Slightly different blog from me today, but as winter is my favourite time for hibernating with a good book or five, I thought I’d share a few recommendations. They’re not necessarily yoga-focused but most are at least leaning in that direction! I’ve linked to Amazon for ease and because I’m a Kindle fan, but obviously you can buy them anywhere.
This book has a special place in my heart as I read it while trekking to Annapurna Base Camp. It kept me calm through tummy bugs, back pain, bitterly cold nights and fears of avalanches. I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and writings anyway, and this one has a beautifully peaceful quality to it. Read it and be comforted.
I think anything written by the incredible Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron is well worth reading, but this book in particular describes a practice known as Tonglen. The concept of Tonglen is basically the opposite of the “inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit” idea – you imagine breathing in the poison, all the dark, hot, heavy stuff, fully experiencing and absorbing it, then breathing out cool white light. It’s counter-intuititive, but an amazingly powerful practice for transforming anger, rage, frustration and fear. It’s probably best you read the book though, as there’s no way my distorted description of it will have done it justice!
Yes, it’s by the magician/ illusionist guy, but it’s also a fantastic read about stoicism and the philosophy of how to live well. It draws on a different lineage to yogic philosophy but there’s a huge amount that resonates in here. Depressing as it sounds, I found the chapters on death life-changing and regularly remind myself of some of its nuggets of wisdom when I’m feeling anxious. Don’t let that that put you off – it’s great, I promise!
Even if you’re not a fan of Forrest Yoga, or you haven’t had chance to try it yet, there’s loads to get into in this heartfelt book about the power of yoga and connection with your spirit for healing. Ana Forrest’s own personal story is inspirational too, so it’s worth reading for the juicy autobiography alone.
I was going to stick to non-fiction books but I couldn’t resist sharing this one last. I found the writing itself a bit awkward at times, but the whole concept it’s based around is irresistible. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but if, like me, you struggle with questioning your life choices (what if I’d not quit my job, what if I’d learned guitar, what if I’d gone to New Zealand, what if I’d joined the circus etc) it’s super helpful for putting some of those demons to rest.
I hope you enjoy these, and let me know if you have any good recommendations in return – I feel I’m due a few cosy reading days over the next week or two!
Wow, what strange old times we’ve found ourselves in…
I’ve got some time off work at the moment, and I’ve been quite hard on myself for not being creative enough with that time. I had all these ideas that I’d make yoga videos, try new recipes, write a book, learn a craft, plan my PhD etc etc. In reality, what I’ve wanted to do is play with my cats and read in the garden. So far, so unproductive.
But I am very grateful for yoga, and the fact I can access amazing yoga teaching from home. A few people have asked me for online yoga recommendations, so I’ve collated some of my favourites. In time, who knows, I might get around to adding my own content to this list. But until inspiration strikes, I’m happy to share a few of my own “go to” places for online yoga… If you have your own suggestions, please add them in the comments below.
Online Yoga Recommendations
Suryalila Cyber Yoga Retreat – my love of this amazing retreat centre in Andalucia, Spain is no secret. I blogged about it here. Sadly, their business has been hit hard by the pandemic. But, wonderful folk that they are, they’ve come up with a cyber yoga retreat. This means they can keep sharing their teachings, love and sense of community with the world, while hopefully generating enough income to keep the retreat centre alive. You can buy a day, week or month pass, and they’re also offering “compassion passes” for those in financial difficulty themselves. Their classes have given my days much needed structure and there’s something for everyone with a range of different yoga, meditation and philosophy classes. See here for full details.
Ekhart Yoga – this has long since been my favourite source of online yoga. I let my membership lapse a while ago, as I was drawn to the flashier, LA-based AloMoves, but in all honesty, I regret it! The platform on Ekhart Yoga is more intuitive so it’s easier to find what you are looking for, whether that’s a 15 minute meditation, or a 60 minute strengthening class. I also find the teachers seem more approachable… I know the yoga is online, but I still prefer practising with a teacher I feel I’d have a good chat with! At the moment, Ekhart Yoga have made some free classes available here, and they also offer a two week free trial.
