Can you be more self-compassionate during your yoga practice? Doing yoga can lead us into a process of self-judgement. Pushing it too far can lead to injury and an unhelpful state of mind. We need to learn how not to judge ourselves against others, and then how can we not being competitive with ourselves?  

table of contents

  • I want to do that pose
  • the voices in your head
  • when yoga goes wrong
  • the middle way
  • compassion & self-compassion
  • emotional regulation
  • a practice not a destination
  • self-compassion for the pose you love to hate

I want to do that pose

Seeing a beautiful lush yoga pose can inspire and deepen your practice. It can bring a lift to your practice and help you explore your body. Of course these glorious images also have the possibility to be insidious. They can erode our practice into a series of pretty pictures and a ‘who is stretchiest’ attitude. If these thoughts just made you more aware of your vulnerable places, your unmet aspirations and your inner demon it could be helpful. But for most of us it takes us away from yoga, away from the very thing were practising. Poses become static, held, forced and in terms of energy lifeless. A positive thought can easily slip into a hint of self-defamation. Look at these examples below and see if you can move negative thoughts to the positive ones.

 

Positive

Negative

Flexibility

OMG look at that back bend, her foot is near here ear, blimey!

I will never be able to do that pose.

Strength

Look at his muscles tone!

I’m weak, I couldn’t do that.

Emotional

Wow, doesn’t she look happy!

I wish I felt happier, life is tough right now.

Lifestyle

I bet she has a nice house/partner/kids.

Something about my life isn’t good enough.

Yogic Devotion

She must practice a great deal, she must be very committed and wise.

I just don’t have the determination, I’m losing out by my lack of determination.

Purity

What an amazingly Zenlike quality they have.

I’m like  a troll in compassion.

[If you say this with a sense of humour and laugh it’s still the same thing… turning a positive into a negative]

Professional

She must teach a lot of people and earn a good living.

I don’t like my job, it doesn’t feel meaningful.

Or

My classes are down, and I’m struggling financially. My classes won’t be as inspiring as theirs.

the voices in your head

It is entirely normal to have thoughts going through your mind as your practice. You might wander into thinking about something to add to the shopping list, a recent disagreement. You might find yourself day dreaming of a wonderful thing you would like to happen, like having a hug or seeing a loved one. Our intrusive and lovely thoughts can be as unhelpful as the less positive ones. What is happening in both cases is that we are not entirely present. Our chitta, or mind stuff, is out of balance with our body. When your thoughts, or chitta, judge your yoga it stops your yoga for being as valuable, it decreases its effectiveness and power. Thoughts might go along the lines of:

 

Bigging yourself up

Smashing yourself down

Flexibility

I am so rocking this pose.

If I work at this next time…

Strength

I am moving lower into this pose than ever before.

I just can’t do it.

Emotional

I feel so calm right now.

My thoughts are going crazy, this is just gymnastics if I can’t control my mind. I am so bad at yoga.

Yogic Devotion

I am living yoga.

I’m just a cruddy human making a mess of things.

Purity

My practice is so effortlessly pure right now.

I think I can smell my armpits. My thoughts are negative. I’m ruining this pose.

Now and then

In 2 months I will…

I used to be able to…

when yoga goes wrong

Yoga like any discipline can go wrong. Yoga is built upon a series of tenants or rules which when obeyed bring one closer to enlightenment. While the yams and niyamas can be a helpful structure or guide to life, they can take yogis ‘to the dark side’. Quoting the Upanishads, lecturing others on non-violence or vegeatarianism can be dogmatic and abusive. Yoga fanatics are some of the most challenging as they do it with apparent kindness and care for others. When you find yourself sure that someone else is not upholding yoga disciplines it’s a sure fire warning sign that you’ve left your inner balance This is a great place for deeper growth and self-compassion.

the middle way

The middle way involves becoming more present, when the process is more interesting than our thoughts. It involves being so interested in what you’re doing that your thoughts untangle a little and you become aware of sensations and movements in the body without the positive or negative thoughts. This is the path of neutrality of thought, but an amplified awareness of the body and sensations. We become less attached to the outcome and more interested in the moment. The middle way unfixes thoughts. Thoughts about how another person is doing yoga, or how you rate your own performance become less important and instead there is space to notice and feel.

compassion & self-compassion

Compassion can bring to mind images of really lovely people doing super nice, empathetic things for another and thereby reducing suffering. It could be spending time and validating another person or it could be acting and providing something for them. Self-compassion is where we acknowledge and work with our own suffering. And yet when we talk of self-compassion often this is thought of as rather narcissistic behaviour where we navel gaze excessively.

Self-compassion has been shown to:

  • Reduces anxiety,& stress
  • Increases motivation
  • Increases resilience particularly during times of stress
  • Improves sleep and immunity

emotional regulation

According to recent research we have 3 main systems

  • Protect – detects threats ‘better safe than sorry’. It involves: amydala, adrenalin & cortisol.
  • Drive – motivates us to get resources. It involves: nuclus alccumbens, dopamine
  • Soothe – promote bonding and soothe distress. It involves: prefrontal cortex, opiates, oxytocin,

These systems need to be balanced for us to experience wellbeing. Too much drive and not enough soothing can make us workaholics. Too much soothing and not enough drive could lead us to overeat and drink. In our society its normal for our ‘Protect’ system to be overactive. It goes hand in hand with self-criticism. To rebalance this we need to up our ‘Soothing’ system, self-compassion and yoga both do these… so how powerful can they be together?

a practice not a destination

Compassionate yoga is a practice not a destination. You won’t one day have suddenly ‘got it’. It will develop over time, and your can practice, so it will evolve but there is no ‘end point’. Very differently to the yamas and niyamas there are no set rules, no good and bad, but a movement towards. By practising compassionate yoga we build the strength we need in good times that will be particularly useful to us when the chips are down.

‘weave your parachute while you’re on the ground’ Adriana

At first it might feel messy and that you don’t quite get it, when this happens practice in the mess. Be kind to yourself, just as you are kind to others. You can ‘fake it until you make it’ and pretend to be wise, kind and understanding of your struggles. As you practice speak to yourself from your inner wise person, or your best friend.

self-compassion in the pose

There are some poses we don’t gel with and maybe avoid or resent. Use this practice before the pose and then during the pose to meet it in a new way.

  • Acknowledge what you dislike about the pose: My leg gets tired, my breathing goes hard, I wobble, I feel ungainly.
  • Remind yourself suffering is a part of life but unnecessary in yoga practice: Suffering is human, we all suffer, but I don’t need to suffer now. I can adapt the pose, ask for guidance or leave it out and focus on my breathing.
  • Ask to be kind to yourself: May I find my peace with this pose, myself, my body. May I feel my feet on the floor. May I learn to let go of the pose and focus on my breath and spirit.

summary

When we practice self-compassion we emotionally regulate ourselves and boost our self-soothing capacities. We can do this by watching our thoughts, our chitta, whether its about yoga philosophy, our practice or a particular pose. When I teach I bring self-compassion into the practice. When you are at home you can do the same. Soothe yourself into balance by accepting you and your yoga in the now. You are good enough right now, just as you are.

 

Want to find a compassionate yoga class?

If you liked this blog why not try:

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