Who is this voice inside my head?
One of the fundamentals of human experience is thought. The frequently continuous stream of language happening in your own head. While that voice might seem innocuous it can be devastating over time the same way a river can wear away rock. In yoga we call this chitta vritti.
What is your inner voice saying? I will admit- mine gives me a lot of crap! Make it a point today to pay attention to what that voice is saying. What is the content, quality, and consistency?
“But it was in this moment, lying in bed late at night, that I first realized that the voice in my head — the running commentary that had dominated my field of consciousness since I could remember — was kind of an asshole.” — Dan Harris
Without even noticing it often that voice is giving us constant negative feedback and criticism. This can be especially pronounced with people who suffer from anxiety or depression. Is your own head a negative feedback loop or echo chamber? Here are a few ways to stop it:
1.) Physical exercise! The benefits of this practice are numerous! Cardio can not only help boost your natural "happy' chemicals but it can also be a break from whatever it is that is stressing you out. Double benefits if you are in nature. Try going for a brisk walk near trees and practice noticing your surroundings- the quality of the light, the sound of the wind through the leaves, the smell, etc.
2.) Along the same vein: forest bathing. There truly is something about being in nature that is rejuvenating.
3.) Adopt a dog! Dogs always live in the moment and are great at offering love and support. Additionally, taking your dogs for walks can be combined with the suggestions above. Make sure to get a dog that matches your activity level- if you tend to be a couch potato don't get a Husky because they need miles and miles of exercise everyday.
4.) Practice some asana. One of the key features of yoga is the union of the mind and body through the physical postures. By focussing the voice in your head to your breath, your posture, your dristi, your mudras, bondas, etc there is no room left for negative self-talk. Make sure that you go to a qualified yoga teacher though, and not just some franchise down the street that focuses on the physical gains.
5.) Meditation! As I mentioned in the last post practicing meditation & mindfulness is a great way to change your thoughts, brain structure, and life. Bringing mindfulness and awareness of your present presence is key to all of these suggestions. Here is a guided meditation that is less than 5 minutes and we all have time for that.
6.) Check your drinking- and I'm not talking about water. While popular culture is rife with "drink responsibly" and "studies" about what amount of which alcohol is "good for you" the reality is it alcohol is much higher risk than reward. If you already struggle with mental illness it is even more problematic. Perhaps you identify as a "social drinker"? Try keeping a journal for a few weeks documenting your alcohol consumption and feelings. I, myself, in the past found that my daily glass of wine was an emotional crutch for a unhealthy work situation. (DISCLAIMER: if you are seriously dependent on alcohol do not go "cold turkey" but check with medical professionals since the withdrawal can be fatal).
Chances are we all "self medicate" but you have a choice as to what you are doing it with: wine or exercise? Choose healthy habits to replace the unhealthy ones. Every time you crave a cigarette go for a quick jog/walk around the block. That voice might tell you that you "need" something but just take a breath and a moment to check that "need". When that innervoice is being an asshole notice that it is being an asshole and try not to take it personally.
That voice isn't YOU. Feel free to tell it to fuck off <3
Recently, a new trend has popped up: saying "thank you" instead of "sorry". I love this idea, but possibly not for reasons that you might expect. Neuralplasticity is a hot topic these days in science, daily life, mindfulness and yoga. A very brief explanation of this phenomena is: the brain changes. Sure, it is constantly doing this all of the time, BUT we can increase our skill and ability with even little things like changing our rote social habits. Why is this important? We have known for a long time that brain structure effects consciousness. Now, more and more science is showing us that consciousness effects brain structure (for a detailed discussion on what is consciousness check out this article). That means you CAN think your way to happiness. (This is not "fake it 'till you make it" which is inauthentic and ultimately leads to less happiness).
The brain changes... That means you CAN think your way to happiness.
