An unfortunate and muggy fug was squatting, mostly around the frontal lobes but extended into tension around the upper back, neck and chest. I´d decided to indulge an increasingly hyper-critical attitude towards myself and my activities, which i guess is something so many of us struggle with. I was fighting what i wanted to do (which of course felt right inside my guts), with what i thought people might think of me, cue pointless critical chorus worrying what people might say or think.
Case study: A number of people asked me to record yoga sequences to help them with particular things. Simple, right? I had got so far to record them, then met the paralysis of terror, inhibiting me from sharing them. What might people say?! Do i seem egotistical? Does this make me a w*nker? Oh man, i should be better at this, etc.
Well, that was almost five years ago, and i´m publicly outing myself at my lack of courage, and sharing this story because i feel it imperative to reassure everyone that we really need to acknowledge the muggy fug, then "let go" of its residue in order to grow.
Sometimes, the worst voice of all can be the one that lives inside, sneering, scoffing and scathing. Allow me to introduce: the inner critic! Many of us have this dastardly character and might notice it triggering feelings of shame, inadequacy or anxiousness in certain situations. Ignoring this pest mostly leads to a suppression of feelings which stocks up inside, and over time can result in, an unfortunate amplification of wretched messages. So how do we deal with that?
Spend less time with the critics (or worse, trying to please them!), and more on following your heart, your true essence and your passions, that´s what! In other words, let go of what they think. Of course, no-one appreciates an arrogant buffoon, and positive feedback is all part of that growth. But if we only try to please all those critical (and non constructive) voices, we can get caught all up in it, and surely be disappointed. And that´s not helpful to anybody. A waste of time and energy...Not a nice feeling.
Therefore, I propose a....
Five step plan
1) I´m a fan of reaching deep into the guts and pulling out the dark sh*t and plonking it on the table and examining all its ugly finery. Having a good look at it, finding the links, where it came from, how it feels, what its consequence is and so on can be an interesting process, if it feels safe enough. We might be able to come across unnecessary tension or see a situation that´s not so helpful to us, and hopefully that can help guide us towards the process of finding a better alternative, be it softening the tension or approaching a situation in a different way.
2) The inner critic can be a valuable tool! It might be prompting your attention towards something you really want to achieve or change. Check if your critic is offering a valuable insight to something you haven´t considered before and use it as a catalyst to drive you forward.
3) However, if the voice is uttering non-constructive and plain insulting fodder, flip it the birdy, so to speak. Use this voice to propel you forward, prove it wrong, silence it! As finemann Jack Kornfield so wonderfully articulates in The Wise Heart, "We become aware of all the stories, judgements, and beliefs we are holding. When we look more closely, we often discover that some of them are one-sided, fixed points of view, or outmoded, habitual perspectives. We see that they are only stories. With mindfulness we loosen their hold on us. We cling less to them." Reminder: YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS!
4) Add a bit of breath to the situation. Inhale and consider what feels tight, whether that´s a destructive comment that is painful, or perhaps a contraction in your body (generally the top of the inhale will point towards any existing tension). Try exhaling through your mouth, and with it, imagine the negativity releasing its grubby mitts from you and leaving your body. Repeat a minimum of 10 breaths. Pause and notice how you´re feeling.
5) I´m a fan of letting it all hang out on the mat. This week, we shifted our state in class by beginning with opening the front of the body. You can do this at a wall or with a partner.
Raise your right hand and place your palm against the wall or someone else´s palm, at shoulder hight.
Straighten your arm and stand up tall.
Spread your fingers, and keep your throat soft.
Take a deep inhale, and on your exhale start to turn towards your left, away from the wall/human, keeping your palm connected to the wall/their hand.
Lengthen through the sides, front and back of your body, and allow this shoulder release to create more space through the chest, shoulders and arm.
Swap sides and repeat.
I also think it´s worth mentioning that should this fugly self-criticism pester you at any point, try your very best to find ways to talk to yourself nicely. With compassion....And here are some tips if you´re struggling with that:
Accept every morsel of yourself, and extend appreciation and love to each cell. Cellularly blast out any trace of loathing and replace it with love. Yes. Even the dark bits.
Oh, and as for the videos? I've started! Have a look at my youtube channel here. Do drop me a line if you have any requests. I´m trying to be better but also learn this stuff too. And that comes with practice. I hope that they can help someone in some way find a bit of time for themselves to establish a form of home practice, or offer something to improve their situation.
You deserve to feel good about the person you are. You are the author, the curator, the artist of your life. No one is going to live your life for you, unless you let them. Stand strong and tall in your wonder.
header art by Pegge Hopper