It Can Be Different Inside Your Head

Can't seem to focus these days? You could have pandemic brain

Although it may seem obvious to some, it can be a revelation to others when they find out that their inner, mental landscape does not have to be the way that it currently is. For me, that realization came in the form of anxiety medication. I was blown away at the change in thought I was noticing solely from introducing new chemicals into my body. If we haven’t ever experienced a huge mental shift like this, it may not occur to us that it’s even possible to think differently. We assume that this is just the way our minds work, and at least for me, I also assumed everyone else’s mind worked in a similar way.

The universe of experiences you can conceive of really cracks wide open after you realize that vast untapped potential within your own mind. I find it funny that even though change is the only real constant in this world, we all seem to get stuck in the mindset that things will always be the way they are right now. We don’t realize how much change is actually possible and inevitable. It’s not often that we stop and consider the ways in which our own perception of the world around us has the potential to change. Especially if we’ve been stuck in one particular pattern of thought for all of our lives.

I’m writing this post today to help free you from the constraints of your own inner world. Sometimes all it takes is understanding that things can be different. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that everyone reading this start taking an SSRI like I did. That is something for you and your doctor to decide. However, we don’t need medication to experience these brain changes. The same positive results can be achieved with practice and persistence with the help of a therapist or even on our own. These changes may not always be as fast or drastic as the ones noticed after starting a medication, but they are just as significant. We just may have to take the time to reflect on the difference between where we are now and where we were a few years ago.

This is where I believe the misconception of “choice” comes in. I used to become so frustrated when I’d hear people say, “You’ve just got to decide to be happy” or “We get to choose how we react to the things that happen in our lives.” Up until a few years ago, it didn’t feel like I had a choice at all. Not only that, I felt as if I was being blamed for the unpleasant emotional experiences I was having even though I didn’t want to be having them.

Even though I can now see the truth in these statements, I still think the language we use to present these ideas needs some tweaking. In the beginning, we may not have a choice in how we feel. After running on autopilot for most of our lives, it isn’t going to be easy to switch off those largely unconscious reactions. It takes a lot of work to train the mental muscles we need to redirect ourselves and start dismantling those automatic responses. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time before that work actually starts to make a noticeable difference. Think of it like a ship crossing the ocean. Even though you’re moving forward and making progress, it is going to look the same for a good long while. One day the shore will finally appear though. You may not even know what to expect in this foreign land, but just keep going. Trust that you will see dry ground eventually.

Without understanding this, a lot of people give up on themselves before even starting or before they’ve taken the time to set the groundwork for visible results. It’s important that we remind people that even though it is a long, difficult journey, it’s worth it, and with consistency and dedication, change is inevitable. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself and the science enough to take the first step.

Finally, realizing how much the inner workings of our own minds can change has also allowed me to offer others more grace. When you imagine that for the most part we all think in a similar way, it can be downright infuriating when people behave in ways or think things that we cannot understand. It is humbling to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in the minds of those around us. Not only does it help me accept the differences I see in others, it also fills me with excitement and curiosity. What might it be like inside someone else’s head?

Wherever you are in life, I hope that you come to understand just how different things could be inside yourself. Whether that inspires you to work for change, helps you be more grateful for the way your mind is already working, or simply helps you offer loving kindness to others, we can all benefit from the reminder that things can be different inside your head.

False Narratives

What are some of the lies that you tell yourself? Maybe they don’t even seem like lies to you. We all have a personal narrative. It is probably unknown by those around us and maybe we ourselves have a hard time recognizing what that narrative is. After all it never feels like a story we are creating. Most of the time that inner voice talking to us seems like an honest assessment and observation of reality, no matter how cruel or warped it may actually be. But this story only has as much power as we give to it. All stories have the potential to be interpreted in a completely different way if we only allow our minds to open to the possibilities.

One of the lies my inner voice loves to use is: I can’t be nice to myself, not while I’m such a train wreck at least. I have to be mean and critical of myself in order to motivate myself to do better. Otherwise I would never do anything or make any progress in my life. Up until yesterday, I never even questioned that narrative. Even when I tried to rationalize or reason with it, it was more about how to prioritize self love and self compassion over personal progress towards my other goals. I was still working within the lines of the false narrative I’d been feeding myself.

Then I heard someone talking about that very narrative from a different perspective. I was initially just relieved to realize that other people told themselves similar stories. The best part was that moment of clarity when this person explained why this story is laughable on its face. So if you are someone who tells yourself the same type of story, take a moment to really think about it with me. Remember when you were a child? If not, do you see how children in your adult life behave? Do those children seem unmotivated? Were you unmotivated? Of course not! Children are full of energy and curiosity and motivation and enthusiasm. Do you think they need a harsh, demanding inner voice to be that way? Did your harsh inner voice even exist within you when you were a child? I know mine didn’t and I was much happier and quite frankly, more productive, back then.

