Perhaps you've seen corny, comedic affirmations, like Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live saying: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me/" Cute and funny, maybe.
Wouldn't it be great it our frequent self affirmations were positive like Stuart Smalley's? Instead, we say things like: “No one will ever love me if I don’t have the perfect body” “I’m a failure” “I’m too old to pursue the life I want” “I don’t deserve abundance” “This person treats me badly so I must be unlovable” and on and on. These voices become so habitual that we hardly notice them. They become a Samskara- a deep groove in a record we play in our heads over and over until we believe these painful lies.
Believing these negative voices is a form of violence to ourselves, counter to the yogic teaching of Ahmisa or non-violence. Practicing self-acceptance and compassion feel much more peaceful and so much better than self-loathing. However, negative thoughts have a lot of momentum. How do we turn that large ship around? It takes some effort, but we can ‘program’ our minds to think positive thoughts. But how?
First, identify the negative thought. (Let’s use the example ‘I don’t like my body’) It can also be helpful to see the complex network of assumptions and actions you have taken because you have held this negative thought. It can be quite astounding. (‘My body is unacceptable to me and must be to everyone else. Other people judge me and I am not lovable. I wonder if my spouse loves me. I stay at home because I don’t want anyone to see my unacceptable body”).
Then, sit with the negative feeling, and practice Breathing, Feeling, Relaxing, Watching and Allowing. (In this example, you might feel an initial resistance to feel anything inside your body because that is what is unacceptable after all! You might feel nauseated and not at home in your body. You realize this is a very familiar feeling that has been with you since you were a child when you got messages from society that you weren’t good enough - but instead sit with the discomfort with compassion for yourself).
Then as you relax, try to also feel the peaceful feeling. Then feel into what you would want to feel instead of that negative thought and try to put it into a short phrase. (‘I wish I could feel at home in my body’ to maybe “I love my body’ or “I am at home in my body” yes, that feels right) Try it a few times and see if it feels like it has healing energy for you. If not, rework the phrase again until you get it right. (I’m at home in my body, I’m at home in my body) You will know if it feels right when you say it to yourself you feel relaxed and peaceful.
Then, the real work comes. We are reprogramming the mind to make new neural pathways, so repetition and putting emotion into it is key to making this new feeling a reality for you. You say this affirmation, over and over until it finally becomes the truth for you. Think of the thought but also FEEL the feeling of the new thought. That kicks into neural pathways and makes it real (so as you are saying “I’m at home in my body” you feel what it would be like to feel at home in your body. You may feel vibrant and alive or content and peaceful and appreciating your body just as it is.)
Catch yourself when you fall into the old habits of believing the old thoughts and say the positive affirmation again. It will be hard because the old way of thinking is a long-standing habit and you probably have some beliefs that they are true. (“My body truly is unacceptable—isn’t it? No! I am at home in my body” that feels more peaceful). At first, saying the positive affirmation will feel phony and untrue. The positive affirmation may also bring up a lot of old, painful feelings. Continue to sit with them and ‘ride the wave’ of the discomfort. At this point, you are bringing conscious awareness into it and the painful feelings are like a boil that is building up pressure until it pops and releases its’ grip on you. The positive affirmation is purifying your thoughts and helping you stay in the peace zone as you experience the wave of intensity so that you can neutralize it and not have to live under its’ spell any longer.
About Tiffany Chan
Tiffany Chan is an E-RYT 500 and has been teaching yoga since 1995. She is co-owner of Anjali Yoga, a yoga teacher training program based in the Kripalu tradition. She teaches a stress management class through Indiana Regional Medical Center called ‘Mindfulness Now.' She is interested in how yoga techniques help us handle our challenging stressors and emotions in life. She also enjoys biking, paddleboarding, writing, traveling and hanging out with friends.