Everyday Namaste: Part 2. Seeing the light in yourself

Following on from my last post about the word namaste, and connecting to the light, truth and beauty in others (even if you find them irritating!) – part 2 of ‘everyday namaste’ is thinking about how we can better connect with our own ‘inner divine’.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop” – Rumi

So, what about seeing the light in yourself? Recognising that the entire universe is within you? Sounds like a bit of a stretch? Remember: our health isn’t just what we eat and how much exercise we’re doing. It’s also what we’re saying, what we’re thinking, and how we relate to ourselves. So how can we start appreciating ourselves more?

 

  • Be kind to yourself

Think about a situation where a close friend messed up in some way at work. Perhaps they missed a deadline, or a presentation went wrong. Imagine what you would say to them. “It wasn’t your fault”, “You were tired/stressed/overworked” “I’m sure it will all work out ok, it’s not a big deal”. If it was a close friend, or someone you valued, I imagine your responses might be something along those lines.

Now imagine *you* did the same thing. What kinds of things would you be saying to yourself? I’d bet that a significant proportion of people wouldn’t be saying the same things you say to your friend. Instead it might be – “I can’t believe I did that, I’m so stupid” “My manager is going to hate me” “I always mess up and do things like that” or some variations thereof. Maybe these critical thoughts continue well after the event is all sorted out, and pop into your head at night when you’re trying to drift off to sleep.

How often do we berate, belittle and admonish ourselves, instead of showing ourselves the same care and compassion we show our loved ones? Is beating ourselves up getting us anywhere? What would life be like if we allowed a little of that love and care into our daily lives, and chose to let ourselves off the hook when things don’t go quite to plan? We can often grow and learn from our mistakes, so look for the learning, then let it go. Don’t let today’s difficulties take over your tomorrow, too.

  • Positive affirmations.

“Sometimes you need someone to believe in you. ….and it’s always you”

Some days we might need a little reminder of our best qualities. Just imagine for a moment what might be different if we didn’t spend so much time obsessing about those things we hate about ourselves. You’d probably get a load of time back, and experience less stress and guilt – for things like having an extra portion of dessert. So, let’s flip it and think about all the qualities you have that are GREAT. Make yourself a list – stick it on your bathroom mirror or somewhere you’ll see it regularly. I’ll help you out with a few here, but make sure they’re meaningful to you.

Kind | Generous | Funny | Empathetic | Creative | Determined | Intuitive | Passionate Sharp | Good listener | Charismatic | Organised | Energetic | Open

If you’re struggling, ask a few close friends or family members what they think are your best qualities – and trust them when they tell you! Some people find it helpful to read them aloud every morning – you might feel ridiculous, but they’ll give you a boost for the day, and over time they’ll start to sink in.

  • Get on your mat

Practicing yoga is a great way to start to look after yourself physically and mentally, giving yourself that time just to be in the moment. One of the reasons I love yoga (asana) practice is because it only requires you give your best that day, without comparing to others. Does your best that day involve headstand? Great. Does your best that day mean you stay in child’s pose for the whole class? Also great. Maybe even *more* great, for being able to acknowledge you need that rest and rejuvenation – it can be really hard to get past our ego, or the ‘shoulds’ we place on ourselves, even in yoga. Tuning in to what your body and your mind needs in that moment is an absolutely invaluable life skill. So get on your mat, even if you aren’t feeling up to it – even if for just a few minutes. It’s those days you probably need yoga most.

  • A calm start to the day

Try to give yourself even 10 minutes at the start of the day of meditation or asana practice (or even better, both!) so you feel better equipped to handle whatever that day throws at you. 10 minutes in savasana or other relaxation postures that you enjoy (i.e. child’s pose, pigeon, happy baby, shoulder stand) when you get home from work is another great way to de-stress, and mentally separate work from home. Building these slots into your daily life is a way of looking after yourself – you’re telling yourself that you matter, that you are important, and that you are worthy of self-care and time for yourself.

Have a question or comment? Any ideas about how you might start to ‘namaste’ today? Let me know!

 

Namaste,

The Yog Travelogue

 

 

Everyday Namaste – Bringing the power of this greeting into your daily life (Part 1)

If you’ve been to a few yoga classes, chances are you’ve ended at least one of them with a ‘namaste’. (Pronounced: nah-mah-stay). But what does namaste really mean, and how can we bring the power of it into our day to day life?

