Weekly Practice Dec. 6 -12: Learning to Love & Accept the Whole You
the principle of nonviolence toward all living things (including yourself).
As yogis and beings on the spiritual path we often take time to contemplate kindness, compassion and non-violence towards others. However, I have a feeling that many of us might not be practicing this principal on ourselves. Whether it be an over critical internal dialogue on our mats, pushing our selves to change our bodies based on self loathing, depriving ourselves out of hopes of repentance for "bad eating" or behavior, being at war with our reflection, our story or ourselves, we are not practicing Ahimsa. We've learned since children that we should "Treat others how we want to be treated". So, I wonder, if you were actually to treat others how your treat yourself, would you have any friends?
Inspiration for this Week's Practice
Friday night, during a meeting with a client and new friend, I came to a sweet new realization & inner cause for celebration. Toward the end of our conversations the topic of eating disorders came up and I was able to share a little of my personal experience and progress. It was a special moment because I had a realized I was talking about the past, and not the present and a feeling of true freedom around the topic came over me. I heard myself say, "My body is a temple for my spirit, I notice that it looks the way I feel." It was a deeply powerful moment for myself, especially after a week of teaching about the release of self comparison.
This conversation and remembering has opened me up to thinking about the young girls coming of age or who will in the years to come. I think about who and what is taking claim over healthy and it concerns me. I want my baby sisters and future son or daughter to know that Health is not found by a perpetuating a thought that "YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH." Health is found by accepting who and appreciating what you are. It is found by looking to your strengths and accentuating them. It is cultivated through learning to listen to and care for your body, not by fighting against it. This is not to say that one should not aim for their best self. It is however to say, that your best self is already there waiting for you to see them. The human mind is an incredible thing, and if we are overly occupied with appearances and superficiality way too many of us are likely to miss out on exploring, appreciating and allowing for the expression of our truest genius.
Making Peace with Myself (Ending the War)
There was a point when I started to realize changing who I was, what I looked like and my circumstances before I liked myself wasn't going to be the remedy. The practice of self healing and acceptance for many takes one getting to a point where they can truly see that fighting a war with your social standing, body, your appearance or how you nourish yourself is not fixing anything. The true progress comes from making peace with what you or society have deemed as flaws. For me, it took realizing that no diet was going to fix what was really going on, no graduate degree, no special job or paycheck was truly going to give me the freedom & peace of mind I was searching for. What I realized was that if I was going to be happy in this lifetime I needed to learn to love (or at least like) myself, AS IS! I thought, "what would happen if I stopped waiting for when all the circumstances were "perfect" and just started to live like the woman I truly feel within?"
Yoga, a Curse & Cure
When I first started practicing Yoga in college, I was introduced to it from an academic perspective. I would practice yoga at a studio, however, I did not see it as exercise. It was to me, a spiritual and almost philosophical practice that better equipped the body and mind for Meditation and Realization of Universal Truths. However, when I found my way into studios in NYC it was more a sweaty exercise regimen that promised quick changes for your body. I would start to notice that although I was healthier than ever before in my life, I still wanted to be smaller, more like the other Yogi's. I would get feedback from teachers and colleagues that would suggest that I was not an experienced yogini. On retreats, peers would comment on how much I ate. Disgruntled yogi's who were sad their teaching careers weren't taking off would unleash on me with attacking words about the size of my body. This would eventually trigger a relapse of some of my issues from adolescence and make me question my worth as a yogini & teacher.
Over time I would realize I had fallen off path and start to make my way back to practice for personal growth, rather than physical transformation. This change in perspective started to shift my practice from exercises to change and improve the appearance of my body to practices to change my perception of my body and improve the way my body felt and functioned. This was huge and it took me back to when I first started yoga, when yoga was a practice for enlightened living, rather than lighter living. This practice would come with me off of my mat. I would start to notice that my food, my exercise, my work, who I spent time with and all of my activities would over the next few years shift from things that were to meet societal standards to thing's and intentions that met my standard for happiness and the feelings of freedom and ease. Most importantly, I would notice my consistent goal was to uphold a kind and compassionate internal relationship with myself. This created an incredible shift in all areas of my life.
