When I started my yoga teacher training more than a year ago, our instructors told us to be gentle with ourselves as we learned. They warned us not to be overly critical of ourselves if we failed to meet our goals, and to show ourselves compassion. At the time, it sounded like fluffy, airy-fairy yoga stuff to me.

I had always pushed myself very hard in school, forcing myself to give my absolute best to any assignment or project. I may not have had the highest marks in the class, but I was always up there in the Honour Roll, and I prided myself on that. If there was one thing people knew about me, it was that I did well in school.

That was just about the only part of me that most people knew, though. It was also the only part of my life where I felt I passed muster. I needed to do well in school. My fragile sense of self depended on it. Failure – even just mediocrity – was not an option.

It’s funny how strong those kind of past beliefs are. When I started my yoga teacher training, I could feel myself gearing up for the challenge just like I did when I was a teenager. I was determined to be the best in the class, and willing to put in whatever effort was required to wow my teachers.

But almost as soon as those thoughts crossed my mind, I could feel the fatigue welling up behind my eyes. I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had already spent all my available energy more than a decade ago. I didn’t have it in me to keep pushing myself so hard. If I did, I knew I would collapse from exhaustion before the program was even finished.

Why did I think I needed to do that? I guess you could say I was never told – or at least I never believed – that I was good enough on my own. I thought that if I didn’t stand out in some way, if I wasn’t special in some way, then I would never be loved. Certainly, I would never succeed.

That appears to be what our culture teaches us. If you aren’t exceptional in some way, you’re not wanted. Our children have to prove their excellence just to earn entry into schools and land low-paying jobs that we could have fallen into when we were young. As a result, they are developing physical and mental health problems that we previously didn’t see until middle age. I may have grown up a generation earlier, but I was still negatively affected by it.

Why are we doing this to ourselves? How can we change?

Well, I don’t know how to change a culture, but we can at least change our own attitude. Studies show that being critical with yourself actually makes you work less effectively. It makes you so afraid of failure that you stop trying.

On the other hand, when you can show yourself some compassion and forgiveness, it actually helps you to relax so you can perform better. You aren’t so stressed and afraid that you view every failure as the end of the road. Instead, you’re able to see it as an opportunity for growth.

It seems counter-intuitive. Many people think that if they aren’t strict enough with themselves, they’ll just lie back and never achieve anything. But in the long run, pushing yourself too hard doesn’t make you do better. It only makes you sick. Like me.

I want you to put your hands over your heart right now and think back to a time when you felt loved, by a friend, or a relative, or even just a pet. Breathe deeply now and allow the remembrance of that love to enter your heart. Breathe it in and really feel it. Know that you are a good person. Know that you are lovable and worthy just as you are.

Somehow, we have to learn to soften towards ourselves a little more. To give ourselves a little more space, to breathe and to just be. To show ourselves a little more compassion. Maybe that is the only way we can begin to turn this world around. Because if we can learn to treat ourselves better, then maybe we’ll start to treat everyone else better too.

About the author: Rebecca Wong has a BA from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and is currently studying to be a Therapeutic Yoga Teacher, specializing in yoga for depression, anxiety and burnout.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *