Yogi Assignment: Self-Love
Let’s talk about beauty and self-love. Maybe I’m sensitive about this topic, but why does it always seem like messages to love yourself and see yourself as beautiful come from tall skinny people with the perfect body and the perfect life? It’s like “they” sit on some perch of infinite possibility and “we” sit down here and admire them and wish we could be like them. Then, like a proclamation from above, we are given the direction that all we need to do is love ourselves more and see the beauty within to wake up the gods and goddesses within ourselves. As if it was as simple as “poof” and then you’d be levitating in at atmosphere of self-love glowing with beauty. Call me cynical but this has never done much for me. You may look at me and think that I’m one of those perfect people, but I can tell you definitively that I am not. Nothing has come easily for me and I’ve had to fight tooth and nail for every bit of success that I’ve achieved. I grew up feeling both ugly and different. Being part Japanese in an all-white neighborhood where I didn’t see another Asian kid in school until I was 14 left a mark on my psyche. When you don’t look like everyone else, speak like everyone else or for that matter think like everyone else it’s hard to just will yourself into believing that you’re perfect and beautiful the way that you are. When the world doesn’t love you back it’s hard to decide to love yourself unconditionally.
I have met rejection countless times over the course of my life. Rejection hurts. No matter where it comes from it always feels bad. Whether you get told you didn’t make the cut or you don’t meet the requirements or just simply that someone doesn’t enjoy your company, rejection hurts. You may look at me and think I’ve never had my heart broken or been told no, but that’s not true. My heart has been broken a thousand times and I’m told no more often than yes. When I wanted to write a book over a hundred book agents turned me down. The boy I wanted to go to the Junior Prom with suggested that I go with his friend—it broke my heart. When I wanted to film a yoga DVD all the major production companies like Gaia turned me down (the ironic thing is that Gaia bought my content from Myyogaonline and now runs ads on my name and likeness and has never paid me or gotten my consent for my videos!). When I wanted to build a yoga lifestyle show I reached out to every major content provider, including the Cody App and network television companies, and they all turned me down. When I reached out to major magazines and media companies like Shape, Self, Women’s Health, Yoga Journal or the NYT to offer myself as a yoga expert they either turned me down or never replied to my requests. When I reported a series of fake accounts impersonating me to Instagram and requested a blue checkmark they replied and told that I wasn’t famous enough and that I don’t deserve the checkmark.
When doors that seem to creep open get slammed in my face, all I want to know was why they didn’t want me and what I could do to make it possible. That’s my “fix it” go-getter attitude going into full force. I tend to go into all the reasons why they should value me and I often have a hint (or a lot) of feeling sorry for myself that they didn’t. Instead of letting doubt and fear roll in, I have to fight to choose faith. It takes effort and discipline to focus on my own inner truth and rest in my inherent value with or without someone else’s approval.
It can be so hard in our increasingly digital world to resist the temptation to measure our value in metrics, likes and engagement. But really your value is inherent, inalienable, and can never be bought, sold, measured or optimized. You are whole and complete. Sometimes I need to tell myself that over and over. I hear my voice saying, you are whole and complete, you are worthy, you are good enough, you work so hard and you deserve it all. If you need to hear those words today, take the time to value and love yourself.
What you think becomes your reality so taking the time to practice positive, life-affirming thoughts is important. But it’s not always the conscious thoughts that create your life. It’s the unconscious deeply-held beliefs that we only get glimmers of that often set the grand pattern for our lives. Most of our lives are governed by patterns so systemic to the sub-strata of the mind and body that we aren’t even aware that they’re operating. In yoga these are called samskaras. These thought-pattern grooves set the architecture of your thoughts so that what you think is governed by them, sort of like setting the genre for your life. Even when you write a list of affirmations or try to tell yourself how worthy of love and success you are, the seed of self-sabotage lurks underneath. If you find yourself making lists of self-affirming, positive thoughts while falling into self-sabotaging behavior despite your best efforts, samskaras are probably at work.
I have a deep feeling of unworthiness that sometimes borders on a feeling of utter worthlessness. I feel at my best when things are moving forward but when I face an obstacle it’s hard for me to keep moving forward. When I see someone else living the life I want it’s easy for me to fall into equal parts jealousy and self-loathing. I can so easily implode and explode in alternating fits of panic and days of depression. It has taken me years to do the work of processing my own mental health. I’m not perfect but I finally start to get a sense of my true worth.There have been so many times I looked to others to complete me, fix me, heal me or lead me. I gave my power away and assigned them credit for all the magical moments of my life. I never thought it was me who brought the magic. But now I’m finally starting to get a taste of what my magic is all about.
Deeply held patterns of thought are so hard to deal with and so often are programmed before we are even aware of them. As a young child we begin to build a sense of identity from a preverbal state We are empathic before we are verbal, we feel before can articulate what we are feeling. From a very young age I developed a sense of myself as an outsider, as someone who would never fit in, nor gain the approval of the majority. I assumed that because I looked different that my difference made me “less-than”. There were no redeeming factors except my good grades. Since academics was a place of pure merit, not based on popularity, I excelled there. I graduated fifth in my high school class, but also failed to apply to top level schools for fear of rejection. When I found Ashtanga Yoga the meritocracy of practice is part of what appealed to me. In the Ashtanga Yoga method all that deems your worthiness is the fact that you practice. You don’t have to master crazy poses, but you do have to show up six days a week. Ashtangis have equal respect for the person who is struggling with the foundational poses as they do for someone who is struggling with the advanced poses. There is something about the struggle itself in the Ashtanga Yoga method that humanizes the practice. Not that we all have to struggle, but we usually do. In a sense struggling together is similar to the root of compassion.
I started yoga before it was a social media phenomenon, before there were likes and engagement to track. I started yoga when it was a practice sought out by a few people who yearned for a deeper sense of self. I found myself, my beauty and my self-love through this practice. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that all you’ll ever have to do is love yourself and your world will change. Truthfully, I think you need to practice every day and find yourself through the practice if you want your world to change. As long as you judge yourself by material standards there will always be external standards that you’ll fall short of. For example, not everyone is tall—I for one am not tall. Some people are shorter than others. To stay that we are all the same height rings untrue because it’s a lie. To say that we are all equally beautiful in the physical flesh never rang true to me because honestly we aren’t all beautiful in the flesh. Sure we all have beauty, but we are not all the same. But, here’s where the yoga practice gets interesting. We are all created equal and absolutely beautiful in the spirit. As soon as we see ourselves through the eyes of spirit we realize that our true worth can never be measured or judged in the physical. Our true worth is in the spirit. In order to really love yourself and see yourself as beautiful you have to change your whole paradigm of awareness.
In the spirit, all the riches of the world are as worthless as dust. In the spirit, you shine with the beauty of your heart. Practice is liberating and enlightening because it gives you a chance to taste the elixir of the spirit. In glimmers between each breath, at the very edge of your struggles in the poses, you get a sense of the immeasurable light of your own soul. It starts to shine through all the cracks in your broken heart. In my darkest moments, I have found practice to be a solace not because I earned my worth through the poses, but because in the quiet space of the inner body I woke up to the inherent truth of my own worth.
You are valuable and precious. You have been sent her for a mission that only you can accomplish. You matter. You have your own magic. No matter how dark the storm is, no matter whether that storm is happening in your mind, your heart or your life, the clouds will clear eventually. The light will one day break through even the deepest darkness. You’ll find your magic, not always in the big grand heroic epic style, but sometimes, yes, just like that.