These days, I realize that I no longer want to see a perfectly fit woman in a bikini on a beach broadcasting her tips for perfect health. I want to instead see the strong woman who isn't a afraid to have few flaws. This inspires me. I want to see all kinds of women and men doing yoga, living lifestyles that promote peace of mind and self acceptance. I do not want to see people taking a practice that is meant to free us from the chains and attachments of life to inspire a more shackled mindset. To me yoga is freedom, compassion, kindness and universal connection.
Today, I am not a "perfect" woman. However, I am a healthy woman with endurance, ease and resilience. I prepare myself delicious meals that are satisfying and leave me feeling equipped with the energy I need to live a full and balanced life. I practice yoga daily, but not in any regimented way. I exercise (off the mat) 3 or 4 times a week with the intention of elevating my heart rate to ensure that my body & mind are healthy and my moods are managed. I walk often, because I love to move and because its cheaper than the subway! But most importantly, I see myself as a whole and complete woman with so much more to offer this world than my appearance.
Once you have identified the fact that you are holding yourself back from self realization by gripping to ideas that you must first change something about yourself or that you are not good enough, you can start to live more fully, now. For me, this blog is one of those self realizations. For years, I would yearn to attend Grad school because of my desire to write term papers, assignments and discuss philosophical topics in a group setting. Realistically however, I was not interested in the commitment of time and money a graduate program required. This for years caused me a bit of existential difficulty. "How do I be myself without going to grad school?" Then one day it hit me, "I bet I can figure out a way to do all of that within my current circumstances."
I started various blogs, where I would work for hours putting together well thought out posts. This would mirror the process of researching for a term paper, yet I got to choose the topics. I wouldn't have a professor to read, critique or grade my paper, however, as time would go on, I would manifest various platforms to present my ideas. I would realize in time, a lot of our process of waiting and forms of self sabotage could be alleviated by simply thinking outside of the box. It is true that there is a way set up by society for success, beauty and happiness. That way is an option, however, the roads less traveled have a lot less traffic and so much more freedom to be your whole, messy and truly authentic self while on your way.
With this in mind, I'd love for you to take some time to examine some of the negative things you are holding against yourself. I want you to see if these beliefs are unnecessarily holding you back from anything. Meditate on it. Sit with it. Do this with a intention of self love and appreciation. Do this knowing that this is your one special, human life. Ask yourself, if one of your goals is to be at peace with yourself and to be happy? If so, what can you do today to start that process? Whether it be looking around the room your in and seeing that which is beautiful, finding ways to better express yourself, or finding ways to better nourish and serve your body... Take your precious human life seriously. This is your big chance. Don't wait till it's too late to do it differently, start today!
This weeks practice is designed to create a softer & sweeter experience within. The poses and practices have been selected to help you connect to your breath, your physical body and create the circumstances for introspection. It is my hope that through the soft exploration of the physical we will be able to let go of and surrender some of the beliefs about ourselves that are no longer serving us. Through breathing and connecting with your body it is my hope that we will find simple, easeful, pleasure in our physical experience and therefor find ease in our emotional & mental world. This process should create a fertile ground to set intentions for self love & care.
10 Yogic Practices to Initiate a more Compassionate Relationship with Yourself
OPENING MEDITATION: Sit up on a block, blanket or cushion and take one hand over the center of your chest and the other over your navel. With your eyes closed observe the rhythm of your breath. Feel your palms slightly moving as your breath, feel your body under your palms. Connect with your physical and ethereal body. Set the intention to cultivate love and compassion for your whole self. Sit for a moment with the thought of Ahimsa for your whole self and what that means to you. Take a few breaths noticing your body move with your breath. Chant "AUM" 3 times.
1. Start Supta Badha Konasana with Breath Focused Meditation
10 Minutes while focusing your mind and breath on your heart center.
Lay back with soles of your feet together and knees wide. You can use blankets, blocks or pillows to prop up your outer legs and under your back body. The more support, the more relaxing and more sweet of a connection you will make with your beautiful body! Keep in mind that reducing our stress level's is one of the best keys to health and longevity. Let your breath be your actions in the restorative poses of this week.
2. Wind Releasing Breath Practice
5-10 Rounds Syncing Breath to movement
In class we are doing a little flow with this practice. You can start by breathing in and stretching your arms long past your ears and reaching long through both legs. Then breathe out while you hug one knee into your chest. Switch back and forth with you breath. You can keep your head on the floor or tap your nose to your knee.
