My mother never told me to watch my language. I observed her using curse words sparingly, when substitutes couldn’t get a severe-enough point across, and I understood that they were reserved for those purposes. Other moms constantly told their kids to watch their language when they used curses or inappropriate words, but I wish children were taught to watch their inner language more.
Somewhere around our teenage years, an inner narrative starts developing along with everything else. This inner voice is at best misguided and at worst a nasty little bugger. It’s a bad brew of our own fearful self-criticism and unsupportive comments from others. This inner frenemy wildly raises and lowers the volume on our self-esteem through comparison and judgment. It’s a way of finding our place in the world, and definitely not the best way.
If only this inner voice went away with our teenage acne. Very unfortunately for us, the frenemy can end up staying well into our adult years, possibly—shudder—babbling mean things for our entire lives. If we don’t recognize its origins, this inner voice can be mistaken for factual truth and even change the course of our lives.
But wait! Ahimsa and Maitri, Yoga’s twin superheroes, to the rescue!
Ahimsa is the Yoga precept of non-harming and non-violence. It’s most frequently brought up as a good case for going vegan. But if you look at its definition, you can take it much further than that.
The translation of Ahimsa from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the couple-thousand-year-old spiritual text of Yoga, is “Not causing pain to any living being, including ourselves.” Note those last two words; we get to come to the harm-free party too.
Ahimsa is the Yoga precept of non-harming and non-violence. It’s most frequently brought up as a good case for going vegan.
But sometimes it’s not enough just to stop harming ourselves, especially if we’ve been listening to that critical inner voice for a long time. We can repair the damage with Maitri, or kindness.
If you suspect there’s a saboteur skulking around in your mind impersonating the truth, here’s how Ahimsa and Maitri can help you:
Step One: Know Thy Frenemy. Part of the reason Eastern spiritual paths push meditation so hard is because you learn how to take a step back and observe your thoughts. In daily life, we’re so tight with the thoughts we can’t really separate ourselves from them, so we just consider them facts. In meditation, we get calm enough to see the thoughts as though they’re traffic on a highway… Or maybe bumper cars in a carnival. Even a five-minute daily meditation practice can give you enough distance from your thoughts to observe them.
After a little observation meditation in the morning, take note of your inner dialogue as you go throughout your day. What are you thinking about the way you look, the things you do, the choices you make? You may see that some of the inner narrative isn’t very loving, kind, or supportive. And you may begin to say, “Who the F needs this?!”
Not you. Which brings us to…
Step Two: Go BFF Yourself. So you’re going through your day, observing your inner dialogue, spotting when it puts on its own production of Mean Girls. What now? Replace negative thoughts with positive, pro-you thinking. Instead of “I hate my thighs,” try “My legs are strong and support me throughout my day.” Instead of “Why does she have all the luck,” swap in “I’m inspired by her, and I can do what she’s doing, too.”
The basic idea is this: If your BFF was putting her/himself down, what would you say to that person? Now say it to yourself. Because you are just as deserving of some pompom-shaking cheerleading as everyone else.
It may take a while to undo the damage the inner frenemy has done with the unfriendly language it’s been using, but the time and energy you spend uncovering the truth—that you are more wonderful, and more capable, than you thought before—is well spent. And, probably unlike your high school French, you’ll be able to use the languages of Ahimsa and Maitri for the rest of your beautiful life.
What are some of the things you’ve been telling yourself? And what are the kinder things you can replace them with? Tell us in the comments below. Maybe you can inspire others to watch their inner language!
Suzan Colón is the author of Yoga Mind: Journey Beyond the Physical, 30 Days to Enhance Your Practice and Revolutionize Your Life From the Inside Out.