We’re all guilty of slipping into bad habits from time to time and being judgmental and self-critical, and even when we step on our yoga or pilates journey and start to feel better, our minds can wander and need some extra guidance toward self-acceptance and loving kindness on the mat – so we can then extend this into all areas of our lives.
Here are 4 Ways to Love Yourself on the Yoga Mat this Valentine’s Day:
1 - Don’t compare yourself with your neighbour
Yoga or pilates is not a competition; not with ourselves nor anyone else – but despite knowing this, it can be hard to remember when you see the person on the mat next to yours push up into a perfect Wheel pose you just don’t quite have the flexibility in your back for yet, or nail a Handstand when your arms feel like jelly. Know that it can be normal to compare yourself with others, and at the same time – every time you do so, and your mind wanders to such thoughts of comparison, make a conscious effort to come back to your breath, your body and your mat space.
2 - Acknowledge your strengths
Tight hamstrings, anyone? We’ve all been there, said that – whether it’s pointing out a weak core, lack of balance or inflexible leg muscles, we can often focus on what we’re not so good at. But it’s important to focus too on your strengths, and things you may not have even noticed, to help you feel better and create a more positive mindset. For example, when you’re in Downward Dog, bring awareness to how strong and healthy you are rather than how tight the back of your thighs are. Or when you’re tilting forwards into Dancer balance, acknowledge how flexible your hip flexors are rather than how off balance you feel that day. By changing your focus, you can find a sense of achievement and this can build stamina to bring you back to the mat time after time.
3 - Let yourself relax fully
Whether you love or hate the bit at the end of the class where everyone lies on the mat and the lights are turned out, the Relaxation or Savasana is an integral part of the yoga class, where your body and mind can fully rest and you’re able to unwind and release tension. It also provides a chance to notice where you’ve arrived at the end of your practice, building self-awareness. I often say: “There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, but just be here in this moment watching your breath” Treat this part of the class as just as important as the physical work previous to it – and allow yourself to slow down and be still, taking good care of yourself in the process.
4 - Do the yoga that is right for you now
Your teacher will offer you different levels and variations of poses, so you can adapt the practice to suit you. Take the time during the start of the class, and do a body scan to see how you’re feeling in body and mind, and then learn to take instruction cues appropriately. For example, if you’re feeling particularly tired and had little sleep the night before, then kindly lower your back knee in a Lunge pose, or if you’re overheating and your back is hurting, lovingly bring your hands onto your hips in Warrior poses. There’s always tomorrow to challenge yourself more and have a stronger practice. Listen to your body and know that ‘the real challenge is giving yourself what you need in this moment – and not necessarily the trickier pose’.
So, here are just a few suggestions for ways you can be more gentle and loving toward yourself in the yoga class – and then by practising these, in turn you will be more able to integrate them into your everyday life too.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone - we love you and we hope you love you too!