3. Supine Twist & Ankle to Knee Stretch
5 Breaths on each side (use block or prop under knee for more sweetness)
I love taking a gentle twist at the start of my practice. It feels so good and it allows me to find pleasure in my physical experience. Once done on one side, take your bent leg's ankle over your opposite knee and interlace your hands around your thigh. This will awaken your hips and second charka. In class we are laying on our back with our legs straight up to the sky after this pose and then lower our legs slowly with pointed toes in between sides to awaken our solar plexus and pelvic floor. Try it!
4. Cat/Cow & Downward Facing Dog
5 Rounds, Exploring the sensation of moving your body with the rhythm of your breath
Inhale to tuck your toes, lift your tall and lift your heart to the sky. Exhale to round your back and look toward your belly button.
5. Downward Dog & Three Legged Dog
5 Breaths in each Variation. Move around can the sensation of your body as your breathe.
Let this take a little time. Breathe into your calves and heals. Breathe into the back, shoulders, neck and arms. Move and wiggle. When you lift your leg, explore and breathe thought the whole side body of the lifted leg. Bend your knee, move your lifted foot in a circle or whatever else feels inviting. Have some romance with your body here.
6. Moon Salutations
One breath per movement
There are lots of different ways to do the Moon Salutations. In class we will actually be working out of Warrior Two. However, the movements are pretty similar. My invitation is to stay in each pose a little longer and do less reps. Take a moment in each shape to really scan your body and feel some love. Moon Salutations make me feel like a fierce Goddess. Let me know how you feel! <3
7. Restorative Pigeon Pose
5 Minutes on Each Side
Half Pigeon is always kind of restorative. However, with padding under your hips and torso you create a space for your body to be 100% supported as your open your hips slightly. For me this feels like I am cuddling with a cloud and I LOVE IT! Opening your hips is major on the process of self love. This helps regulate our emotions and bring about healthy creative expression.
8. Restorative Tarasana &/or Pashimotanasana
10 breaths +
When we are cultivating self love, we need some time with ourselves. To really feel what we are dodging, we need time to simmer. This process helps to eliminate some of the stress we've put on our body and mind with self critism. As you are in these positions I invite you to breath in and out thinking "I love you".
9. Restorative Twist
5 Minutes on each side
Twisting is a great way to release anger and self critique. However, when we are feeling really low on ourselves we need to soften, so this twist is incredible. You can spend a while on each side (try to keep it even). What's great is even though you are not doing much effort wise, you are helping to cleanse your organs in this position. Allow for your body relax and enjoy. Avoid waiting it out, and instead allow your breath to be your activity.
10. Legs up the Wall
5 Minutes +
Go ahead and put this in your Yoga Self Love Tool Box for life. Back pain, stress, anxiety, menstrual cramps, menopause, you name it and this pose is your lover. You can be further a way from the wall than the yogi in the photo. You can also prop up your back body in various ways. This can be your corpse pose, your after a while you can roll to one side and make your way onto your back. While you are here with your legs up the wall, I would like you to mentally scan your body. Everybody part you can be think of, individually find gratitude for. Start at your feet, and keep going! Move your gratitude down your legs, past your hips, through your tummy, your chest, heart, arms, throat, neck, chin, cheeks, ears, nose, eyes, hair, brain and then find gratitude for your mind & spirit.
Sit tall on your block or cushion. Feel your spine tall, your shoulders relaxed, your face tummy and groins relaxed. Place one hand on the center of your chest. The other over your naval. Notice your body moving with your breath. Take a moment to come back to your intention for cultivating Ahimsa for yourself. Silently promising to love the being beneath your palms. Breathe here with your intention. Close with one "AUM".
10 Additional tips to help Cultivate Self Love & Acceptance
1. Keep an Ahimsa Journal
Take time to think about what you did well each day. Take time to write about what you are grateful for in your life and your positive attributes. Take time to write intentions that accentuate your positive attributes. Eliminate anything that is coming from an intention of changing yourself. This is most potent around the new moon/full moon. Try to keep your intentions useful and realistic so that you might realize them by the full moon. At the full moon you can set intentions for what you want to let go. New moon for what you want to welcome into your experience. Remember to choose things that accentuate your strengths and make you stronger, rather than things that ignore your true essence.