Firstly, it’s a greeting (hello and goodbye) used across both India and Nepal. Hindi and Nepali are derived from Sanskrit, an ancient language believed to have begun around 1500BCE. The greeting is typically accompanied with a physical gesture: bowing the head, along with pressing the hands together close to the heart.

Namaste has many meanings, but literally it translates to “I bow to you”. ‘Nama’ is bow, ‘as’ is I, and ‘te’ means you. Using namaste is a way to connect with the lineage and rich history of yoga, and is also a way for the teacher to connect with their students. Namaste is also said to mean the following:

My soul honours your soul.
I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides.
I honour the light, love, truth, beauty and peace within you, because it is also within me.
In sharing these things we are united, we are the same, we are one.

Wow. Puts ‘Hey’ ‘What’s up?’ or ‘How you going?’ to shame, doesn’t it? As I’m currently travelling in countries where I’m frequently ‘namaste-ing’ it got me thinking – what would life be like if we all included a bit more namaste in our daily lives?

Now, I know given the current state of world affairs, sometimes it’s hard to see the light, love, truth, beauty and peace in others. Occasionally, people really are jerks. (I’m probably not supposed to say that as a psychologist). I can think of many names in politics right now that it would be hard to give a genuine namaste to. But, let’s think on a smaller scale here. Your common-or-garden jerk. That friend of a friend, colleague, or member of the public you cross paths with who really riles you up. Maybe they’re prone to making inappropriate, rude or blunt remarks. Maybe they’re super arrogant and showy, or don’t let you get a word in edgeways. Maybe they’re really flaky – making plans then always bailing on them at the last moment. Or maybe they cut you up on the motorway or at the train ticket queue.

All of these personal qualities or interactions can be frustrating at best, or leave you seething for hours, days or weeks at worst. So what can we do about it? How can we ‘honour the soul’ of people who irritate us?

  • Consider what’s behind their behaviour

Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath” – Eckhart Tolle

Here’s the thing – if someone is behaving in a negative way towards you, chances are, they probably don’t feel so great about themselves. Someone who doesn’t stop talking about themselves, talks over you and just doesn’t listen? They may have life experiences of being talked over constantly, or never feeling truly heard and listened to. Maybe they have social anxiety and they’re talking to fill in what they perceive to be awkward silences. Maybe their sense of self worth depends on receiving approval and attention from others. Of course, it could be all of these things or none of these things – everyone’s story is different. But the point is – if you try to see these behaviours in a different light, by trying to understand or at least holding in mind potential reasons for the behaviour, you might find that you perceive that person to be less irritating. It also helps to shift our perspective from focusing solely inwards, to considering how others might be feeling. Maybe their quality could even become endearing?

There isn’t a person you wouldn’t love, if you could read their story”

Ok, so you’ve tried it and you’re not getting that endearing vibe. I urge you try on more than one occasion to give this a go. Our perspectives can be tricky to shift. Research has suggested that for interpersonal relationships to flourish, there is a 5:1 positive to negative interaction ratio necessary. So what else can you do?

  • Reframe your perspective

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”

Reframing a situation is simply considering another perspective. 100 people could have the same experience, but report totally different points of view on what happened, depending on their personality, life experiences, or even how much sleep they had the night before and what they ate for lunch. Some examples of reframes for helping to see the light and beauty in others (or maybe just to ease your frustration a little!):

– See someone as bossy? How about determined, strong willed, or a great leader?
– A person that always has to be centre of attention? How about energetic, entertaining, effervescent?
– Someone who is really rigid or inflexible? How about – they know what they want and exactly how to get their needs met?

Reframes are a simple way to improve our own mental wellbeing during a potentially stressful interaction, and have the possibility to transform our experience into a neutral or even positive interaction. Remember – we don’t have control over anyone except ourselves.

If you don’t like a situation, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude” – Maya Angelou.

  • Letting it go

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” – Buddha

So you’ve given those ideas a go, but you’re still finding yourself getting irked by the postman leaving your package out in the rain, or that man on your commute who cut you up at the traffic lights. You sit there stewing all day about it. “How dare he!” “I can’t believe how stupid he is” “So disrespectful”. The thing is – the person you’re cross at has no idea. None of your cross thoughts are actually achieving anything. The only person you’re affecting is yourself.

