What “Love Yourself” Means and 3 Ways to Get Closer To It
You’ve heard it before:
“If you don’t love yourself, nobody else will!”
“The most important relationship you have is the one with yourself!”
“Love yourself first!”
OK fine, you say, but none of these people or articles explain what “loving yourself” actually means. How do I know if I love myself? Do I really want to love myself? Doesn’t this make me a narcissist? What would it look like?
Visions come up of you screaming from the rooftops how great you are, dismissing anyone who disagrees with you, and refusing to believe that you could ever do wrong (making Kanye West look like he has low self-esteem).
Ok hold on. Back up. I said “love,” not “become obsessed with.” Is that how you would treat and feel about someone you love? Probably not, unless you were on a mission to a break up or have a restraining order placed on you. If you’ve felt love for another before, what did you think about—and how did you act towards—the recipient of your feelings? Chances are you thought the person was pretty awesome, enjoyed spending time with them, were compassionate and forgiving when they let you or someone else down (after ensuring you knew they had learned from the error), and practiced unconditional love towards them, leaving them feeling safe, supported, and secure. Maybe you didn’t love every aspect of them all the time, but you accepted, understood, and supported unconditionally.
Now turn that way of being in a romantic relationship inwards, towards yourself. You’re not infatuated, you still have expectations, and you’re not going to let yourself have free reign to fulfill every selfish desire; but, you have patience and compassion and don’t consider yourself to be a worthless individual if you make a mistake.
Make sense? If it’s a new way of relating for you intrapersonally, it’ll feel weird to begin with. It’ll feel anxiety-provoking and feigned and awkward. But, like most things, it will become comfortable and automatic with practice. Here are a few tips for learning and mastering the practice of self-compassion—or, as the rest of the world says, “loving yourself.”
- When you become aware of your critical voice, thank it for showing up with its good intentions. Congratulate yourself on noticing that it showed up, and ask yourself if you would say the same thing to a partner, friend, or a child in your situation. If the answer is no, try to think of what you might say to them, and respond that way to yourself instead. If you can’t think of something supportive that you might say, use the formula that I use with myself and teach to my clients:
“It’s understandable that I’m feeling (feeling) because (reason why it makes sense that you’re feeling that way), and it’s understandable that I did (behavior that you are judging) because I (reason anyone else in your shoes might have done the same thing). Something I can take away from this experience is (what will you know for next time due to this valuable experiential learning process?) and one reason why it’s good this happened is because (what is or might be a residual effect of this experience that is positive?).”
- Practice a compassionate meditation towards yourself. Find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes. Turn inwards—first to your breath. Focus on taking a few long, expansive breaths that make your tummy expand. Now go inwards into your experience. Scan what you’re feeling physically and emotionally. Notice your thoughts. Try to just watch these thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. Don’t try to change them or analyze them. Just observe them and let them be. Now bring up feelings of warmth, patience, empathy, sympathy, comfort, and appreciation. This might take some time, or feel foreign or forced. It will get easier with practice. Now envision sending those qualities of compassion to yourself. Imagine them enveloping you like a warm blanket or a comforting hug. Picture the compassion traveling throughout your body and your mind, telling you that you are loved and worthy, reminding you that you are not alone so long as you have yourself. Once you feel competent practicing sending yourself compassion in this way, take it a step further. Find mountain pose in front of a mirror, and notice what thoughts and feelings come up as you look at your reflection. You might experience uncomfortable feelings that make you want to look away or be self-critical. Sit with those feelings. Once you are comfortable sitting in them, practice sending love to the person in the mirror.
- The preceding tips generally suggest how to react intrapersonally following transgression. But consider how you act towards yourself in response to success, compared to how you might react to someone you love. Our society overvalues modesty, to the point at which people feel guilty if they own or congratulate their successes. Just think about the last time you got a compliment, how you reacted to it. Or the last time you felt proud about something, then quickly squashed that feeling for fear of becoming complacent. Again, I’m not saying here that you should send an interoffice email around about how you’re better than your colleagues or would like to be addressed from here forward as “God.” This is saying give yourself space to enjoy pride, acknowledge your success, internally and externally, and try “Thank you, I worked hard,” or “Thank you, me too” in response to a compliment, instead of finding a deflecting or denying it.
If you’re not convinced you’re ready to give yourself space and compassion and support, that’s fair. Being self-critical has probably been at the root of a lot of your successes, and has likely protected you from a lot of painful feelings of rejection or failure. But how long will it be until you choose to love yourself unconditionally? What are your alternatives? Dislike? Hate? Reject? No one can make you make that shift but you. As Oscar Wilde says, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” You cannot change the person you inhabit, but you can change your relationship to them. Now get practicing, so can spend more of this lifetime with the one you love—you.
The Brain-Heart Connection
The brain: a 3-pound mass of protein, fat, and 100 billion neurons where thoughts are processed and stored. The heart: a half-pound, fist-sized electrical system capable of pumping up to 2000 gallons of blood through the passages of your veins and arteries in one single day, where emotions are believed to be deeply felt.
Both physiologically and psychologically speaking, the brain and the heart provide us with sustaining necessities. Lifetimes could be spent focusing on one or the other of these human super-entities individually; indeed this has been the case for thousands of cardiologists, neuroscientists, and spiritual leaders spanning the history of humankind seeking to unearth information about two of the most powerful drivers of life.
History of the Brain
When laying the foundation for a discussion on the brain/heart connection, it is important to consider the history of each. The organs of the brain and the heart have each seen their own evolution in terms of biological discovery, investigations, and spiritual symbolism.
