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The value of going easy on yourself: now scientifically proven.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 by Marianne Elliott

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Over the past 18 months I’ve developed the curriculum for my 30 days of yoga course based on my personal experience and the feedback I’ve received from hundreds of participants.

My questions were simple:

– what gets in the way of us doing yoga?

– what helps us overcome those barriers?

In all your responses, and in my own experience, over and over again, one thing stood out and has become the core of my teaching. It is this:

Self-kindness is the secret to a consistent, and effective, home yoga practice

Some of my 30 day yogis and yoginis have wondered about the wisdom of this approach. Some wonder whether self-kindness might not slide too easily into self-indulgence, which they suspect will be the enemy of – rather than the secret to – their home yoga practice.

Here’s what I say in the course about self-kindness vs self-indulgence:

Let me ask you all a question. Imagine you met a child who was resisting doing something because she was afraid of the loud criticism she encounters every time she tries. What do you think would best help her to overcome that fear? More criticism? Or kindness?

I’m voting for kindness.

But then again, I vote for kindness pretty much any time I get to vote for anything.

But how can you distinguish kindness from self-indulgence?

Well, self-indulgence isn’t always kind. If the messages in your head are that you should give up because you’ll never be good enough anyway, then indulging that voice is not kindness.

Kindness would be to remind yourself that you are absolutely okay just as you are. Kindness would be to meet your body exactly where it is and give it what it needs.

And here’s the kicker – if, like most of us in the urbanized Western world, you live a largely sedentary life then nine times out of ten your body will need to move. Giving your body what it needs will most often mean moving it.

So kindness does not mean skipping out of the practice. Kindness means carving out a space for yourself to practice in, a space in which that judging mind is not in charge. I’ve found there is no point in trying to silence the critical voice, it only shouts louder. But if we instead keep connecting with our truest voice, the voice that arises as our heart opens in kindness to ourself, then we can avoid getting snared by the critical voice.

And here’s the best part: the more yoga you practice the more able you’ll be to tune into and hear the true voice of your body. This gets easier and easier the more you do it!

So I’ve been preaching self-kindness as the secret to a more consistent home yoga practice for 18 months now, and I’ve even gone so far as to claim that it’s the approach that will work for you when nagging, bribing or guilt-tripping yourself has failed.

So you can imagine my delight this week when I read in the New York Times that scientific evidence now supports my findings!

The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.

Well, yes. Exactly!

It’s about embracing our unique and ‘imperfect’ home practice, one that actually supports and sustains a healthy balance in our unique life situation (taking our family, work and physical ability into account). This is the first step towards finding and sustaining a home yoga practice which improves our well-being rather than adding yet another sense of obligation, or another thing to fail at, to our already busy lives.

Yoga is not a form of self improvement.

Yoga is about meeting ourselves where we are, in all our beautiful imperfection.

The next step is tapping into a deep sense of kindness towards ourselves, a genuine wish for our own well-being, to the mat with us every day. It’s about noticing when the voice inside our head turns nasty on us, taking a deep breath and dipping deep into the well of good will we draw on so often in our generous dealings with others.

It’s about offering that same goodwill to ourselves.

Apparently the experts in the field even use the exact same metaphors I’ve been using in my course for the past year and a half.

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” said Dr. Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”

“Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation,” Dr. Neff said. “The reason you don’t let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them. With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”

Amen. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Well, I guess I have been saying it myself. Maybe I should start calling myseld an expert on the topic too!

If you think a more compassionate approach might be the missing piece in your own efforts to establish and maintain a regular home yoga practice, then my 30 Days of Yoga course (available in Beginners and Standard versions) might be right for you.

I’ve just opened registrations for the new format of 30 Days of Yoga. What changed? Well, you can now start whenever suits you. But let’s be honest, once you’ve understood the benefits that a compassionate, committed home yoga practice can bring to your life, why wait?

Why not be calmer, stronger, healthier and more clear sooner rather than later? Why not start now?

There will always be a voice of doubt. You can always find a reason to delay. But often the biggest barrier getting in the way of starting something like this right now is our fear of failure. So let me assure you that you can do this. Trust me, you are not the only person who has tried and failed before. You are not the only one who doubts that you can do it. Here’s what one of my repeat students says about that:

“Thank you for running this course and changing my life in so many ways. I never really believed I could be one of those people who had a daily practice and yet I have done that over the last month. Because of your way of teaching and your realistic and compassionate approach I got over the critical inner voice which told me that I wasn’t good enough to do yoga properly and so it wasn’t worth getting on the mat. You are a fab, funny, inspirational, compassionate and imperfect teacher. I can relate to what you say, your approach to life and how you approach yoga and integrate that with your understanding of the world. Your teaching has opened up new ways of seeing and being in the world and Im looking forward to continuing that. Above all, you make yoga accessible and fun. And an incredible journey.” – Kirstie Farmer

I’m confident that you, like Kirstie, can meet your inner critic with compassion and get on your mat with confidence that your own practice – imperfect though it may be – is actually perfect for you.

If you want to get started now, here’s the link to get you started.

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3 Responses to "The value of going easy on yourself: now scientifically proven."

  1. Britt Bravo says:

    Thanks for highlighting this article and research, Marianne. Sooooo important!

  2. Jessica says:

    Marianne, thank you.
    Your site is (and you are!) consistently motivational and inspirational!
    I think you *should* consider yourself an expert on this topic as well as many others.
    Self-kindness is forgiveness and appreciation for all you are and your body can do. Self-indulgence not always bad; it is necessary at times, to rejuvenate, but gets a bad reputation because it often stems from a *lack* of self-kindness: indulging to mask or ease any discomfort/pain/uneasiness.
    But I agree that ‘kindness is the secret.’ period. The secret to anything and everything. You can never go wrong with kindness.
    And I loved the last sentence of the NYTimes article you featured that said, “With self-compassion, […], you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you,” though I would have said *because* you care about yourself.
    Yoga and self-kindness go hand-in-hand, feeding each other. Self-kindness helps the yoga practice, but ultimately I think yoga helps strengthen self-kindness.
    Thank you again for your inspiring and thought-provoking content.

  3. Mel says:

    I wanted to say hello, how much I have been getting out of your blog, and how much reading this today meant to me. I’m nearing the end of my yoga teaching program (and feeling dizzy, nervous, exhilarated), and preparing to give some lessons on building a home practice – Something that I’m passionate about (now!), but that took me years of struggle, guilt, frustration, and generally feeling like a failure because I couldn’t stick to it… The first thing that I wrote down, the number one shift for me, was learning to be kind to myself. And I immediately questioned the wisdom of sharing this in my workshop – self-kindness, self love… It’s too heavy, I’m just a new teacher, I’m too intense… These students are going to be looking for a framework for their physical practice, etc. not squirmy-making self-help. Thank you for showing me that not only is this not such a unique and crazy idea, but that other people do need to hear it/learn it. I can’t change the road it took me to come to this point, but I wish I’d heard this along my path (in fact, I probably did, but was just not ready to receive it!) – Thank you for sharing it.

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