Which would you prefer to have residing in your body? A ferocious jungle cat, or a loving friend? It turns out, if you want to ditch the jungle cat, it helps to throw away the whip, the chair, and the chains first. A friend forwarded me an article from the New York Times this morning: “Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges.” Recently released research studies show that people who practice self-compassion, an inner sense of understanding and kindness towards themselves, report less depression and anxiety and are less likely to overeat.
Surprise! It turns out this lovingkindness practice really works. Being friendly towards yourself instead of self-critical helps you develop more resilience and optimism. Years ago I used to eat lunch once a week at my favorite Indian buffet. Everything on the serving table was so delicious, piled high with fragrant curries, spicy daal, and fried vegetable fritters. I felt like a hungry tiger in the bunny house; my rule was that I could only go through the table one time and have a little of everything. Otherwise I would just keep filling my plate and eat until my stomach hurt. Then I would feel miserable and mad at myself the rest of the day.
I was a dangerous tiger at the end of a heavy chain that only firm self-discipline could control. When I told my yoga philosophy teacher, Carlos Pomeda, about my buffet dilemma, he showed me my tiger had no teeth. Carlos gazed at me thoughtfully and said, “Isn’t it wonderful that you can go to a restaurant you enjoy, and take good care of yourself to eat just enough that your body feels good for the rest of the day?”
I was stunned. His words turned my world upside down. Instead of a starving tiger, I was just me, being kind to myself, noticing what my body needed, and providing those needs in a way that acknowledged my well-being. My restraint could demonstrate a sense of love towards myself, not the need to control myself with an iron will.
Since then, instead of self-discipline, I encourage my students to cultivate self-devotion. Whatever rest, food, and exercise you offer your body, do it out of love. Connect to why it’s important to take care of yourself, and let that be the North Star you follow. I’m eating well because I want to show my body I care. I do exercise my body finds fun because I want to enjoy my body. I rest when my body needs to rest because I want to feel at home within myself.
Self-discipline is harsh, sharp-edged, and doesn’t care about your overall well-being. Self-devotion is juicy and enjoyable. Self-devotion encourages you to listen and pay attention to your body. Self-discipline ignores everything but the bottom line. When you approach yourself with a friendly, forgiving attitude, your “failures” are no longer demonstrations of your inadequacy, but just part of being human. You can stay open to yourself and return back to the desire to love and take care of yourself no matter how far you might have gone astray. Be that good friend to yourself, and you’ll achieve a sense of inner support and affection you never imagined was possible. You’ll always feel at home.
Next post: Two little words that can change everything.
[Thanks to Lynn for the NYT article! ]