Youtube offerings – I’ve spent a long time sifting through various Youtube yoga channels. There’s a lot of yoga on there, but the quality is variable. However, I’ve found the following to be safe bets:
Finlay Wilson – also known as the “Kilted Yogi”, Finlay shares his Forrest Yoga teachings, and I’ve yet to try a class of his that I didn’t like. He also has a lovely voice, which helps.
Yoga with Adrienne – with a huge online following, Adrienne is firmly in YouTube Star territory, but it’s well deserved. She has an incredible range of classes from the generic, such as Yoga for Beginners, to the highly specific – Yoga for Risk Takers, anyone?! Her manner is warm and reassuring.
KinoYoga – I’ve loved Kino MacGregor’s teaching since I first discovered Ashtanga Yoga, and I still seek her out when I want something a bit more challenging. Her teaching is precise and full of helpful alignment cues. As well as full length classes she has some really nice (read: painful) yoga strength drills and advanced posture tutorials.
Core Connection Mini Sequence – I recommend this particular YouTube class from Denise Hopkins so often, I’m giving it a bullet point of its own. Those who come to my classes in real life know how much I love core work, and this class has it all: elbow to knee, abs with a block, an excruciating hold of Dolphin Pose. You are welcome.
Last but not least, it’s hard to beat live teaching, and also this is the perfect time to support yoga teachers and studios if you can. Many yoga studios are offering Zoom or other webinar-style classes, so check out any that you usually visit and see what they are doing. You can also practise with yoga teachers whose classes you’d never normally make it to.
My final little reminder (which I’m also telling myself often!) is to be kind to yourself and keep things simple. This time is stressful enough without putting undue pressure on yourself to make over your life, become an artist or learn a new language. All those are great if they’re what you’re compelled to do, but honestly, if you manage each day to move your body, eat food that makes you feel good, and send a kind message to family or friends, I reckon you should be pretty proud of yourself already.
I hope this helps. Let me know how you get on with online yoga!
If you’ve ever been put out of action by an injury, you’ll know how infuriating, debilitating and strangely isolating it can be. I’m sharing my experience below in the hope that it brings some comfort and reassurance that the situation (or at least your response to it!) can and will improve.
Three months ago, I taught what was from my perspective, my worst ever yoga class. It wasn’t that anything went wrong with the class itself (though it wasn’t without challenges – a last minute room change and a power cut to be specific). No, the issue was that when demonstrated cat-cow, something in the right side of my lower back “went” sending searing pain through my back.
I’ve had lower back issues before, so I knew this wasn’t good, but I carried on teaching, hoping that moving would help. It didn’t. By the end of the 90 minute class, I was in barely disguised agony.
I remained in acute, debilitating pain for the next three weeks. The only position that was comfortable was lying down. Sitting, walking and standing all sent my muscles into excruciating spasms. Safe to say, it was the end of my yoga teaching, and indeed my yoga practice for quite some time.
As I said, I’ve hurt my back before, and quite badly, but this was worse.
What made it emotionally harder was knowing that I’d hurt it doing yoga. Whereas previous injuries (through doing the Insanity workout programme, lifting kettlebells and most embarrassingly, tripping over the wire while straightening my hair) I could attribute to a specific, avoidable incident, what triggered this seemed so innocuous. It wasn’t even as if I was attempting a challenging posture.
The Bumpy Road to Recovery
I had some good advice and some terrible advice. Friends plied me with hot water bottles, ibuprofen and gin (which somewhat worryingly helped more than painkillers!).
I scoured the internet obsessively in the hope of a cure, and in my desperation forked out for not one but three eBooks on healing back pain, which I read from cover to cover. The worst of these convinced me that the pain was wholly psychological in nature and that once I knew that, all I needed to do was return to my normal activities.
Full of hope, I walked the 5km to the local town, determined to “act normal”. By the time I got there, I was in so much pain that I passed out on the street, and came round surrounded by a group of lovely, and deeply concerned Spanish locals. Not cool.
So for the next six weeks, life revolved around things that didn’t aggravate my back.
