I was talking with a friend this past week and she was sharing that she had gotten involved in a couple of volunteer committees and was really enjoying making a contribution and seeing the good she was doing. What started out as a very positive conversation however evolved into her worries that she was dropping the ball with her family and her questioning the worthiness of what she was doing. She was concerned people would judge her decision not to go back to a full time job and do volunteer work instead. I stopped her for a moment and asked her two questions. Firstly, was she hearing feedback from her family that she was letting things suffer? Secondly, had she felt judged by specific people in her life for not going back to work? The answer to both of those questions was “No”. It was at that point that I was reminded of how powerful and loud our “inner critic” can be.
We can offer ourselves the chance to practice quieting that inner critic as we move mindfully on our mats so as my students warmed up, I shared the story and explained a concept in Buddhist psychology called “The storytelling mind”. We have 17,000 thoughts each day. We have the initial thought and then we have what I like to call all the “thoughts about the thoughts”. Those secondary thoughts are often steeped in emotion and can create a story that is not true. Often the main character of the storytelling mind is the inner critic.
As we moved through Sun Salutes and began to flow we used Plank pose to strengthen the core, hip flexors, gluts and serratus anterior by ” walking the plank” (lifting one leg and then the other) and by doing cat/cows in plank. My goal in the sequences was to connect to the muscles we use when practicing donkey kicks (pictured above) as a way to challenge my students to face their inner critic and begin to connect to the storytelling mind. It is literally a leap of faith to try to hop with both legs up a time. It is a practice, just as quieting the inner critic is. We challenged ourselves to allow a thought to come but then to begin to recognize all the “thoughts about the thoughts” that take us down a negative road.
Both on the mat and off we can doubt ourselves and listen to that inner critic. We have times where we completely misinterpret an interaction or scenario. Often that is the storytelling mind creating a version of the story that includes false assumptions, emotion and judgements. We have the opportunity to step back in those situations, just as we do on our mat and understand the power of the stories we tell ourselves. When I think of the inner critic and the storytelling mind I am always reminded of this quote by Ann Lamott; “My mind is like a bad neighborhood, I try not to go there alone.”
As we began to slow down we stretched out the muscles we used in donkey kicks such as the gluts and hamstrings and then moved into a long pigeon pose. At that point, I once again reminded my students about the inner critic. It can be very loud when we are quiet in our bodies.
And as we moved into final backbends and spinal twists and prepared for Savasana, I shared an insight of the storytelling mind called “seeing the waterfall”. With the practice of mindfulness we can begin to notice the endless stream of thoughts and commentary…. that is the waterfall. Then as we become more aware, we can begin to examine the thoughts and let go of some of the commentary and emotion that wrap around each thought. This is how we begin to really “see” the waterfall.
After Savasana, we came together for a few moments of seated meditation. I thanked them for sharing their practice and their presence with me and I reminded them that the power they had cultivated on the mat can come with them off of it. We can continue to use the gift of mindfulness to become aware of our thoughts, quiet the inner critic and journey through that “bad neighborhood” to the other side where we get to “See the Waterfall” and become free. Namaste.