Non-harming is the number one yogic lifestyle practice, which applies to our thoughts, words, and actions; what we say and think matters! Thousands of years ago yogis began to recognize the harmful effects of harsh words and thoughts; recent scientific studies prove this wisdom.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
Scientific studies show that when people feel emotional pain, the brain is activated very similarly to when we experience physical pain. The brain has chief control of our organs, hormones, and muscles.
To give a few examples of how emotions transfer to our body:
Being on the receiving end of anger can trigger the fight or flight nervous system, elevating the heart rate and causing rapid breathing; this reduces blood flow to your organs. Regular exposure to outbursts may lead to chest and neck pain and digestive and anxiety disorders.
Heartbroken and shamed people are likely to have downcast postures with pain due to poor posture.
People who suppress anger are likely to develop tight jaw muscles.
When a person doesn't defend themself verbally, they can feel tense in the throat as if the unsaid words are stuck there.
Considering yoga's wisdom and scientific research, this leads me to believe that the following phrase isn't helpful unless we apply mindful insight:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Research by Dr. Nicole (Fisher) Roberts shows that 80% of anyone's thoughts are about themselves, so when someone is impatient and angry, they often do not consider how you feel.
The mantra “not me; not mine” has been incredibly helpful when I'm feeling unfairly critiqued; this was given to me by my mediation teacher many years ago. It helps me rationalize and see that the irritation is within the other person, and I don't need to take this personally. Adding a few mindful deep breaths also helps. The ability to see the big picture and not react is called vairagya in yoga, which requires daily practice (abhyāsa) to become skillful.
"Yoga Sutras of Patanjali" in sutra 1:12 — "Both practice (abhyāsa) and non-reaction (vairagya) are required to still the patterning of consciousness."
Mindful movement and meditation are excellent ways to establish a clear and rational mind; these practices help us identify when we are physically taking on harmful emotions. When we are more aware, we will recognize when our heart rate rises or when tension is arising in our body.
Loving-kindness meditation is an incredibly beneficial practice.
Loving-kindness is first sent towards our self and then towards others. It's helpful to recognize that we can become heavily self-critical when we've experienced significant criticism from others.
A study by Shahar et al (2014) found that Loving-Kindness Meditation was effective for self-critical individuals in reducing self-criticism and depressive symptoms and improving self-compassion and positive emotions. Klimecki, Leiberg, Lamm, and Singer (2013) found that Loving-Kindness Meditation training increased participants' empathetic responses to others. The nice thing about Loving-Kindness Meditation is that it is effective immediately and has long-lasting and enduring effects.
One of my favorite books on communications is Marshell Rosenburg's book, Nonviolent Communication. At first, the book title didn't resonate with me; when I was in school, I studied compassionate communication, and this was the leading textbook. As I progressed, I realized how powerful his teachings are. Gandhi's granddaughter forwarded the book. The book helps transform criticism into understanding without blaming, reduces habits that lead to arguments, and develops mutual respect, compassion, and cooperation.
When researching for this blog, I found helpful articles on Psychology Today, Forbes, and Harvard EDU.
Listen and practice loving-kindness with me here