I wanted to keep up some kind of self-practice, but how I felt about yoga had changed. Rather than being my therapy, my healing and my safe refuge, yoga felt risky. I considered meditation but this was hard as I couldn’t sit still for more than 20 seconds, and meditation lying down for me is just falling asleep.
Instead I started to read books on Buddhist philosophy and practice, which helped a lot more than the back pain books did. They encouraged me to develop a less combative relationship with the pain. I also began very gentle and cautious mobilisation and breathing exercises.
Trekking to Annapurna Base Camp
Slowly, slowly I started to build up the distance I could walk. This was going well, but I feared not well enough, as I had booked to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek at the start of December – 9 days of arduous trekking in the Himalayas.
I was nervous to say the least. But the flights were already booked, and ABC had been a personal dream for the last 11 years, so there was no way I was going to not try.
I won’t bore you with every detail of the trek – my poor friends and family have had to put up with that a lot lately! But I’m very happy to say that it was every bit as incredible as I’d hoped. It wasn’t a painless experience, far from it, but the more I walked the more my pain eased. I was filled with immense gratitude for what my body could do.
Not only that but the walking itself was an incredible exercise in mindfulness. Because you have to place your feet carefully for each step (to avoid falling off the mountain) it was impossible to think about anything else. That coupled with the digital detox – we spent the whole trek without connecting to WiFi – meant I finished the trek feeling calmer, happier and more present than I have in a long time.
But still no yoga. I played with a few postures after walking some days, but they didn’t feel great in my body, and I didn’t want to risk it.
New Year, New Focus
Then came new year. We attended a yoga and meditation retreat in Cambodia. My first yoga class there was a nerve wracking experience. Although the practice was gentle, I felt flashes of huge anxiety, and sometimes intense anger when a posture affected my back. I didn’t love the yoga classes, but in hindsight they did help me to overcome the mental barrier I had to practising postures.
But the meditation made a more tangible difference. By then I was able to sit on a meditation bench for around 30 minutes without pain. This time daily to connect in with myself and my breath let me put into practice all the learning from the Buddhist books I’d been reading.
There was also a strong emphasis on the importance of self-practice throughout the retreat, which I took to heart.
Since coming back from the retreat, I’ve developed a more consistent self practice of yoga, pranayama and meditation than I’ve had for years. I practice daily, around 30 minutes of postures, followed by pranayama and meditation later in the day. My practice doesn’t look the way it used to – currently my most “advanced” posture is tree pose (which I love!) – but it feels better. More honest, more connected and more grounding.
Finding Yoga Again
Watch this space for a blog to follow about everything I’ve learnt about using yoga to heal injuries…
But suffice to say for now, coming back to yoga has been a process of gradually getting reacquainted with my body again – feeling into where the edges are now, and where I can use my breath to open up spaces. I’m experiencing again the joy of when I first discovered yoga, each posture as an invitation to step into myself as if for the first time. I’m building up confidence and trust in my body once more, and I know that’s going to take time. For once, I’m actually very happy to give it that time.
Vinyasa yoga or “vinyasa flow yoga” is a style of yoga I love. It’s a dynamic yoga style, where you flow from one posture to the next, coordinating your movement with your breathing. Coming from a dance background, I was drawn in by its smooth, graceful sequences. It has the strengthening, empowering appeal of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, but with more freedom, creativity and variety in the sequencing.
What does Vinyasa mean?
The word vinyasa is Sanskrit, and there’s room for interpretation in the translation. It’s often said to mean “movement linked with breath.” However, the translation that resonates with me is the idea that nyasa means “to place” and vi means “in a special way.” Vinyasa yoga therefore is the yoga in which you place your body in a special way. It’s not just the “finished” postures, that count – instead the emphasis is on the mindful and deliberate movement into them.
To try to demystify the name, in promoting my own classes, I often refer to it as Dynamic Yoga. This also means students get fair warning not to expect a super-sleepy restorative yoga class!
Why is it so popular?
