be gentle with yourself

When was the last time you told someone, point-blank, “you’re really terrible at that”, or “wow, your hair looks awful today”?

How about the last time another person said something like that to you?

I’m thinking, for most people, it’d be a struggle to recall a time that that happened. It’s just not a thing people do – we don’t go around insulting each other for no reason; it’s mean and unnecessary. So why do we do it to ourselves?

You know what I’m talking about. That mean voice inside your head that picks up on your little imperfections and insecurities and magnifies them, reminding you just how flawed you are. We’re our own harshest critics.

I know I am, at least. In high school, I’d beat myself up over getting anything less than a ninety on a test. On the rare day that my hair is looking pretty good, I’ll convince myself that my outfit looks stupid. After a lovely day of socializing and connecting with people, I’ll find myself replaying that one kinda-awkward interaction and berating myself for it.

Every. Little. Thing. Things that absolutely no one else even thinks twice about, we criticize ourselves for. We’re all about kindness to others, but how about some of that compassion for ourselves?

When I say that yoga is better than any legitimate therapy I’ve done, this is the kind of thing I mean. I think I do some of my best thinking on a yoga mat, and a lot of it converts into wisdom far outside the yoga studio.

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Honestly (and in a completely non-braggy way), I know I’m good at yoga. And I know – or should know – that our bodies and our yoga practice and the way we feel at any given time are not static variables. We’re not gonna be the best or feel at the top of our game or give 100% on the yoga mat every day. That’s normal, and it’s okay – we’d never judge someone else for not being perfect. But I seem to forget that pretty quickly when it comes to my body, my yoga practice, my feelings.

I was having one of those off classes – where your whole body feels kinda stiff and creaky, and every updog feels like a huge effort. Stubborn as I am, I pushed myself to keep up with the teacher pose for pose. That inner critic told me that if I gave in even a little bit, I couldn’t be a very good yogi…I could do this no problem last week – I must be getting worse.

What kind of foolish thinking is that? About halfway through class I realized how stupid it was of me to keep powering through, when my body was begging for a little break. Why fight it, and let that mean critical voice win? The next time we got to a place in the class where you could “flow or rest – yogi’s choice”, I took child’s pose. I spent a lot more time in child’s pose during the rest of that class than I normally ever do, and my body was glad for it. I needed that gentleness and care.

Our bodies, and our minds, need that self-inflicted kindness. We’re not nice to ourselves often enough. Silencing, or ignoring at the very least, that inner critic is important. Argue with it; be the kind voice in your head that overrides it. I’m not a “lesser” yogi for going easier in class. This outfit looks great on me. Nobody’s judging me for that tiny faux-pas earlier. It’s okay to not be perfect. JUST BE NICE TO YOURSELF!!

It’s a hard habit to break, but it’s even harder to have your worst enemy living inside your own head. Life’s too short and you are too valuable a human being to constantly be criticizing yourself. Be as kind and caring and gentle with yourself as you would be with anyone else, you deserve it just as much. There’s a poem by Max Ehrmann that touches on this. The whole poem is lovely and makes me feel safer, somehow, but one part in particular serves as my reminder that I need to be kinder and gentler to myself:

Be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars.
You have a right to be here.

I may be a sappy ol’ lame butt, but I think that’s beautiful. You deserve love and compassion and kindness and all the good things as much as any other creature on earth. Be gentle with yourself.

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