Our first week's focus on Ahimsa in the studio we'll be starting with the internal work; we can't be non violent on the outside if all we have is violence on the inside!
Something that no one can see from the outside, but almost all of us experience, is negative thought patterns. We can talk ourselves into believing we're not good enough to follow our dreams, not smart enough to join a conversation, and we beat ourselves up about something we said a day, week, month or even a year ago. We tell ourselves we can't do things before we even try and then, as a result, never try. We play out scenarios in our minds that have never even happened and let them get us angry and irritated (this is especially harmful when done in the middle of the night, robbing us of both our peace of mind and hours of sleep!). We grumble internally while waiting in queue for a cashier who takes their time. We let a car cutting in-front of us or impatient driver cloud our thoughts with negativity. We hold on to anger and grudges for years, not necessarily hurting the person with whom we hold the grudge, but definitely hurting ourselves.
I'm not suggesting that we can magically forget all negative thoughts (expecting to be able to do so is a sure way to start a new spiral of negative self-talk: 'Ugh that was a negative thought, I suck at this, I'll never shut my mind up, everyone else can do this but me, why do I even try -aargh they were all negative thoughts. I give up!'). It is however important to be aware of how negative thoughts affect us both mentally and physically. Negative thoughts create stress and tension in the body as well as the mind, they steal the joy from your days and affect our interactions with people around us (often stealing their joy too!)
As with the process of meditation, the first step is simply to be aware of what is happening in the mind; to be an observer of the endless chatter. We can look at thoughts from this perspective of detached awareness and can choose what to believe and what to ignore, what to engage with and what to throw out.
When it comes to internal chatter, I like to ask myself 'is this useful?'. If it's not, I get to change the subject or replace the negative thoughts with more useful ones.
As you go through the rest of today and the rest of this week, practice being an observer of your thoughts both on and off the mat. Over the course of the day/week, notice if you are habitually more inclined to think negative or positive thoughts. Notice if you play out arguments, negative interactions and scenarios that haven't yet happened. Notice if you dwell on negative events or conversations of the past. Notice if you tell yourself you're not good enough/smart enough/can't do whatever-it-is-you're-trying-to-do.
When you find yourself in those negative thoughts, notice how they make you feel both physically and mentally, ask yourself 'is this useful?' then take the opportunity to stop the thought and refuse to follow it down its rabbit hole to the depths of negativity. Take a breath and reset. Over time it's possible to change our habits of negative thinking, to allow more joy and peace to enter our minds, and to share that joy and peace with the people around us.