Stress has a profound effect on both our mental and physical health. Stress can affect everything from our sleep to our heartbeat – it can even make your hair fall out, and it’s directly linked to the 6 leading causes of death (including cancer, accidents and suicide). So when we get angry, we’re harming others (whether that’s through thought or action), and we’re also harming ourselves.

Letting it go doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything that happens. It certainly doesn’t mean you should be letting go of interactions that are harmful to you, either emotionally or physically. But it does mean picking your battles, and choosing your own health and inner peace over arguing or needing to be right.

Consider this – will this interaction matter in a week, a month, a year? If the answer is no, let it go. We have limited time and energy on this planet, and stewing about a ‘disrespectful’ ticket inspector isn’t a useful or positive use of our time. Try and zoom out – think of the bigger picture, and the likelihood is, the thing you’re angry at won’t seem quite so important.

 

What do you think about using ‘namaste’ today? Any of those ideas you think you could try? Let me know! In part 2 I’ll be writing about how to use the power of namaste on ourselves – how to better connect with our own light, truth and beauty.

Namaste,

The Yog Travelogue

Yoga, psychology and making your own magic

Before I get stuck in to some of the interesting ideas within yoga philosophy and psychology, I wanted to give a brief (!) overview of both. As mental health awareness week draws to a close, I hope this post also illustrates the benefits both yoga and therapy can have on mental health, and urge anyone struggling to know there is help out there, and that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self”

~The Bhagavad Gita

So, what is yoga?

A better question might be – what isn’t yoga?! Yoga is generally thought of as being the physical practice – your yoga class, whether that’s ashtanga, vinyasa flow, Bikram or Iyengar. However, yoga is much more than this. Patanjali, thought to be the codifier (though not the creator) of yoga, wrote that: “Every aspect of our motivation, cognition, behaviour, our breathing, our sleep, our dreams – is yoga”. The postures (asanas) are just one part of a much wider whole. Yoga is a philosophy, and a way of life.

In his sutras, Patanjali wrote about about yoga’s ‘8 limbs’. The 8 limbs (ashtanga) are said to be a practical guide for anyone to live the yogic lifestyle. These 8 limbs are: Yama (our attitude towards others), Niyama (our attitude towards ourselves) Asana (the physical ‘yoga’ postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises) Pratyhara (conscious withdrawal of our outer senses), Dharna (concentration), Dyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enlightenment, self-actualisation, or total ‘oneness’). The ultimate aim of yoga is to achieve the last limb, samadhi. The root word of yoga, ‘yuj’, means to join, or union – samadhi is union with our true selves, union with one another, union with the universe. I’ll be explaining the meaning of each of the 8 limbs in more detail in future posts.

Yoga is also about finding happiness (ananda). This is achieved through finding our true self (atman). This is not the discovery of a whole new person, but rather, to uncover the real essence of ourselves that was always there. In our day to day life, this can be obscured by our thoughts and feelings, as well as by ‘stories’ we tell ourself about ourselves and about others. These stories (“I’m not good enough” “No one really likes me” “What if I fail?” “If only I was funnier / thinner / richer”) are self-limiting, reducing our capacity for joy, and creating stress and suffering for ourselves. We are only confined by the walls we build for ourselves.

Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah’. This is the second of Patanjali’s sutras, his first description of what yoga is. The Sanskrit translates as – Yogas (yoga) chitta (consciousness, the mind) vritti (activities, fluctuations or changes) nirodhah (regulating, channelling, stilling). In other words – yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. So, through yoga, we can start to calm our ‘monkey mind’, and see past all of the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves – the worries, the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘shoulds’ – to see our true self, that was there all along.
What is psychology?

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens”
~ Carl Jung

Psychology encompasses an infinite array of topics, but put simply, psychology is the study of human behaviour. Why do we do, think, believe and say the things we do? Psychology looks at our personalities, our habits and patterns of behaviour, and the impact of nature verses nurture. It also explores how we perceive others, the wider world, and ourselves.

