WHY Yoga for the Inner Critic

This post is derived from the talk I gave to the Central United Church Congregation this morning in anticipation of next week’s workshop:

What is the inner critic?  It’s:

  • A voice within that criticizes me mercilessly
  • It has an IQ of about 500 that spots all my shortcomings
  • It has an uncanny ability to read my most secret feelings and xray vision to reveal deficiencies that would be invisible to the naked eye
  • It has a standard of comparison that would make Einstein look stupid and Mother Theresa look selfish
  • It ALWAYS finds me falling short of expectations.

(from Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone)

First, you may be thinking to yourself that, if I’m giving this workshop, I must have my inner critic all reigned in and well behaved, right?  Well, not exactly.  But most of the time I notice when the critic is operating and I have a toolbox of strategies to disarm and manage all the critical voices.  It wasn’t always this way.  It took a long time to arrive at this place, but a good part of that happened through my yoga practice and by accident.  So I am very grateful!  As grace would have it, I finally came upon a system of yoga that has worked out most of the discoveries I had came upon and pieced them together into protocols, or repeatable, well-defined practices.  It is from this system (LifeForce Yoga®) that the workshop next Sunday was derived.

Next question:  Why would we, as practicing Christians, care about the inner critic? Frankly, left to their own devices, the inner critic and similar voices can lead us away from God.

Experts in the field recognize that the inner critic causes ANGUISH.  It always is a basic factor in low self-esteem and is a major impediment in any effort to grow and change.  It is involved in anxiety, depression, addiction, sleep issues, chronic pain, and a host of other difficulties.

The ironic part is that the inner critic develops in early childhood to protect us and support those parts of ourselves that are vital to our values and sense of self.  The critical voice is an internalization of the concerns of our parents and others who were important to us.

The problem is that it does not know when to stop or when enough is enough.  For example, I was taught from very early on that being conscientious was of utmost importance, so my critic often yells at me when it thinks I am having too much fun, to the extent that I tend to feel guilty when I’m enjoying myself as I faithfully go about the work I believe God has called me to do!  “Oh my goodness, you’re having too much fun!”  So I get all conscientious and then it’s, “Hey, you could stand to lighten up and have some fun.”  With the inner critic, you just can’t win!  In short, the critic increasingly tends to undermine us and do real damage.

You might be wondering whether this voice is a conscience, the voice of God.  I really don’t think so.  Why not?  Because Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  To me, the inner critic sounds much like the thief, and I believe that God is loving and merciful, and wants us to live wholeheartedly, not unhappy, frightened, constricted and ineffective.

So why will this yoga workshop help to deal with the inner critic?  In answer to that, therapists know that one of the most difficult things about managing the inner critic is recognizing that one is at work in the first place, and to correctly identify it as such.  Yoga and its counterpart, meditation, by definition help us to become more aware, take us out of our normal patterns and allow us to see a little differently.

Secondly, research increasingly reveals that many of our most formative experiences happened before we had language, or at some point during which we were under such stress that we were operating at a survival level that isn’t accessible through intellect.  Those situations are not stored in chronological memory.  Often they come to the fore when something happening now inadvertently reminds us in some highly visceral, felt-sense kind of way.  “The issues are in the tissues,” as they say.  Yoga allows us to spend compassionate time in our bodies and be aware and that effectively takes us out of the past, out of the future and into the now, where we have access to the deeper states that our inner critic is trying to protect.

Thirdly, we don’t want to just avoid, suppress or overpower the inner critic because it’s been shown that approach simply strengthens it.  Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar and inspirational speaker, says that pain that isn’t transformed is transmitted; that is, if we don’t integrate and use our pain for good, we transmit it back manifold to ourselves and the world.  In the workshop we will practice yogic techniques that will help us to befriend our critics so that our most pure nature and calling can shine forth and we can be strengthened in service toward God’s will.

Do I need to be super-fit, overly flexible, or experienced in yoga to benefit from this workshop?  Absolutely not.  We will be moving and embodied, but the program is designed to be enjoyed by anyone.  Bring yourself and your open mind and heart.  I look forward to seeing you next Sunday!

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