The first written recording denoting the brain hails from Egypt on a papyrus scroll written about 1700 BC, as part of a document composed of 48 major injury cases, of which 28 noted were head injuries. This document, known as the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, details a wound that had opened both the skull and the brain, a never-been-seen before medical analysis. Interestingly enough, the medic performing the examination mentioned pulsations of the brain itself; we now understand this as a reference to the pulse of the heart. According to Dr. Eric Chuder at the University of Washington at Seattle, ancient Egyptians did not recognize the importance of the brain’s functionality; in preparing the deceased for mummification, organs were extracted from the body. While the heart and other organs were removed and stored in jars close to the body or replaced back into the body itself, the brain was thrown away. It wasn’t until developments in the time Classical Greece and Rome that the brain began to gain recognition as a vital organ.
History of the Heart
The heart has been an object of scientists’ affection for centuries. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, declared, even glorified, the heart as human being’s most prized and necessary organ controlling all functions of the body as well as thought and emotion; Ancient Egyptians regarded the heart as the center of all life. Unlike the brain, early understandings of the heart put this particular organ on a pedestal from both scientific and spiritual angles, figuratively and quite literally.
Drawn symbols of the heart similar to what we identify with today can be traced back to the Ice Age when Cro-Magnon hunters 10000 to 8000 BC first began using the shape.
In Ancient Aztec culture, communities paid respect to the gods they believed to be responsible for their existence through human sacrifice, and in doing so would ask for abundant crops amongst other requests. An important aspect of this ritual was removing the sacrificee’s still-beating heart on an altar as part of a ceremonious offering. Countless religious texts including the Bible often reference the heart to note the intention behind particular decisions and personalities, both positive and negative.
History of the Brain-Heart Connection
Hundreds of years of research and observation of the heart and brain eventually led to the manifestation of knowledge establishing the existence of the brain/heart connection. Anatomically speaking, Aristotle believed that other organs, including the brain, served as cooling agents for the heart. As further research began to unravel over the course of history, the dominance of the proven facts behind the brain’s functions took precedence over the mysteries of the heart, whose importance, up until the last few decades, has been somewhat demoted and whittled down to its existence as a glorified pump. It has become common knowledge that the brain sends signals to the heart by way of the autonomic nervous system, causing the pattern of heartbeats to slow, flutter, pound, and the like; it is commonly mistaken that the heart simply intakes cues from the brain and a change in palpitation patterns ensues.
According to research conducted over the course of the last four decades at the HeartMath Institute, the brain-heart connection influences each moment in which we exist.
It has been proven more recently that the heart does indeed respond back to the signals sent from the brain, and sends its own organically created messages by way of what is known as the intrinsic cardiac nervous system, and composed of cells found in the brain.
You can think of the communication between the brain and the heart as being spoken in the same language using four distinct dialects; neurological, biochemical, biophysical, and energetic exchanges occur and create unique results. When the body and mind experience stressful conditions, the rate of our heartbeat increases. This, in addition to other effects, often maims our capacity to make well thought out decisions, retain pertinent information, and pay attention to our surroundings; in short, cognitive functions are grossly stunted when feelings of overwhelm and anxiety are experienced. Stress in its many forms takes a toll on all facets of our health and wellbeing.
Positive emotions and experiences have quite the opposite effect. When we experience joy, happiness, and the sense of freedom, for example, our heartbeat and thoughts become in tune with one another, bringing us into a state of homeostasis, or balance . When thoughts and the heartbeat are recognized as being in neutrality, it has been proven their rhythms are erratic in nature; when we have the opportunity to reach homeostasis is when everything functions in sync.
Brain-Heart Connection and Meditation
Phrases such as “speaking from the heart,” “crying your heart out,” and the like truly do hold merit beyond common word play. Learning to access our emotions in an intelligent and useful way is possible when we employ the tool of meditation, which, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 19 million Americans are engaged in a as a regular practice.
Meditation offers us a platform for awareness and connection within self, and brings us closer to a place of balance, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Unveiling these pathways to our personal fortification helps us to show up fully, whether we are called to stand up for ourselves, manifest with clear intention, or engage with unexplainable phenomenon.
Making sure our minds and our hearts are individually healthy is imperative for our wellness and longevity. It can be almost overwhelming to consider the independent power both of these organs posses in terms of the sustenance of life. Setting aside time for connecting our brains to our hearts can assist us in living at our highest level of intuition and vibration. Just as the heart beats in different patterns depending on neurologically transmitted signals, the energetic frequency at which we live reflects this in its tendency to ebb and flow.
A seated meditation practice can be useful for getting in touch and finding congruency between the body’s natural metronomes: the brain, the heart, and the breath. In a place of conscious, engaged centeredness, you are able to lay down the tracks on which your emotional resilience, which the HeartMath Institute defines as, “the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, adversity, trauma or challenge”, can travel with ease when faced with any kind of interruption inflicted upon the brain and the heart.
How to Practice Your Own Brain-Heart Connection Meditation
- Prepare yourself for seated meditation: If you are new to the practice of mindfulness and sitting, make sure you are comfortable and prepared.
- Find a guide that is right for you: HeartMath Institute offers a technique called the Quick Coherence Technique, a three-step process focusing on attention, breathing, and feeling.
- Be experimental: If a seated meditation practice is not your cup of matcha, an invigorating yoga practice focused on the flow of these same energies can also help to bring you into greater connection within.
- Journal about your results and revelations: Being able to look back on your journey can be a method of inspiring from within, no matter what kind of practice you are focusing your energy on.