We explore what traditional yoga philosophy has to say about self-love and self-care.

Self-care (often used synonymously with self-love) has become a buzzword within the yoga community in recent years. Yogis are rushing off for weekly spa sessions in an attempt to connect more deeply with the self and come out a more enlightened being. We put on organic facemasks, take long baths, douse ourselves in coconut oil and repeat affirmations in the mirror, then wonder why we don’t feel fulfilled. It’s not that I’m not a fan of a little indulgence, but where does this connection come from and what does it have to do with yoga? Isn’t yoga supposed to be about letting go of the self and seeing that there is no separation; we are all one?

Well, kind of. There are many classical philosophies that embrace the idea of strict discipline. But more and more, we are seeing ways of connecting with a deeper sense of spirituality through bodily practices and this always involves an element of self-care.

But intention is important. Acts of self-care alone are not enough to find a deeper sense of connection. From a yogic point of view, they must be practised with an understanding of the philosophies behind them in order to be truly effective. And so, in order to cultivate lasting self-care, we need to understand more than simply where to get the best massage.

Take it from tantra

Just like many philosophical ideologies, tantra is wildly complex, with thousands of different texts and philosophical positions. Tantra means different things to different practitioners (and, yes, some of it revolves around sex), but one core aspect of tantric philosophy is relatively consistent: there is no separation between the mundane and the divine. That is, divinity exists within every single particle of the universe. It’s within you, it’s within me and this idea of enlightenment and connecting with the divine is available to everyone — not just monks who sit in caves.

You might think of tantra like traditional yoga philosophy’s rebellious little sister. Where many traditionalists believe we need to renounce this earthly body in order to achieve enlightenment, tantrics say the body is a vehicle that we can utilise to achieve ultimate bliss and unity. They suggest we tune into the body’s most subtle vibrations and work with techniques that move us towards a deeper understanding of this crazy life. Instead of seeking liberation from the world, tantrics seek liberation in the world.

Where traditionalists might encourage hours of breath awareness and self enquiry, tantrics might say, “To hell with that, let’s dance; let’s bliss out and be in these divine bodies.” With tantra, there is no searching for enlightenment, but simply finding the divinity in this very moment by tuning into the subtle energy body and shifting blockages.

Through asana (yoga postures), for example, we align the body in a way that allows energy to flow. When practised with clear intention, this can give us a deeper understanding of life and allow us to find ultimate bliss. But bliss isn’t something “out there”. Tantra is really about tuning into the bliss that’s always there — being present with it — and learning to play with that energy. It’s seeing the beauty in all things.

Get the massages, have the sex! But do them with intention and presence. Do them with a deep acknowledgement and understanding of the subtle energies at play. Don’t just scoff down the chocolate — eat it slowly, sensually and with intention. Don’t just move through the motions of your asana practice, but feel every sensation at play. By practising life in this way, with tantric intention, we can discover divinity and bliss in every moment — an act of true self-love.

Know your dosha

Ayurveda is a more practical path to self-care. Known as the sister science of yoga, it’s a holistic healing system that sets out a number of health-inspiring practices (including diet and lifestyle) to suit your individual constitution.

In Ayurveda, there are three doshas (energies within the body and mind) — vata, pitta and kapha — and every individual fits into one of these categories. Ayurvedicn medicine acknowledges the way that nature and humanity interact and looks for solutions that honour that relationship.

What’s your dosha?

Kapha derives from the elements of earth and water. Translating as “that which sticks”, you might think of kapha like an essential type of cement for the body and mind. The qualities of kapha are moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky and static, and a kapha individual will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities — in positive (balanced) and negative (unbalanced) ways. Kapha types generally have strong frames and are naturally athletic, with a tendency to gain weight. Innately stable, compassionate and loyal, they thrive off routine and regularity. When imbalanced, they can become unmotivated, stubborn and complacent.

Pitta comes from the fire and water elements, translating as “that which cooks”. This domination of the fire element makes pitta types innately strong, intense and, when unbalanced, irritable. They tend to have a medium build and skin that reddens. They are strong-willed, natural leaders who can sometimes become competitive or impatient. They have good digestion and intense appetites and need opportunities to direct their fiery tendencies to achieve balance.

Vata derives from space and air, translating as “wind” or “that which moves things”. Often referred to as the “King of the doshas”, vata gives motion to pitta and kapha. Vata types tend to be thin, lanky and flexible, often tending towards anxiety. They are ambitious and curious, but can sometimes be flaky and ungrounded when out of balance. Vata types often fail to eat and sleep regularly, swinging from one extreme to another.null

Finding balance through Ayurvedic self-care

There are many self-care practices you can engage in to keep your dosha balanced and avoid the mental and physical challenges that can result when your dosha gets out of whack.

Because kaphas tend towards sluggishness, they can balance this through diet, exercise and lifestyle practices. They will benefit from light, healthy and slightly stimulating spicy dishes. Because they are generally less motivated than the other doshas, they can balance this out with exercise and rising early in the morning. As pittas are naturally fiery, they should eat plenty of cooling, vegetarian foods and engage in gentle, nurturing activities such as yoga, time in nature and meditation. Balancing airy vata types can be achieved through consuming nourishing, grounding foods including root vegetables, following a regular routine and finding activities that allow for quiet self-reflection and self-care. By understanding your unique constitution and engaging in practices that seek to find balance, you can practise self-care intentionally, inspired by yogic traditions.

The true meaning of “Om”

You chant it at the beginning and end of almost every yoga class, and you know it feels kind of good, but you may not have considered the meaning behind the mantra. The vibration of Om is said to contain the entire universe — the sound from the beginning of time.

Everything in the universe is pulsating and vibrating and the sound of Om brings you into harmony with this. Vibrating at the same frequency found throughout everything in nature, chanting Om is a way of acknowledging your connection with everything around you; we are all one. Chanting this sound with a group of people unifies the group, creating a sense of community and drowning out the sound of your individual voice. If you understand yoga’s philosophical message that we are all one, then true self-love is actually love for everyone. And so giving can be a really beautiful act of self-love, as having a sense of community and oneness are the things that make us truly happy and fulfilled.

True self-care, from a yogic perspective, is less about the self and more about appreciating and acknowledging the world around us — seeing that there is divinity in everything and everyone, becoming the healthiest version of yourself to be of service to others and acting from a place of selflessness.

Words Jessica Humphries

Want to learn more about being moved? Visit our moved archive.