Love in any Language
In High School my dance team was invited to perform at the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, California. It was my first opportunity to fly, and the largest audience I’ve ever performed for. We performed a dance and sign language routine to Love in Any Language by John Mohr and John Mays. It was exhilarating and frightening. I loved it!
Love in Any Language
“Love in any language, Straight from the heart, Pulls us all together, Never apart. And once we learn to speak it, All the world will hear, Love in any language-Fluently spoken here.”
English has a few different words for different kinds of love, including fondness, affection, and infatuation (though one could argue that not all of these are actually types of love). But when it comes to the word “love” itself, this one word can express all of these concepts and more.
Consider the following English sentences:
- I love my husband/wife/partner
- I love my mother
- I love my dog
- I love raspberries
- I love Mondays/Fridays
- I love Yoga
No matter what kind of love we’re talking about in English, we use the single word for it: “love”. This is baffling and can confuse even those with the best of intentions!
Sanskrit, the ancient language of Yoga, according to one of my sources, has an astounding 96 words for love. Here is just a small sampling of the vast spectrum of Sanskrit words for love.
- Anurakti: Passionate love or attachment.
- Anuraga : Intense love (towards God).
- Bhakti: to love & revere, the yoga of devotion
- Kama: Erotic or amorous love. You might recognize this word from the title of the famous ancient text, the Kama Sutra.
- Sneha: Maternal love or affection.
- Rati: This word originally meant to enjoy or delight in something or someone. The meaning has evolved to imply a physical desire or love.
- Priya: Meaning “darling” or “beloved”, Priya is a common given name for girls in India and Nepal.
- Atma-Prema: Unconditional self-love.
- And maybe, just maybe, the highest virtue in yogic love: Maitri: friendliness, love.
Love in Practice
Yoga is more than the language used to share, study and learn the ancient teachings we call Yoga. It is a practice of breathing, moving and resting. It is a practice of loving. In asana, pranayma and meditation, we practice loving ourselves and all beings. Yoga identifies love as an integral part of the practice of living. Patanjali articulated this priority by identifying AHIMSA as the first Yama (ethical precept) in the Ashtanga (eight-limb path) of the Yoga Sutras. In this way, the practice of Yoga-ic love goes beyond the feelings of love in marriage, partnership or even friendship. Love for the Yogi is to practice living in ways that are life giving and non-harming. What is more life giving than loving?
Ahimsa is often translated as compassion or non-harming and used to advocate vegetarianism, pacifism, and even environmental conservation. When it comes to the yoga intention of union, of community and connection, ahimsa is an invitation to not only do no harm, but to offer compassion and to actively contribute to those around us, even those we are NOT OBLIGATED to serve, support or love, and especially when the feelings of love are not inspiring us to act from love. I call this practice “Reframe from Love.” It is an exercise in choosing to love even when we don’t wanna. To Reframe from Love is a practice of choosing to believe that others are doing the best they can given their skills, resources and personal circumstances. The practice challenges our assumptions and defensive habits. We strive to redefine hurts and disappointments from a perspective of compassion for ourselves and others as equally valuable and worthy of love. Rather than focusing our attention on the pain or wrong doing, we reframe our understanding to account for intention, possibility and even imperfection. However, to Reframe from Love does not give permission for others to treat us poorly, disrespectfully, or harmfully, but it helps us to cultivate compassion for their circumstances, regardless if we have access to their life’s details. In other words, we suspend judgment in our attempt to find the needle of love in the proverbial haystack of self-doubt, fear, darkness and suffering. We put the intention of love into action by directing our attention to see even the slightest traces of good and evidence of connection. We practice trust and hope. We practice love.
- Asana: the practice of moving the body into position. If love is an expression of value and asana is the intentional placement of our body into a shape, what is love in Asana? For some a hug is an expression of love. For others it is simply an obligatory greeting. For others it is a threatenting expression of power and dominance. How we arrange our limbs and support our body in shapes both in practice and in our daily life can demonstrate AND cultivate a deeper relationship with the intention we bring into the moment and the shape. How do you make the shape of love using your body?
- Pranayam: the practice of moving prana, breathing mindfully. Pranayam is more than just drawing breath in and out. The flow of breath simply provides a tangible experience with our connection to prana, or life force. Pranayam as a practice of love is about directing our attention to what matters most and strengthening our awareness and expression of ease and compassion. Breath as it leaves our body over the vocal chords in our throat allow breath to be transformed into sound, and even words. Our words can express love, if we choose them wisely and express then with considerate care. How do you express love with your breath?
- Meditation: the practice of mindfulness to balance energy of the heart, brain, and belly. Metta meditation, often translated as the loving kindness meditation, is a mantra (reciting sounds) meditation practice in expanding our capacity to love and offer compassion to others. It starts by cultivating internal self-love. For many, healthy self-love is a hurdle that prevents free expression of love to others. From the self, we expand our attention to others: loved ones, neutral relationships, difficult relationships, community, expanding outward to include all living beings. In this way love grows with our expanding attention. How do you express the intention of love with your thoughts and expectations?
There are numerous variations and translations for the Metta. Feel free to adapt or use this one to explore in your personal meditation and prayer time. Start with a few deep calming breaths in a comforatable, sustainable position. Set an intention for cultivating love.
- May I (May You; May we all) be healthy and strong.
- May I (May You; May we all) feel safe and protected.
- May I (May You; May we all) know love and connection.
Love in Action
I am grateful to know that I am loved and that I have the privilege to love others. I hope you know the same. Love in Action is choosing to express love as a practice of Ahimsa and an expression of one’s values. Love in Action is a practice of putting the intention of love into tangible form for those around us. There are some who say we have to first receive love to give love. Others say the opposite. I do believe it is easier to share what I have in abundance than to offer what I do not possess. And yet, love is more than an idea or even a single act or experience. Love is a language of its own. Gary Chapman’s Love Languages provides a helpful foundation to explore what love looks like in action. After all, what good is love if it’s not put into tangible form? Chapman proposes 5 styles of expressing love, he calls Love Languages. As humans we have the capability to express and receive love in all five ways, but often have a preferred manner to which we are most receptive. Take the 5 Love Language Quiz for yourself.
- Words of Affirmation: using words to build up another person, encouragement, gratitude, affirmation
- Acts of Service: doing something for another that you know they will appreciate
- Physical Touch: a hand shake, a hug, or a pat on the back might be just the action to share an expression of love in a non-threatening, non-sexual way.
- Quality Time: offering our undivided attention to another, or sharing time, space and energy to do an activity together.
- Gifts: tokens of appreciation not necessarily related to honoring a special event or demonstrating a monetary value, but more to show “I was thinking of you” and “You matter.”
I don’t always receive love in my preferred format (acts of service). Nor am I always accurate in sharing love in ways that are easily received by my Beloved. This is what it means to practice. Sometimes my efforts fail. But just like in my Yoga practice, I study the shape and he energy, I watch the response and the consequence of the shape and adjust accordingly. Through repetition and consistent practice, I gain clearer understanding and stronger resolve to endure the challenge. As a Yogi, I have come to understand that I can only know what I’ve experienced and allowed myself to contemplate. That said, my contemplation and introspection further enhance my experience which in turn takes me to new places and new insights. I get better! This is my practice of Love in Action. I am learning to love more freely and abundantly by clarifying my intention, paying attention to what love looks like and putting it into action through words, service, time, touch and gifts. I am practicing.