By Julia Travers
Yoga is a contemplative and explorative practice that can bring body, mind, and any other description of human existence into the present moment. Many yogis (myself included) sometimes get caught up in self-judgement and guilt relating to Yoga as we do in so many aspects of our lives. We may wonder if we are doing the poses correctly or practicing yoga with enough diligence. If the present moment is difficult in Yoga or in life, it does not suggest failure. This article offers three Yoga poses and techniques, and describes how to relate to them in a way that will hopefully nourish self-love, self-acceptance, and letting go into present awareness.
Extended Triangle Pose (AKA Utthita Trikonasana)
Triangle Pose offers a vibrant balance between grounding and elongating, as do so many standing poses. Yoga Journal offers detailed instructions for entering Triangle Pose, which occurs in several stages:
Position your feet at about 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart. Extend your arms parallel to the floor, palms down, shoulder blades wide. Exhale and bend your torso from the hip joint, not waist, and place your right arm over the plane of your right leg. The ankle, foot or even floor are other options to rest the arm — the aim is to settle on a position that does not distort the sides of the torso. Stretch your left arm skyward. Your head should be in the neutral position or turned toward the left and gently gazing at the left thumb. See the picture provided for details. You can also refer to the Yoga Journal article.
Triangle Pose is truly a full-body stretch. I chose it as a pose for encouraging self-love because it has a strong chest-opening aspect. When our chests and hearts are open, we breathe more deeply and our attention is drawn down from our thinking minds into our torso. Triangle Pose also requires strong footing and rooting into the legs, which helps us to feel grounded and capable. Because Triangle Pose engages so much of our bodies, it has a powerful ability to bring us bodily into the present moment. Carolyn Gregoire, Senior Health & Science Writer at The Huffington Post, shares that it can aid in many of the body’s physiological processes, such as improving digestion. It also can potentially alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, temper the ravages of osteoporosis, and lesson or ease the pain of sciata.
Standing Forward Bend (AKA Uttanasana)
This seemingly simple pose which is often used in transitions between other poses is very interesting. When we bend forward at the waist without locking the knees, we can both engage our leg muscles and stretch our torsos dramatically. We can release our arms and head down and literally let go of holding ourselves upright and keeping it all together as our body’s blood flow reverses, revitalizing us.
As in all Yoga poses, however far we bend or go in this pose is right; it’s a great opportunity to listen to ourselves and let ourselves be. Caroline Layzell, a certified 500-hour yoga instructor at the Yoga Shack Lembongan, just off Bali, describes experiencing letting go through Yoga in this way:
“[l]etting go of what we think we are, what we think we should be, and what we are supposed to achieve.”
Reclining Goddess Pose (AKA Suppta Baddha Konasana)
This pose is often referred to as a restorative pose and is truly nourishing. To practice this pose, while lying on your back, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Close your eyes and place your hands somewhere on your body where they are comfortable, or let them fall out to the sides. If you place your hands somewhere on your abdomen, you can feel your breath move in and out which can be soothing and centering. This pose releases tension in the hips as they open and gives us a chance to rest with our backs on the earth. Feel the earth supporting your weight and don’t try to force your knees down. You can place blankets or bolsters under your neck, head, knees, or lower back as you choose.
If you find that while practicing these poses you do not feel self-loving or peaceful, that is completely okay, and knowing that is in itself a form of self-love. Yoga and Zen Buddhism teacher and author Frank Jude Boccio encourages us to direct phrases of Metta (lovingkindness) to ourselves on the mat. We can do this even when we experience inner criticism. He describes how his students relate to inner critical voices:
“…when practicing with mindfulness and the intention to open the heart, they are able to nonjudgmentally note the voices and use them as “bells of mindfulness” to remind themselves of the metta karuna phrases.”
Using negative and difficult thoughts as reminders to return to the present breath can be very helpful as well. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “wherever you go, there you are” (which also happens to be the title of a great book by Jon Kabat-Zinn). If we can remember this phrase on our Yoga mats, it may help us to let go a little and so make room for self-acceptance and self-love.
On to You
Do you practice yoga techniques for self love? What are your favorite posses? What are some of the challenges your face practicing yoga? Please leave a comment.