Growing up, I was grumpy a lot. I was a shy kid who spent more time looking at the ground than at the surrounding world. I was hyper-critical of everything I did. If I judged myself first, I thought, other people wouldn’t have the opportunity. Looking back, it may seem like I hated myself. But I didn’t, I just didn’t know how to love myself. I lacked the tools to see my own inner-beauty.
I was once told to say “I love you,” to myself and give myself affirmations. I just shrugged it off because it felt like I would be admitting there was something wrong with me. It never occurred to me that by seeking self-improvement I wasn’t actually saying “I’m not good enough.” It was years later, through my yoga practice, that I began to see otherwise. It all started with one brief moment on my yoga mat when I suddenly felt beautiful, and loved myself.
For this reason, it is always important to remember that yoga extends far beyond the physical asanas (poses). I love the physical practice because it feels good and it what brings me to a place of connection. It is fun and invigorating to perform new, complex, and challenging asanas but the biggest, most advanced challenge is to peel away the layers and connect to the inner-self.
For me, the key is to slow down and listen inward. When I am able to stop judging what my poses look like on the outside, I can feel them on the inside. If I stopped reaching for that extra inch in a pose and start to soften, I can find more subtlety in my mind and body – more connection. It becomes less about the shape on the surface and more about the subtle variations within my body and breath.
We can all do this by letting go of the expectations of what poses should look like. We have to leave the ego behind and stop comparing ourselves to other students in class. By doing this we are able to find our own space in our practice, and start to enjoy the space within our body and mind.
Like many others, I first came to yoga for the physical benefits. I wanted to take care of my body and stretch because that felt good to me. Then my practice took a turn and it started to mean more to me. I began to connect to myself on a deeper level. It has taken many years and lots of work, and the process still requires great amounts of practice.
I still get grumpy, and I still judge myself too harshly. But I now know I have a refuge on my mat where the world can melt away, my judgements can give way to acceptance, and an inner-love can shine. In those moments I know I am beautiful.