“If it is true that you are what you eat, it may just as accurately be said that you are what you listen to.” ~ Steven Halpern
How often have you noticed yourself speaking rudely or disrespectfully to someone else and later reflected on how it was both unkind and unnecessary? Or how often have you felt that someone else was speaking rudely or disrespectfully to you?
Most of us have experienced this—whether we were the ones speaking or being spoken to.
But how often do we get quiet enough to listen to the way we speak to ourselves?
More often than not, we are more than aware of how external voices affect us, but how much attention do we pay to the inner voices and dialogue in our own head?
In the ancient Yoga Sutras, Patanjali writes of a virtue known as ahimsa, a term often translated as non-violence. Most of us immediately think of this non-violence as being limited to the physical kind, but the meaning of ahimsa also extends to non-violence and kindness in our thoughts and words.
Thoughts and words are incredibly powerful. How you think and what you say about yourself is part of creating your future and your experiences.
This includes your experience on your yoga mat.
How often have you found yourself in a challenging asana (yoga pose) on the mat and felt yourself aggressively pushing yourself further, only to be filled with anger that despite the forcing you are still unable to do the asana the way you “think” it should be done. I have found myself in this position many times and often still catch myself deep in excessive self criticism.
I remember wanting to do Yoga Teacher Training for such a long time, but year after year I told myself that I wasn’t “good” enough to do the training because I couldn’t do a free balancing handstand. I actually hear this a lot now from students curious about the training. They’ll say to me, “I’d love to do teacher training, but I can’t do handstand or any other arm balances yet, so I’m not going to enroll.”
Where we come up with this nonsense that you have to have a freestanding arm balance to be able to teach the practice of yoga, I don’t know; although I’m betting our admiration of the yoga imagery we see on Facebook and Instagram has a little something to do with it. I am totally guilty of self-ridicule after looking at beautifully aligned inversions in my newsfeed.
And my self-ridicule isn’t just limited to seemingly impossible arm balances.
A few months ago I found myself so annoyed with myself after each class that I couldn’t come into halasana (plough pose) without experiencing strong discomfort in my back. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the story I was telling myself that I was unworthy because I couldn’t come into this pose and hold it comfortably the way everyone seemed to be able to.
The truth is, not every physical pose is for every person. We all have limitations and circumstances that we are working with, and launching into a tirade of self abuse is counter-productive and actually prevents us from moving forward in our practice.
I believe that with practice and commitment you can absolutely get where you want to go, but you have to be patient and kind to yourself along the way.
How you choose to respond and react is more important than the pose itself. Over the past couple of months I have been practicing asanas that I told myself I would never be able to physically do. I shared this self doubt with my own teacher, who responded with, “If you say you can’t, you won’t,” and she was right.
I decided to change the way I was talking to myself about the poses, and as a result my experience in these seemingly impossible asanas has changed too.
Next time you find yourself in a challenging position—whether it is on the mat or off—see if you can practice observing and witnessing the voice in your head and choose to respond with kindness and compassion.
Choose to tell yourself something different.
It’s time to forget how you are speaking to others and start to pay attention to how you are speaking to yourself. It’s likely that what you are telling yourself is untrue, unkind and unnecessary. You may just find that the way you experience your practice and your life changes too.
Author: Lauren Flaherty
Apprentice Editor: Toby Israel/ Editor: Catherine Monkman