Notes on February, Candy Hearts, and Self-Love.

(Originally written for and published on the Maha Yoga Studio blog)

As we start to slide into February, with candy hearts and cupids flooding our peripheral vision, you may (or may not) notice that love is in the air. And while corporate marketing often tells us that this month is reserved for traditional romantic love – usually depicted through cisgender, heteronormative relationships – we as individuals have the ability to celebrate love in all its forms. From our significant others to our family to our friends who are like family to our furry family, or to that door person or barista that you don’t really know but do kinda know– it’s all love. And especially in these times, love is something to be emphasized, multiplied, and shouted from the rooftops.

Out of all the forms of love, though, the longest, most intimate relationship we will ever have is with ourselves and our bodies. And luckily as yoga practitioners, we are able to use the practice to investigate how we interact with all the facets of love and relationship: conversation, compassion, respect, patience, kindness, and even disagreement and expectation.

Through our physical practice and meditation, we get a test run of sorts to see how we relate to these aspects of love and relationship. We get to see how we show up for ourselves in moments of ease (shout out to that end of class happy baby), times of effort (looking at you forearm stand), discomfort (am I done meditating now?!) and, as most practitioners would attest, all the feelings in between that we experience at some point or another on the mat.

In all of those moments we get to see how we show ourselves love, how we talk to ourselves, how we care for ourselves. When the teacher calls out a pose progression that’s not quite in our wheelhouse now, do we put ourselves down? Point out our weaknesses? Say “I’ll never be able to do that,” and let our hearts get heavy? Or do we stay in the pose we’re in and work that pose in our fullest expression and relish in that beauty? This matters, because how we treat ourselves on the mat gives us valuable insight into how we tend to treat ourselves in the world.

As a teacher, I often see students straining or muscling into poses in ways that do not seem like true expressions of self love and compassion. And that’s not to say that the yoga practice does not have its fair share of strenuous, difficult moments (chair pose again?!) or poses that require deep focus and mental determination (**stares down handstand or l-pose**). But as the old adage goes, “love should not hurt.” And neither should yoga in my book (you know, that whole ahimsa and non-injury thing). Even as we safely stretch the boundaries of our capacity, we can find compassion and patience in the effort.

So this month, as we collectively gag at corporate Valentine’s Day marketing but definitely buy all the unsold chocolates on the 15th, I challenge you to see where you can sneak in a little bit more self love into your practice, both on that mat and off– a blanket under your knees or hips as needed, an extra child’s pose, skipping a vinyasa, or kinder self talk as we work towards a challenging pose. It’s all love. And we all need it.