face should look like- but it just wasn’t happening. I was overwhelmed with frustration and maybe even the beginning of a sense of grief that I wasn’t able to live up to what I thought I should be able to do. This is when my mother intervened with a little bit of absolutely brilliant parenting.

She opened one of the many magazines that we had around the house and flipped to a cartoon of some little kids that was part of a frequent column. “Look,” she said. I looked: the children had been drawn with no noses at all. And yet they were still clearly children. They were a different expression of an idea of children, but they were people, and the nose was assumed, or it wasn’t, but it didn’t matter, because suddenly it became clear to me that there were many different ways to draw, to visualize, to convey the idea of something.

My lovely mom in that moment, took on the role of a teacher. Teachers can cultivate our individuality  or (perhaps with the best of intentions) impose someone else’s idea on us. My mother had given me a gift that is still carrying me 30 years later: the knowledge that self-expression is individual, unique, and not better or worse than anyone else’s expression.

Perhaps you can remember a time when you felt stifled by a teacher. Last week, for some reason, I recalled with stunning clarity a picture of a potato that I drew in high school. Well, let me be clear– I had started drawing this potato in my art class, but it wasn’t going very well. My attempts to capture the essence of potato in colored pencil form were failing pretty spectacularly. Our art teacher was a demanding and troubled guy, and the best you could sort of hope for in that class was to be left alone. Sadly, his eye fell on me and the potato art that day. He sat down beside me, took the drawing, and completed it for me. It was a masterpiece. Subtle shading, deep-set eyes and utterly potato-like curves. It could have been promo material for the Idaho Potato Board.

I remember watching him draw my potato, explaining where I’d gone wrong; I remember taking it home and somehow it even ended up framed over my dresser for a time! But every time I looked at it, I felt sad, a little shamed- it wasn’t really mine, and in fact it was a reminder of how I had failed as an artist according to the teacher’s standards.

This memory came to me during a class I was teaching last week, actually. I was watching a group of my students in Warrior 1. Each of them looked different. Their feet were in different places, their knees were more or less bent, their arms were doing slightly different things, and their hips were in varying degrees of proverbial Warrior 1 “square”-ness. And I thought of how, in previous years, I would ask them to place their feet in particular ways, and move their hips into a certain position, and place their arms just so, in an attempt to “get them into the pose.” I’ve attended classes recently that asked the same thing of me. And knowing now what I do about my body, and my students’ bodies, I wouldn’t confine them to exacting specifications. The cues I give to the class at large are much broader and likely to ask them to explore their own range of motion and comfort. My assists or adjustments are becoming more rare- while I love the idea of communicating through touch, I’m more cognizant now of how I may be inadvertently indicating “wrongness” on their part- that I might be sort of metaphorically taking their pen and drawing their potato.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that we are always trying to do the best we can as teachers. I certainly was. It’s simply that with time, I’ve gotten more information- injuries in my body, observation of my students, research from teachers that I respect, and communication with my students.  While I have no interest in taking on the role of a guru, there is an element of power inherent in the word teacher. I believe that entails moral responsibility. For me, it means that I want to empower my students to recognize their own power, grace, and strength within their yoga practice. I want them to learn the value of their own unique expression of creativity in their body.

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How could I do better than to emulate the instinctive wisdom of a mother? To demonstrate to my students that however their creativity presents itself- as artists, as yogis, as human beings- is not only okay, it’s an expression of their luminous, radiant nature and an opportunity to celebrate their singular essential goodness. To me, if a yoga practice is making me feel like I am wrong in any way, I’m happy to hand the pencil back to the teacher and move on.

(Gratitude and love to my wonderful mother, whose love of me and celebration of my life is so complete that she would be proud of me if I lived in a cardboard box down by the river). 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

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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

Beauty in the Broken Shell: Self-Love, Self-Acceptance, and Late-Night Nachos

I found this shell on the beach today. Perfect in its flawed, worn and broken beauty. This shell isn’t looking in the mirror and wishing it were younger, less worn. It’s not regretting the tides that dragged it. It’s just itself, as it is. Enough. 

It’s been an interesting year for self-revelation. An exhausting one, too. Lately it’s insight after insight, and it gets pretty tiring. Some days you just want to sit on the couch and eat nachos, rather than understand WHY you are sitting on the couch eating nachos. Can’t the nachos just be nachos? Alas, even a nacho is an opportunity for a life lesson, it seems.

Lately I’m thinking a lot about positive self-image (you might remember this post). Self-acceptance. Self-love. It’s taken me a while, but it’s pretty clear to me now that I have programmed myself to be a “good girl”- to be the favorite, the smartest, the best at whatever it is I want to do. I’m competing, in a silent, miserable way, with an unattainable ideal.

No, this isn’t really news- I’ve always been, as my husband says, a “try-hard.” But it feels like news to me now, as I navigate some larger life changes, and am faced with my own behaviors. Here’s my (hidden) motivation: I am afraid not to be the best. I am afraid to take a day off. I’m afraid that if I am not engaging with life 100%, I am not winning, and I will have to face the fact that I am not good enough.

And when I sit down, exhausted, at the end of the day, alone with the emptiness of my self, and the feeling that I didn’t DO enough today (make enough money, please enough people, burn enough calories, etc., etc.)- I actively avoid facing how I’m really feeling. I’ve got a bit of an addictive personality, and I am good at busying myself with varying compulsive behaviors. Sometimes it’s more work-type behavior- making lists, creating a financial plan for myself, worrying in one form or another.  The activities have changed over the years- at one time I was a great smoker, video-game player. Most recently, I’m a great eater- that’s where the nachos came in.

One of my friends and teachers, Christopher Baxter of InnerSky Yoga, gave a lovely workshop last week on The Yoga of the Subtle Body. As part of the practice, he guided us through a meditation in which we asked ourselves: What do I long for?

For peace, I thought. From self-loathing. From self-defeating. From the divisive behaviors that catch me up like a wheel. To feel whole, as a person, and not flawed, or lacking. To love myself completely. And then I saw it all so clearly- the ways in which I’ve designed my life so that I never really have to deal with this raw and painful lack in myself. In fact, as I sat and meditated on my own lack of self-acceptance, my mind quickly went to work to try to “fix” the situation- suggesting, among other things, weight loss, a haircut, and more hours teaching. Ahhh, mind. So clever in your sabotage.

I’m happy to report, however, that I am making changes. Working less. Letting go more. Bringing {maybe just a little bit more} awareness to what I do and why I do it, especially during those dangerous late hours when the Halloween candy is oh-so-accessible.

Please don’t misunderstand me, friends. I am, today, happier than I have ever been in my life.  I’m free of my depression- which has haunted me since grade school, requiring medication and therapy, causing broken glass, broken relationships, and countless missed days of work, play, and life. Yet now, with each step I take into more mindful, joyful living, I continue to trip over, and then rip away, the hanging shreds of the unhealthy, unhappy behaviors that bind us like cartoon mummies. It’s a FREEING feeling- but damnit, it’s EXHAUSTING too.

And (enlightened though I long to be) my ego wouldn’t let me share this vulnerability with you if I didn’t know that I am not alone. That you understand, and recognize, these feelings of inadequacy, of not-loving-yourself. I wish you love and self-compassion on your journey, as I know you wish me on mine. I believe I can accept myself. I believe we can all accept ourselves.

It starts with awareness. Maybe with nachos. And this broken shell I found on the beach.