When was the last time you gave yourself a compliment? Told yourself how smart or funny you were? We do this for other people all the time. And we love when others do it for us. So why aren’t we as kind with our own self-talk?
Most of our self-talk comes as internal dialogue. It is estimated that we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts per day. How many are positive, how many are not? As children, we are taught to treat our neighbors as we treat ourselves, but maybe we should flip that. Are we harming ourselves simply with our thoughts?
What is Ahimsa?
The Yoga Sutras, one of the foremost ancient yoga texts, outlines a guide to living a yogic life. Part of this guide contains the yamas and niyamas. The yamas are often referred to as self-restraints, things not to do. And the niyamas are the behaviors we strive to practice.
One might call these the guidebook to ethical and moral living. A way to direct the inner compass when needed.
The first of the yamas is ahimsa, usually translated from Sanskrit to English as non-harming or non-violence.
The first layer of ahimsa applies to the way that we treat others. Do no harm, both in what you say and what you do. We know words have the power to harm as much, if not more, than actions can.
Many yogis become vegetarian, or even vegan, as an outward expression of ahimsa. The concept here applies not only to humans, but to all living creatures.
Okay, so you are kind to others. You don’t harm animals and you are mindful of what you say to your family and friends. But what about the way you treat and talk to yourself?
The importance of positive self talk.
You do all the right things. You eat healthy, exercise, do yoga. But you are your own worst critic. The thoughts running through your mind, the words you say to yourself...you would never say them to another person.
Your thoughts are such a big part of your overall health. It has been proven that the way you think and how you feel can influence your immunity, your brain, and even your cells and genes. The science behind the mind gut connection is becoming more clear as medicine adopts a more holistic approach.
Negative self-talk can trigger the fight-or-flight stress response in the body. This mechanism is meant to do just that, stimulate the body to protect yourself or to flee in the face of imminent danger.
But what happens when you keep it turned on, creating your own stress through negative thought patterns. Cortisol, the stress hormone, stays high and your body is at risk for chronic inflammation and numerous health problems. Anxiety, depression, sleep issues, digestive trouble, headaches, weight gain. Sound familiar?
The good news is you have the power to change that. Positive self-talk releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the body and brain. Dopamine release helps to motivate you and can make you more social. It aids in memory and learning, as well as attention and focus. Better sleep patterns and immune function can also result from healthy dopamine levels in the body.
Be Your Own Best Friend. 5 Ways to Practice Ahimsa for Yourself.
1. Practice mindfulness. This is just what it sounds like. Be mindful, or aware, of what you are doing and thinking in each moment. Often the barrage of negative thoughts come when we are not paying attention. They sneak in and create a downward spiral in the mind. Mindfulness encourages you to catch the pattern before it spins out of control.
2. Gently release negative thought patterns. What is your reaction when you notice the gloomy thoughts? If you are hard on yourself, how does that feel? Are you just adding fuel to the fire? What happens if you simply notice them? You can even name them. Then release them gently.
3. Mantra. Put something else in their place. A mantra, or positive saying, can replace the negative thoughts. Have one or two that are short, sweet and powerful. Use them as a way to redirect the mind and create new patterns.
4. Don’t compare. So many of our negative thoughts and words come when we compare ourselves to others. Our neighbors, friends, the yogi next to us in class. And especially in the social media world. Everyone appears to be living a glamorous, perfect, stress-free life. Often, it’s just that, an image on a page. We all have our stuff.
5. Affirmation. Similar to a mantra, affirmations are a positive statement that you repeat to yourself. Maybe you write them down where you can see them every morning. Post them to social media to inspire yourself and others. Find the things you love about yourself and say, write or shout them out loud every day.
Ahimsa. The true practice comes when we can be kind to ourselves. Practice non-harming in actions, thoughts, and words.
As the Buddha said, “The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit. And habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings… As the shadow follows the body, as we think, so we become.”
Pay attention, what will your next kind thought about yourself be?