Perhaps you clicked on and read the aforementioned article on consciousness by Dr. Axel Cleeremans, or maybe not (it is a very long article!). It talks about "The Radical Plasticity Thesis" which takes a detailed look at consciousness. First, it helps to understand that there aren't just the simple states of conscious and unconscious, but rather levels. Think of human development (whether or not animals are capable of meta-cognition, that is, aware of thinking of thoughts, is currently under debate). Babies are born with limited self-awareness, but somewhere in the second year of life the "I" concept really begins to appear. Scientists frequently measure this by testing to see if a baby can recognize themselves in a mirror. They place a smudge on the baby's face and put them in front of a full size mirror. At first they reach to the mirror, thinking that the smudge is on another baby's face. Around 18 months old babies begin to look in mirror and recognize that the smudge is on their own faces. Here is an article from Psychology Today that goes into the development of self-awareness. It also talks about how self-awareness and language are connected.
Okay, why is this important or even related? Some of you who have come to my asana classes may have been there for a yoga nidra session (stay tuned for a post about yoga nidra!) and will recognize these words "Beliefs determine our perceptions, perceptions determine feelings, feelings determine thoughts, thoughts determine our actions and our actions determine our reality. Thus, our past thoughts lead to our present personality, attitudes and perceptions in the same way that our present thoughts determine our future behavior, actions and reality." At a deeper and more scientific level the more we engage in certain thoughts the stronger that physical structure in the brain actually becomes. If you would like to know more about brain structure/anatomy click here.
Thus, our past thoughts lead to our present personality, attitudes and perceptions in the same way that our present thoughts determine our future behavior, actions and reality.
The "Savanna Principle" asserts that while society and the human experience has changed VASTLY in the past thousand years or so the human brain hasn't actually evolved at the same rate. Which means that we have reactions that are not entirely appropriate or even helpful. Fight, flight, or freeze was great for a caveman's threats (lion, moose, unknown humans), but not so for what we perceive as threats today. If your boss calls you into her or his office to talk about something it could be a threat to your livelihood but our innate response of fight/flight/freeze isn't going to fly. YET we can still get that adrenaline rush automatically.
Hello amygdala! This little structure near the brain stem is what activates when we are having our triple f response. The more we perceive a threat the stronger it gets. Hence anxiety one of the biggest obstacles to peace and happiness in society today. How do we break this cycle? There are a variety of ways!
Provider Based Options:
You can go see a professional for help! This isn't my favorite because there are a array of potential obstacles- cost/having insurance, making the time, having the courage to talk to a stranger about deeply personal issues.
~ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (one of the oldest and most supported in terms of evidence for treatment)
~ Eye Movement, Desensitization & Reprocessing (I have heard personal anecdotes from people I know about this being effective)
~ BreakThrough (I have experienced personal benefit from this method)
~ Micro-Dosing (this is to offer information I am not endorsing illicit substances or encouraging anyone to break laws) More info here
Home/Self Based Options:
I like these because you can do at home by yourself for free (but requires a lot of attention and dedication).
~ Positive self talk (Do you realize the amount of negative things you say to yourself everyday? From something as small as a sarcastic "good one" to full on berating yourself for a mistake)
~ Meditation (!!!) My personal favorite AND there is A LOT of support for the benefits!
Where to begin? Like a lot of people you might feel intimated by meditation. Don't have hours a day to spare? Can't sit in full lotus? GREAT NEWS! You can STILL meditate!! I would recommend starting with a 1 minute timer, sitting in a comfortable position (floor, chair, couch, lying down, whatever as long as your spine is straight so the diaphragm has optimal mobility) and just focusing on your breath.
You can definitely do that for 60 seconds. Add a minute every few days- every little bit helps!
Super-techy person? Guess what! There's an app for that! (I hear great things about Insight Timer).
There are a million different techniques you can check out to find one that resonates with you! Personally, I like:
~Anapana (feel free to ignore their instructions on posture and use your own position)
~ mantra meditation (I like "so hum", the silent mantra. Thinking "so" on the inhale and "hum" on the exhale. "So hum" means "I am that". I am that which is infinite: all we are is matter, all matter is is energy, and all energy IS infinite throughout the universe).
STILL FEELING INTIMIDATED?
Google local resources! Call a yoga studio and ask if they offer meditation instructionals. Check out on-line resources like YouTube!
Kelsey enjoys researching and discussing. These posts are based on her research and are open for discussion! Enjoy! (For the record the credit for the title goes to one of Kelsey's favorite authors: Douglas Adams).