Just as yoga is a practice, so is loving yourself. There are days when self-love is fun and easy, just like a yoga class. You treat yourself to a coffee, spend time in nature, or chat with a friend. Then there are days when practising self-love feels close to impossible. Respecting, honouring, and caring for yourself is something you must work at every day. You don’t improve in your Crow Pose or Headstand by simply thinking about it. In order to practice self-love, you must allocate time for yourself. The practice involves patience, mindfulness, and finding peace in the present moment. Fortunately, this is where your yoga practice and your self-love practice can be combined. Ayush Kumar, an expert on Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga discusses Yoga poses to boost self-love. Before you begin the Yoga Asanas, set yourself up for success. Find a quiet spot and put on your favorite relaxing music. Turn off your phone, and tell anyone who might interrupt you that you have scheduled a date with yourself.
Alternate Nostril Breathing, also known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama or Anuloma Viloma, depending on the yoga tradition, is a breathing technique where you breathe in with one nostril and breathe out with the other, to balance your energy and quiet the mind. This popular form of Pranayama calms and focuses the mind, relieves stress and anxiety, and also stimulates the lungs and qi or life force energy within the body. Find a comfortable seated position, either cross legged, kneeling, or in a chair. Rest the back of your left hand on your left thigh. With your right hand, bring your pointer and middle fingers together. Separate your thumb out, you will be using your right thumb and ring finger to block alternate nostrils. Sit up tall and rest your right “peace fingers” on your third eye. Through the nose, inhale and exhale normally. With your right ring finger, close your left nostril and inhale through the right. Pause for two counts, then open the left nostril and close the right one to exhale. Pause and then inhale through the left nostril. Do it eight times, taking slow, deep breaths.
Ragdoll Forward Fold (Uttanasana Variation)
This gentle yoga pose with a ragdoll variation is a great place to start. It also helps to decompress, lengthen the spine and increase flexibility in the hamstrings. Step your feet a little more than your hip’s width apart and deeply bend your knees. Slowly, exhale and round your spine over your knees so that your belly rests on your thighs. Relax your head completely. Imagine all your worries falling out of the crown of the head. Make sure your knees remain bent. This allows your lower back to stretch, bypassing your hamstrings. It may feel nice to sway back and forth a little. You will want to stay in this dangle for about five minutes. Inhale deeply through the nose and exhale loudly through the mouth for five minutes. Keep the knees bent and release the hands to the floor. Take a few moments here to relax and feel the peace.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward Dog is a yoga pose with a wide range of benefits. Not only does it strengthen the body, it also provides a full-body stretch. Down Dog is a gentle inversion, which is great for your mental wellness and cultivating a sense of self-love. From Table Top position, tuck your toes and lift your hips, creating an upside-down “V” shape with your body. Spread your fingers wide and press your palms onto the mat, as you relax your shoulders away from your ears and your gaze towards your shins. Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to press your chest gently towards your thighs and create a long spine. Relax your heels towards the mat. Stay here for 5 deep breaths and shake your head to release tension in the neck.
Up Dog, or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, is a wonderful heart chakra opener that helps undo the detrimental effects that our sedentary lifestyles have on our posture. It opens the chest and strengthens the arms and back. From Down Dog, shift into Plank Pose. Keep your legs engaged, so just the palms and tops of your feet are on the mat. If this is too challenging, take a Cobra Pose variation by only lifting your head and chest off the mat. Hold for 3-5 breaths and then slowly lower down.
Lord of the Dance Pose (Natarajasana)
Natarajasana, commonly referred to as Dancer’s Pose builds self-confidence. It activates the Heart Chakra, which is responsible for our ability to love and be loved. Dancer Pose improves your balance and focus, strengthens the lower body and provides a nice full-body stretch. Begin in Mountain Pose, and prepare for the standing balance. Root down through all the four corners of your feet and lift your kneecaps to engage your legs. Open your right palm to the ceiling as you shift your weight to your left foot. Once you feel stable, bend your right knee and grab hold of the inner arch of the foot. Press the top of your foot as you reach the left arm skyward, keep your chest lifted and hinge slightly forward. Where your eyes go your body follows, so keep your gaze lifted and continuously kick into your hand as you simultaneously reach forward with your left arm. If you can’t quite reach your foot yet, that’s okay. Use a yoga strap or a belt around your foot instead. Hold the pose for 5 breaths, and then release it.
This stretch is like giving yourself a big hug, enjoy it and feel the love.
In addition, to providing a deep stretch through the back body, particularly the hamstrings, forward folds calm the nervous system. Sit on your mat with your legs extended out in front of you. If you already feel like your back is rounding, place a blanket beneath your hips to gently tilt your pelvis forward. Inhale to stretch your arms overhead and while exhaling with a flat back, reach towards your toes with your hands, chest, and chin. Grab onto your thighs, shins, ankles, feet, whatever is available to you. Don’t force it. Just allow the stretch to occur. If you would like to incorporate a yoga strap, bring the strap around the bottom arches of your feet and gently pull your chest towards your toes. For the last few breaths in this pose, relax your neck, around your spine a little and allow gravity to help melt you toward your mat. Stay for 1-2 minutes and then slowly walk your fingers back to your hips. The more you push and pull in this pose, the more your hamstrings will fight back. Your flexibility is exactly how it is supposed to be, based on the life you lead. Instead of creating a story of judgment about it, find gratitude for all your body allows you to do throughout the day. In other words, love yourself and accept yourself just as you are.
Happy Baby Pose is a fun pose that feels great and makes you smile. As you enjoy this pose, honour the baby you once were and find gratitude for all that you have experienced since that time. Happy Baby helps realign the spinal column and calms the mind. It is a great yoga pose to show yourself some love. Starting on your back, hug your knees into your chest. Grab onto your kneecaps and guide your knees out toward your armpits. Grab onto the inner or outer blades of your feet with soles of your feet toward the sky. Let your head and shoulders rest on the ground. You can experiment rocking side to side, to massage the pressure points around the spine, or stretch one leg out long and then the other. Relax in this pose for at least 5 breaths, then slowly hug your knees back into your chest to exit.
Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)
This restorative and deeply relaxing yoga pose offer many benefits. Legs Up the Wall relieves lower back tension, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to relieve stress, improves circulation in the legs and opens your chest.
If you have an empty wall, place a bolster or a few stacked pillows at the base. Sit with your left hip directly next to the bolster, and then lift your glutes onto the bolster, flipping your legs upward and coming on to your back. Bring your hips as close to the wall as possible. Once your legs are high up, bring your left hand to your heart and your right hand to your stomach. Focus on your breathing. Stay in this position for at least five minutes.
Savasana is our final resting pose. Also known as Corpse Pose, Savasana helps us integrate the mind, body and soul. Savasana also calms the nervous system, cultivates mind and body relaxation, and can also help relieve stress and anxiety. Lying on your back, extend your legs long and spread your feet towards the edges of your mat. Bring your arms along your side with palms facing up, shoulders pulled down away from your ears. Close your eyes, relax your jaw, unfurrow your brow and fully settle into this final resting pose, giving yourself the gift of time. Feel what it is like to have no tension in your body. Stay here as long as you can. When you are ready to exit the pose, hug your knees into your chest, bring your right arm overhead and roll onto your right side.