Metta on the Mat: Kindness to Open the Body and the Heart

Think kindly. Your body hears everything your mind says.

On the Mat

Kindness comes easier when your breath is full and your body more relaxed. We can create conditions for kindness to flow more organically every time we come to the yoga mat. We can learn how to be more loving with ourselves, no matter how we feel when we show up for our practice. Here's how: 

Metta Warm Ups

Before you begin your practice, simply pause and bring to mind some one who has offered you great support, love, or kindness. Consider a benefactor of some type, a caretaker, or teacher whose inspired you. See their image in your mind's eye. Pause for a few breaths and mentally, deliberately, extend your love and gratitude to them. Like you were writing a mental thank you card in that moment. This is an instant way to touch into your basic loving nature and will up the odds that your practice will be more infused with mindfulness, warmth and consideration. You can also use this practice at any moment of any day as a quick reorientation back to the heart. 

Kind Mind-Body Flow

Before you begin your Asana, after you center yourself, set an intention to notice your inner dialogue throughout your yoga practice. Most of us will find that we have a very old habit of judging what is wrong with our body, mind, or practice. As we watch our thoughts during practice, we will witness a subtle, or not so subtle, voice that is constantly narrating what we are displeased by. We may hear things like: “this is my bad side; only if my belly didn't get in the way,” “why can everyone else do this pose?” “my shoulders will never open,” “I am so tight,” “If only my thighs were not so fat, I'd be able to do this,” “she looks so much better than me in those pants,” etc. In this way, a yoga practice can be reinforcing our ability to criticize ourselves rather than training in the capacity to appreciate and care for ourselves. Metta is a way to shift this inner narrative and deliberately practice more caring, creative responses in each situation.

As we hear these voices fight for our attention, the first thing to do is take a deep breath and relax as much as possible. Then try one these more supportive and artful responses to shift the inner narrative and allow for a new outcome in each situation:

  1. Notice what you can do, instead of what you can't. For instance, if you find yourself struggling to get into pigeon and mentally saying something like, "My hips are so tight.” Or "I'll never get into full pigeon," you can say, "When I am not forcing or straining, I can breathe deeper, and stay in pigeon with more ease.” Don't add anything negative to your pose.
  2. Instead of dialoguing about how you are measuring up, instead of criticizing, be curious. Feel what you are doing instead of judging it. However, if you need to engage your mind more strategically, ask yourself constructive questions like, "Where is my body touching the ground?” "If I firm my thigh muscles what happens?" "If I release my jaw what happens?" "Where do I feel my breath most?" As you observe yourself and answer questions like these, there will be much more focus on discovering and less on degrading. 
  3. When you notice yourself criticizing your body, practice offering a more caring response (just like you'd do for a loved one). Instead of, "This is my bad side," we can say, "I notice this side is more stable while the other side feels more mobile." Or instead of, "Only if my thighs were smaller, I could do eagle pose," you can say, "Thank you legs and thighs for carrying me every day out into this world."
  4. When you find yourself struggling in a pose, practice sending gentle encouragement, love, or acceptance (just like you'd do for a dear friend). If you feel your low back aching loudly, you can offer a mental wish for ease or healing. As you offer your back love, simultaneously listen inward to your body. You may get the message that you are out of alignment and putting excess strain on your back. You may be more clear about how to move your in a new way body. Listening to your body can help you can gain perspective on the pose and decide if you should adjust yourself or get out of the pose instead. 

When you practice acceptance and care instead of judgment it creates a cyclical reaction–a more kind attitude further opens your body, which makes it easier to send and receive love from your heart. And when your physical heart is less constricted, your mind becomes less rigid and more curious and open. Your whole life expands.