They say that you teach what you need to know.
Often, so many of us do what we do - whether that’s training for a job or starting our own business or volunteering - because at one point in our lives, in tougher times, we needed the person we’ve become.
In my life, that could not be more true. For so many of my 30 years on earth, I felt that suffering was somehow part of my identity.
No matter what, I could not give myself a break. My negative self-talk was always turned up to 11. My first instinct was to criticise myself at every turn: for being slow, stupid, needy, thick, too much, not enough, fat, greedy, selfish, dissatisfied, too loud, spoiled, too slow-to-learn, too-quick-to-love, too annoying. I told myself it all, and more.
I hated the way I looked - my body, my face. Despite appearing outwardly successful - “good” grades, “good” university, “good” jobs, a “happy” smile - my inner monologue tore me down at every opportunity, and it affected my life insidiously.
I’d self-sabotage, wonder why I was never happy, and eat my feelings. I’d have great relationships, only to somehow watch them fail. I’d get jobs and instantly feel miserable, becoming unproductive and angry.
And all because I wasn’t on my own side. In a world that is constantly telling you that you’re not good enough, adding your own voice to that cacophony is not a winning strategy. Yet, so many of us do it.
We believe the negative crap; we absorb unhelpful or harsh messages from school or workplace bullies, or we even tell ourselves that if we give ourselves a break, we’ll lose our “edge”. We feel that we actually NEED that critical inner monologue, because without it, we might just lie around in bed all day, get nothing done, disappoint everyone, and confirm that we aren’t good enough.
It all comes back to that classic saboteur: fear.
Happily, however, adopting a positive inner voice won’t get rid of your “edge”, but it will certainly make you happier and healthier, and nicer to be around - not only for others, but also for yourself.
They say you teach what you need; well, one of the major reasons I now teach mindfulness meditation for women is because of this central principle of self-acceptance. It’s exactly what I needed, when I was so used to being so hard on myself, it was actually making me ill.
From mindfulness meditation’s acceptance of the present, and the constant reminder to come back to yourself whenever you get distracted, comes self-forgiveness. A change in that self-criticism habit.
A letting go of self-criticism, gratitude towards others, and an embrace of yourself as only human.
We learn to release our grip on self-critical thoughts, our powerlessness in the face of harsh negative spirals, and focus our mind on more positive visualisations and outcomes.
Through mindfulness meditation, we learn to accept ourselves as we are - good and bad - and from there, clear the way for our mind to become a calmer, healthier, less cluttered, more productive, less critical, and happier space.
We literally bring a breath of fresh air to those tight, critical places. We breathe out, finally, after years of holding it in.
Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, the Buddha said, and even if your meditation is as secular as a Sunday in bed, mindfulness principles can work wonders.
Here are 5 meditation techniques to help you drop the criticism, and love yourself more.
1) Embody self-belief
Setting yourself up for a forgiving, strong practice is the first step. Sit comfortably, with your back upright. Relax your shoulders and back, and focus on gravity grounding you downwards. Gently lift your chin towards the sky, without adding tension. Align your body so your core feels strong.
You are quite literally embodying rootedness and self-trust. Your body is confident, and unwavering; and so are you. Check in on your posture as you go, relaxing and aligning in turn.
2) Forgive yourself for distraction
This one is key. So much of meditation practice is about learning to come back to the body and the breath, time and time and time and time again, even when distractions strike. Our mind is never still, and will absolutely get distracted countless times per session, perhaps even by the negative thoughts we want to avoid.
Retraining our mind to discard unhelpful thoughts, and let go, is the very core of meditation. Every time you notice, don’t scold yourself or tell yourself you’re “no good at this”. Acknowledge the distraction, let it go, forgive yourself, and come back. Practise. Repeat.
3) Focus on your breath
As well as posture, noticing your breathing is a classic technique to draw on when meditating for self-compassion. Not only has concentrating on your breathing been linked to feelings of calm and serenity, scientific studies have also shown that mindfulness-style breathing can lower blood pressure, and send signals to your brain that you’re okay and everything is fine.
It also provides another anchor to return to when you get distracted, and the simple act of doing it gives your critical mind something else to focus on. Notice the sound, the temperature, where you feel it in your body, the rhythm. Relax.
4) Try a body scan
A classic mindfulness meditation technique that connects mind with body and allows us to find a haven within our own self. With your eyes closed, “zone in” your attention on each part of your body in turn, from your head to the tips of your toes. You can go as quickly, slowly; detailed or not as possible (e.g. head, neck, shoulders, back; or top of head, forehead, brow, ears, nose, lips, chin, etc).
Don’t judge each part, or let yourself get distracted by pain or discomfort. Just focus on how it feels. Is there any tension? Are you gripping anywhere? Warm? Cold? Allowing yourself to find calm within your body, and learning to appreciate it without judging is a powerful technique, especially for those of us who have struggled with body confidence in the past.
5) Visualise yourself to greatness
So many people love this technique because it can leave you feeling different every time you do it; powerful, peaceful, serene, confident, happy - whatever it is, it can amplify the sensations positively, for incredible results. Whether you visualise yourself walking in a secret garden; standing on top of a mountain bathed in light; under a warm shower or succeeding at your favourite hobby - choose somewhere that feels safe, warm and vibrant, and tune in to the sensations.
Breathe, visualise, and return to your grounded, rooted posture. You’re good enough, you’re safe, you’re powerful, you’re golden. You’ve got this - criticising yourself will only slow the newly-positive, powerful you down…
Hannah Jane Thompson is a personalised mindfulness meditation coach at BreatheLikeABadass.com