Each time I host a Yoga Teacher Training program, I find myself stepping closer towards my authentic self. Whether I’m leading students through their journey towards teaching yoga, or I’m back in the role of the student, I inevitably end up surrounded by individuals that leave a lasting impression on my life.
Teaching my students and peers how to be effective and compassionate yoga teachers is one of my favorite personal practices. I call this a personal practice because each and every unique individual I come into contact with leads me towards a deeply personal place of self-reflection and learning.
As I embark on my latest teacher training course with my friend and colleague Amber Karnes, I’ve found myself back in that place of contemplation and self-reflection.
Diversity in Yoga Teaching Techniques
With our Yoga For All online teacher training program, Amber and I are leading students through a program dedicated to bringing more diversity and self-awareness to the techniques required in teaching yoga to larger-bodied individuals and those with differently-abled bodies.
The tone of the course is centered on expanding our perspectives of who we are able to safely and effectively share the yoga practice with. Our first module asks our participants to examine their personal understanding of ahimsa (non-harming) and ultimately, their experience of compassionate self study.
When I was completing my own Restorative Yoga teacher training program, I met one of my greatest inspirations—Dr. Gail Parker. Dr. Parker invited us to explore the concepts and practices of compassionate self-study which revealed to be both challenging and eye-opening, and yet also deeply rewarding.
Until that point in my life, my self-study practices were less than compassionate.
On Self Study and Feelings of Invisibility
As a black woman in a larger body, I had learned to believe that I was pretty much invisible in society. I understood that I could walk around relatively ignored, until someone noticed my race.
I had come to openly accept that judgments would be made about me once my race had been noticed. As a result, I spent much of my life working hard to reduce the amount of space I claimed as my own, often biting my tongue and keeping quiet for the sake of leading an undisturbed life.
This left very little time for compassionate self-study. Until I met Dr. Parker, I haven’t had the opportunity to really step back and compassionately observe my actions, my interactions and the authentic person I was.
What is compassionate self-study?
From my perspective, compassionate self-study is akin to a ceasefire. It is the process of stepping down from self-inflicted battles. It is a time and a space dedicated to observing all the good you do in this world, and a chance to honor your body and all the ways you are taking care of it.
Compassionate self-study inherently cultivates acceptance, appreciation, tolerance, and an entirely new and unexpected love for humankind’s struggles, because it is a way of living that is gentle and loving towards ourselves so that we can be the same way towards others.
I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing my body and my intellect because I have been taught by society to do so.
I am always struggling with feelings of inferiority and the stale belief that somehow, I am not good enough, especially as someone who has been denied her history and her culture in favor of assimilation.
It was not until I invested in becoming a yoga teacher that I started to realize my journey wasn’t just about teaching yoga, but rather a journey of learning more about myself as a whole person. Where did I fit into society and what am I all about? How will I share my yoga with the world?
You see, yoga is the ultimately embodiment of compassionate self-study, as we are called to love ourselves by breaking down the conditioning and traumas that have clouded our understanding of our authentic self. It then impels us to share that love with the world in a meaningful way.
Compassionate Self-Study as a Practice
Understanding the practice of compassionate self-study starts with an exploration of ahimsa (non-harming). It starts with exploring all the ways in which we unknowingly perpetuate violence towards ourselves, and then moving on to determining how violence is perpetuated in the world around us.
Oftentimes, we unknowingly inflict our internal pain on those around us, which perpetuates the cycle of violence and abuse that keeps our society at arms with one another.
Compassionate self-study starts with ahimsa as we work through the pain, violence and lack of acceptance.~Dianne Bondy
What if we spoke to each other the same way we speak to and about ourselves? Many of us commonly use self-deprecating humor to mask the pain or dissatisfaction we feel about ourselves.
In contrast, identifying that pain and trauma with loving kindness allows us to work through those experiences to that we can be free to step more fully into our authentic selves. When we are closer to our true nature, we are better able to serve mankind and change the negative narratives around us.
Yoga as Compassionate Self-Study
Our yoga mats can either be a place of healing or a place of pain. It is really hard to simultaneously regard ourselves critically and compassionately.
Yet, if we work through the emotional, physical and mental discomfort that emerges when we are on our mats, we can start to experience greater self-awareness, as well as a deeper understanding of who we are and all of the experiences we are holding onto. This leads us to greater feelings of peace and ultimately self-acceptance.
Everyone comes to this practice with their own life experiences. We must learn to identify which experiences are helpful in moving us forward and which are holding us back. We must then learn to let go of the negative thoughts and self-talk we perpetuate in order to continue that forward motion.
Compassionate self-study helps us recognize when and where we are projecting our ideas and judgments onto others. It is also the tool that illustrates whether we pick up other people’s baggage or we bless them and walk away from relationships that do more harm than good.
Compassionate self-study has taught me that I am good enough, I have enough, I am powerful and I am strong—just as I am.
I can always dig deeper into my journey or I can take the path of least resistance. This is my choice. In truth, I learn more about myself from places of friction and resistance. Armed with a strong practice of compassionate self-study, I am able to stand up for what I believe in as I’ve learned that what other people think of me is none of my business.
What I've Learned
Not everyone will like me, my views are my own and I can confidently hold my own space. I have nothing to prove. My biggest lesson from compassionate self-study is that I don’t have to apologize for being me.
I invite each of you to begin with the virtue of ahimsa as you start letting go of self-criticism and replace it with compassionate self-study and quiet reflection. As you come to regard yourself as well as your self-talk, your thoughts, your judgments and your actions, with more love and acceptance, I invite you to share that loving compassion with those you come into contact with.
Together we can change the negative narratives and put an end to the cycle of pain and violence that has infiltrated our society and prevents us from loving all people.