'There is you and you.
This is a relationship.
This is the most important relationship.'
Home, by Nayyirah Waheed
This is a poem I love, and always come back to in times of need. Do you ever notice that you think things to yourself, about yourself, that you wouldn't say to your worst enemy? I certainly do, and these past few days have been an uphill struggle.
I battle with my self-image at the best of times, let alone when I’m on strict bed rest after a knee operation (six weeks with no exercise – say what?!). The dialogue I’ve been having with myself recently has been less than kind, and at a time when self-compassion is needed more than ever.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We are not our thoughts, so don’t let negative thoughts define your relationship with yourself. We can either allow negative thoughts to insidiously raze our self-worth, or we can actively choose to flood ourselves with positive energy and build ourselves up from the inside out.
Next time you catch your inner critic bubbling up, ask yourself: would I talk to someone else like this? The answer is probably no. Take a deep breath, reassess the narrative, and instead talk to yourself with compassion, as you would a friend. Your relationship with yourself is so important: you are your home, so make your mind a kind, loving place to inhabit.
Here are my five tips for building a more compassionate attitude towards yourself and others...
1: Tame your inner critic
'If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.' – Dalai Lama
Self-compassion is a Buddhist concept that refers to relating to the Self with kindness. In a nutshell, it's about being gentle, understanding and kind to yourself; about knowing that a bad decision doesn't make you a bad person; about knowing your own worth. The first step towards this is learning to quiet your inner critic. Personally, I have found a combination of CBT and meditation incredibly useful in this, but like most inner work, it's definitely a project in progress. Simple things like wearing your favourite outfit, making yourself a delicious meal, even if it's just for you, letting yourself rest when you're tired, rather than hauling yourself to the gym... they all add up to a kinder mentality towards yourself. Try meditating or practising with this mantra for a week: I am enough. Start sowing those seeds, and watch new roots begin to take hold.
2: Parent yourself
I am not a psychologist, but during my many rounds of therapy, one theme that kept recurring was learning how to parent yourself. When anxiety and fear rear their ugly heads, they are often your 'inner child' calling out for attention. So parent yourself and your thoughts like you would a small child. Listen to and respect these thoughts and feelings, write them down if you need to (I find this really useful when my mind is busy) and give them a safe space to be heard. I find all kinds of things come to the forefront of my mind when I practice. Some days I'll end up on my mat in tears. Vulnerability is OK. This is a key step in building compassion for yourself.
3: Remember, We're All Human
You know those situations where someone looks at you funny, or makes an offhand comment, and you go into a mental tailspin thinking that everyone hates you and the world is against you? Yup, been there, many a time. Yet it's so important to realise that no one is perfect, and more often than not, everyone is in exactly the same boat. The human condition is inherently flawed, but we can use our yoga practice to inspire and promote connection with others. Yoga means to 'yoke' or to join, and is often interpreted as meaning union. Next time you're meditating or practising asana, devote your practice to someone you're struggling with, and see if your reaction towards them changes.
4: Practice Gratitude
When I'm struggling to be kind to myself, I find that writing a gratitude list really helps, even if it's just for a few days. Putting pen to paper and actively focusing on the positives in your life (and there will be some, even if it doesn't feel like it), enables you to live from a place of compassion and kindness. For example, in the run up to my knee surgery I was feeling pretty low about the fact I was struggling to do my regular activities, but I kept telling myself that I was lucky to be seeing a surgeon, I was lucky to be fit and healthy enough to withstand a general anaesthetic, I was lucky to be able to work for such understanding studios and clients and take the time off I needed. There is always a silver lining if you look for it.
5: Be Mindful
Through our yoga practice, without realising it, we are training ourselves to be more mindful and aware of the subtle. Your practice allows you the opportunity to pause and tune in to your self: how are you feeling, where are your thoughts wandering to, how are your energy levels? These are all questions I always encourage you to ask when you step on the mat, and you can use them whenever you have a pocket of downtime in your day. By checking in, we allow ourselves to tune in, and when we listen, we can press pause on the negative narrative and hit play on the one we need to hear.