Yoga for self-acceptance
Do you have trouble accepting something about yourself that seems innate and difficult to change, yet persists despite you ignoring it, criticising it or making yourself feel bad about it? In today’s driven society, the push to succeed against all odds and gain material goods, the body beautiful or the approval of others is tantamount. This pressure can leave many people talking to themselves with unkind criticisms and cruel judgments, sometimes without even being aware of it. When deep feelings and thoughts towards the self are negative, self-acceptance can take a dive.
Berating self-talk or denying aspects of yourself you don’t like will not improve your situation – it only creates more of the same. Yoga can help you find peace within yourself – to accept and even love who you are.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the classical text written between 100 BCE and 500 CE, defined yoga as a mental practice. All aspects of yoga, including the postures (asanas) are practised in order to bring about a cessation (nirodhah) of the fluctuations of the mind (vritti). Lack of self-acceptance is an obstacle to overcome as it creates disorder within the mind and inhibits feelings of serenity and inner peace.
Case of mistaken identity
Patanjali says the problem lies in a case of mistaken identity. Most people get attached to – and define themselves – according to their thoughts and feelings. When you think of your “self” you are usually referring to the ego or small self, rather than the true self or pure consciousness that radiates blissfully at the core of your being.
You attach to the ego because you haven’t come in contact with your true self yet. Patanjali refers to a veil over the true self clouding your perception of life and not allowing you to see things as they truly are and live in radiance in every moment. This is because you are misidentifying with the concerns, ups and downs of the ego. Often a lack of self-acceptance arises because the self-critical ego does not want to accept a truth about itself.
The ethical precepts
To heal self-condemnation, yoga uses grounding practices that heal the whole self, cease the fluctuations of the mind and reveal the true self. Patanjali provides guidelines for right action, right speech and right thinking to keep you on the spiritual path. If you live by the ethical practices (yamas and niyamas), and consciously bring these into all areas of your life, you will be less likely to be self-condemning and self-acceptance can come naturally.
The yamas and niyamas have practical application in your every day life. For example, when you have trouble accepting yourself, apply saucha (purity) through authentic yoga practice of asana, pranayama and meditation, to cleanse your body and mind from negativity. Whenever a negative thought arises, apply satya (truthfulness) and ask, “Is it true?” Then apply ahimsa (non-violence) by treating yourself with kindness and samtosha (contentment) to acknowledge what you have.
Then apply saucha (purity) again to purify the body and mind from negative attachments.
To strengthen yourself, apply tapas (self-discipline) to continue your practice of yoga. Apply aparigraha (non-possessiveness) when you compare yourself to others so that you don’t jealously want what they have. Then apply samtosha again.
Apply svadhyaya (self-study) to witness your thoughts and practice detachment. And finally, apply ishvara pranidhana (surrender) to surrender your efforts to the divine consciousness and allow your spiritual journey to accelerate.
If you live your life with unkind words to yourself it is likely you will approach your yoga practice the same way. You may be comparing yourself negatively to others, judging your efforts and being disappointed with yourself. Yoga asana demands a present moment attention on the body and the physical challenges taking place in order to do the poses. You are not aiming for the perfect pose, but adjusting the pose for your needs. This can be a humbling experience for the ego, particularly if you are someone who lives “in your head”. However, it is also the perfect moment for self-improvement and to step onto a yoga path in order to gain peace in life. Rather than walk away from the uncomfortable feelings that arise when faced with difficult postures, or even the mental chatter during a quieter pose, breathe into what is taking place.
Your yoga practice is a place where you can witness your thoughts in a moving meditation, bringing the mind back to the breath. The breath is a powerful healer of the mind as well as the body. In that moment of limitation observe your self-talk and surrender to the divine. That is when you begin to practice self-acceptance and bring compassion into your life too.
When it feels confronting
Accepting the challenges that arise during a yoga practice is an opportunity to work on your self-development. For example, a beginner may feel challenged by the new practice, or a woman whose body has changed due to childbearing may feel it’s unrecognisable during yoga poses. The same applies with recovery from an illness – first there needs to be a process of accepting the new situation and then accepting the new ways of working that may be required in a non-harmful way. Watching the mind, accepting that something that required no effort previously needs great effort now, will help you get stronger and work through confrontations in order to accept what arises. It requires discipline to allow the thoughts and feelings to arise, and then let them go without attachment to the outcomes. However, with practice it can be done.
Yoga for self-acceptance is a life journey. Applying commitment, burning enthusiasm and detachment to your practice through difficult patches, as well as during pleasurable moments, will help heal your life. Find a guide for your journey inwards in a yoga teacher you resonate with and respect. Your true self awaits.
Aim to practice yoga on an empty stomach, at the same time every day, in a quiet place free of interruptions. Give yourself the gift of yoga for self-acceptance. You are worth it.
