Dr Stephanie Minchin is a Clinical Psychologist in the NHS, a Trainee Yoga Therapist and a Yoga Teacher with weekly yoga classes in Hackney (@theyogapsychologist)

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s, symbolising days of love, romance and attraction. The Psychologist in me wants to talk about love and attachment. The Yoga Teacher voice wants to highlight how the practice of yoga enhances self-awareness and self-acceptance. Thus, the core theme here is how do we relate to ourselves with love? Bringing the two together, I am sharing reflections on why the journey with love has to start from within. No matter what your gender, sexuality or current relationship status, loving yourself comes first.

Chris Pentriss suggested that a relationship is “like a garden” with the idea that we need to water, weed, fertilize and care for our plants in order for them to grow. So what about the love relationship with ourselves, rather than the other? If we are each our own garden, how do we weed so that we grow? How do we care for ourselves in order to flourish? What are our individual needs to thrive?

Self-love is not just walks in nature and bubble baths.

On a deeper level it is your psychological and emotional relationship with yourself. We readily extend kindness to others yet it can be challenging to turn such sentiments inwards. Do you believe that you are a valuable and worthy person? Are you able to positively disentangle the regard for your own interest from a guilt of feeling ‘selfish’. Looking after yourself as number one is not selfish when it is re-addressing the balance in what we often subjugate – the me, myself and I. What actions are you actively taking to appreciate yourself and maintain a regard for one’s own wellbeing and happiness.

At times of thinking we need more self-discipline, we usually need more self-love (Mohr).

Sarah Adefehinti, a self-love and relationship coach (https://www.lovingwiththelightson.com/) acknowledges 12 key skills of human relating including compassion, forgiveness, curiosity and boundaries. Sarah highlights that by investing in an inward journey to understand and appreciate yourself more, you will have a “beautiful, clear platform to explore and enhance your relationship to yourself… and create a solid foundation for a strong relationship to flourish with others”.

In regards to being in relationships, Osho (a spiritual teacher of the 1970s), suggests that it is beautiful to be both alone and in love, and in the quest for such freedom with the two, they can be complementary and not contradictory. A process of navigating the ‘i-dentity’ and the ‘we-dentity’, both equally as important. These such questions and dilemmas we can truly only answer with honesty when we have explored the depth of our own emotional wellbeing first.

How can I learn to love myself?

On a psychological and emotional level:

Self-appreciation – celebrating your successes (not just the material goals but the intentional actions) and build your confidence to enhance your sense of worth and self-esteem.

Overcoming self-criticism – noticing the inner voice that puts you down, challenging its negativity and creating alternative positive affirmations.

Less self-sabotage…. Those “f*ck-it moments”. We all have them. The cycles of negativity that manifest and overwhelm into destruction, the negative ‘habit patterns’ that serve to escape and not to heal, and leave us only with regret, guilt or shame. Yes this requires, self-motivation, control and willpower when sometimes in the hours of most need, but you will be stronger and truer to yourself for it.

Replace perfectionism – because you’ll never get there, the goal posts will always move and it is as unattainable as the leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Comparison = competition. Catch out the ego talk and know that you are more than enough.

Accept failures and turn them into lessons. One of my most valuable mantras is that “a regret is a mistake I don’t learn from”. So it’s all a process of learning; just don’t stay in the mistake longer than you have to!

Daily practices:

● Meditate – quiet the mind
● Practice daily mantras e.g. “I am loved. I am loving.”
● Write a gratitude journal e.g. x3 a day that you are grateful for, or writing down something you appreciate about yourself
● Boundaries – being able to say ‘no’ and not acting outside of your own values to stay aligned with yourself
● Try something new – be a yes person to explore and awaken different skills
● Read positive and uplifting material
● Do something for greater good e.g. donate or volunteer to charity
● Eat a healthy diet, healthy nutrition proves a positive energy base
● Be physically active – exercise releases endorphins creating a positive feeling in the body

So start by investing in yourself, as priority; give yourself space to breathe; do more of what you love, less of what you don’t, and be around those who make you happy, not sad. Allow yourself the desire to grow and glow in a way that honours you and the person that you are. Let go of what no longer serves you and love yourself first.