What drives you to the yoga mat?
Maybe you want a temporary escape from your busy life. Maybe you want to be closer to the earth. Maybe you want to get more flexible. Maybe you want to master a yoga asana and post a picture on Instagram. Maybe you want to prove to yourself that you can commit to something. Maybe you want to fix something or achieve something new.
You may have endless reasons to arrive on the yoga mat, but how many of those reasons root from a place of compassion?
When you approach yourself with an agenda of wanting to fix something or achieve something new, you reject yourself as you are.
– Ravi Dykema, Yoga Therapist
Self criticism is counterproductive
In our contemporary, Western age of complex technology and seductive celebrity culture, it has become very difficult to tame the ego. We, myself included, are constantly drowning ourselves in images and stories of other individuals’ successes and instead of accepting the news and bringing our attention back to our own well-being, we instead take the counterproductive path of self criticism.
If self criticism is so counterproductive, then why do we spend so much time wading in it? Ancient Indian philosopher Patanjali analyzes in his Yoga Sutra how the workings of thought trap us in misconceptions about ourselves and our relation to the world. Instead of seeing a behavior, habit or thought pattern for what it is, we rather identify ourselves with it. We become judgmental and see room for self-improvement.
“Don’t compare apples to oranges. Don’t compare the earth to the sky. Don’t compare the sun and the moon. Don’t compare anything to anything. The infinite field of Being prior to comparison will lead you to the Pure Mind prior to thought, form, space, time and causation.” – Joel Altman, Foundations of Stillness
When we compare ourselves to others we invite self criticism into our lives and reject ourselves for who we are. An alternative approach to self criticism would be self-inquiry. Self-inquiry means looking inside and seeing what is there and making friends with it. It’s about getting to know yourself as you are now and then applying the methods and techniques distilled through generations of yogis to deepen that insight and understanding, without knowing where this will ultimately lead.
Try this: Whether on or off the mat, suspend comparison and see everything as it is. It takes an enormous amount of energy to pursue the ideal self. Why not live unconditionally instead? If you move forward chasing objects, relationships, an idea of a perfect self, then you will encounter endless suffering.
Breaking the pattern of self criticism
Self criticism is a dangerous cycle. I’m constantly self-critical and struggle with self-compassion. As a yoga teacher, however, I’ve experienced first hand the importance of self-compassion. Teaching yoga is a constant exchange of energy. In order to express authenticity and to be mindful throughout the practice, I must first express loving kindness toward myself. It is only then that I can truly share the importance of self-compassion with my students.
Get out of your head and into your heart. Think less. Feel more. – Osho
Loving kindness breeds self-compassion
We must love ourselves first before truly loving others. Loving-kindness meditation is a great place to start cultivating love for ourselves and ultimately love for all beings.
Try this Loving Kindness meditation taught by Tatjana Mesar: ‘Allow your body to soak up the attention you’re giving it. Relax into the rhythm of the breath and simply wait for the natural breath to arrive from deep inside the body. Befriend the impermanence of your experiences, moment to moment, and be kind to yourself when you notice moments of absent-mindedness or boredom. Allow your awareness to shine a soft inner light onto the cobwebs of doubt, anxiety, and self criticism. Befriend the shady and rusty places of your body. They are also a part of your story and a starting point for the journey of awakening. Remember that nothing is really isolated’
“Be fulfilled in this very moment. Be whole right here right now…Stop wasting all of your precious time and energy. The mind cannot unravel the Mystery of Life. It will only make you miserable. Live without conditions and be Free right now.” – Joel Altman, Foundations of Stillness