Crescent Low Lunge (Anhaneyasana). Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Valentine’s Day often comes with a lot of pressure and expectations, whether you are single, coupled up or married. We tend to think of this day as a time to revel in romantic love, but when things aren’t ideal, this time of the year can become downright depressing.

We have been conditioned to look outside of ourselves for love and happiness. We are constantly searching for things or someone to complete us. What if instead you make this day about loving yourself? Can you imagine what life would be like if you practice unconditional love for yourself in all your glory and imperfection?

This Valentine’s Day, withdraw your own senses and focus and connect with your innermost being first. Cultivate an authentic sense of self-love. When we love and care for ourselves enough, we radiate attractiveness in every area of our life — in love, work, family and more.

Romantic relationships become the ‘cherry on top’ of an already wonderful life.

Practicing yoga gives us the tools to stay present and accept reality as it is. Yoga teaches us to look inward and cultivate self-love. With yoga, you come to learn that you are not your body, thoughts or feelings, as these things are momentary and will change. Your thoughts and feelings will come and go, and they only appear real when given enough attention. By practicing yoga, you cultivate awareness of the present moment and you will discover that you the beautiful I Am: a divine being of love. Knowing this allows you to live in peace and realize your true self, as a divine source of light and love.

Try the following yoga poses any time you need to infuse a little more self-love into your life. Remember to practice breathing deeply in each pose. With each breath in, bring in kindness and with each exhale, let go of the self-doubt, the negative self-talk and incorporate the mantra ‘I AM LOVE and I AM ENOUGH’. End the practice with loving-kindness meditation.

SUPINE BOUND ANGLE (SUPTA BADDHA KONĀSANA)

Soften with ease and let go

This pose helps stimulate the heart and improve general circulation. Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet together. By gently placing your hands over your chest and lower abdomen you are connecting the heart chakra with the sacral chakra. The heart chakra is associated with love of self and others, warmth, compassion and joy. The sacral chakra is related to feeling, emotion, pleasure, sensuality, intimacy and connection. The energy of this chakra allows you to let go and to feel transformation occurring within your body. Stay here for a few minutes watching your breath. When you are ready to come out of the pose, bring your hands to the outside of your thighs and draw your knees together. Come onto your right side and gentle come up.

STANDING FORWARD BEND (UTTANASANA)

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Folding forward cultivates patience and acceptance for self

This posture releases tension in the nervous system, so you can access your calm, quiet place on the inside. Standing forward bend pose combines the benefits of forward folds and inversions. Anytime your head is below your heart, the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This helps to relieve stress, headaches, anxiety, fatigue, mild depression, and insomnia. This pose also stretches the lower back, renewing your sense of peace, clarity and inner joy.

Stand in Tadasana, hands on hips. Exhale and bend forward from the hip joints, not from the waist. If possible, with your knees straight, bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet, or bring your palms to the backs of your ankles. If this isn’t possible, cross your forearms and hold your elbows. Breathe and stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To release, don’t roll the spine to come up. Instead bring your hands back onto your hips and reaffirm the length of the front torso. Then press your tailbone down and into the pelvis and come up on an inhalation with a long front torso.

EAGLE POSE (GARUDĀSANA)

This pose encourages us to find inner balance and harmony

It helps us feel grounded in who we are on the inside, building our sense of self-worth. Eagle pose also reminds us to soften our judgement and be gentle with ourselves even when we are trying to find balance in different aspects of our lives. By wrapping the limbs, it embodies self-love and nurturing.

Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), with your arms at your sides. Slightly bend your knees. Balance on your right foot and cross your left thigh over your right. Fix your gaze at a point in front of you. Hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf. Balance for one breath. Extend your arms straight in front of your body. Drop your left arm under your right. Bend your elbows and then raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Wrap your arms and hands and press your palms together (or as close as you can get them). Lift your elbows and reach your fingertips toward the ceiling. Keep your shoulder blades pressing down your back, toward your waist. If your palms don’t touch yet, press the backs of your hands together instead, or hold onto a strap. Square your hips and chest to the front wall. Draw your belly in and up. Gaze at the tips of your thumbs. Breathe smoothly and evenly. Stay for 15 seconds up to one minute, focusing on your breath and keeping your gaze fixed and soft. Gently unwind your arms and legs and return to Tadasana. Repeat for the same length of time on the opposite side.

