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Yoga, self-love and compassion

Are you harder on yourself than on the people around you? Do you ever listen to how you speak to yourself and realise you would never say the same words to a friend or loved one - you would be softer and kinder because you care about them? So why do we find it so difficult to care about ourselves? Let's think about how we can be kinder to ourselves and use yoga to cultivate self-love and compassion.

Principles of non-violence

In parallel to medical ethical principles of doing no harm, one of the foundations, limbs, of yoga, is non-violence - Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas - the approach to living yoga outlined in the Patanjali Sutras. Ahimsa relates to self-kindness, self-love and self-compassion. Ahimsa and the avoidance of harm describe how we treat ourselves, other people and the world that we live in. If we adopt this approach in life, we can pause and choose - to be free, to live consciously and to be kind.

Compassionate choices

One of the things I love about yoga is how it is so flexible. No yoga practice is ever the same as you are never the same at any point in time. There are many forms of yoga, sequences and techniques that there really is something for everyone, for every day and every mood. Even within a pose, you can choose how deep to move, what feels comfortable for your body at that time. Some days I feel tight and slow, and my forward bend will look very different to a different day when I feel open and more alive. The thing is it doesn't matter what you look like, no one is watching and your practice is just for you!

We have the choice to create a yoga practice that works for us and fits our own needs. Compassionate yoga practice comes from inviting your body rather than forcing your body to take a particular shape. This practice of compassionate choice in yoga can be translated into all areas of our lives. The choices we make at work, at home and in our relationships. We can remind ourselves of this ability and be flexible to listen to our own body and mind.

The challenge of self-compassion

In a world where we are encouraged to excel and be the best in the class being hard and cruel on ourselves can be ingrained in our psyche. Years of being kind to other people can sometimes mean that we feel guilty about being kind to ourselves. Leading self-compassion researcher Kirsten Neff has shown that we often believe the inner critic is essential to motivate and achieve personal goals. This self-criticism results in a lowering of resilience to cope with challenges and can leave us more vulnerable to anxiety and depression(1).

Self-compassion is all about being the best friend you need when life gets tough. Changing the negative words and phrases to kinder positive vibes that support and nurture, even when you make mistakes. Self-compassion is about recognising the grief and suffering that you experience and giving yourself the internal comfort you need to heal and move forward. By practicing self-compassion, we can improve our mental wellbeing, build inner strength and cultivate resilience.

Self-love and compassion in your yoga practice

Yoga is a truly self-devotional practice to connect to yourself with movement and breath. I can honestly say I have never felt bad after doing yoga, no matter how difficult it was to get onto my mat to begin. Bringing self-compassion to our body and mind in yoga practice can train us to use these skills in our lives. Share a little compassion for yourself on your mat. When we notice ourselves feeling angry that our hamstrings are tight because we sat down too long today, or that our arms feel too weak for chaturanga, we can stop, acknowledge the thoughts, gently open and replace them with a softer conversation.

Setting an intention can be a great way to include an element of self-love and compassion into your yoga practice. At the start of the practice take a few extra moments to ground yourself to the mat, connect to your breath and set an intention for the day ahead. Reminding yourself of this intention at the end of the practice fixes it in your mind.

I like to finish my meditation practice with an intention for the day ahead, for my mind, body and soul and an intention about how I will be towards the people around me.

Here are 3 guided meditations to add some self-love and compassion into your yoga practice:

2. A guided meditation for positive affirmations

3. An intention setting meditation

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  1. Self Compassion Kirsten Neff


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