THE UNEXPECTED JOY OF SELF-LOVE
"It was during small windows in my week, when I eventually took to my yoga mat that I dared to slow down; lighting a candle, taking deep breaths, and becoming more mindful and intentional with my thoughts and my movements."
- Amy Bartle
I’ll be honest, the idea of self-love used to set my teeth on edge, like the Kardashians and memes with kittens. And as for self-care, well, that was an indulgence reserved only for those with the luxury of time. Always busy, I was a perfectionist, and a people-pleaser. My life ran at 100 miles an hour, juggling my own business with caring for my young son, and teaching yoga part time, often to stressed-out Mums just like me. I felt like I was out of control, constantly reacting to other people’s demands, putting off precious me-time for the needs of others and the day I was ‘less busy’. As the anxiety that I’d struggled with since childhood started to creep back with unsettling regularity, I began to realize, something had to change.
It was during small windows in my week, when I eventually took to my yoga mat that I dared to slow down; lighting a candle, taking deep breaths, and becoming more mindful and intentional with my thoughts and my movements.
Why, I wondered, couldn’t I bring those lessons from my yoga off the mat?
And so I began to slowly unravel my patterns of behaviour and thinking, carefully undoing years of over-achieving and striving for that ideal of ‘having it all’. Finally weaving the teachings of yoga into my daily life. I began to see self-care less as a luxury, and more a necessity; less an occasional treat, like a massage or a leisurely soak in the tub, and more a daily practice that kept my spirit fuelled.
I studied my yoga text books, learning page by page about the negative effects of chronic stress on the body and mind, including high blood pressure, ulcers, back pain, immune dysfunction, reproductive and digestive problems, and depression.
I noticed that as teachers and students of yoga if we’re not careful, yoga can easily become just another thing on our never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Another box to tick before we hurry to the next thing. We often arrive frazzled to class after a hectic day and carry that energy through our practice, perpetuating our sense of overwhelm and exhaustion. But if we come to our mats (and also our lives) with kindness and compassion, yoga can help to rebalance our energy, restoring us back to our centre.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my yoga practice that now help me every day.
Self-care begins with self-compassion. For a long time my kindness was only reserved for other people. I constantly put my own needs way below the needs of everyone else, but this only led to feelings of resentment when my time was constantly squeezed by my obligations to other people. By asking what works for me I’ve got better at prioritizing my time and not overscheduling myself.
Be the witness to the uncomfortable and unhelpful thoughts. After 4 years of teaching yoga and running workshops for women I recognized that most of the unhappiness and stress came not from critical family members or friends, but rather from the women themselves. It was their own inner critic that was always the harsh voice telling them they weren’t enough, this helped me to recognize my own. Of course we’re not helped by the images we see every day in the media and online, but the internal criticism is always about more than the size of our waistline or the wrinkles on our face. It is about how we parent, how we work (or don’t work), how we prepare meals. how we keep our homes and our relationships. Through my yoga and meditation practice I’ve learnt to notice my inner voice that is quick to criticize and compare, the voice that often tells me I don’t have time to sit down as there is still more to get done. By witnessing the thoughts as they come up I find the space to acknowledge them and can begin to let them go, choosing a dialogue that is gentler and kinder. This is a constant practice (that voice can be pretty convincing), but little by little I’m getting there.
Learn the art of a loving no. Yoga teaches us to simplify and purify both body and mind, and most of my feelings of overwhelm and stress came from simply taking on too much. Learning to say no in a loving way was perhaps the hardest lesson in self-love. It meant sometimes having uncomfortable conversations, often feeling like I’ve disappointed people, when this is rarely the case, and I remind myself that the people who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.
In order to give, you have to be able to receive.Just like the inhale and the exhale of the breath, we have to be able to take energy into the body in order to be able to give it out. We don’t have unlimited reserves, or as the saying goes ‘you can’t give from an empty cup’. Quiet time and moments of stillness every day will literally recharge your physical and emotional batteries.
Practice less effort and more ease. It was whilst reading a quote from the Buddha that this lesson really struck me ‘how we do anything, is how we do everything’. I realised that when I was pushing too hard in my yoga practice, I was usually pushing too hard in life too. By softening and being a little kinder to myself I could bring more ease and less struggle into my day.
Notice the breath. Our breath is such a great indicator of how we’re feeling, when I notice I’m going into the tailspin of stress and anxiety my breath is usually shorter, caught up in the top of my chest. By taking a few moments to breath a little deeper and more intentionally it helps slow me down and calm and steady my mind.
And finally…take that slow deep breath and let go of being perfect.
I still need to remind myself of these lessons every day, my old habits and patterns run deep, but slowly I’ve begun to take much better care of myself and I’ve found that sense of loving kindness towards myself that I used to find so difficult.
Posted by Amy Bartle