It’s hard to say exactly why vinyasa yoga has taken off in the West. Perhaps it’s because, as a dynamic practice, it’s easily integrated into a world of gym classes, fitness fanatics and cardio routines. Although vinyasa yoga is unlikely to provide the complete cardio workout of a run (unless you’re flowing so fast I’d be concerned for your safety!), it does build strength, flexibility, stamina and balance. However, I think although many people start vinyasa yoga for the physical benefits, they keep coming back because it makes them feel good – physically, mentally and even spiritually.
So what are the benefits?
Really, this depends on the class you choose. Vinyasa classes can be energetic, playful and challenging or mellow, relaxing and peaceful. The best classes, in my opinion have elements of all of these. But what you can expect is to find a yoga practice which:
Builds muscular strength
Enhances focus and concentration
Promotes mindful movement
The reason I love it so much is that flowing through the postures in a deliberate, intentional way with your breath turns the practice into a moving meditation. Even in the most challenging, tricky transitions, it encourages you to connect more deeply with your body. In fact, the movement of vinyasa yoga can be one of the most effective ways to take your focus out of your head and into your body.
If you’re looking to try Vinyasa Yoga in Nottingham, check out the classes I run with my partner Tom and Yoga Let Loose here.
Or, for those of you who aren’t Nottingham-based, there are loads of vinyasa yoga classes you can try online – my personal favourite is Ekhart Yoga. Let me know how you get on!
I’ve been a fan of yoga workshops for a long time, and recently my obsession has reached new levels. 2016 has been the year of the yoga workshop for me – I’ve been on a mission to attend and teach as many workshops as I can. Why? Here are my top five reasons to go to a yoga workshop:
Yoga workshops have a specific focus. Whether that’s improving your handstands, exploring meditation, or learning how yoga can help you cope with the colder months, with yoga workshops, there’s a clear and honest objective. Even when you go to a yoga class led by a teacher you love, there’s no guarantee that they’ll cover the thing you’re curious to know more about. When you choose a workshop though, you know exactly what you’ve signed up for and can make sure it’s something you’re into.
Yoga workshops deepen your learning. Unlike in a 60 or even 90 minute class, yoga workshops give you the luxury of dedicated time. There is time to get proper instruction on a topic, to have it demonstrated and explained fully, then to try it out for yourself. Say you want to learn yoga techniques for cyclists, you get chance to explore these in detail, rather than gleaning the odd happy gem of relevant information from a general yoga class.
Yoga workshops can answer your questions. Do you have a burning question about how to strengthen your core? Do you want to know what to do about the fact your right wrist bothers you every time you take weight into your hands? Or would you like a teacher to check your alignment in full wheel pose and give you feedback? You probably won’t want to ask those questions mid-flow of a yoga class, but yoga workshops are the ideal time to do exactly that. I recommend going with a list of questions, and checking at the end for any that haven’t been covered so that you can run them by the teacher.
Yoga workshops are fun. If you’re looking for a great way to spend an afternoon, evening or day, you can’t go far wrong with a yoga workshop. You get to learn interesting things, play with yoga, and dedicate a couple of precious hours to developing yourself and your own yoga practice. Also, yoga workshops tend to be more sociable than yoga classes, and are a great chance to meet and interact with some lovely like-minded people.
Yoga workshops are an investment in yourself. The couple of hours and the money that you invest in a yoga workshop directly benefits you. After most yoga workshops, I come away with lots of useful “takeaways” – new learning, things to try and ideas to incorporate into my own yoga practice. Workshops are also a great way to get re-inspired, especially if you’ve hit a bit of a plateau. I usually leave a yoga workshop motivated to get back on my mat, practising and learning more stuff.
If you’re convinced by all this, and want to give a yoga workshop a try, check out my page here for upcoming yoga workshops. Right now, I have a lovely workshop planned which will teach you strategies to beat the winter blues. And of course drop me an email with any questions you have: firstname.lastname@example.org
After clocking up the miles cycling, yoga is the ideal way to release tight muscles, keeping your body healthy and functioning at its peak. These are 3 brilliant yoga poses for cyclists. They’ll improve your range of motion, flexibility and strength. Practise them after a ride, or on their own after a bit of a warm up. Hold each posture for at least 5 breaths (practising in dungarees is optional).
