Shaucha is purity of mind and body, cultivated through mindfulness and discrimination. Will this thought lead me to greater freedom or to suffering?

Yoga philosophy recommends a focus on the positive, on what is already working, what is pure and good about you. Sometimes we make life a self-improvement program with the emphasis on what is wrong about ourselves. This focus on getting rid of the negative promotes judging and condemnation. We may unconsciously hold on to things that are being ‘gotten rid of’. Sometimes a habit or thinking pattern arose as a form of protection. When fear is at the bottom of a pattern, gentleness and reassurance is more effective than self-aggression.

We are all pure, 100% divine at our core. It is true we have some habits that obscure our Self-awareness. It is helpful to gently work with increasing healthy behaviors and reducing unhealthy ones.

When we focus on the positive, the negative will automatically drop away. When we focus on the negative, most of us drown in judgment and self-condemnation. We feel ashamed and guilty and powerless to change. This is not a helpful strategy.

As soon as you catch yourself thinking about what you’ve done wrong, relax, take a deep breath and stop. This is where writing in a journal is so helpful. Say a typical week goes something like this:

  • You planned to have 3 but actually had 2 special meals where you enjoyed eating with no distractions.
  • You’ve added more fresh foods to your meals
  • You ate half a bag of cookies throughout the week and once had an ice cream bar.
  • As you pay more attention to what you eat, you realize some of what you normally eat is kind of disgusting.
  • Once you were appalled to realize you wolfed down a burger and fries in under 5 minutes and you don’t remember anything about how it tasted.
  • After work is when you’ve scheduled your relaxation and yoga but you generally just don’t feel like moving your body. Twice you chose to watch television instead. Once you did yoga first then flopped on the couch. Twice you were so energized after your yoga practice that you went on to do something else you enjoyed.
  • You cycled to work 3 times this week.

What sticks in your mind about the week? Is it the cookies and ice cream or the increase in eating fresh foods? Is it the one time you mindlessly wolfed down your meal or the 2 special meals and the general increase in awareness and enjoyment of eating?

Focus on trends. If you normally cycle every day and you only cycled three times this week, that is different from cycling three times when you normally drive each day.

If you planned to do a relaxation after work and didn’t, do not give yourself a hard time about it. Simply set your resolve to do it tomorrow. When you judge yourself about not doing something, you create a negative feeling about it and unconsciously try to avoid it in future. When you think “I really do want to do that; I’ll do it tomorrow”, you set up a positive feeling and tomorrow or the next day you will do it.

Give yourself credit for what you are doing right!  Keep a positive momentum going by increasing healthier behaviors by 10%. Once that new habit is established, work with another 10%.

It’s not what we do 5 or 10% of the time that is the problem. Focus on choosing healthier behaviors most of the time. And focus on being aware of the healthier choices we’ve made and not giving yourself a hard time about ‘slips’.

Strengthen yourself by focusing on what you are doing right. The possibilities from a position of strength are far greater than when you are stuck in shame and self-loathing. This doesn’t mean blocking out awareness of negative choices. It is not about giving yourself excuses to continue self-destructive behavior. When we can tune into our ‘strong’ self, we find we have the ability to make stronger choices. When we get stuck in feeling hopeless, like a victim of our circumstances or past, it creates a cycle of shame and defeat. We have both qualities in ourselves – strength and courage as well as negativity. Focusing on the positive qualities will help them grow and change the direction of our lives.

Practice ahimsa. Work with a spirit of gentle friendliness and love with yourself.  Apply your discipline to maintaining your awareness and willingness to learn to know and love yourself. Lighten up!