Tender November

Tender November

Warning: This blog post mentions mental health and may be triggering if that is something you struggle with. Read with caution.


November is upon us. Which means at least in some places, the barrage of holidays are here. This season can be full of family and fun, but for many there is also an undertone of stress and baggage. When faced with some of these hard and emotional situations, finding compassion not only for the people you are dealing with but also for yourself can be a struggle.

I thought it would be fitting to explore this idea of compassion and tenderness in my yoga offerings this month. We will be focusing a bit more on shapes that naturally open the heart, the physical manifestation of our own compassion center. But the physical body is only part of the story. This idea of compassion and tenderness can also be held in the mind.

Do you often find yourself judging others? How they live their lives, not understanding choices they have made. This is particularly tough when you love someone and just want the best for them, but this judgement can also be a huge source of tension. How can you bring compassion and tenderness to this situation? Sometimes just approaching with an open mind and open heart can be the best first step. Practicing yoga can help us to feel more comfortable in uncomfortable situations and teach us to notice those judgemental thoughts instead of just feeling their effects on the body.

Before I go any further, please know that I am NOT a trained psychologist or psychiatrist. All the practices I am about to mention are from personal experience and are meant to just be tools in the toolbox. If you find yourself struggling with any kind of nagging negative thoughts, please get the professional support you need to feel safe before trying anything else.

The best place to start is also the hardest, with our own minds. What are some things that you are always judging yourself about? How you look, weight, actions that you just can't help taking? All of these thoughts can build up a wall of anger that comes out at the most inopportune moments. They can become all consuming, take away the joy from your everyday life and even start to manifest as physical ailments without any known cause. So how to we stop them?

One way is to start a meditation practice. The reason meditation can be so hard is because the mind can be a scary place when left to it's own devices. People usually think you need to be sitting still in order to meditate.That is one variation, but you can also meditate as you are moving, which may be more accessible at first. Maybe start by taking something physical that you are doing anyway and choose to focus on the sensations in the body as you do it. For example, if you live on the second floor, dedicate the time you spend going up and down the stairs for mindfulness. Cooking is another good place for mindfulness. Really any activity when your mind naturally wanders. When your mind does wander, notice where it goes. Then come back to what you are doing. There, you are meditating.

The next step is to truly notice what those intruding thoughts are. If you find that they are judgements, you can go a step further and maybe negate them. For example, if the thought comes to mind " I didn't get enough done today," notice that is a judgement and maybe explore what you did get done or why you needed a break. Explore the thought with compassion for yourself and watch those feelings melt away. Take the time to recognize that in every moment you have a choice. Sometimes it doesn't feel that way, but even if you are making a choice in order to avoid a circumstance that you don't want it is still a choice. If you wake up every morning and think "I don't want to go to work" then of course you are not going to feel good about what you are doing. But working is a choice, there are a lot of people in this world who don't and they live with those consequences. So if you re-frame the thought " I am choosing to go to work today so that I can go to that concert tonight." or "so that I can eat the food I like" or "so that I can live in this house/apartment/community." The way you think about the things in your life can change how you feel about them, and you do have some control over that.

Of course there is more to it than that. Changing your own self talk can take a lot of energy, patience and COMPASSION! Allowing yourself to start fresh with each thought. Giving yourself space to make mistakes and recognize them without scolding yourself, but to be able to be OK where you currently are on your journey.

Making these kinds of changes is not easy. It takes time and perseverance. Once you do though, it is amazing to feel the difference changing your own perspective  can make in your daily life. Helping you to be present for the moments that really matter and letting go of all the nonsense that doesn't. I personally became much less angry and frustrated with the world and the situations I felt were thrown at me. It is a constant struggle though, that is why it is a practice. It is ok to have an off day, or week, or year. If you look at each day as a fresh start, you can let go of that judgment and just focus on today.

I know I have mentioned it before, but Anne of Green Gables has a beautiful quote embodying this idea "Tomorrow is a new day, with no mistakes in it... yet." So, go live today the best you can.

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