Sometimes our various life experiences can lead beyond day to day stresses and develop into mental health difficulties. This happens more often than you may think. A recent study in the UK found 1 in 4 people had a diagnosed mental health problem – meaning there will be many more people struggling with their mental health in one way or another, who have not been to see a professional or received a diagnosis. Psychology, or therapy, is useful for understanding what led to these difficulties, helping people to understand that it’s normal to feel this way (what is ‘normal’ anyway?), and establishing together a path to recovery. One of the most important parts of therapy is building a solid, trusting relationship with a therapist, and feeling comfortable enough to voice your fears, concerns and experiences, and having those experiences validated. Research has demonstrated time and again that it is this relationship that is the main catalyst in helping people make positive changes in their lives, rather than the type of therapy.

Through therapy, the most valuable outcome we can hope to achieve is a greater understanding of ourselves. Humans are predictable creatures, and we generally have set patterns of responding to certain situations. For example, in a tense situation, you might tend towards being defensive, aggressive, or avoidant. You might have a few negative, recurring thoughts that pop up on a regular basis, regardless of the situation. It has been suggested that we actually have a very small proportion of new thoughts each day. These thinking and behaviour patterns develop as a result of multiple influences, including our upbringing, our environment, our personality and our relationships. By developing a greater understanding of ourselves, we can:

  • Break out of the patterns and the stories that are less helpful to us
  • Connect to alternative, more helpful and empowering stories about our inner strength and resilience
  • Have more agency and awareness about how we feel, think and act in future, instead of unknowingly (or knowingly) falling into the same traps we set for ourselves.

You may have already noticed overlaps between yoga and psychology. Both are in the pursuit of health, happiness and discovering what we truly want, think and feel. Both aim to alert us to the suffering that is self-inflicted, and help us to find ways of avoiding it in future. Some psychologists and other health professionals have already noted the mental health benefits that yoga provides. Initial research has been positive – yoga has been shown to create an alternative to our stress response (‘fight or flight’). Through yoga’s combination of mindful movement and breathing, a ‘relaxation response’ is created. Both yoga and meditation have even been shown to change the very structure of our brains – for example, reducing the size of a part of our amygdala, the area of the brain used for processing threat, fear, anxiety and stress. Noticing the positive effects yoga has had both on myself and others led me on my own journey to train as a yoga teacher, in order to use these positive effects within my own therapeutic practice.

At the crux of both yoga and psychology is the idea that experiencing suffering in our lives is inevitable. We will all experience loss, fear, sadness, separation, anxiety and death at some point. Neither yoga nor psychology can change that (believe me, I’ve wished for a magic wand to take people’s problems away countless times!). But what it can change is to help us avoid the additional suffering that we create for ourselves. By changing our perspective, our outlook and the way we react in situations, we can generate our own inner peace, regardless of what is going on around us. “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow another person or event control your emotions”. So maybe we don’t need that magic wand after all? As the authority of the magic world (J. K. Rowling) has said: “We don’t need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already”. Sometimes, we might just need a little help in seeing it.

This introduction to yoga philosophy and psychology may have left you with more answers than questions – but I hope to answer them for you in future posts. Any particular thoughts or questions? Leave a comment!

What is The Yog Travelogue?

Namaste and welcome to The Yog Travelogue!

The Yog Travelogue (TYT) contains insights about yoga, psychology, mental health and travel.

The word ‘Yog’ was both the original Hindi pronunciation of the Sanskrit word (now ‘yoga’)’ and also refers to the concept of connection: how humans connect to one another.

The Yog Travelogue is all about connection.

  • Identifying the connection between your body and mind
  • Exploring the connection between yoga and psychology
  • Developing the connection to your true self

Whilst yoga is a fantastic physical practice, TYT aims to highlight the fantastic benefits yoga can have on our mental health, and get talking about how to look after our minds on a daily basis. TYT contains practical elements which I hope will be useful to you whether you’re interested in yoga, psychology, improving your mental wellbeing, or all of the above. I’ll be writing about how you can incorporate beneficial aspects of both yoga and psychology into your daily life, tips or techniques for boosting your mood and managing day to day stress, guides on meditation, yoga sequences for energising you or helping to reduce anxiety, exploring the benefits of specific yoga poses (asanas) and much more.