Self Love and Yoga
What’s love got to do with it?” Tina Turner
As I am sitting down to write about how upset I am this week upon hearing more people of colour being killed at the hands of the police, I have Tina Turner’s song “What’s love got to do with it” rolling around in my head. I mean, it is unrelenting. It will not stop! Perhaps it is because I have had several conversations recently about the importance of centering love at the heart of all actions and I have just finished teaching a Yoga class that was themed around love: the importance of cultivating self-love as the foundation for loving others.
If you are unaware of this song, it is from 1984. Since I like words, I googled the lyrics and am surprised that my 2021 self sees that they are somewhat cynical, to say the least. The words speak to me about distrust and pain, and past disappointments. The line “who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken” is a common narrative in music and in life. The unwavering message it sends is that love hurts!
Many of us have been confused about love for our entire lives. We are conditioned to act as if love is a transaction - giving something to get something in return or withholding something if something is not received. If we are being honest, I suspect we have all been there at one time or another. It is messy and painful and dare I say, boring. This type of “love” reminds me of an excerpt from Rumi’s poem:
of domination and servitude
are what you know as love
But love is different
It arrives complete
Like the moon in the window
Whether aware or not, many of us spend our lives looking for a source of love that is enduring and cannot be taken away. I am reflecting on when Baba Hari Dass was asked, “how does one participate in loving others?” he answered “one can’t love anyone until love is established within. Love is a pure state of mind where self-interest ceases all together.” Clearly, this is a not what would normally be considered a romantic or transactional type of love. What is being pointed to here is tricky in the early stages of practice. If not vigilant, I acknowledge that even after many years of practice, it can still be tricky (my family can attest to that.) If we have not cultivated a loving attitude towards ourselves this teaching may be at the very least, a challenge.
Often when we embark on the Yoga journey we are in some type of physical or emotion pain and suffering. Our Yoga classes encourage us to let everything go, to love everyone, and that it is all love and light. The maiden voyage is smooth sailing for a time and we get a reprieve from the pain that life inevitably throws our way. The power of Yoga opens us to new possibilities of being and seeing the world. However, if one sticks with the practice long enough, we find that eventually things take an interesting twist and we come face to face with our conditioning. We come face to face with all the less than kind ways we treat ourselves and each other; like negative self-talk, how much anger we have, how we self-medicate with food or alcohol or____________ (fill in the blank).
Make no mistake, I believe that absolute, unconditional love is at the heart of Yoga. I would say, besides peace, if there was a goal in Yoga, unconditional love might be it. I wonder though, how difficult it is to experience unconditioned love and remain there in a sustainable way if we have not yet, at the very least, cultivated an attitude of basic goodness towards ourselves.
Perhaps more accessible, is another important teaching from Baba Hari Dass, which is to “Love everyone, including yourself. This is real sadhana.” Babaji reminds us to not abandon ourselves or one another.
So, how do we go about loving ourselves? How can we move towards unconditioned, transaction free love of others? Depending on our life circumstances, the answers to these questions will be different for different people. Nevertheless, we can begin by simply acknowledging that the most intimate relationship that we will ever have is with our own self.
SMALL STEPS TO DEVELOPING SELF LOVE:
Each of us can learn the fine art of nourishing self-love and happiness. As Thich Nhat Hanh says everything needs food to live, even love. This is not an exhaustive list, but we can begin to develop love by experimenting with a few small steps:
If meditation interests you, the Metta Meditation is a beautiful accessible practice. This practice uses prayer like a Mantra. The word Mantra in Buddhism means “mind protecting” and prevents the mind from getting up to its usual mechanics. This practice gives a simple, direct way to help cultivate the quality of love in your own heart:
ASANA (PHYSICAL PRACTICE):
When it comes to opening the heart through an asana (physical) routine; I suggest keeping it soft and quiet. However, if you are working on strengthening your resolve, you may want to add a couple of loving warriors. In any case, don’t move the way fear makes you move, move the way love makes you move, move the way joy makes you move (Osho.) Here is a short, sweet and accessible practice:
THICH NHAT HANH’S ELEMENTS OF TRUE LOVE:
Learning the fine are of loving another is also a practice. In his book How to Love, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that true love is made of four elements:
Both Baba Hari Dass and Thich Nhat Hanh teach something similar; it is personal. We must start with ourselves first by “purifying” the mind and attend to our own suffering before we can love fully and without self-interest. Through these practices we learn that love is an organic living thing that needs tending and watering, much like a garden. When we take this level of responsibility for our own well-being, love becomes a healer. I want to underscore this takes time and perseverance and lots of humility but exploring practices that open the heart is a worthy endeavor.
As I come to the end of these musings, I am still disturbed about what initially led me to write this post. I notice however, that even writing about the transformative power of these practices has soothed my heart and mind. My breath is deeper, and I have more space in my consciousness and my heart to hold the complexities and contradictions of life at the same time. Tina Turner’s song “what’s love got to do with it” is still rolling around in my head – and to that I say, everything. Love has everything to do with it!
Hello, beautiful people. My name is Tracy Chetna Boyd (she/her). Among other things, I am a Yoga educator and Yoga Therapist, specializing in Yoga for Cancer. Although I have many teachers, my primary teacher is Baba Hari Dass. I have a deep belief in people’s ability to change, forgiveness, redemption, and the teachings, wherever they come from. Small talk has never been my forte. I am a person who is comfortable living in the weeds of the human condition, while keeping my heart open and the big picture in perspective. I hope this sets the tone for the musings I'll be sharing from time-to-time.