BARRETT: Love and yoga: same lessons learned

Tom Barrett

With a horribly wrong preconception about what it would entail, I joined my friend for a yoga class in the Davis Center a few weeks back. I walked into the studio classroom thinking I could easily make it through what seemed like an hour of stretching. I was wrong.

I watched others gracefully contort their limbs in odd one-legged poses while I did my best not to topple over into the unlucky girl who unrolled her mat next to mine.

Sweat poured off my face and soaked through my shirt as I forced my body through more upward and downward facing dogs than I’d care to count. My hamstrings felt like they would snap at any instant as I struggled to touch my ankles. I looked at the clock and my heart nearly stopped: it had only been 10 minutes.

Somehow, I managed to stave off asphyxiation for the next 50 minutes. As we wrapped up the session, Father Cregan told us to roll on our sides and wrap our arms around ourselves. Lying on my side in the fetal position, I listened to him explain that this position is a gesture of love and understanding to ourselves.

He said that as we learn to be compassionate and forgiving towards the limitations of our bodies – our tense lower backs and our pain-averting minds alike – we learn how to be compassionate and forgiving towards others.

We performed Namaste (a seated bow reminding us to recognize ourselves in each other), and I left exhausted, drenched and with a much greater appreciation for the inflexibility of my hamstrings.

So what do my struggles with yoga have to do with love? Before we can truly love anyone else, we have to love ourselves.

Loving ourselves means much more than simply liking ourselves (or even liking ourselves a lot). It means being understanding of ourselves. It means recognizing our shortcomings and flaws and accepting them as part of who we are.

I know it will require a great deal of patience and understanding on my part to ever straight-leggedly touch my toes, as I work through the inflexibility. I will have to be compassionate towards myself as I fail over and over again.

For us to truly love ourselves, this compassionate and forgiving attitude must be applied to more than just our bodies. It has to permeate all areas of our lives. If we cannot grasp something intellectually, then we must be patient with ourselves as we continue to stretch our minds. If we made some stupid and very regrettable decisions last weekend, then we can remember that each new breath is a chance to become more like the person we want to be.

We must realize that perfection is a myth while also keeping in mind that we can be better than we are.

Only once we love ourselves can we see that our flaws are not flaws at all; that they are one more aspect of the infinitely unique being that is each one of us. As we let go of this idea that we are flawed we will begin to realize that we all are creatures in need of forgiveness, compassion and understanding.

As Father Cregan says every Monday and Wednesday to his yoga classes, through forgiving and understanding ourselves we learn how to forgive and understand others. And only after we see ourselves in others can we truly love them.


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].