The Ayurvedic Way to Cultivate Self-Love
As a child I was picked on—a lot. I was the tallest kid in class (bean pole), thin (skinny pickle), and a redhead (carrot top). I didn’t wear the “right” clothes. I was too smart and too shy.
It was tough not fitting in. Like many children, I was not taught to love myself. In fact, I was taught that loving myself was selfish.
Luckily, as an adult I’ve come to value my uniqueness. I like being tall and having red hair. I value my intuition. At times I literally sing with contentment and love. But from time to time, I still get caught in our culture’s idea that our worth is tied to appearance and wealth—more about the things we have and do than who we are.
Now that I am in my fifties, occasionally I poke unhappily at my newly acquired muffin top, while at the same time knowing how ridiculous that is. What other society shames its women if they don’t look like they are on the verge of starvation?
Our culture is good at telling us that we are not enough—not beautiful enough, not wealthy enough, not doing enough, not loveable enough, not popular enough. Much of our mainstream, consumption-oriented ad culture manipulates us so we feel bad after looking at a magazine, watching a movie, or spending time on social media.1
The subconscious mind naturally wants to fit in, to be desirable, to be safe. And if we are not aware, we will go buy that thing or eat that food in hopes of making ourselves feel better. But more often than not, it just leaves us feeling empty.
The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda is the perfect antidote to this pattern—it offers an opportunity to turn any notion of not being enough completely on its head. It guides us back to the foundational belief that we are already completely perfect, wonderfully worthy, and entirely lovable, exactly as we are.
The Path of Ayurveda Leads to Self-Love
If you are reading this, chances are you are seeking the deep peace and love that you sense exists within you. Ayurveda is a path to realizing our wholeness. Its goal is to join our little self (jivaatman) with our true self (Paramaatman).
It is a journey to finding that part of you that knows it is perfect, because, well, you ARE!
I can honestly say that when I first found Yoga, and then later, Ayurveda, I finally felt like I fit in. It was like putting on a wonderful pair of comfy jeans.
I have had marvelous teachers who have helped me see the ego’s daily life as the illusion that it is, that part of me that feels small, and begin to glimpse the love and radiance that is the soul. When you are stuck in the ego, every petty thing seems so important. When you glimpse the soul, all else is trivial.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” — The Buddha
Learn to Trust Your Own Unique Perfection
Each and every one of us is a beautiful, unique creation with perfectly unique characteristics. Along with Yoga, Ayurveda gives us what we need to balance both our body and mind, leading us towards the doorway to self-realization.
Sometimes we are balanced and happy as everything seems to flow just right. We might feel joy and love, peace and well-being. At other times we fall out of balance and feel less pleasant emotions—criticism, judgment, anxiousness, and loneliness, or heaviness. This is all the natural ebb and flow of the doshas.
The more we come to know ourselves and how we react to the environment around us, the more we can create sustainable balance and well-being through our daily routines and practices. We can create more space for wisdom, patience, and compassionate self-love.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”— Jack Kornfield
The Ayurvedic perspective of each individual’s unique nature is centered around the concept of prakriti and vikriti—our original constitution and current state of balance. These two states reflect who you are at any given moment and how the doshas are manifesting in your life.
If you’re unsure about your own constitution and state of balance, consider taking Banyan's dosha quiz.
Tap into Ojas as the Sap of Life
Usually when we are feeling self-judgmental, critical, unworthy, or insecure, it's our body's way of telling us things are a little out of whack and we could benefit from a good dose of self-care.
It often also means that we need to focus on building our inner radiance, or ojas, as it is known in Ayurveda. Ojas is a honey-like substance that is often associated with our inner reserves of strength, vitality, and immunity. When our ojas is strong, we can withstand the ups and downs of daily life and maintain a serene, happy, and steady countenance.
Not only do they freely give love to those around them, but they also show love towards themselves. They intentionally work at growing and maintaining their ojas.
The more ojas we have, the stronger and steadier we become and the more content we feel. Ojas is the key to longevity and happiness. When we learn how to cultivate it, we become tranquil, unworried, and capable of genuine self-love.
So what leads to healthy ojas? Our small daily actions—things like meditation, spending time with other balanced people, enjoying time in nature, choosing healthy foods, and treating our bodies with care.
“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”— Parker Palmer
Self-Love Starts with Self-Care
Self-love is self-care. An Ayurvedic routine provides a perfect opportunity to practice acting in a way that is loving towards ourselves. Rather than just checking things off a list, practice approaching your routine every day with love.
Wake up and make your morning drink with love. Meditate with love. Massage your body with love. Choose, prepare, and eat your food with love. Go for a walk in nature as an act of love. If you feel down about yourself, show love for someone else. It will boost you every time.
Practice gratitude. Practice kindness. Practice ahimsa (do no harm), especially towards yourself. Find something that brings you joy and gives you pleasure—every day. The more you love yourself, the more you have to give. This love is like a deep well; the more you drink from it, the fuller it becomes.
“Food is the food of the body; love is the food of the soul.” — Dr. Vasant Lad
A Simple Ritual to Cultivate Self-Love
Here is a simple but powerful practice to develop self-love:
- Look at yourself in the mirror every day and simply observe, without judgement, each and every part of your body, including your emotions and your mind.
- Send love to each part. Accept and feel grateful for each part. If you find yourself critical of any part, send it more love and affection.2
This may feel difficult or even a little silly at first, but be patient and keep at it. In time, you will realize how beautiful, wonderful, perfect, and delightful each part of you is. How perfect you are, exactly as you are.
You chose this body, this mind, these emotions, to fulfill your dharma, your soul’s purpose. Everything about you is perfect and necessary. There are no mistakes, only love. So appreciate the gift that your life is and care for it wisely.