Downward Facing Dog
How to do it: From all fours, tuck your toes under and lift your hips back and up so that your body forms an inverted V-shape. Press into your fingertips and externally rotate your upper arms. Bend one knee at a time to take the stretch deeper into your hamstrings and calves. Release your heels towards the ground and take the gaze to the big toes. Hold for at least 5 breaths
Why it works: Downward facing dog is a great yoga pose for cyclists because it releases the back of your legs, especially your hamstrings and calves which riding tends to tighten. It also helps to bring your spine back into alignment and strengthens your upper body and shoulders.
How to do it: Lunge forward with one leg and bend your front knee, taking your front thigh towards parallel to the ground, but not letting your knee come forward of the toes. Lengthen your stance if necessary. Keep your back heel off the ground but press it away to deepen the stretch into your hip flexor. Engage your core and lengthen your spine, lifting your arms overhead. Remember to repeat on the other side!
Why it works: Crescent lunge deeply stretches and releases your psoas and hip flexors, which are often super-tight for cyclists. It provides a much needed stretch for the front of your body, while building strength in your legs.
How to do it: Lying on your back, bring your feet in, positioning them parallel and hip width apart. Press into your feet to lift your hips. Interlace your hands under your back and draw one shoulder at a time underneath you. Press the sides of your arms, wrists and hands into the ground to lift yourself higher.
Why it works: Bridge pose is the ideal counter for a rounded forward cyclist’s posture. It takes your arms into external rotation, opening the front of your shoulders and training your upper body to return to a healthy, neutral alignment after a ride. It also strengthens the muscles of your back and glutes while releasing your hip flexors, abdominal muscles and chest.
To learn more yoga techniques to improve your performance, endurance, strength and recovery, book onto my Yoga for Cyclists workshop, Sunday 11th September 1.30-3.30pm at The Fitness Space, West Bridgford.
For a long time, I resisted meditation. In part, I was worried that meditating too much would make me complacent, I’d develop an attitude of resignation, and basically give up on life. I was wrong (shocker). This is what I’ve learnt about how mindfulness and meditation can be a stepping stone to falling in love with life instead.
3 Steps to Falling In Love With Life
1. Be here.
We can’t fall in love with life if we aren’t here experiencing it. When we practise mindfulness, we become more aware of what’s happening right now. This doesn’t just mean being present during moments that we enjoy, like seeing the stars on a clear night, or being engrossed in a great conversation with someone (although that’s important). It’s also about developing awareness during the times we usually switch off, like when we’re waiting for the kettle to boil or driving to work. Even more challenging, it means becoming aware during the uncomfortable times, the times when we would usually try to avoid or resist our own experience. For example, noticing our reaction when someone says something that triggers anger or sadness in us, or checking in with what happens to our minds when we’re in a yoga pose that we really don’t like. Pausing to actively get connected with what’s happening is the first step to falling in love with all that life has to offer.
2. Accept it.
Awareness will only get you so far, if you’re still feeling aversion to the “bad” stuff and clinging to the “good”. Life will never be only full of pleasurable things. If you expect it to be, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Sorry, but you are. Take falling in love with someone. The butterflies, passion and excitement of a blossoming relationship can also bring anxiety, fear and pain. The more we cling to pleasurable experiences and resist the uncomfortable ones, the more we suffer when uncomfortable experiences inevitably arise. The trick (and it’s not easy!) is to try to accept it all. The good and the bad. The reason that meditation helps with this is because meditation trains us to cultivate an attitude of equanimity to whatever arises in our minds. If we can do this in our minds, we can apply it to our lives. Read this beautiful poem for more on this.
3. Embrace it.
This is all very well and good, but do any of us actually want an “acceptable” life? Is that our highest aim? Surely not. Don’t we want to be enthralled by life, and passionate about it? Don’t we want to fall in love with life? If so, then acceptance is not enough. The next step is whole-heartedly embracing all that happens. To do this requires trust. It means we need to let go of our judgements, and recognise that we never really know what is good and what is bad. It’s all just “stuff” and if we embrace it, it all has its value and its beauty. This is what it means to surrender. It’s not about giving up – it’s about opening up. That way we are free to do our work, whatever that is – we can dream, act, love and create. And the best bit is that if we really cultivate this attitude, we let go of attachment to the outcome. The result is no longer so important, because we trust the process, and embrace all it brings.
