I have been a yogi for the past seven years of my life. Although it takes up almost one-third of my entire life on Earth, it is only a speck of dust in the tradition of yoga. To quote one of my teachers from the teacher training, “You have only scratched the surface of the secret of longevity that has been around for thousands of years.”
I first become interested because of its hyped-up benefit of inner peace and mindfulness, but I can testify that it truly lives up to expectations.
When I first started doing yoga, I was an angry individual filled with insecurity and anxiety. Not only was I feeling insecure with my own body and self-image, I was also struggling with a sense of acceptance from the people I trusted most. I was in a relationship that was rotten to its core, and I didn’t have enough self-love to get out of it before it drained a lot of me.
Weighing at 100 pounds, my ex-boyfriend would say that I was gaining weight and that I looked fat. He would also criticize my slanted, almond eyes, even though I am ethnically Chinese. He also did not fully see me as an equal because I was raised in a Catholic family. At the end of the day, my personality and intelligence did not mean a thing when held against my family background.
However, no matter how depressed I was feeling a lot of times, I always felt a little lighter after a yoga class. That was why I kept coming back and why I started to believe that I must have been doing something right. For a brief moment in my daily life, I got to be with myself and my practice, and the troubles outside my mat did not matter.
My practice taught me a lot about my own body, and the lessons manifest in other aspects of life. Through asana practice (the postural practice of yoga), I learned the power of my own body, its flexibility and maximum limit. I learned that breathing smarter leads to moving better, but there are spaces I simply cannot reach due to my own wear and tear. I learned the balance of trying my best, but also letting the universe lead me to where I needed to be. Most important of all, I learned how to love myself again.
Loving one’s self is not easy. I would argue it is one of the hardest things to do, especially since our culture has failed time and time again to cultivate this seed when we were younger. As little girls, we were often told that we were pretty, or, if we weren’t by any conservative standard, our piece of clothing would be. We have been brainwashed by society to place physical appearance as a priority, not kindness, intelligence, and bravery. We have been taught to make ourselves smaller in front of the opposite gender because men do not like women who talk back. Most importantly, men do not like women who are smarter than them. So, that’s what we do subconsciously: we make ourselves tiny to give power to the penis.
Although yoga was doing some good to my life, it was not until the last day of my yoga teachers’ training that I fully embraced my own true self. Asana practice had always been the main aspect of my practice. I meditated somewhat, but had not found the right type of meditation and mantra to lead me deeper.
That day, my teacher guided us on a loving-kindness meditation. Before we started, he warned the group that it might be overwhelming to take in, but reminded us to let the emotions flow. Loving-kindness is unconditional, inclusive love. It is a love with wisdom, as it has no conditions and it extends out from within one’s self to include all living beings. There are no expectations of anything in return.
The practice begins with us loving ourselves, based on the notion that it would be difficult to extend unconditional love to others when we don’t accept ourselves. Then, we envelop others who are special to us, who might have hurt us, and, eventually, all living things. Step-by-step, the meditation process blends the mind and soul exercise into the actual experience of feeling that loving kindness.
That day is still memorable to me. When I started with the image of loving myself, my breath became somewhat harder and constricted. I tried to keep calm, while focusing on the count of my breaths. Gradually, I felt warmth flowing from my head, down to my arms, and to my fingers. Expanding loving kindness to a special person was an easier visualization, although it grew so expansive that my breath started to get shaky.
Much to my surprise, expanding an inclusive love to the one person that hurt me deeply was not excruciating. I finally realized that despite of everything he did to break me, I am truly okay. If I could forgive someone who personally tore me down, I truly believe that I could love any living beings as I accept myself. I felt such a relief and a rush of joy that I shed tears by the end of the meditation. From that moment on, I knew I had found my mantra.
What I am trying to say is we have to stop being a mean girl to ourselves. When we finally accept that we are only trying our best with what we have, then we could start to change how we live our lives. That strength will eventually help us get where we need to be, while spreading love and peace to the people we encounter on the way.
Alverina Weinardy is an average yogi by dawn, an interior designer by noon, and an Urban & Regional Planning graduate student by dusk. If she had a superpower, it would be to understand every language on Earth, so she could read any book in its original words.