Yoga, not a prescription: Freeing the inner critic

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It seems that we are living in an age when there is a prescription for everything including how to be more kind to ourselves. When did anti-depression medication become the norm amongst coffee talk on a Sunday afternoon? This is a subject that is sensitive for some and I don’t intend to find the answer or suggest that there is only one way to treat the issue. Nor do I profess to be a doctor or one equipped with all of the tools to give medical advice. Although I can think of countless times I have heard students say, “I cannot believe the difference the yoga has made in my mental and emotional health, my doctor is amazed at how much better I am doing, I’m off of all of my medications.” Considering how many people have commented on their state of mind, the focus they feel, how much better they treat their husband, wife, and kids, I must bring the issue to light.  I still know that every situation is case by case and must be treated as such. With that said, please remember that every great teacher is first a great student and this is what makes the practice of yoga so supportive to the practitioner.  Students will often hear me say, “let the practice meet you where you are today.” Meaning, every day is a new opportunity to develop a deeper listening to the body and become more open to receive the messages it is telling us.

With a slow, deliberate and more vigorous practice, where ones actions must be carefully executed, one becomes mindful and the focus of being present in the body, helps to balance the breath and thus, effects the central nervous system. The practice of slowing down the breath pattern shows an effect on the slowing of pulse. Increasing the oxygenation of the blood supports blood pressure, supporting all of the major organs and systems of the body. One of the chemicals the brain makes to support a well-balanced mood is serotonin. When our serotonin levels are low we feel depressed and when they are high, we feel happier. It is through my study of yoga and what best supports the individual that helps me to see where the physical body may best serve to support the emotional body. 

Areas where the body feels stuck or “blocked” give us insight into the areas that we may need to free ourselves emotionally. When the practitioner creates more space in the inner body, it brings one into a lighter state of mind and one raises body awareness. For example, a back bending pose supported by blankets and blocks will stimulate blood flow to the abdominal organs and helps to stimulate better oxygen flow into the lungs. Inversions, postures where your head is below your heart also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the mind. These can be practiced with modifications even if one is new to yoga. The intention is always to support the practitioner in experiencing a fuller expression of life, a more “prana” filled body and ultimately ease any struggle to show up or “perform” at a certain level. Yoga takes the perfect out of the practice and allows one the freedom to be as one is.  One can practice at home or in a community setting as long as in a space where there is no judge or critic. The great thing about the art of yoga is it is a constant unfolding. Yoga is a place to play and drop the need to become a “better yogi” or to get anywhere at all. This is the gift the practice offers. In just showing up to the breath, one will start to notice a change in the minds response, this is where the power of the practice illuminates beyond the binds of the posture itself. One begins to recognize that one is more than the body, more than the mind; there is a world of possibility in the souls journey. It is our soul that is thirsty for yoga. “Huh?” you say. “My soul is thirsty for…yoga, what kind of crazy talk is that?”

Yoga is a bridge that allows one to open up to the infinite well of grace. There are many ways to attain this feeling of being invigorated or inspired or invoke a quality of lightness. The challenge is, for many other forms of movement, it doesn’t last long. The high of the experience wares off, just like days after a peak experience like, say…getting married? These moments, which we all know in our experience as peak experiences are when the body is filled with that serotonin, there is feeling of elation and perhaps even “oneness.” Yet as time marches on, we are left with, but a dried up bouquet of flowers and some great memories.  Though the memories last a lifetime, they aren’t enough to bring that “fullness” or elation back in a snap of your fingers. Why is that? The reason is because the body is not expansive in that moment, the inner well must be full, and open for the overflow to show up and express itself as bliss.  This “well” so to speak, is available within all of us, and it is connected through the breath, “prana” or life force. When you are prana-filled you feel plentiful…plenty full…get it?  So how do I experience more of that plentiful feeling all the time if I am depressed?

To think that one must attain being tapped into the infinite power of bliss 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is to negate ones humanness and it is unrealistic. Life has currents. Just as the ocean has waves, the challenge is learning how to stay in the boat and ride out the storms without being pulled into the undertow of emotions. To be present to where we are, support ourselves best we can with the tools we have and practice acceptance of ourselves, is the practice of yoga off the mat. Yoga gives one the tools to breathe, re-focus and see the bigger picture. When that’s not enough it allows one to be self-aware enough to ask for outside help when needed.  After all, when we say yes to the support or assistance of others, we acknowledge that we are committed to choosing peace and happiness even when we don’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your yoga practice shines the light on where you are, providing you clarity and an opportunity to show up in the present moment. When we are present, we get the gift of life, even when it’s not easy.

More and more I am beginning to hear students speak up about their experiences with yoga and how it has changed their lives. Through the comments countless students have made over the years, I have observed how yoga gives people a sense of self-worth, self-love, self-respect and an ability to source the power within to make lasting changes.  Regardless of ones choice to medicate issues with anti-depressants or to choose alternative ways, it is my intention to shed some light on the issue and remind you that you can you can source the power within you. You don’t have to be a super hero to feel like one, you don’t have to be a fitness enthusiast to feel fabulous; your yoga practice can start with just a few postures a day! You don’t even have to do any “fancy” moves to practice yoga, but you may find your yoga practice brings you more awareness of self-talk, thus taming and possibly limiting the inner critic. That’s a gift and it’s one you give yourself and all who come into contact with you. A happier and more empowered you is a ripple in the pond that greets the wave, the ocean of your life.

Yoga tip for the inner critic:
Be kind with yourself and others. Approach your day with an attitude that says: “I am compassionate with myself. I practice kindness in my thoughts, speech actions and attitudes.” Breathe into this and let the practice of compassion uplift you, repeating it throughout the day. As soon as you start to notice those old and familiar thought patterns starting to rear their “little heads” take a deep breathe and come back to the affirmation, “I am compassionate with myself.” Soon you will start to see the shift and when combined with movement, this is quite powerful!  I hope this supports you as you start seeing yourself with a more loving and compassionate awareness.