CRESCENT LOW LUNGE (ANJANEYASANA)

Crescent Low Lunge (Anhaneyasana). Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Opens the chest and hamstrings to courageously embrace your natural loving state

Crescent lunge helps us open up the entire front body and bring awareness to our breath.

Begin in Downward-facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). With an exhalation step your right foot forward between your hands, make sure the right knee is over the heel. Lower your left knee to the mat and release into the front of the hip. Inhale and lift your torso. Then raise your arms above your head, palms are facing each other. Exhale. Let your hips settle down and forward, such that you feel a good stretch in the frontal region of your leg and the hip flexors. Pull your tailbone towards the ground. Extend your lower back as you engage your spine. Stretch your arms further behind so that your heart is pushed up. Make sure to engage your lower abdominals and back bend out of the upper chest. Hold and breathe for five to eight breaths You can also raise the knee of the back leg off the mat to come into a full crescent pose. To release the pose, place your hands back on the mat, and move into Adho Mukha Svanasana and then switch sides.

WILD THING POSE (CAMATKARASANA)

Image Credit: Rami Hassan

It opens the heart up toward the sky, allowing us to tap into the energy of compassion, empathy, and love

Start in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Lift your left leg into a Downward-Facing Dog split, pressing out through the heel. Move forward into Plank Pose, keeping your left leg lifted and engaged. Bring shoulders directly over your wrists. Do not let your hips sink -- keep them level with your shoulders. Engage your core by drawing your navel toward your spine. Breathe. Rotate into Side Plank, keeping your left leg lifted and foot flexed, anchoring into the outer edge of your right flexed foot.

Make sure shoulders and hips are stacked. Lift your left hand toward the sky, reaching up and out through the fingers. Gaze toward your left fingers. Slowly bend your left leg, releasing the ball of the foot onto the ground behind you, legs hip-width apart. Your right leg is still extended. Your left arm will reach up and overhead. Press into the ball of your left foot and allow your pelvis to lift upward, letting the head and neck relax toward the back body. Lift the chest by drawing your shoulder blades into the back of your rib cage.

Reach fiercely through your left fingers as your left arm frames the right ear. Continue to use the breath to guide you deeper into the pose. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Alternatively, the lifted hand can be placed on the heart. Exit by turning the gaze back down toward the ground. Pressing into the outer edge of the right foot, rotate your left shoulder and release your left hand to floor, returning to Down Dog. Practice on the other side when you’re ready.

CAMEL POSE (USTRASANA)

Camel Pose (Ustrasana). Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Opens the heart chakra, which is your energy centre for love, caring, and compassion

Camel Pose stretches the front of the body including the chest, abdomen and quadriceps. It improves spinal mobility.

Come to your knees, with your legs hip-width apart. Keep your hips over your knees and internally rotate your thighs, squeezing them toward each other. Inhale, tuck under your tailbone, lift your lower abdomen and lift your chest upwards. Roll your shoulders back and release your head back as you press your heart to the sky. Keep your chest raised, your core engaged and your spine long. Reach your hands back to grab your heels. If you’re tight in your lower back, flex your feet or keep your hands on your lower back. Hold for five breaths. To exit the posture, bring your chin back toward your chest and your hands to your hips with your thumbs on your sacrum. Engage your core and use your hands to support your lower back as you come up slowly.

PIGEON POSE (KAPOTASANA)

Image Credit: Supplied

The Pigeon Pose calms the mind and the body and releases stress

It is a fantastic pose that activates the second chakra, Sacral Chakra – the emotional bank of the human body – releasing trapped emotions, blockages along with working deeply on the sympathetic nervous system of the body.

Start in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Inhale lift your right leg into a Downward-Facing Dog split. Bend your right knee and send the shin forward, release your left leg on the floor. The right shin may angle back towards the left hip or be more parallel to the front of your mat, depending on your flexibility. Square your hips. Inhale, lift your upper body, come on your fingertips, hands shoulder width apart, draw your navel in, tailbone down and open your chest.

