How Yoga Taught Me To Love Myself

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I didn’t seek out yoga; I was lucky in that it fell right in front of me at the most perfect time of my life. I could never have believed the positive change the practice of yoga would have on me, and never would I have dared to believe it could teach me the most important lesson I have learned: how to love myself.

My first experience of yoga was while I was working at Cambridge University and I was assigned to a research project looking at the benefits of yoga. I had always been interested in yoga after hearing stories of life-changing, earth-shattering spiritual journeys other yogis had been on. My interest was fuelled further as I began to read more and more about how beneficial yoga can be to the mind and body. However, at the time I felt a preference for more vigorous physical exercise, and I viewed yoga purely as stretching. That was, until I stepped into a yoga studio and began my practice.

Yoga has achieved something remarkable.

It made me love myself. I had a pattern of intense negative thinking, self-criticism and low self-esteem. Yoga, completely unconsciously, has set me on the path to happiness.

Yoga has taught me that life isn’t about being perfect; it is about striving to be the best version of me today. Yesterday or tomorrow do not matter because each day is wildly different. In every yoga class, my body will work fantastically in some poses and not so well in others. Life is like this. We have no idea what each day will bring, nor can we predict it. All we can do it accept what we have in that moment and work with it.

I admired my determination to enter the yoga room day after day, even though it was the most uncomfortable place on earth. Uncomfortable physically, as I attended only hot classes (36-40 degrees Celsius) for my first year, and also mentally, as I was the least flexible in the room. I admired my body for how it would cope and adapt to the conditions of the room. I admired it, and thanked it, for the progress it made in each pose. Enduring such uncomfortable conditions would prove to me each day just how strong I was.

As a woman, seeing real women with real bodies is so important.

Real bodies with (what the media would have us believe are) ‘imperfections’, that are able to practice in the most beautiful way. The mirrors present in the studio played a big part in my self-acceptance. Being forced to stand and look at my body for 60 - 90 minutes gave my mind the opportunity to work deeply. My instant go-to thoughts of how disgusting I looked and how imperfect I was, had time to be pushed out by the reality in front of me. My judgmental mind quietened.

Yoga has, in short, completely changed my life. It has guided me toward the best version of myself that I can be. I am now calm, stress-free (most of the time anyway!), self-accepting and, most of all, happy. It taught me that true happiness has to be cultivated from the inside, and that this takes time. Without being constantly conscious of it, I am developing a patience and self-acceptance that I honestly never thought myself capable of.

All in all, I have learned that if we look after the inside, the outside takes care of itself. I am now, finally, channeling my perfectionist tendencies that were once damaging into something my body loves, and something that loves my body.

If you have been inspired by this article and would like to learn more about yoga and meditation and how you can incorporate it into your life contact Dr. Freya Burnett