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 (nerd) and too shy. It was tough not fitting in. I was not taught to love myself. Actually, 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 sing with contentment and love. But sometimes, I still get caught in our culture’s idea that our worth is tied to appearance and wealth. 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?
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
Our culture is good at telling us that we are not enough. We are not beautiful enough, not wealthy enough, not doing enough, not loveable enough, not popular enough. Our ad culture manipulates us so we feel bad after looking at a magazine, social media, watching a movie, or visiting the mall.1 All these images tell us that everything about us is wrong. The subconscious mind wants us to do everything we can 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 to make ourselves feel better. But it doesn’t really make us feel better, it makes us feel empty.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
We are hardwired to reject other people for their differences.2 Our little reptilian brain is great at making snap judgements from first impressions. Does this part of our mind reject the parts of us that don’t quite fit in? Is our mind truly at war with our ego?
An Ayurvedic Perspective on Self-Esteem
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 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, it is.
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 help me see the ego’s daily life as the illusion that it is and 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.
“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.”
You Are Wonderfully Unique
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 and provides the doorway to self-realization. Sometimes we are balanced and happy as everything flows just right. We might feel joy and love, peace and well-being. Other times we are off balance and feel critical and judgmental, or anxious and lonely, or heavy and listless. This is all the flow of the doshas. The more we know about ourselves and how we react to the environment around us, the more we create balance and well-being through our routine and practices. We can create space for wisdom and self-love.
The Ayurvedic perspective of each individual’s unique nature is centered around the concept of prakriti and vikriti—constitution and state of balance. These two states represent 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 the Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz for a short assessment of your Ayurvedic body type.
Ojas Is the Sap of Life
Usually when our emotions are out of balance and we are feeling self-judgmental, critical, unworthy, insecure, or have a foggy mind, our sadhaka pitta is out of whack. We can listen to these messages from deep within us and make some changes to our lifestyle. We then know we need to focus on building our radiance, or ojas, as it is known in Ayurveda. If our ojas is strong, we can withstand the ups and downs of daily life and maintain a serene, happy, and steady countenance.
The most serene, loving, and beautiful people I know exude radiance, or ojas. Not only do they freely give love to those around them, they also show love towards themselves. They work at growing and maintaining their ojas. Meditation, right action, spending time with other balanced people, spending time in nature, a good routine (dinacharya), and a good diet all increase ojas. The more ojas you have, the stronger and steadier you become and the more content you feel. Ojas is the key to longevity and happiness. Learn how to cultivate ojas and you will learn how to become tranquil and unworried.
Start with Self-Care
Self-love is self-care. Practice your routine every day with love. Meditate with love. Cultivate mindfulness with love. Give yourself a massage with love. Go for a walk in nature every day. Choose, prepare, and eat your food with love. If you feel down about yourself, show love for someone else. It will boost you every time. Practice loving kindness. Find something that brings you joy and gives you pleasure—every day. Practice gratitude. Practice ahimsa (do no harm), especially towards yourself. 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.”
A wonderful practice to develop self-love is to 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.3 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, this karma, to fulfill your dharma, your soul’s purpose. Everything about you is perfect, and necessary. There are no mistakes, only love.
So study Ayurveda. Practice Ayurveda. Live Ayurveda. Look after your body, your mind, and your soul. You only get one set this time around. Use it wisely and appreciate this gift that your life is. Why choose anything else?