Move your head back and hold the pose for at least five breaths. You can stay here or exhale all your hands forward on the fingertips and lower your upper body to the ground. Rest your forehead on the mat. Stay here for five breaths. To come out of the pose, push back through the hands and lifting the hips, move the leg back into Downward-Facing Dog and then switch sides

REVOLVED HEAD-TO-KNEE POSE (PARIVRTTA JANU SIRSASANA)

Revolved head-of-the-knee pose (Parivartta Janu Sirsasana). Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Stretches and calm the body for love

Parivrtta janu sirsasana is a revolved forward bending posture. It is considered a calming and soothing asana with significant benefits for the mind as well as the body. It also works to stimulate the chakras, improving the flow of prana. It is considered therapeutic for a wide range of conditions, including anxiety, depression, headaches and fatigue. Some people also find it relieves insomnia.

Begin in a seated position. Extend your right leg long, flex the foot and the sole of your left foot inside of your right inner thigh. Inhale, lift and turn your upper body to face your left knee. Release your right forearm to the ground inside of your shin so that your arm and shin are lined up. Alternatively, place you right hand on your left thigh. Use an inhale to reach your left arm up. Exhale, side bend to the right over your extended right leg. Reach your shin, ankle or foot. Rest the hand wherever you can reach. Open your chest and gaze up. Breathe here minimum of three deep breaths: use each inhale to lengthen out your spine, and each exhale to open your chest to the sky a bit more.

RECLINING TWIST POSE (JATHARA PARIVARTANASANA)

Reclining Twist Pose (Jathara Parivartanasana). Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Open the back of the body for all aspects of love and allow you to let go of the past

Reclining poses have a calming effect on the body and mind. This pose releases the tensions and emotions that we carry in our back body.

On your back, bend right knee in to your chest, left leg extended along the floor. Extend your right arm out to the side with your palm facing up. Place your left hand on the right side of the knee. Drop your right knee over the left side of your body, away from the hip. Hold and breathe. Stay here for one minute. Repeat on the other side.

CHILD’S POSE (BALASANA)

Child's Pose (Balasana). Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Learn to listen to your body and rest

The Balasana is a restorative, calming pose that relaxes and rejuvenates the body. Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and fatigue. The pose resembles a fetal position and is said to provide physical, mental, and emotional solace to the being.

Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips. Inhale. Exhale, and with love, fold forward, bring your belly to rest between your thighs and your forehead to the floor while gently working buttocks towards the heels. Allow arms to rest alongside your thighs, palms of hands facing upwards or stretch your arms in front of you with the palms toward the floor. Do whichever feel more comfortable for you. Close your eyes, relax. Breathe, slow, steady breaths and remain here for a few minutes.

LOVING-KINDNESS MEDITATION

Loving Kindness Meditation Image Credit: Rami Hassan

Encourage feelings of compassion

The loving kindness meditation is a practice that encourage feelings of compassion and well-being for oneself and others. Those who practice loving-kindness mediation regularly are able to increase their capacity for forgiveness, connection to others and self-acceptance.

To practice loving-kindness meditation, sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner. Cross the ankles or place one foot in front of the other or you can also choose to lie down on your back. Place your hands on your heart. Take two or three deep breaths with slow, long and complete exhalations to relax your body. Let go of any concerns or worries. After taking a few deep breaths, allow the breath to come and go from your body naturally. Imagine the breath moving through the center of your chest - in the area of your heart.

Recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed to your own well-being with sincerity and clarity. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.

May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful, and May I be loved.

While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. Allow any thoughts and feelings to freely flow. Loving-kindness meditation consists primarily of connecting to the intention of wishing ourselves or others happiness. However, if feelings of warmth, openness, or love arise in the body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases. With each breathe, let these words and love reach out from your heart and to every cell of your body.

When you feel you have established some stronger sense of lovingkindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others. After focusing on yourself for five or ten minutes, choose a benefactor, someone in your life who has loved or truly cared for you. Someone who you love dearly. Someone you care about. Someone you have unconditional positive regard for. Picture this person, feel his/her presence and silently recite the same phrases:

May you be happy. May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful, and May you be loved.

Let the image and feelings you have for your benefactor support the meditation. Visualize the love you feel radiating from your body and touching this person.

As you continue the meditation, you can bring to mind other people like friends, neighbours, associates, strangers, including animals, nature and finally people with whom you have difficulty. Direct this loving-kindness mediation toward these beings.

Practicing loving-kindness meditation is about learning to make others and you feel loved.

Nerry Toledo is a Dubai-based yoga instructor. She conducts regular give-what-you-can community classes with the goal of making yoga more accessible for everyone. For schedules and locations, go to nerryfit.com.