None of this is easy, and it’s a lot to get your head around. But given that we can control so little of what happens in the universe, actually, the one thing we can control is our mindset. Taking these steps is by far the most effective strategy I’ve found so far to fall in love with life (and to falling in love with anything else for that matter).
I’ll be honest, I wrote this list for myself. It’s my “go to” list of things that make me feel better, and I’m sharing because maybe some of them will help you too. And yes, I know that there’s a lot to be said for letting yourself feel sad, and not fighting it, but there’s also a lot to be said for doing something proactive. I reckon taking action to help yourself feel better is usually preferable to dissolving in a puddle of self-pity/ wine/ vegan mint chocolate chip ice cream (been there). So here goes:
Write it out. Journalling helps us to process what’s going on in our heads. I write what I’m thinking until I’ve written my way through the confusion, and have settled on a course of action.
Make a gratitude list. Some of mine seem ridiculous: “I am grateful that at least being stuck here means I have time to meditate,” etc, but it doesn’t matter. The act of focusing on gratitude changes your thinking.
Reach out to someone. Call a friend, send someone a message, send 15 people a message if necessary. Human beings are social creatures. Connect with more of them. It helps.
Exercise. Walk, run, dance, do whatever, but get yourself moving. The key is getting out of your head and into your body.
Watch some Tony Robbins on Youtube. I find him super-cringey, but I cannot watch him talk without feeling more positive. Weird, but it works.
“Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.” This one’s courtesy of Liz Taylor, and who am I to argue?
Another confession – this list was going to be 10 items long, but I ran out of ideas, and besides, 7 seems like a good number. But by all means, make your own list and make it as long as you like. Please share your ideas in the comments below… I’ll probably need them at some point too.
You might have come across the hashtag #yogaeverydamnday, which could seem funny, or inspiring or motivating. But if you’re new to yoga, or you’re very busy, the idea of practising yoga every day can be intimidating. So do we really need to do yoga every day? And how much yoga is enough to feel the benefits?
The amount of yoga you need depends on your goals. This means working out what you want from your yoga practice. For example, if you want to learn to handstand, you need to put the time in to strengthen and open your body, and increase your body awareness and balance. Having a go as part of your weekly yoga class will help, but if you’re doing nothing in between, it’s probably going to take you a long time to progress. On the other hand, if you have a very active lifestyle and you use yoga to reconnect with your body and mind, your needs will be different. Spending just 10 minutes at the end of the day doing a restorative posture like legs up the wall pose followed by some meditation will have a huge impact.
Daily practice is a non-negotiable. I appreciate this might be a controversial one, but for me, to function at my best, I need some kind of yoga every single day. This is not necessarily a vigorous flowing yoga practice, although that is my preference. Some days my self practice is just finding 5 minutes to meditate. I can even do this on the plane if I’m travelling. Other days I might do 10 sun salutations, some core strengthening work or some joint mobilisation exercises.
Fluctuations are normal, and natural. One thing I’ve learned is that my own yoga practice ebbs and flows, depending how I’m feeling and what I’m doing in the rest of my life. I used to panic if I couldn’t fit in an hour to practise every day, but now I try to be more responsive to my situation. During my Advanced Yoga Teacher Training, I practised yoga for 3 hours every day (at least!) and meditated for 1 hour. I felt amazing, but that amount of practice isn’t realistic for me (or many people!) most of the time. That’s ok. The way I think of it is I still carry with me all the benefits of having spent that amount of time practising yoga. So now, even when I just do a mini yoga practice, or a short meditation, I know I’m reconnecting with all the good that I cultivated during that time of intensive practice.
It’s worth saying that the more I’ve practised yoga, the more I realised that yoga is everything. From noticing my impatience while I wait in a supermarket queue to remembering to relax my shoulders when I run, it’s all about mindfulness, and it’s all good yoga practice. But I still prefer to have some dedicated part of each day where I consciously and deliberately set aside the time and space to do yoga.
