Time to explore your inner critic: simple tools for a quieter, more peaceful mind. By Eva Kristlova
Be mindful of your mind: it can be positive and encouraging one minute and negative and looking for obstacles and ways to discourage you the next.
Deep down we all know that the mind is not always right; it can obscure reality as it is trying to be our master. Yes, we need to listen to that inner voice too, but let’s not be ruled by it.
The mind can put many fears and limitations on you. For example:
- you are not good enough
- you are too old for this
- you are not flexible or strong enough
- you will never succeed…and so on
How about we say ‘no’ to this self-judgement and our own negative self-talk? We don’t want to let our mind stop us from following what we want to do and fully achieving our potential and life purpose.
I went for a run today. My mind was stopping me from going for a long time. I’ve been running my whole adult life but last year there was a block. My mind was creating reasons for me not to go. After many months of saying to myself that I will go for a run, this morning I finally announced to my son that I am going for a ‘power walk’. I didn’t think I would be able to run anymore as my mind was so negative. My mind told me:
- You left it too late
- You put on weight
- It’s not good for you
- You don’t have time for this
- It is not good for your knees
- You will never get fit anyway
- You will not be able to stick with it
Well, this morning I decided not to listen to my mind and the limitations that I was made to believe. I went for a run and it felt amazing! I started jogging with a smile on my face, the sun was shining, the birds were singing.
The run was up a hill. Soon enough, my mind started to resist, urging me to stop, walk or just turn back and go home. It was very interesting to observe this, but I chose not to listen and just carried on.
I checked my legs: they were happy running, no pain, and all okay there. I checked my breathing: it was regular, even and well paced; no problem there either. I checked my body: a little bit of sweat but it felt good. My body was fine.
So, I then checked my mind. And just like a toddler having a tantrum or a stroppy teenager, here it was! My mind was having a great time discouraging me and pushing all these negative and limiting thoughts forward.
It was actually a bit of a revelation. Knowing that we all have a choice: do we listen to our negative mind and let it rule and control us? Or do we recognise it for what it is and soothe and nourish that toddler/teenager within us?
Can we chose to listen to our heart more, our soul, our whole being?
Explore the inner critic
I know it’s not always easy. We all have our inner critic; sometimes it sits quietly and sometimes it shouts.
We can really explore this in our yoga practice too, as we know yoga is meant to be non-competitive and all-inclusive. How many of us were told by our minds that we are not strong, flexible, as good as someone else, and so on.. ?
Just watch that little voice and don’t give it the satisfaction of a response. Allow your mind to become quiet.
I’ve been teaching yoga for few years now but still every now and then my mind pipes up with the most ridiculous thoughts and brings up my own insecurities.
The top ones include: who do you think you are; you are not good enough; you need to lose weight so you look better in that pose; you can’t do arm balances well; this is boring; when is the class going to end, and so on.
Sometimes that negative self talk can throw us. But just pause and take a moment. Reflect on all that you do in your life that brings joy to you and to others. All the things that you can do, how far you have come, and what you have achieved. Reflect on all the wonderful people in your life and all the blessings. You will be surprised – the positives outweigh the negatives by a lot!
Switch on to positivity
Switch your mindset to positivity. Even crack a little smile. Observe your thoughts and let those negative ones pass without response. Cherish the thoughts that bring you self-appreciation and respect. And you know, who cares that you cant hold the ‘Crow’ arm balance? Only you, nobody else, so let it go.
Taming our negative mind is a constant practice. When we recognise it is just playing games with us because it wants our attention and to be in charge, it can be quite an ‘a-ha’ moment. And we will slowly start to turn a corner.
When we quieten the busy mind and become still and without thought, all the treasures that have been buried underneath the chatter and activity of our mind will come to the surface.
When the water is turbulent it is hard to see through it. But when the water becomes still it is clear to see.
And it is the same with our mind. When it is busy and full of negativity, we can’t see clearly. When the mind settles and becomes still and positive we will be able to see everything with much more clarity.
The silence is not empty
It is full of answers
Top tips for a quiet mind
Many classical and modern yoga texts explore the mysteries of mind in great detail (for example the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). This is just my musing drawn from my own experience.
Here are some techniques that help me with quietening my mind:
Close you eyes and try to direct all of your awareness inward, away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Dive into your own universe and try not to get distracted. Find your own inner sanctuary.
Connect with your breath, feel each inhale and each exhale as they follow one after the other. Notice the length, depth, sound and rhythm of your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your chest, expansion and release of your ribcage, rise and fall of your belly, the subtle movement of your whole body.
Regulate your breath. A simple technique is introducing a count to your breathing. This ratio should be available to most: Inhale for the count of four (one, two, three, four) – pause (retain breath) – exhale for the count of four (one, two, three, four) – pause (retain breath). Give yourself several rounds.
Check on your body: notice the meeting points between the body and the floor and where in your body you hold tension. Use your exhale to soften your body and release tension into the ground, away from you. You can do a little body scan here: starting with the feet, feeling your heels touching the floor, relaxing them into the floor.
Feeling your calves touching the floor and releasing them into the floor and so on. Release the tension that you hold in your muscles, joints, bones, your mind and your heart. Your exhales will really help you along the way, they are very powerful.
Visualise that you are beside a beautiful mountain lake. The surface of the lake is still, calm and peaceful. Your surroundings are serene and quiet. Now imagine that the surface of the lake is the state of your mind, completely still. With no activity, nothing to do, no thoughts. Occasionally you will notice little ripples or waves on the surface of your lake, these are your thoughts. Choose not to respond and simply watch those ripples or waves fade away. The surface of the lake and state of your mind is peaceful and still once again. You can use the same imagery with the sea, imagining sitting on the beach watching the waves coming in and receding again. In this case, fill your mind with the in and out motion. Nothing else.
Focus on the present moment. Our mind tends to constantly run away from the now. We find ourselves dwelling and going over past events or agonising and worrying about future. Try to bring your awareness to now. This very present moment. Your breath, your body, the sounds around you, the scenery, the scent. For as long as you can stay here, in this very moment. The present moment is the only place where life exists..so enjoy it.
And remember: you are the master of your mind, not the other way round. Enjoy the little explorations of your mind’s many mysteries. But, if in doubt, just breathe and trust the process.