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Maitri - Loving Kindness

Have you ever been in a yoga or meditation class where your instructor has asked you to tap into a feeling of deep compassion for yourself? It’s a fairly common theme - I know as an instructor I suggest it in probably almost every class, and as a student I’ve been hearing it since I can remember.

As with a lot of the “common themes” that tend to be repeated but not explained in more granular detail, it can be helpful to peel back the layers and break down what it truly means, and why it’s relevant to your practice.

Yoga, in the macro sense, is a practice in physicality. Especially for us contemporary yogis in the West. We move and feel our bodies through dynamic postures with a multitude of purposes. Embedded in the physical movement, is the more subtle side of yoga, which we are always implicitly practicing when we’re moving and breathing mindfully. We are in essence, as one of my mentor teachers often says, using our bodies as laboratories to thread together a deeper connection to our breath, mind, and spirit. The process isn’t always a piece of cake. It’s possible to encounter the same stuff on the mat that we encounter in our everyday lives. What we practice in life can oftentimes be the very stuff we find ourselves practicing in our classes. And so it becomes important that we foster a friendly kindness toward ourselves as we show up, experiment, move, and grow in our yoga/meditation space.

Maitri is a Sanskrit word that essentially translates to “loving-kindness,” “benevolence,” or “friendliness” toward oneself. This is a foundational part of yoga as we cultivate a non-judgemental, non-critical, and non-goal oriented mindset when we’re practicing.

Initially it may sound self-indulgent. It may even sound silly, inaccessible, or pointless. But ultimately it’s an invaluable mindset that when accessed creates a sense of radical self love and kindness for oneself in all of life’s circumstances. Which eventually transcends into the ability to see, accept, and relate to others more clearly as well.

A simple Maitri affirmation you might practice wherever you happen to be is: “May I be happy,” “May I be healthy,” “May I be at ease.” You can say this to yourself either silently, or out loud (my preference) 5 times while breathing deeply and mindfully in between each sentence.

If it calls to you, you might offer the same affirmation to someone you love. Maybe even someone you’re struggling with mentally or emotionally.

It’s an inside job, my friends - both on and off the mat.

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