The Surprising Connection Between Yoga and Self Acceptance

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The Surprising Connection Between Yoga and Self Acceptance

A friend of mine once talked with me about her experience at a yoga studio. She loved going to the classes, and couldn’t understand why all of her other friends attended once and then never returned.

She thought that perhaps it had to do with the extreme heat in Bikram yoga classes (perfectly understandable, but not the reason). She thought that maybe the poses were too difficult. Maybe her other friends weren’t willing to give up the 90 minutes of their days.

No Room For Prettiness and Pretenses

Unsatisfied with any of these answers, she brought it up to the manager of the Yoga studio. The answer she received was completely unexpected.

"In this particular studio, every wall is covered by floor to ceiling mirrors. Because of this, there is no escaping yourself. You have no option but to look at your body from every angle. For 90 excruciating minutes, you are face to face with yourself in the most unflattering of poses, in your most raw state. There is no prettiness here. All pretenses are stripped away."

This was my friend's favorite part of taking classes at this studio. The mirrors had helped her overcome insecurities. She had made peace with her body and grown to love the reflection of herself. She believed that everyone would enjoy this aspect of the experience equally. But the manager summed up the challenge in one simple statement:

“No one likes to look in the mirror.”

As I pondered my friend's story, I realized it was a potent metaphor for life.

We turn away from the unflattering parts of ourselves. We do anything to distract ourselves from seeing something within that might require responsibility and accountability. We avoid even the reflections of ourselves we might see in the eyes of others. We scoff in disdain at unflattering things in other people, which are only mirroring what we despise within ourselves.

But if we don’t look within, we will never grow. The depth of our ugliness and the heights of our beauty will continue to be hidden, so we will never fully know ourselves. If we do not come to know ourselves completely, we will never learn to love ourselves. That lack of self-love will be reflected back at us in the unfulfilling or disconnected relationships and painful experiences we attract into our lives.

Choose to See Yourself

Make friends with mirrors. Seek out opportunities to see yourself, in glass or in other people. Look for your beauty, your gifts, your greatness. And when you inevitably recognize something you dislike about yourself, make a conscious effort to shift your perception from judgment to acceptance.

If it is a physical imperfection, cultivate acceptance of your body and the understanding that no one is perfect. If you see an unflattering emotional need, recognize the beauty of your human complexity, your wounds, your losses and your desires. Open to the possibility that being fully human means containing all of it, feeling the entire spectrum of emotional experience, having a body that is perfectly imperfect, and loving it all.

Whatever you see, breathe deeply and open to the tenderness within you. See if you can just gaze at yourself without judgment, punishment, or perfectionism. The eventual goal is to love all the parts of yourself unequivocally and unconditionally. But for now, simply gaze softly, be as gentle and accepting as you can, and trust the wisdom of the mirror.

 

Alana headshotby Alana Mbanza – Alana is a freelance writer and the author of Love Sick: Learning to Love and Let Go. More than a writer, she strives to be an active agent of creation, choosing to see and create life through the lens of love, authenticity, and inner truth.  Learn more about Alana and her coaching/writing services via her website.

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