When I first started practicing yoga 20 years ago in Oakland, my boyfriend at the time never tired of watching me on my purple Gaiam mat on the living room floor. I practiced along with Rodney Yee’s VHS videos then, which I used as a proxy to the man himself when he was usually off teaching internationally. My boyfriend loved to watch, but never practiced along side me. He finally confessed how sexy he thought I was while practicing, though I am sure I already knew. “I feel like I’m making love to myself when I practice yoga,” I told him without flinching or flirtation. And I was making love to myself then, and I still am.

What strikes me as significant about the memory of this exchange is twofold. The first thing has to do with how good I can remember feeling in my own body, in my own skin, a body that I felt largely alienated from as a child for reasons such as being objectified by some of the men in my family when told that I had “thunder thighs”. While before, my thighs were these insurmountably robust “things”, during yoga my thighs were an integrated part of what made me me. I observed them as strong, as powerful, flexible, and shapely. I noticed that there was entire world of experiences and sensations happening in my thighs alone! I can remember feeling my breath in every part of me, as if each inhale was a loving caress to whatever region I focused my attention on in that moment. I remember becoming aware of how my thighs felt when I walked. And I can remember being AWARE for the first time that perhaps I hadn’t always felt at ease and awake with every step.  There was a lightness, a breathiness, an aliveness in my dancing that replaced a muscularizing, forcing, strain in my thighs all as a result of  a very gentle daily vinyasa practice.

During my home practice for those first few years, I practiced the same four videos over and over and never tired of them. I did them daily and consistently, such that on the days when I would skip my practice, I noticed immediately that I did not feel nearly as spacious and light in my own skin as I did when I started my day with yoga. I was so intrigued by my what was happening in the moment to moment experience of my own thighs and other body parts that when one day I woke up and realized that the “thunderous” adjective had disappeared completely from my inner narrative about my thighs, I was shocked. When did that happen? In fact, I no longer looked at my thighs the same I did when I was eight, twelve, or eighteen years old. I had entirely transformed relationship to my thighs, and little did I know then that was only the beginning.

The second significant result of my boyfriend’s comment was my becoming aware of how “turned on” the people around me seemed to get when I felt good about myself. It was a contagious thing. And I believe we can all relate to that. People who feel good act good. And when someone does something kind, generous or simply walks by and sends a smile in your direction, it has the impact of turning another person on. And what I mean by that is that it ignites a part of us that is meant to be alighted. Our inner most potential, our inner most desire, and truest selves that are love and that seek love.

There are so many ways to connect with and love ourselves, as there are so many ways to connect with and love others. There are also plenty of obstacles that get in the way of self-love, as well as in the way of equity and social justice, which I believe is what love is meant to look like in public (as Cornel West so beautifully states). I am keenly interested in exploring how yoga, as embodied experiential practice, can be a powerful tool to be a better lover of myself, others, and life itself. For the lovers of love who are so inspired, consider the ways you’ve embodied love today? You might also consider participating in the annual Embodied Love: A Transformational Yoga Retreat in Tulum with myself and Lauren Solomon this year or next. We will look at the narratives about ourselves and others that limit and grow our capacity to truly love, and so much more.