During your yoga practice keep your mind focused on the breath. When your mind does wander to unkind inner thoughts, try these powerful affirmations to bring you back on track. Then refocus on your breath as you practice with joyful intentions in your heart:
- I am grateful for my body and all it does for me.
- I am grateful for my life and the opportunity to improve through yoga practice.
- I let go of desires and am unattached to the outcomes of my practice. I practice anyway.
Later, when the mind wanders without the criticisms towards self, add these affirmations:
- I lovingly accept all that I am, the unlimited potential of my being.
- I lovingly accept all that arises without judgment or desire.
- I practice my yoga with joy in my heart.
The intention for practice
Set an intention that focuses on loving the self and accepting all that arises in the present moment such as:
- I willingly accept what I see, think or feel. I am not my thoughts or feelings. I practice my yoga without attaching to the outcomes. With utmost reverence and humility, I dedicate my practice to pure consciousness, the true self residing at the core of my being.
1. Atmanjali Mudra Reverence to the Self Seal: Sit in Siddhasana with one ankle in front of the other. Spread your arms and raise them to the heavens on the in-breath. On an exhalation, place hands in a prayer mudra at your heart centre, pressing thumbs into the sternum as you lift it up. Relax shoulders down. Draw the abdomen back as you lift the spine. Repeat your intention for your practice, then sit in silence focusing on the breath. Chant the primordial sound Aum for a few moments.
Next, warm up with joint rotations of the ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders and include neck circles, followed by three rounds of an easy variation of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar).
2. Ardha Ado Mukha Vrksasana: Half Handstand. Sit in cat pose on your hands and knees with heels touching the wall. Wrists under shoulders, knees in line with hips. Slowly walk feet up wall until they are perpendicular to your hips. Straighten legs. Shoulders in line with wrists. If they are not in line, come out of pose and move hands closer to wall before resuming position. Move abdomen back towards spine and lift shoulders away from ears. Breathe. Feel strong and capable. Going upside down can help change your perspective. Note: if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, hold Adho Mukha Svanasana; Downward Facing Dog pose instead.
3. Ardha Chandrasana: Half Moon Pose. Come into the pose through Trikonasana: the Triangle pose on right side with left hand on left hip. Bend right knee as you place the fingertips of right hand on floor, around 10cm away from little toe side of foot. Lift left leg off the floor to slightly above hip height if you can and straighten both legs. Energise left leg and flex toes. Rotate torso up towards the sky. Raise left arm up until wrist is in line with shoulder joint. Find your balance, slowly turn head to look up at the sky. Work with a block under the lower hand if you have trouble reaching the floor. Balance poses bring harmony to your body and your mind. The same note as above applies.
4. Prasarita Padottanasana: Wide Angled Forward Bend. Standing on your mat step feet over a metre apart (depending on your height). Line both feet up with edges of the mat and turn feet in slightly towards each other. Lift inner arches of feet and contract thigh muscles. Pivoting from hips, bend forward with straight legs and place hands on the floor or on a block if your hands don’t comfortably reach the floor. Breathe. Relax head down and lift shoulders up away from ears. Bring your weight to tops of feet to bring hips in line with ankles. To release from pose, bend knees and slowly come up to standing. This forward bending pose relaxes your brain and helps you feel calm.
5. Supta Padangusthasana: Reclining Big Toe Pose. Lie on floor with right leg active and straight. Bend left leg to your chest and place a belt or tie around the ball of toes of left foot. Straighten left leg to 90 degrees, ensuring shoulders are resting on floor. Loosen the grip on the belt. Flex right foot towards you and engage right leg throughout pose. Move abdomen to the left. Holding strap with left hand only now, rest right arm out to the side at shoulder height along floor. Take left leg out to left side, keeping right hip on ground. Breathe. Hold position for a minute or so. Bring leg back to center and release out of pose. Repeat all stages on other leg.
6. Supta Parivatanasana: Bent Leg Twist. Lie on your back. Keep left leg straight along the floor and bend right leg towards the chest. Hike the hips to the right, then take right bent leg across the left side of body, feeling into the twist. Arms at shoulder height and out to the sides on the floor. Increase intensity of pose by holding right knee with left hand. Look to the right. Come back to centre and repeat on other side.
7. Viparita Karani: Legs Up The Wall Pose. Sit on the edge of a three-fold blanket or bolster at the wall. Sitting to the side of the wall with your left hip touching it. Spin body to a reclining position lying your torso and head on the floor in front of wall. Raise legs up the wall and bring them together. Your buttocks should be touching the wall. Rest your arms alongside your body on floor, palms facing up. Flex feet and bring outer edges of each foot towards the floor. Breathe. Allow your body to flush fresh oxygenated blood through your system as you lie there. Focus on your breathing and relax.
Kylie Terraluna is a writer and yoga teacher on the path of vedic wisdom. She travels Australia, teaching WellBeing’s yoga workshops on love and happiness. Join her for a beautiful weekend of transformation. For more information, visit kylieterraluna.com.au.