Love: let’s face it, all people fundamentally want the same things, and this is one of the most important and sought-after. There are many ways to experience love and we want them all: loving others, feeling loved by others, and self-love. However, we all struggle to stay connected to ourselves and others because of a myriad of common life experiences including trauma, fear, and pain. Yoga welcomes us to focus on staying connected to our bodies, our hearts and our thoughts, and to be curious about what we find so that we can love with our whole selves.
Yoga is a practice of self-love, which integrates mind, body and spirit. – B.K.S IyengarTweet
When we have a deep and abiding love for ourselves, our ability to be loved by another is more possible. But, how do we cultivate love, compassion and happiness when there are aspects of ourselves that challenge us, like the critical voice in our head or feelings of anger?
The Buddha gave us the Brahma Viharas, practices to cultivate four heart-centered qualities, to help us connect most directly with our ability to feel love and happiness. The Brahma Viharas translate to Sublime Attitudes or Abodes of God. It is recommended that they be practiced in the order presented, but there is no harm in choosing the one that seems most appropriate to your current situation. It is also highly recommended to practice them all eventually, as they tend to balance aspects of one another that otherwise can become imbalanced if we practice them selectively.
The Brahma Viharas are:
- Metta: the first Brahma Vihara and the one that focuses the most on opening the heart to greater love and kindness. It teaches us how to access the states of love/kindness and friendliness towards ourselves and others by repeating phrases, images, and feelings that invoke them.
- Karuna: helps us meet the suffering of the world with greater compassion. For many of us, our first response to suffering in others and ourselves is to push it away. That’s a really understandable response since sometimes it’s an inappropriate time to feel vulnerable feelings strongly. The key is to come back to it and not let it stay suppressed.
- Mudhita: the cultivation of your own joy when those around you are experiencing joy. Often our reaction to others’ joy is envy, anger, or jealousy. Here we are taught to rejoice in the good fortune of others and join in their celebration. We can take these wise words from the Bhagavad Gita to guide our Mudhita practice: “I delight in your success and good fortune. May they continue to increase.” Just like with Metta, it is recommended to start with someone you love or whom you feel deserves joy. When your feeling of joy for them becomes firmly established, and you are ready for more, do it for people that are harder for you. That could be someone else or yourself.
- Upekkha: the final Brahma Vihara, which means equanimity. It is a balanced state of mind that is neither clinging nor pushing away, ie “the middle path.” It is the act of being willing to let whatever is happening to happen without pushing it away or getting absorbed in it. Try writing down when you have a) pushed the poison of suffering away or b) swallowed it by blaming others or yourself. When you have made your list, start to examine it without judgment.
“All things in the universe are of divine origin and deserve to be loved; it has, however, to be born in mind that the love of the whole includes the love of the parts.” -VivekanandaTweet