Things We Tell Ourselves, Worth Repeating.
I’ve had some opportunities to get out of my “regularly scheduled life,” lately which has me thinking about stories. In yoga philosophy, there are stories that tell of archetypes having a particular experience, which we use as metaphors to understand our own experiences, relationships, and lives. In my other work-world of voice-over and music, there is a story and a mood to convey. And throughout our day, there is a story playing out in our head. This is the story that has the most direct and consistent impact on our lives, and believe it or not, our health. Thankfully for us and our getting-busier-all-the-time lives, mind-body medicine is catching up to this long-known eastern belief, and henceforth the many practices, that harness the connection between our minds and our bodies. (Thank-you, America, for appropriating Eastern philosophy and “proving” its worth. Oops, did I just type that out loud? wink.)
Our Internal Story
A few years back, in the midst of a “brain sparkle,” I wrote the phrase “things we tell ourselves” on a post-it note. I had just had the experience of watching myself interact in a conversation where I did not like the way I was being treated – instead of just reacting to it, like I usually did. Like we all do in life. My reaction, or “auto-thought,” was “Ugh! I’m so tired of this person always treating me this way.” A pattern: their treatment of me, and my reaction to the person. But this time, I somehow was able to step back and watch the reaction and the conversation in my head before I outwardly reacted. This time, I noticed my reaction in my head as it happened, and then I decisively and intentionally said to myself, “Ok, this is not new. This person always treats you this way. You can’t control their view of you, but it’s not valid, so don’t treat it like it’s valid.” I intentionally slowed the pace of my response and was careful with my few words. And amazingly, I felt much more in control, and the whole incident frazzled me less.
The 2018 Minneapolis Yoga Conference Story
Getting back to the present, two weekends ago I was lucky enough to return for a second year as the sound designer for the Minneapolis Yoga Conference, hosted by Tula Software at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. The 2018 version was quite different than the 2017 version. In addition to the wide variety of quality presenters, there were two hallways dedicated to complimentary forty-minute bodywork sessions of various modalities (massage, private yoga, reiki, acupuncture, etc… I highly recommend you get on board for 2019). Also new, I was happily tasked with pairing several conference presenter sessions with live music, provided by local musicians, making for a really beautiful all-sensory experience. So not only was the weekend a giant mashup of all the things I love and believe the world needs more of, it was a reconnaissance of my yoga practice through some really powerful asana practices and philosophy presentations by seasoned and skilled presenters such as Marni Sclaroff, Kristi Taylor, and Molly McManus of Yoga North Duluth.
The “I’ve Learned A New Thing. What Category Do I Put It In Inside My Brain?” Story
On the teaching side of myself, I’ve been in the process of taking “Signature Format Training” online for my gig teaching at LifeTime Fitness. After years and years of largely practicing – and teaching – in small community-style studios where there’s much more of a personal feel and less of a “brand” feel, it’s been a bit of a shift to embrace a different way of practicing and teaching yoga.
Going back to yoga philosophy – I could get stuck in my ego mind, and say, “Well this is just yoga for insert population designation.” However, this is a company that has grown to its large size. Like everything, it didn’t happen overnight. And like any growing organism, it must be done in a specific, ahem, intentional way if we expect the thing growing to be effective and strong. And, being that this is a large corporation, the structure must be set and clear… not unlike the structure in our bodies: our bones. They do move, but with much more rigidity than, say, our muscles. Imagine if your bones grew in scattered and fragmented ways. Or if they were as soft as our skin? We would be much less strong and capable individuals, and likely would not have made it as far as we have as a human race.
So, a few weeks ago I took the “FLOW” format training, which is meant to be the most challenging of the LifeTime yoga formats. It’s hot and sweaty, and much of the 60-minute class is fast. We were encouraged in our training to begin every class with some kind of verbal cue signifying that the participants are allowed to arrive exactly as they are… When I get out of my ego mind, I remind myself of my privilege – and the part of my practice that has been there so long, I forgot that it used to not be there – that I only say nice things to myself about myself inside my head. (It doesn’t mean I don’t admit when I’m wrong, or that I’m always perfect… I just try to choose self-compassion when I royally screw things up.) But many people don’t have that internal “I’m ok as I am” practice, and I actually commend my employer for putting compassionate language into their teaching structure. This is one of the biggest gifts yoga is giving our modern culture: encouraging compassion.
The Point Of This Blog Post… Story…
Between this, and my experience at the conference of being a student for a whole weekend, focusing on my body (mind, breath, broken record), unlike when I’m being a teacher, focusing on the other bodies in the room – it all got me thinking about that post-it note. The things we tell ourselves. It’s been a few years since I spent a lot of time thinking about affirming language inside my head.
Going back to the “post-it note incident,” that person whom I was engaged in conversation with was consistent in treating me in a way I didn’t like, and my reaction was also consistent. The problem was, my reaction justified their treatment: I was acting defensive, defiant, and actually quite childish. And I suddenly realized I could not play into that frustration. I could watch myself get angry, and frustrated, and then I could say to myself, “I am not going to react because that person has the wrong impression about who I am now.”
HOLY LIGHTBULBS! (AKA, what I’ve always called a yogapiphany!) Now, wait, what does this have to do with yoga? I’m the same damned way on the mat. (grumble under breath.) I want the pose / stretch / to keep up with the pace, etc. and when it starts to get hard I get frustrated, which pulls me out of my breath and my focus – the thing that is going to get me there (with practice). In my head I’m saying things like, “This is hard. I can’t do it. Why won’t this tension go away? If I can just get my hips to release then I’ll feel better…” etc. etc. etc.
Since that time, I’ve gotten much better at filtering my reactions and redirecting my thoughts, both on the mat, and off. And there, my friends, is the metaphor that yoga allows us: it’s more than a space to practice shapes and get in shape, it’s a space to practice being the kind of person you want to be. When the going gets tough, or my body just won’t cooperate, sometimes I still bitch and moan, but now I’m aware that if I instead say to myself, “Just focus on breathing,” or “don’t get distracted, find where you have strength / ease in the body,” I usually make some progress. I like progress.
This has made a significant difference not only in my yoga practice but in many of my relationships. I’ve learned to practice being my own pep-talker, my own comforter, my own cheerleader… and yes, I still use a therapist for the rest of it, and the aide of good friends. Now, I’m not saying its comfortable to do this at first. I mean, would we call it normal to have conversations to ourselves to the tune of, “I am stronger than my reactions. I do not need to accept this person’s insults / injuries / what-have-you as true for me,”? Maybe not in terms of “traditional thinking.” But thankfully, I’ve never exactly been concerned with being normal. And modern medicine is starting to show that traditional thinking may not be the best antidote for facilitating change.
Additionally, this practice of telling myself things I want or need to hear has helped me navigate through all the uncertainties in life, and helped me to find joy and comfort in the things I can control and create – the books I read, the company I keep, the music I write, the food I put in my body, etc.
So, I ask you, dear reader, what are the things you tell yourself? If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while and you’re at a point where you’re stuck, I seriously encourage you – in addition to asking questions of your body, mind, and self, and listening openly for those answers – to start telling yourself the things you’d like to hear.