How much yoga is the minimum?
For me, I’ve found the lowest I can let it go is 5 minutes per day. I feel like I really miss out if I don’t spend at least 5 minutes per day connecting with myself. Usually if time is as tight as this, I don’t do yoga postures at all, I just sit and meditate for the 5 minutes, because I find that’s the most effective way to drop into the mindful awareness I am looking for in such a short space of time.
I’d love to know what you think of this and how much yoga you need? What works for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Have a great week lovely yogis and yoginis.
P.S. Shameless plug for my wonderful yoga retreats here… If you’re looking to spend some more focused and intensive time on yourself and your yoga practice, I have three magical retreats coming up – check out my page here and drop me a message if you’d like more details. I’d love to welcome you on one.
I’ve struggled with the concept of self-love in the past. It seemed to me to be self-indulgent and even narcissistic. And, I thought, surely if you just decide to love yourself, you’ll lose any motivation to develop or grow?
But lately, I’ve had some great conversations with people who have helped me to see the advice “love yourself” completely differently. I also signed up for a one month trial of EkhartYoga online classes (the best one euro I’ve spent this month – if you haven’t tried it, sign up now. It’s brilliant. Seriously.) and watched some thought-provoking talks about loving yourself.
What I’ve realised is that my discomfort around loving myself came from my misconceptions about what it meant. My new understanding is that self-love means shifting your attitude towards yourself, dropping the negative self-talk and embracing all aspects of yourself – the light and the dark.
Here’s what self-love isn’t:
It’s not self indulgence.
I associated loving myself with spending hours having luxurious baths, painting my toenails, and buying expensive face creams. Which was fine, but seemed kind of superficial. No matter how nice these things are, I was unconvinced that they could be the key to lasting happiness. But I’ve come to think of these activities as self-care, rather than self-love. Self-care is an important aspect of loving yourself, but it’s not the whole story. Self-love requires a more profound mindset shift.
It’s not narcissism.
I thought loving yourself implied believing that you’re awesome – and far more awesome than anyone else. But that’s not the case. Loving yourself and embracing all that you are does not mean thinking that you are better than anyone else. If anything it’s the opposite. It means seeing all of your “flaws”, and annoying behaviours and choosing to love yourself anyway. When you develop that compassion for yourself, you expand your capacity to be compassionate towards others. Practising self-love trains you in how to see every aspect of another person, the good and the bad, and loving them anyway.
It’s not complacency.
This was the scariest aspect of self-love for me. I worried that if I loved myself as I was, I would lose all motivation to develop and grow. Because there’s still so much I want to work on, and learn and progress with. I didn’t want to lose my drive. But actually, self-love and acceptance doesn’t have to mean thinking that you have nowhere else to go in the future. It means recognising and deeply accepting where you are right now. And that place of deep acceptance and love for yourself is the perfect foundation from which to evolve. The criticism that we inflict upon ourselves is more likely to promote self-punishment and destructive behaviour than growth.
The hardest thing about self-love?
When you realise that self-love is not about indulgence, narcissism or complacency, it becomes a much less scary prospect. And the hardest thing then is that like any shift in mindset, it requires effort to retrain your brain. Until it becomes habitual, you need to consciously choose more loving thoughts towards yourself.
But how do you actually do this?
I like being practical about things, and having tangible strategies to try out. So I’m sharing Esther Ekhart’s advice, which I’ve personally found really useful. She says that when you do something “wrong” and you’re feeling frustrated, annoyed or upset with yourself, stop. Recognise that if you had known or had the ability in that moment to do it better, you would have done. See yourself from the outside, acknowledge and accept all the good and the bad, and meet it with compassion. Repeat the phrase,“I see you, and I love you,” to yourself.
It’s likely to feel strange, and maybe uncomfortable at first, but give it it a go. Even if it’s just for this week, see what difference it makes to love yourself.
Let me know how you get on!
Lots of love, Jade xxx
Whatever you are doing, love yourself for doing it. Whatever you are feeling, love yourself for feeling it – Thaddeus Golas