2. Take Inventory on Whats Keeping You Down
If weighing yourself on a regular basis makes you feel terrible, stop. If reading fashion magazines makes your see a monster in the mirror, quit it! If monitoring your calories is driving you nuts, stop. If seeing a pair of pants that are 5 sizes two small in your closet is stressing you out, give them to goodwill. You wouldn't taunt a friend, so don't taunt yourself.
3. Exercise 3x a Week for How it Makes You Feel!
Exercising because it feels like a form of heaven is much more empowering than punishing yourself for not looking like you aerobics instructor. Your body is built to move. Enjoy moving it in your own way. With that being said, to be healthy and happy studies show you want to get your heart rate up for about a half hour no less than three times a week. That can be playing with your kids, running on a track, raking leaves or taking an intense yoga class. Let your intention be for your heart, and not for instagram.
4. Sleep well
Half the time when we feel like crap about anything, its because we are not well rested. You will notice you look 10x better when you sleep well, you will feel a little happier about most of the goings on in your life, your cravings will be easier to handle and you will actually have energy to move for a half hours 3 times a week! WIN/WIN!
5. Try New Food & Activities
I learned a long time ago that elimination only made me feel like I was a prisoner, martyr or slave to society's call for perfection. Giving things up just doesn't work for me. So I've made it a point to keep it positive. Instead of quitting a bad habit, I try to make a conscious effort to add good habits. This way I feel like a bad ass abundant goddess who is enjoying her life, and not repenting for all my sins. Want to cut back on sweets? Add veggies. Want to cut back on smoking, Add exercise. Want to cut back on drinking? Add a new class or project to your schedule.
6. Pay Less Attention to Toxic People
Now this is hard! If someone is consistently saying things that make you question your worth, I recommend that you start to focus your attention else where as soon as possible. If it is a family member or loved one you might mention to them that calling people fat makes your feel uncomfortable. Or you can start to leave the room or not feed conversations that do not support the work you are doing. I have done a combination of the two. I try not to feed negative self talk conversations or conversations that are gossipy by nature. I've told friends that I would rather they not do it in-front of me. It has been helpful in most cases, in others I've learned to thicken my skin and send them compassion.
7. Unfollow People on Social Media that Promote Perfection & Superficiality
I know this is hard, however, I find perfectionism to be unhealthy. If you do not agree... observe people who promote perfectionism & superficiality, notice how you feel when you see their posts. If it feels positive, keep them. If not, eliminate.
8. CREATE BEAUTIFUL THINGS
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Set out to create things, circumstances and experiences in your life that you find beautiful! A new vision board, a table, an altar, a painting, a book, a blog, a song, a movement, a peaceful revolution... Use your big beautiful brain to create more of what you love! Your thoughts create your world. Monitor them, and keep them beautiful and loving!
9. Essential Oil/Crystals
Pure Geranium Rose oil on the arches of your feet has been really helpful for many of my Teacher, Tiffany Carole's clients for creating a better relationship with nourishment and self love. Try it! Rose Quarts under your pillow and wearing Orange Calcite Jewelry is my recommendation for creating a better sense of love and acceptance for yourself!
10. Quit Dieting!
Studies show it doesn't work long term and actually leads most people to more weight gain over time! The best way to "Love the way you look" is to learn to love and care for your body with exercises that feel good, adding more nutritional foods to your meals and practicing unconditional love and acceptance.
I also really recommend these books:
Thank you so much for reading this entry. I believe that the process of cultivating self love and acceptance is a big step on our spiritual path. Whatever your struggle might be, it is my hope that through contemplating Ahimsa for your self and others, you will be better equipped to live out your genius and not bogged down or distracted by the boxes and limitations that have been fed to you.
Light and love,
Nicole Lynne Hooley
Yoga, Reiki & Intuitive Healing
Brooklyn based Yoga Instructor & Reiki Healer, Nicole specializes in teaching Personal Empowerment & Self Healing inspired Yoga Classes, Workshops & Reiki Trainings throughout Brooklyn. Her Reiki & Intuitive Healing sessions have been called "an hour of unconditional love". Nicole has been highlighted by Huffington Post and YogaCityNYC.
Easy Moon Salutations & Good Mood Yoga: