It’s 8 p.m. on a Monday, and I’m lying on my back in a room of twenty other adults in the almost complete darkness as the sound of synchronized breathing echoes off the blank walls and hardwood floors.
Savasana, the pose assumed at the end of a ninety-minute yoga session, is also known as “corpse pose” and is assumed by all attendees for about ten minutes of meditation and relaxation. Basically you lie on your back, arms at your sides, palms up, and breathe. While some instructors allow this time to be silent, others speak to us:
“Repeat a positive phrase to yourself. I am kind. I am compassionate. I am patient. Whenever your mind wanders to another place, center yourself by coming back to this phrase.”
On Monday, I tell myself “I am confident.” On Wednesday, “I don’t give up.”
Speaking from a Christian perspective, I’ve found that we are often uncomfortable with this idea of self-love. We are wary of being to “into ourselves.” After all, we are all broken. We are sinners. We are results of the fall. We are profoundly and irrevocably screwed up. Our pastors tell us this, our parents tell us this, our Christian school professors tell us this. We learn to accept this as truth.
I am not denying this truth.
It’s currently Lent, a season devoted to repentance and self-reflection. Yoga works with Lent because during our yogi meditations we are told to let go of the things that do not serve us. We are told to honestly reflect on the things that do not benefit our minds and bodies (unhealthy eating, anger, laziness) and both figuratively and literally exhale them out of our practice. During Lent, we often give up meat, chocolate, and other vices in order to re-focus our lives on Christ. The difference, of course, is that we are denying ourselves in order to better serve Christ, not to better serve ourselves. But I truly believe that making positive choices about my body and energy is honoring the life that I was granted. After all, yoga teaches that we love ourselves so that we can better love others.
The more I practice self-love, the more I come to believe in its power. The more I make time to love myself, the more energy I have to love others. When I take time to relax or refresh after a long day of teaching, I find that I not only have the mental space but the genuine concern for the friend who may need that phone call or the night to just vent. When I spend time steeping in positive energy and self-affirmations, I find that I have the individual attention I need to give when commenting on the student’s essay that uses simple similes to reveal complex family conflicts. When I give myself some love, I have the confidence to go to work early each day in an environment where I am far more often scrutinized and disrespected than affirmed.
And yoga makes me feel strong.
I am not an accomplished yogi, and I am certainly no theologian. But I do want to feel strong. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he said he would boast about his weakness because God’s love is made perfect through weakness. Perhaps it is better to be weak. But if I understand my strength as a blessing, approaching it with gratitude, can’t I still feel strong? Perhaps it’s more important to feel strong than to actually be strong.
Caroline Higgins (’11) lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she spends the vast majority of her time teaching English Language Arts. You may also find her at barre exercise classes or playing (and losing) at bar trivia. She continues to be inspired by the energy and diversity of New York City and the beauty of that certain slant of light.