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Throughout life as we come up against challenges, we begin to seek more knowledge about how to take care of ourselves, how to understand who we truly are, and how to live a life aligned with what lights us up. We know that to feel well and fulfilled, we need access to tools, skills, and experiences that are going to support our body, mind, and spirit. We are drawn to yoga --- not only the postures, but all eight limbs of yoga --- knowing it can improve our health, help us navigate the challenges we face, and support our awakening.
Knowing this, it is tempting to dive right in to new practices, make as many life-changes as possible, and expect quick results. However as we start new practices, learn new philosophies, and experiment with adjusting our lifestyle, it is so important to go at a proper pace and remember self-compassion. Through the lens of yoga, we can examine self-compassion as the necessary companion on our most important journey to self-awareness.
The yoga sutras attributed to Patanjali form one of the foundational texts for yogis. The sutras can be described as aphorisms, wise observations, and advice written in Sanskrit for spiritual development. The first sutra introduces that it is time for the discipline of yoga. The second sutra sums up the practice: “yogas chitta vritti nirodhaha.” When we break down the words of the second sutra for translation, we have:
Chitta = mind
Vritti = modifications of the mind
Nirodhaha = to control, to use discipline
This sutra tells us that the practice of yoga is to recognize the modifications, or the agitations, of the mind and not to be swayed by them. The mind generates all kinds of interpretations, stories, and meanings that distort reality. Yoga teaches us to become mindful of these modifications and to pause before we allow them to dictate what we believe or how we act. Through the physical postures, and the other limbs of yoga, we are able to notice and observe our thoughts and reactions, and then we can pause to question those reactions before acting in ways we might later regret.
A very common way that the mind creates modifications is self-judgment. In fact, self-criticism is so common, it can be hard to detect. Negative self-talk might looks like:
Can you think of some of the ways you speak negatively to yourself? One way to notice negative self-talk is to observe if you use “should,” as in the above examples. “Should” is often part of self-judgment. Also, pay attention to how you speak to yourself in the early morning when you are getting dressed and ready for the day. Oftentimes in that quiet space, the mind has a lot to say. And, finally, ask yourself what is keeping you from trying something you really want to do, whether that is a yoga practice, a new way of cooking, or a new course. You might find there is negative self-talk there holding you back.
The word yoga comes from the root word “yuj,” which means to yoke. Yoga is the yoking of who we are in the physical body to who we truly are as pure awareness. Our mind and the stories it tells us can make us feel separate, broken, and alone. Through the practice of yoga, we can witness those thoughts, pause, and tap into the greater awareness of who we truly are: whole, well, and connected.
When we allow limiting beliefs about ourselves, we are distorting the reality of who we are. This can affect our ability to move forward with any supportive practices we want to begin. As we begin to recognize our potential, self-compassion will allow us to be patient, to slow down, and to be present with all that arises.
Among Deepak Chopra’s many inspiration quotes, he has said, “You’re a spiritual being having a human experience. You’re not a human having a spiritual experience.” Remembering this helps us have compassion for ourselves and how we show up as we do our best to navigate this human experience. It reminds us that we have infinite potential, and what stands in our way is our inability to remember that is true. Self-judgment clouds our ability to see clearly.
If you find yourself having trouble with self-compassion, one of the practices you could try is loving-kindness meditation. Other ways to cultivate more self-compassion are to enjoy nourishing self-care rituals such as self-massage, cooking according to the season, and taking more time for meditation and breathwork.
By cultivating more self-compassion as you take on new practices, you will be able to notice the results of your dedication without pushing, forcing, or getting in your own way. Instead, you will see that every small step makes a difference.
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