Within the health and wellness community, self-love is a necessity and common knowledge. However, it is not enough to believe in self-love, because it is not merely a state of mind. So then, what is self-love?
Self-love is a daily practice, much like an asana practice. Some days it may feel more accessible, and other days it may feel less accessible. In yoga, there are postures such as savasana, that have undeniable benefits for every individual, and then there are postures such as downdog that may look very different from body to body. In the same way, there are self-love exercises everyone can benefit from, and then there are other practices that may look different from person to person.
To practice self-love every day does not mean that we must complete the same routine every day. We can have different variations of the same rituals, and in fact this might help to keep things interesting, making it easier for us to stay engaged in our practice. It also does not require that we have a specific amount of free time. If we wait until we have the extra time to practice self-love, we may never actually get around to it.
They say the best time to become great at something was 10 years ago. The second best time to become great at something is right now. It is difficult to reach for a skill we are yet to hone when we desperately need it. Yet, what if we have been practicing it all along? So rather than catching ourselves amid self-deprecating behavior and feeling guilty for our inability to turn the ship around, we can simply pivot first.
Below are exercises that can benefit everybody.
The self-love exercise of responding rather than reacting may seem like a practice that only favors the other party, but when we break it down, we can see how its benefits directly affect the practitioner. For example, when a partner mis-communicates, we may opt to clarify the message they intended to get across rather than reacting out of frustration and leaning into anger or even disappointment. This gives the practitioner back precious time, and it might cause the ability to maintain a state of peace rather than being taken by the upset this miscommunication may have otherwise provoked. In this way, we can keep grounded while setting healthy boundaries. By practicing patience with others, we can better maintain our overall sense of wellbeing. The maintenance of our overall wellbeing is a manifestation of self-love.
Boundary setting centers on the boundary-setter, and for the people-pleasers of this world, it can feel uncomfortable and at worst, it can feel selfish or even mean. Remember, we are our own #1 advocate. And if we cannot advocate for, or prioritize our mental health over the needs of others, there is nobody else that will do it for us. Here, we may spend an entire lifetime too uncomfortable to ask for whatever it is we may actually need. To be clear, setting boundaries is not about withholding or controlling a situation or person. Rather, it is about being honest with yourself and others regarding the capacity of your offering. To establish boundaries, it is necessary to return to the practice of svadhyaya, or self-study. With introspection without judgment, we can establish within ourselves what we require to feel happy, healthy, and whole. This is an ongoing process, and it is important to hold space for it to develop. Though we are the ones setting the boundaries, the boundaries put in place are also there to protect the other party and encourage clear communication. By first establishing and then clearly communicating what the capacity of our offering is, we can work to maintain our mental health, which is an unequivocal practice of self-love.
It is commonplace knowledge that to cultivate a friendship, you must be kind to the person with whom you are engaging. We know that there are things you just don’t say; we know that if we are mean, if we talk down to, or speak lowly of the person we are getting to know, the relationship will probably suffer, and even possibly go kaput. We may offer support and gentle words of advice and encouragement when they seem to struggle. Maybe we check in with our friends, just to see how they are doing and wish them well. But for some of us, we have not even considered befriending ourselves this way. Consider how the voice you used to guide yourself throughout your day sounds like. Is it kind? Patient? Compassionate? If not, can it be? Remember that the person you will spend the most time with in this lifetime is YOU.
Like all practices, the intention is not to get it just right every single day. When we can accept the practice of self-love as a lifelong journey, we may feel less inclined to judge ourselves and potentially abandon the practice altogether because of feelings of incompetence. When we commit to simply returning to the practice every day, we are less likely to be caught by guilt every time we “slip up” or forget our intention. To practice self-love is a journey within, meant to cultivate and foster a relationship with the -Self that is both sustainable and enjoyable. When you feel overwhelmed or embarrassed because you’ve missed the mark, if ever it feels impossible to say a kind thing to yourself about yourself, remember that you are worthy of boundless and unwavering love.