All along I was buying into the false dichotomy my inner voice was offering me. Be mean to yourself or surrender your goals and aspirations for yourself. Even in that scenario, it wouldn’t be worth continuing to not love myself in exchange for being successful. I was having a hard time convincing myself of that though. It is such a relief to know that I don’t even have to choose one over the other. Being kind to myself isn’t going to turn me into a lazy blob with no aspirations or motivation. It will probably even do the exact opposite. Just imagine how much more energy I’d have to work toward what I want to be working toward if I wasn’t using it all up being anxious and/or angry with myself all the time.

I feel so much freer after realizing the absurdity of just that one lie my inner voice was preaching. I’m sure there are many more false narratives in my head to unravel. The next time my inner voice is telling me something that makes me feel badly about myself, instead of just accepting it as fact, I want to challenge it. If it’s too hard to disengage from in the moment, it might also be a good idea to simply write down what your inner voice is telling you in that moment. Then once you’ve gotten some space from the situation, you can come back and take a look at what you wrote down. I hope we can all learn to listen to our own inner voice in a neutral, passive way so that we may learn something new about ourselves and hopefully discover new ways to improve our lives and our relationship with ourself.

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Healing Through Yoga

As I’ve mentioned before, I began yoga for pretty superficial reasons. For years, my practice was about changing my body, trying to make it fit into a certain mold through simply practicing different shapes. Yet, even with a practice that hasn’t yet scratched the surface of yoga, it is impossible to avoid receiving some of the more spiritual benefits. Even without meaning to, you start to drop into the breath. You start to really become acquainted with it, maybe for the first time. You have moments of perfect peace, of true presence of mind. In the beginning, these were just pleasantly surprising pluses from my practice, not the focus of it.

Throughout the years my practice has grown. At times it almost feels like a completely different activity all together from those first forays, which I would now think of more as simply stretching. Back then yoga was all about the body. Now it is also about the mind and spirit. It is incredible how much this mental shift has changed my practice. On the outside, it may look identical, but now I am able to more fully absorb all the goodness yoga offers me and use it to heal.

I no longer care to push myself into my fullest expression of every pose when I lay out my mat each day. I am not trying to prove something to myself or anyone with my practice anymore. If I learn to do a handstand without a wall to support me, that’s great, but these types of things are no longer the types of goals I set for myself. Now it is more about what I would learn on the way towards such a goal. How do I deal with frustration? How to I react when confronted with limitations? Can I be patient? Can I embrace where I am now? Can I be resilient? Can I persevere in the face of adversity, of failure? Can I trust? Now most of the work is going on inside of me. When you approach your practice (and life itself) in this way, no effort is “wasted.” If after years of working towards a handstand, I never quite make it, that’s perfectly okay. I will still have gained so much through my efforts.

Now it isn’t about how a pose looks. It is more about how a pose feels. How it affects the breath. What thoughts come up? Can I allow them to pass through me without clinging to them or pushing them away? Can I find the perfect balance between effort and ease? Can I notice what my body needs today? This inner work, this is what yoga is truly about. Truthfully, learning how to do impressive physical feats is cool, but ultimately doesn’t matter much in life. What we really learn from yoga is how to live. I am much better off having done all of that inner work and never being able to do a handstand than if I learned how to do a perfect handstand but nothing else.

Yoga allows us to explore what it means to exist in this body, with this mind, through this breath, right now. It teaches us how to cope with life’s struggles, how to more fully savor life’s gifts, how to work through anger and frustration and sorrow, how to be there for ourselves. In my opinion, yoga is therapy. Except you are the therapist and the client. You design and guide yourself through your own healing journey. After all, who is better equipped for this than you? All of the answers that we seek are already within us. Yoga teaches us how to tap into that wisdom, how to listen to the body, to the heart.

I still have a lot to learn, but each moment is a lesson. Not only during my work on the mat, but off it as well. True yoga isn’t left behind when we step out of the studio. We try our best to take it with us into the rest of our life as well. When you stay mindful, every moment can be part of your practice.

All of this, this is the reason I became a yoga teacher. I am overcome with gratitude whenever I think about this gift of yoga that has been passed down through the ages, eventually finding its way to me. I simply had to do whatever I could to share this gift with others. It is my sincere hope that this beautiful practice continues to help the whole world to heal. I will keep doing my part by learning how to heal myself through this ancient art and passing it along to others so that they may begin their own healing.

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