A love note to yourSelf

mantra and movement

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

How hard it is to be yourself in modern life, where we are subject to so much pressure to do instead of to feel. People - especially moms, who are busy taking care of others for most of the day - drive themselves into the ground in the name of love. It may be because we care just that much, or we think things will fall apart if we don’t, or we think no one else will do things the way they need to be done. And then we get tired, we get sick, we start wondering what’s missing from our lives, and on the sidelines we hear all this talk of how we need self-love, self-acceptance, and self-care.

But, as Mr. Emerson says, it’s so hard just to be yourself. Who are you? Not just a mom, that’s for sure, even though that’s who you are outwardly for so much of the day. Even if you think of who you were before you became a mom - a doctor, a chef, a truck driver, a stylist, a teacher, a receptionist - that’s just whatever you did. And perhaps it felt like you, but it was just a thing you were doing.

In yoga, one of the practices that can help us get acquainted with that self that we feel we should love, accept, and care for is svadhyaya. That’s a Sanskrit term that refers to self-inquiry: who am I? It’s mentioned as one of the 8 limbs of practice in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. If you begin listing who you are, you get a bunch of roles: mom, wife, all your volunteer gigs, your job (inside/outside of the house, although I heard that ALL moms are working moms), your hobbies. 

But, if you give yourself some time to flow on your yoga mat, moving and breathing, you might notice that yoga can be a poetic expression of assuming many forms. You put your body through lots of shapes and movements, but underneath it, you are the breath. More than that, you are a sort of witness that watches your body and breath practicing yoga. Maybe you take a moment here and there to appreciate that your body can move and do the things it does; that’s one form of self-love. And then sometimes you come up against a pose you can’t fully do and you either come out of it, or back off and do a gentler version as you keep breathing; that’s self-acceptance. So the whole practice of yoga is self-care, but not just the pampering type of self care, but Self-care with a capital S.

A diversion: here is a really nice breakdown of a holistic view of self-care, by Shawn Fink. She includes spiritual, intellectual, and emotional self-care, which often get overshadowed by massages, manicures and mom nights out. Those can be part of self-care, but she also touches on practices that basically fall into a practice of svadhyaya.

Back to the yogic idea of self-love and self-care, let’s come back to the yoga mat. Picture yourself there or actually get on that mat and start moving. As you move through postures, feeling your tight spots and opening the areas that are willing, let yourself focus on your breathing and position so much that all those roles I mentioned above drop away. You are more than a mom, a wife, your job, your volunteer duties, your household responsibilities. You are even more than just a woman - you don’t need self-love because you ARE love. It sounds like airy-fairy hippie talk, but the hippies weren’t the first ones to be into this stuff. 

Two lovely Sanskrit mantras that echo the feeling of self-love are Aham Prema (I am love) and Om Tat Sat  (Om, that truth). The latter might not directly mention love, but it is in line with svadhyaya, and as we come to know that we are more than our daily roles, we come to love that we are the consciousness that watches the breath, the body as it moves through postures, and the light of intelligence that is inspired by yoga practice and the connections it fosters to yourself and others. 

For those of you who don’t click with Sanskrit, there are plenty of affirmations that you can use or customize for yourself: I am love; I am light; I am spirit. Use whatever helps lift you out of the mire of everyday stress. If something like “I am light” feels awkward simply because you don’t feel that way, or you feel sad or depressed, then by all means, get on your mat and do some yoga, or pause and take 3 deep breaths. Go for a walk, journal, listen to uplifting music, have a dance party with your kid(s). Do something that helps you move through that feeling. I’m not at all suggesting sweeping dark emotions under the rug, but moving through them so we realize that we are not sadness, depression, anxiety, stress. We really are love incarnate. Happy Valentine’s Day to me, to you, and to that light that we all embody. Namaste.