Self-acceptance is an individual's satisfaction or happiness with oneself. It allows you to feel good about being who you are – even with your failures, flaws, and mistakes. Self-acceptance is an essential part of good emotional health and allows you to simply enjoy being you.
Many of us struggle to accept ourselves. We continually work to change or better ourselves in one way or another. Sometimes life can feel like one perpetual self-betterment program. I’m all for self-growth and I hope that I never stop learning, evolving, or expanding in some way. I mean, how boring would life be to simply stay the same? But, at some point, I had to ask myself, ‘Why all the need for self-growth?’ What is it about me that I’m not willing to accept and therefore, must work so hard to change?
As I discovered some of those unacceptable places in me that I was working so hard to cover-up or make go-away with all of my ‘self-growth’, I began to approach myself differently – with more compassion. My energy shifted from ‘fix it’, and ‘change it’ (under the guise of ‘self-growth’) to that of self-acceptance… allowing those unacceptable places in me to come a little closer and possibly even find themselves welcome in my home.
One area I see this struggle with self-acceptance show up is in my yoga asana practice. I have been practicing yoga asana regularly for ten years. I stumbled into my first yoga class in an effort to tighten up some post-baby muscles and I stayed with it for the last ten years because it just made me feel good. Along the way, yoga has given me a place to release deeply held emotions, calm my nervous system, help me reset, and get to know myself better. I am grateful for yogic philosophy and enjoy the fruit of more easeful living gained by incorporating it into my life. A lot of good has come from my relationship with yoga.
However, ten years into this thing, I am just now realizing how little self-acceptance I bring to the mat when I practice asana. I practice asana similar to how I engage much of my life – noticing the failure, flaw, or mistake and working to change it. Of course, on the mat, I called this ‘deepening my practice.’ However, deepening my practice seemed to be missing the very thing my soul is most yearning for from yoga… self-acceptance.
While reading the book Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit by Donna Farhi I learned a completely different way to engage my breath while practicing yoga asana. Instead of intentionally deepening the breath or applying any kind of direction to it, I learned to let the breath move me. Breathing is a natural process that happens unconsciously and automatically. We can attune ourselves to this process and feel into its natural rhythm and cadence. In doing so, we begin to become familiar with being breathed.
“Becoming attuned to your breath is like learning to dance the waltz with another person. At first you have to become familiar with your dance partner – how he moves, when he moves, and where he moves. To be a good dance partner with the breath you must be suggestible and let the wisdom of the breath guide all of your movements. As you learn to follow the lead of the breath, you will know what to do next.” (Farhi)
Learning to ‘be breathed’, learning to let my breath lead instead of forcing it where to go, was a huge mental shift toward finding self-acceptance in my yoga asana practice. I discovered how to encounter my breath exactly as it is – to watch it, learn from it, and accept it as is, without changing it to be something else. In accepting my breath - my very own life force - to be, as is, I am practicing accepting myself, as is.
Similarly, in asana postures, I began to notice a great amount of striving to achieve a certain degree of flexibility or openness. I knew enough to direct my nice, deep breath into my body to help it open further, but I did so with a bit of a clenched jaw and an inner spirit of, ‘this will be good enough when it is opened just a little bit more.’
I wasn’t okay or satisfied with my body until my postures looked or felt a certain way. Once that place was reached (if it ever was), then I could settle in to accept myself and my practice.
I approach postures differently now. In the spirit of compassion and self-acceptance, I approach postures with a sense of inquiry. I spend a great amount of time in each posture feeling all of the present feelings in my body. I grant time to each of them to ‘speak up’ and I become curious about what they are saying. I include a great amount of space for my body and all of its parts to be received as it is in that moment. The difference is in my mindset. I don’t approach my asana postures with the belief that they need to open or gain flexibility or be anything other than what they are. I approach them with the belief that as they are they have something to reveal to me about me – and that is enough.
Discovering a more self-accepting way to practice yoga asana has been life-changing. I leave my time of practice more deeply rejuvenated and nourished. I feel softer. More open. I admit that in the very act of letting go of the need to change, I change. And it feels good. But, that’s not the point. In practicing self-acceptance - in learning how to accept and integrate all of the parts of me - there is more of me that gets to show up.
Erica McLaughlin is a mindbody therapist and registered yoga teacher teacher specializing in embodiment. She strongly believes in the healing power that comes when we provide ourselves a quiet space to connect the body and mind. In this space our true essence has a chance to emerge, offering the greatest gift of healing: self–acceptance.
Join Erica for Yoga for Self-Acceptance beginning Thursday,
October 5th 6:00pm-7:30pm