Meditation to Quiet your Inner Critic

Recently, I blogged about quieting your inner critic. It’s that little voice inside your head that tells you that you aren’t good enough, attractive enough or successful enough. Thankfully, we can use our Yogic tools and the 8 Limbs of Yoga to stop these false messages and enjoy the confidence we deserve.

One of our strongest Yogic tools to help us silence our inner critic is the use of meditation.  Studies have shown that those suffering from poor self-esteem showed an improvement in this quality after regular meditation.  One study conducted at the University of Bamberg in Germany reported that those with over-inflated egos became more modest after 3 weeks of regular meditation, while those with low self-esteem enjoyed more confidence during this same period.  It appears that meditation helps us see ourselves in a more realistic light.  This same study reported that participants’ capacity to feel regret increased, while their readiness to feel guilt and shame decreased.  Ah, their inner critics got quiet, while their willingness to be more compassionate, giving people increased.

How Does Meditation Work?

There are many components, some of which I suspect are yet to be discovered.  What we do know is that meditation releases tension from the mind and body, allowing us to feel more confident about our physical bodies and helping us establish a spiritual connection.  This connection and confidence encourages us to realize our worth and takes our focus off external items, such as physical looks, finances, social status, education level and other superficial circumstances.  Once we turn away from these surface issues, we can connect to the true beauty within us – the gifts we share with the world around us.

In addition to quieting our inner critic, research shows that meditation helps the physical body.  Meditation affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls our breath, heartbeat, digestion and other involuntary responses. The autonomic nervous system consists of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.  The sympathetic nervous system is our ‘fight or flight’ response, and prepares our bodies for emergencies, vigorous muscular activities and stress.  The parasympathetic nervous system is dominant during non-stressful situations, allowing digestion and a slower heart rate.  Unfortunately, most of us spend too much time with our sympathetic nervous system over-stimulated due to stress.  This chronic state of overstimulation leads to excess production of cortisol and other hormones, which has a detrimental effect on the body. Meditation helps us invoke our parasympathetic nervous system, which alleviates the excess production of hormones, which, when dumped into the body in excess, can harm the body.

How Do I Begin?

Now that we have an understanding of how meditation may help develop self-esteem and put our inner critic to rest, let’s look at how we can get started in an easy meditation practice.  However, before we think about meditation methods (the ‘how to’ part of meditation), let’s get our mindset to a place of acceptance and mindfulness.  If we accept that we are not our physical bodies or personalities, but are spiritual creatures currently relating to physical bodies and the attributes that manifest as personality, we can let our innate qualities unfold to foster spiritual growth.  As long as we are wrapped up in the idea that we are our bodies or personalities, we will never allow our spiritual nature to mature.  Our attachment to our physical bodies and personal characteristics holds us hostage from growth, because we will always fall short of an impossible standard we’ve set for ourselves.  Instead, we should detach from these components and connect to the part of us that knows we are in union with the Universe or God.

Getting Started

To begin your meditation practice, find a comfortable, quiet place where you can be undisturbed.  Many people like to create a sacred space or alter.  I’ve seen small closets converted into meditation spaces, so anywhere you have enough room to sit will work fine.

In loose clothing and bare feet, sit in a cross-legged or comfortable position on a firm cushion.  Place your hands in your lap or on your knees (except possibly during the cleansing breathes described below).  Cushions made specifically for meditation are usually the most comfortable, as they provide the right amount of support and are at a comfortable height for most of us.  You may use candles or essential oils if that helps you relax or focus.

If you are disabled, chronically ill, or unable to sit for any reason, you may lie on your back for your meditation practice.  If you are in a wheelchair, you may choose to sit in your chair or to lie in a supine position.  If you are lying down, place your hands gently on your stomach.

You may wish to begin with a prayer or simply setting an intention for your meditation.  Then, take a few deep, cleansing breaths, possibly employing a three-part breath by filling the bottom, then middle, then top part of the lungs, and exhaling from the top, then middle, then bottom of the lung.  Place one hand on the belly and the other on the chest to feel the breath coming in and out of the body in that order.

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana meditation is an effective technique that is easy for beginners to learn.  Vipassana is a Buddhist tradition, but can be practiced by anyone.  It is the ultimate expression of “know thyself” or to see things clearly.  During this meditation, we focus on the breath without trying to change the breath.  If we notice outside distractions, we simply acknowledge them and return to our breath focus.

We begin by directing our attention one or two inches above the navel at the midline of the body.  As we breathe in, the abdomen expands or rises, and as we breathe out, the abdomen contracts or falls. Begin to observe the rise and fall of the abdomen with each inhalation and exhalation.  Don’t judge or try to describe the movement; simply restrict your attention to the present moment.  Let go of worries and concerns and stay present.  Don’t think about the rising and falling of the abdomen; just know it is happening – create an awareness of it.

If you are new to meditation, you might try to start with 5 minutes.  You can set a timer so you won’t be tempted to check the time.  This may seem like a long session when you first start, but soon it will go by quickly and then you can extend it to 10 or 15 minutes until you are at a session that suits your schedule.  Many people meditate for 45-60 minutes.

At the end of your meditation, allow yourself a few moments to gently move and come out of your meditative state slowly.  Scheduling meditation, perhaps first thing in the morning or before bedtime, will help you make meditation a habit, just like brushing your teeth or eating your meals.

Once you start reaping the benefits of meditation, you won’t want to miss your session.  Please remember that it takes time to feel the benefits and that regular practice is the key.  You can’t expect life changing improvements overnight, but you will reap the gains if you make a commitment to your meditation practice and stick with it.

(C) By Mary Irby of White Crow Yoga 

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