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Here are 3 ways I am retraining my brain that are beginning to shift my inner voice from a harsh abuser to a kind supporter.
It’s a new buzzword. I know. But it works! In low, self-sabotaging moments I can look around the room and say, Thank you. Thank you for my cozy home. Thank you for the food in my fridge. Thank you for my sweet and soulful 8-year-old daughter. Thank you for my breath. And on and on it goes. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to boost our mood, sending endorphins to the brain and increasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude instantly shifts our mindset out of the victim role and into an empowered, co-creator role. Gratitude increases compassion for self and others. Saying thank you makes life your friend, not your enemy.
Like gratitude, research has also proven that mindfulness shifts our mood and de-stresses us. We can move from that sympathetic (fight or flight mode) into parasympathetic (relaxed mode) by simply using our senses to focus on the present moment.
A Mindfulness Practice:
Take a deep breath right now and notice the sound of your in-breath. Now hold it for a moment. Now exhale out through your mouth very slowly. Notice the sound of the exhale. Now take a mindful breath in again, noticing the temperature of the breath. Exhale out through the nose and notice the temperature. Is it different with the in-breath than with the out-breath? We can move through the breath awareness this way using all the senses. After a few minutes of this, you forget about the fact that your mind was just stressing you out. Maybe you already feel more relaxed after just reading and practicing?
After doing mindfulness practice for even a short period of time, thoughts and feelings begin to soften. We give our whole selves space to be breathed. There are so many apps (I like Insight Timer and Calm) that offer free mindfulness practices. Studies show even 10 minutes of mindfulness a day can begin to reduce stress levels.
Yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong or some form of mindful movement —
A practice where you move mindfully in a breath-guided way relaxes the nervous system, quiets the mind and melts the heart open. Sometimes this mindful movement can make us more emotional. As a yoga instructor for over a decade, I’ve had plenty of meltdown moments on the mat in my own practice where tears flowed from who knows where.
There is now research showing emotions do get stored in tissues. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book, Your Body Keeps the Score is a game-changer — and his research on how trauma is stored in the body is changing the way psychology views somatic work. Specific yoga poses (like hip openers) can release deeply stored tension and unprocessed emotion. I’ve observed many students crying in practice. Emotional release is a healthy part of mindful movement practice.
My learned self-abuse has no doubt taken a toll on my nervous system. I’ve experienced my mind roaring at me on my yoga mat, and, as I stay with my breath, that roar either turns to tears or melts into joy in an instant as the sensations in my body shift and move through my tissues. It’s really a miraculous process to observe. And the beauty of any mindful movement practice is that connects the body, heart, and mind. Practitioners feel a sense of peace and connection with self that affects their lives away from the practice itself.
Humans are highly emotional beings with deep-thinking minds.
Our minds can be our best friends or our worst enemies in an instant. My experience with meditation has shown me that the movements of the mind are akin to a band of wild horses. It takes patience and perseverance to tame the wild horse mind. It takes compassion to find patience for the taming process. It takes grounded presence in the skin you’re in to remember you always have a choice.
Our thoughts may run rampant, but we choose the ones we decide to entertain. In my own self-compassion work, I’m learning to choose differently.
My all-time favorite quote is Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” To me, it speaks to this process. Realizing every moment we can choose differently. What if the world had this realization one soul at a time? In my idealistic fantasy, a world where every soul chose differently would end the cycle of self-abuse.
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world
~Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World
We have to be the change. As I move out of the dungeon and into the light of day, I have hope that other humans will join me.
Won’t you join me?