Yoga Sequence: Loving-Kindness Toward Ourselves

Yoga teachers see it all. We recognize ourselves in our students, which is why we say that our students are our teachers. There’s the student who comes up after every class with a new “woe is me” story. There’s the student who seems so uninterested you’re not sure why he comes at all. Then there’s the bald student who’s finishing chemotherapy, her body still emanating the metallic smell of chemo. She has the brightest smile and says, “I’m so grateful for this practice.”

Some of our problems are self-inflicted, some aren’t. Either way, we don’t want pain, guilt, and anger to shut us down. This sequence wrings out the emotions that create obstacles and lack of internal space in our bodies. Yoga increases flexibility and range of motion, but its real work is to create a deeper sense of centeredness and ease within. Someone can have tight muscles and a spacious inner world; another can be flexible yet bound up internally. Yoga clears the body, so we have enough space to bear all our experiences. Dishonesty and blame will keep the body locked up. Honesty and forgiveness allow you to live fully in the present moment.

Not forgiving someone is like eating rat poison and wishing the other person would die. You may be able to pinpoint where you hold lack of forgiveness in your body. For me, it’s my throat. You can address areas with yoga and gain temporary relief, but if you don’t forgive, the opening will be superficial.

This sequence is about letting go and learning to ride the waves. We are coaxing the body to open, but we are not insisting. Use the twists to open places that may be harboring “stuck” feelings, such as the pelvis, belly, diaphragm, or throat. Use the backbends to open your heart to compassion toward yourself and others.

The first time you do this practice, take your hands to prayer position and dedicate your practice to someone you love dearly who makes your insides light up with love. The second time, dedicate it to someone toward whom you are fairly neutral.

The third time, dedicate it to someone from whom you want to ask forgiveness or whom you need to forgive. Notice where your body clenches. If it is too difficult to dedicate your practice to that person, let it go and come back to it on another day. Once you have made your dedication, chant om three times, creating a space that’s safe, sacred, and free of judgment.