So far we have covered in depth the topics of nourishing yourself through food, movement and rest. Today we are shifting the focus slightly onto nourishing the more subtle bodies, particularly the mental or emotional body aka Manomaya kosha. Having the perfect diet and workout regime can only get you so far if your mind is full of toxic thoughts, stress and fear. It is just as important to take care of your mental health as it is your physical body if you want to experience true wellness.
Facing your inner critic
One of the most harmful mental programs that we all experience to one degree or another is that nasty inner critic. You know that mean girl voice that hides out in the corners of your mind and likes to tell you you’re not [Insert society standard here] enough or you don’t deserve [Insert goal/dream here]? Perhaps your inner critic speaks loud and clear and you are very familiar with what she has to say. Or maybe it’s a more subtle whisper that you don’t even notice.
Either way, listening to your inner critic is a fast track way to low self esteem and feeling stuck in your life or unable to make change. If you feel that you are constantly bogged down by the opinions and demands from others then it’s likely your inner critic is in control. Because that is all it is in reality. If it weren’t for the influence of others, whether that is people in reality or media messages, you would have no reason to criticise yourself. Without a standard to compare to, there can be no comparison.
Learning to face your inner critic head on and understanding that what she says is not reality will help you to release self-judgement and find true inner peace. The truth is that we are all unique individuals. We have different strengths and weaknesses, dreams and desires. If we were all the same, life would be extremely boring! So whatever trait you have that you dislike or you feel is socially un-acceptable is really nothing more than part of the interesting spectrum of humanity.
All thoughts are energy, therefore allowing your inner critic to run wild is a waste of your precious life force and will leave you feeling exhausted and drained, both physically and mentally. Releasing the bonds of this self-judgement will free up that energy for your creativity, relationships and your community.
Question your thoughts
Practice observing your inner critic and realise that you are the witness of your thoughts, not the thoughts themselves. As my yoga teacher tells me “You are the awareness in which everything is arising”. Get in touch with this part of you, the part that is separate from your appearance, identity, personality or life circumstances. Once you have created distance between your Self and your thoughts, you will be in a position to start questioning whether they are true and replacing any critical thoughts with kinder ones.
I am sure you have heard before the idea that your thoughts create reality… I would take it a step further and say that your thoughts are your reality. We all experience the world through the filters of our senses and our mind. We rarely experience true reality as unfiltered conscious awareness, although this is a goal of yoga and meditation practices! Rather, we perceive everything based on the inputs from our senses and what our brain interprets them as based on past memories, knowledge and stored emotions.
Our minds love to be right and often play tricks on us. We can believe that something is true without a doubt, even when it is not reality. Optical illusions are a great example of this! Even when we’re told that the two lines in the image below are the same length and even if we take a ruler and measure them to prove it, our eyes cannot see anything different than the top line being longer than the bottom one.
So next time you are experiencing an unhelpful or self-critical thought, think of this illusion. Know that no matter how real it may seem, your mind does not always see things as they really are.
Speak kindly to yourself
Once you know you have the power to change your thoughts, you have the choice to think differently and create a new reality. Filling your mind with positive and kind thoughts will nourish your whole being and leave you feeling energised and confident. Perhaps this will not happen over night but gradually over time you can train your mind to be your ally and not your enemy.
One tool you can use to speak more kindly to yourself is a mantra or affirmation. These are positive statements that you repeat either in your mind or out loud which can help to:
- Break the habit of negative self talk
- Create new mental pathways
- Improve your confidence and wellbeing
That’s not to say that you will never have another negative or critical thought again. But when you do, you will be able to let it go and come back to your affirmation rather than getting sucked into a downward spiral. You can choose affirmations that are appropriate for you and your goals. When I was going through eating disorder recovery in my early twenties, I used affirmations whenever I felt fear around food or my changing body.
Here are some top tips for creating affirmations (based on advice from Well College Global):
- Use “I am” statements
- Keep it short and simple
- Use positive (I am/I will) not negative (I am not/I will not) statements
- Be specific to you and your goals
- Invoke emotion
Affirmations can also be future-based, if it feels unrealistic to affirm something in the positive right at this moment. This way you are acknowledging the journey that you are on and the progress you are making without saying that you are there yet. For example:
“I hate my body” —> “I am beginning to accept my body”
“Why bother” —> “I deserve nourishment”
“I can’t do this” —> “I am learning to do this”
“I am so stressed” —> “I create my own calm”
Repeating these statements might feel unnatural at first but like anything, persistence creates a habit. Notice any changes in the way you feel and celebrate even the slightest improvements in your mental wellbeing. Once you realise you have the power to change your thoughts. you will know that anything is possible!
Today’s challenge: Create a mantra
Your task for today is to choose a mantra that feels relevant to you and your goals. Write it down on post it notes and stick them anywhere you might see them throughout the day e.g. the car dashboard, the fridge door or inside your diary. You could even create a graphic and save it as your phone or desktop background as a constant reminder.
For me, I am starting a new job on Monday which I am equally excited and nervous about. I am anticipating the rise of the inner critic with all it’s fears of failure. So my mantra for the week will be:
Over to you…
- Comment: What is your mantra/affirmation for the week ahead?
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