How Yoga Can Help You Silence Your Inner Critic
I recently had a new student come to my class. As we were chatting before class, she told me that she hadn’t done yoga in several years. She explained that the reason was that the last time she went to a class, she wasn’t able to keep up, and the teacher didn’t offer to help her. She left feeling humiliated and ashamed—and she never went back.
After class, I went over to check in. She had an uninterpretable look on her face (because, as much as I wish it was so, it’s almost impossible to tell what someone thought of a yoga class from their facial expression). She began to cry, asked to give me a hug, and said, “It’s just so nice to have yoga feel good again.”
As you can probably imagine, I teared up, too. I knew just what she was talking about.
Although I believe that yoga is a complex system that uses movement to facilitate deeper connection to yourself, just feeling good in the poses is enough. Many days, I crave that feeling of my first forward bend of the day (and especially my fifth—or fifteenth, depending on the day—when my hamstrings have started to open a bit).
Giving ourselves permission to do this, though? Not. Easy.
Many of us live our days at a busy pace, and what with that energy plus the predominant messages from our Western culture that tell us the only way it’s okay to be in relationship with our bodies is trying to get them to submit to our will, it’s no wonder. I mean, why wouldn’t we approach our yoga practice the same way? It’s the only thing that makes sense—at least at first.
Feeling Good Matters
If we can allow ourselves to find some ease on the mat, though, it’s amazing how it can translate off the mat.
I had this experience myself in relation to how I talked about my body. I used to be very self-deprecating and apologetic about what asanas, or yoga poses, I could or couldn’t do. I was simultaneously hoping no one would notice the size/shape of my body and using it as an excuse.
None too surprisingly, neither of those turned out to be very healthy or helpful options in the long run.
So I started an experiment in not participating in any body snark conversations in or around yoga classes. You probably know the ones—where one person bemoans how their butt looks in Spandex, only to be outdone by someone else in the conversation who chimes in with, “Your butt? Look at my stomach! Ugh!!” And so on and so on.
Outer to Inner
While I’d originally thought I’d miss being part of those bonding conversations (unproductive as they may be), I found that the opposite was true. It was a relief not to participate. So next I decided not to say anything negative about my body out loud at all, which was another wonderful revelation.
As I continued to change what I said out loud, I noticed that the voice of my inner critic began to soften and quiet a bit, too. It wasn’t totally gone overnight, of course, but even a small reduction in her criticism was a big relief.
Of course, this transition from the outer to the inner applies to our physical asana practice, too. When we allow ourselves ease, kindness and feeling good on the mat, it’s amazing how quickly we begin to crave and value it in our off-the-mat life, too.
And I think the more of us who cultivate those qualities in our life, the better.