Admit it, you’ve been there: acting as your own worst critic by doubting yourself. As a writer and yoga instructor, I can attest to the idea that perfectionism is, indeed, the enemy of the pen—and of the self. So, what do you do when you just can’t seem to quiet that negative inner voice?
Recent research shows learning how to meditate can help practitioners; guided meditation such as the Loving Kindness Meditation have been shown to increase self compassion while decreasing self criticism. According to the experts, meditation, including mantra meditation, lessens the extremities of negative thoughts, changes patterns of belief and facilitates learning how to forgive yourself.
“Meditation helps us avoid going down the rabbit hole of self-critical thoughts, as the act of coming back to the attention on the breath halts the process of criticism in its path,” says Rachel Shanken, Founder of MindBodyWise. Science supports this, as Shanken explains from a neuropsychology/scientific perspective, neurons in the brain that fire together, wire together. “Breaking the cycle of self-criticism by using the breath as an ‘anchor’ also breaks the self-critical neurotransmitters from continuing firing together, thus short-circuiting the brain’s self-criticism mechanism that may have once been on autopilot.”
Dina Kaplan, founder of meditation community The Path, believes meditation is extraordinarily powerful for self-critical thoughts in three ways. The first is when you sit, the critical voice in your head becomes quieter.
“Your mind spins less quickly and enters a feeling of calm and spaciousness,” Kaplan tells Rewire Me. Second, it’s powerful to become proud of yourself that you’re taking the time to go deeper into the self. This creates confidence that quells your critical side, notes Kaplan. Third, meditation gives you the power to make changes. “It gives you insight to see what’s not serving you and the tools to choose to change those aspects of your personality. In this way it helps us develop into the best version of ourselves.”
Quiet the body, calm the mind
Meditation, the simple act of bringing focused awareness to breath while in stillness, calms the central nervous system and physical body while relaxing the mind.
“We are the only animals who can consciously control our breath and this ability allows us to have a level of self-management over our bodies and minds that no other living being can do,” says Shanken. “Meditation allows us to be responsive instead of reactive in challenging situations, as it trains our entire system to equilibrate, even when we are not in our practice of meditation.”
Remember that meditation is not the act of clearing the mind or thinking nothing. Rather, it is the practice of continually bringing the wandering mind back to the breath over and over and over again, with as little judgment and as much compassion as possible.
According to Kaplan, our brains, before trained, are scattered with thoughts each second of every day. “Once you start meditating, a number of those thoughts come out; so, when you go about your day, your mind is more settled and actually feels more clear,” she says. “You become more open to learning new things and listening to, and focusing, on other people when they speak.”
Meditation in action
Start simple by downloading an app. Shanken recommends Insight Timer or Headspace, offering both silent and guided meditations. Find a quiet space where you can take a comfortable seat, turning on the meditation or timer. Rest hands comfortably in your lap; sit as tall and vertical in the spine as you can and close the eyes. Soften all the muscles in your face and belly. Breathe in and out through your nose. Follow either the instructions of the guided or silent meditation, counting your breaths up to five and then begin again. If you lose count, start over again.
Shanken also recommends using a mantra meditation practice. “Since letting go is one of the most challenging things we face as human beings, one of my favorite standby mantras is to mentally say the word ‘Let’ on my inhale and ‘Go’ on my exhale. This is repeated over and over; when my mind wanders, I bring it back and continue until the timer goes off.”
Beginners should start with an amount of time that is sustainable; try meditating three to five minutes every day of the first week. Then, slowly build the amount of time each week. It’s consistency that matters, not the amount of each time you sit.
Kaplan advises practitioners to focus on the sensation of the breath coming in and out of your nostrils. When the mind wanders, gently bring attention back to the feeling of that sensation.
“Meditation will improve your self worth. Over time it tends to make people more relaxed, more ethical, happier and each of those things increases your ease and self-confidence. This builds each week, month and year that you meditate,” summarizes Kaplan. Next time you find yourself challenged by negative inner demons, take a moment to stop, sit, breathe and meditate.