We all have an inner critic. Sometimes they shout loudly 'why did you do that!?'
Sometimes they admonish us for not doing any meditation. And for some of us they are louder than others.
So, how can we work with this inner critic in our yoga practice?
With all that continues to go on in the world, compassion is a cornerstone of my personal practice. It is also a foundation of yoga philosophy, known as 'Ahimsa'.
Ahimsa is commonly translated as 'non-violence' and is part of the yamas, the ethical guidelines of yoga laid out in sage Patanjali’s path. So in yogic philosophy, avoiding harming ourself, others and the world is the first step to being yogic.
So how does Ahimsa look in practice?
I, like many yogis, learned this during the physical practice itself. When starting out in yoga, I practiced a vigorous style called Ashtanga. When stepping onto the mat I was continually affronted by my inner critic who looked around the room and saw it full of people who could do things that I definitely could not. I would force, fight and push my body in ways that didn't feel good, and into positions that I wasn't ready for. What I realised later on, is that I was continually striving for poses and levels of the practice and admonishing myself if I did not achieve them.
Many of us use this nagging self criticism in our lives to get things done. Go and do this, complete that, buy this and that, and you'll be happier. This mindset is pervasive in our lives so no wonder it comes with us when we step onto our yoga mats.
The antidote to the inner critic is to recognise it, and realise it's harm first and foremost.
Mindfulness is a great way to attune ourselves to how we speak inside to ourself. This might involve meditation, a mindful movement practice, breathwork or even cold water therapy. With the tool that you choose as a great way to become more aware of how you speak to yourself, and from that space create change.
Being actively kind to ourselves
Once we are aware of how we speak to ourselves, we can choose to speak directly to the inner critic.
We can say to the self-critic, Thank you for trying to help me. I think I may try another way of moving forward, by motivating myself with some kindness this time, but I appreciate what you are trying to do for me.
Changing our mindset about the inner critic can be a huge step in diminishing its power. When we are in a pose and we notice ourself being self-critical, can we be curious about what it is saying? Notice that it isn't a part of ourselves, and that we aren't our thoughts.
We can then stop our practice and put a hand over our heart as a gesture of kindness; we can remind ourselves that it’s okay, we all have negative feelings, it’s part of the human experience.
Yoga is not a self-improvement project
A reminder that we may never get rid of our inner critic completely. Yoga is not a self improvement project, and even if we practice for 20, 40 years, our aim cannot be to be perfect and completely free of negative self talk.
Practice is practice, and keep doing so, with a kind and gentle curiosity!