Wednesday 28 September 2016

Katie Byrne: Cut yourself some slack in 2016

Cut yourself some slack in 2016

Published 12/01/2016 | 02:30

Enjoy Yoga but respect your limits.
Enjoy Yoga but respect your limits.

It was hard to find a spot at the yoga class I attended on January 2.

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The class was full to the brim with students who had also decided to offset the festive indulgence. There would be no more sleep-ins, fry-ups or blow-outs... enough was enough.

There was a sense of urgency in the room, though - a feeling that we all wanted to overcompensate for the overconsumption of Quality Street and Merlot over Christmas.

The teacher - Emma of Yoga Dublin - picked up on the frenetic energy. She could sense the brutish determination as she looked around the room - and she knew from experience what this meant for our bodies.

"Remember that we've been partying for four weeks," she reminded us. "Take it easy."

It was on that note that she told us that the class would be practised in the spirit of ahimsa, which is Sanskrit for 'non-injury'.

Ahimsa is the first, and possibly the most self-explanatory, of the yamas, which are essentially guidelines for life found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Broadly speaking, ahimsa means not causing harm to others. However, in this case, the teacher was reminding us to be gentle and non-injurious with ourselves - especially when our bodies were still in hibernation mode.

Yoga teachers are always telling students to respect their limits, yet we all want to be harder, better, faster and stronger in the new year.

Magazine covers sell us body blitzes. Diets start with 'attack' phases. We go into battle with our bodies in January but it's a lost cause when we're not on the same side.

Guilt, shame and self-loathing don't motivate us to make changes. On the contrary, these emotions compel us to push ourselves to a point where self-injury is almost guaranteed.

So many of us say we abhor and condemn violence without taking into consideration the daily punishments we inflict on ourselves.

The fist-thump on the pillow when we sleep past the alarm clock. The skipped breakfast. The "just my luck" huff when the Luas takes off as we reach the station.

Elsewhere, we are not practising ahimsa when we work through lunch, exercise to the point of exhaustion or say cheers to alcoholic drinks that we know don't agree with our systems.

It's all self-flagellation, and it becomes a competitive sport at this time of year. We ate too much food. We spent too much money. We took too much time off work.

Instead of cutting ourselves some slack, we atone for our sins with green juices, gym memberships and night courses.

These are all fantastic lifestyle additions in their own right, but the overnight overhaul approach is in itself a form of punishment.

It comes down to self-compassion, the connotations of which can make us feel uncomfortable. We commend compassion per se, but self-compassion suggests namby-pamby bathing rituals and softly-softly plans of action. Actually, it's quite the opposite.

As the late writer Audre Lorde said: "I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival".

Self-compassion means not feeling guilty for festive indulgence, or any indulgence for that matter, and it's a habit that can be honed.

If you're the type to feel bad about feeling good, try justifying the process. Remember that the way you treat yourself dictates how others treat you. Likewise, remember that we can only be truly present for another person when we take excellent care of ourselves. Parents on aeroplanes are advised to put their oxygen masks on first for a reason.

Dr Kristin Neff, who literally wrote the book on self-compassion, says it's about putting ourselves first in a way that serves everyone.

"Self-compassion entails being warm towards oneself when encountering pain and personal shortcomings, rather than ignoring them or hurting oneself with self-criticism," she writes.

In other words, we should mind our language. Our self-talk is often lacking in compassion, especially at this time of year. So fat, so broke, so cold...

Self-compassion involves talking to ourselves in the same way that we would talk to a dear friend. This happens to everyone. Easy does it. Nearly there...

Self-compassion is also about acknowledging trauma when it happens, rather than waiting until the effects unfold further down the line.

"Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don't like about yourself," continues Neff.

"Instead of just ignoring your pain with a 'stiff upper lip' mentality, you stop to tell yourself 'this is really difficult right now', how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?"

Self-flagellation never works - especially in January. As always, the little by little approach is the best one.

It's a traumatic month so take Neff's advice and ask yourself what you really need.

Weight loss or nourishing, energising food? An early morning gym session or a good night's sleep?

A power walk or a restorative massage?

Self-compassion is a white flag to the war within - and real change is only possible when the mind and body are on the same side.

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