“Kindness begins at home.” – Rick Hanson, PhD, psychologist, JOT (Just One Thing)
For years she ran and raced and won. One entire closet was filled with trophies and ribbons, abundant evidence of her skill and speed. Her body performed amazing feats as she propelled herself like a mythical winged creature. For her, however, it was never enough. She was always reaching but never clasping. Despite the many trophies and the runner’s high, she finished each run certain that she had somehow missed the mark. Recently she had begun to feel deeply unsettled, unable to find peace or experience joy. She felt divided inside, at war with herself. Together we set out to heal the inner divide.
She was certain she was not doing the posture correctly and her breathing was all wrong. Her hamstrings were not cooperating, her outfit was outdated and she was ashamed that she could not reach her toes. These thoughts repeated over and over as she pushed and reached and grunted and gasped.
“I’m so mean to myself!” she cried as she listened to her thoughts. “Not just mean but downright cruel!” After a long pause she murmured, “I sound just like Coach and I’m not even running.”
I asked her to ease up a bit in her posture, to stop pushing and relax, bringing her focus to her breath. Inhale. Exhale. Iiiiiinnnhaaaale. Exxxxhaaaaale. After a few moments of quiet and several deep breaths, the tears began to flow.
Through her tears she clearly recognized the voice of her earliest coach, a surrogate father figure, someone she desperately wanted to please. She ran and ran but Coach never provided healthy encouragement and always pushed for more. Whatever she did, it was never enough. Decades later, Coach was long gone but his punishing dialog still punctuated each foot fall and pushed her to exhaustion. She was still reaching but never clasping. Many years later, she was still not enough.
Together we shaped a new self-dialog, a script of neutral and kind words she spoke to herself daily, infused with encouragement and abundant self-care. She not only repeated this new language as she ran but also spent time meditating on how she would feel if she knew that her kinder script was in fact true. This way of thinking of herself was foreign and uncomfortable for quite some time, but she persisted until eventually this inner banter became her natural way of thinking. With a new appreciation for her body, she began to listen more closely to what it needed and took better care of her self as well. On her yoga mat, she integrated a far kinder relationship with, and a gentler response to, her physical self.
(2) BE KIND TO THE BODY – With a kinder inner banter, she continued her yoga practice, deepening her awareness of her physical body. Where her relationship with her body had long been only about More! and Faster!, time on her yoga mat taught her about listening and adapting. She began to realize that the fullest expression of her yoga postures could sometimes be found in easing back a bit, not reaching and pushing but rather being kind to her body and finding peace in the pose.
As she listened more closely to her physical needs, she cut back on her running schedule and dedicated more time to rest and nourishment, ease and self-care. After years of running with a concerned expression and deeply furrowed brow, she began to smile as she ran and to delight in the beauty of her surroundings. She no longer ate simply to improve her race times, she began to taste her food and delight in the aromas, feeling deep gratitude for the ability to nourish her body.
(3) BE HERE NOW – As she released the voices of the past and listened to her body, she began to spend more time in the present moment, right here and now. She no longer felt constantly chased and berated, always reaching for what was illusive. When she ran, it was no longer about chasing the unattainable or pleasing someone else. She now ran for the joy of it, for the wondrous abilities of her physical body, for the peace running brought her and for the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of her surroundings. Running was transformed from a form of punishment to a moving meditation. In this transformation, she found joy.
TODAY’S OUTER WORLD AND THE INNER DIVIDE – For too many of us, our inner world reflects the media-driven divided outer world. TVs blare non-stop stories and images designed to insite, ignite, infuriate and divide. Our gadget-obsession dumps a steady stream of drama, unkindness and unpleasantness into our consciousness, without filter. As we give all our waking attention to fighting, tragedy, blaming and dividing, we bring it all inward, unconsciously drawing the battle inside. We swim daily between ruminating on a past that cannot be changed or projecting an imagined future that has not yet arrived, devoid of resources to filter and protect. None of this noise has the ability to improve our lives, yet we continue to scroll, post, numb, ruminate, ‘share’ and project. As a result, we are rarely present to the NOW, the only opportunity we have to actively heal the brokenness and create what we truly want.
AND NOW THE GOOD NEWS – As humans, by design, we are made to heal. Every cell is programmed for growth and healing. We are extraordinarily resilient and creative when we choose to treat the body kindly. When we harness our inner dialog and bring our awareness to the present, we take back the reigns and set our own course. Uniting the body and mind through our breath and awareness, we bring together our greatest resources. By uniting our whole selves with the neutral, non-judging present moment, we can observe and see clearly, making a space for a new reality and for what is possible.