We all want to evolve. That desire is what drives most of us to work toward becoming better versions of ourselves. Year after year, we painstakingly peel back the layers to get to the heart of who we really are and who we aspire to be. But as anyone who has ever spent time feeling down in the dumps or had a conflict with an irate co-worker knows too well, it can be tough to stay cool, calm, patient, and kind on a regular basis, especially in the face of discomfort.
That’s why we turned to the experts—psychologists, yoga teachers, and meditation masters—for their thoughts on the best practices for getting to the root of negative emotions, taking a look at yourself when you’re blaming others, naming your role in what’s not working in your life, and more. Of course, it’s not easy work. “Your quest for improvement will invite tests for your self-destructive doubting aspects,” says Elena Brower, a yoga and meditation teacher in New York City and author of the newly re-released Art of Attention. “However, if you can see these tests and lessons for the blessings that they are, every new understanding can help you grow.”
Linda Mainquist, co-director for the Center for Leadership Performance at the David Lynch Foundation agrees, though cautions that it can be tempting to get into a not-very-helpful “self-help” mentality. “These days, we seem to make ourselves eternal self-improvement projects, always trying to be better at something and pointing a finger at ourselves,” she says. “When we do this, we are ultimately telling ourselves we’re not good enough.”
Enter these mindful practices, all of which focus on helping you usher in a mentality of loving-kindness toward yourself and others as you continue to walk your own path.
1. Focus on your relationship with you.
“In order to be the best version of yourself, you have to create an ideal relationship with yourself. Cultivating this kind, close relationship with the heart of who you are takes time and is an ever-evolving process, but it is the most nourishing relationship you’ll know. To start, write down your dream for this relationship with yourself. Think of this vision as your root system, which will help you to question and release negative inner dialogue that’s possibly plagued you for years.” – Elena Brower, yoga and meditation teacher in New York City
2. Put together a purpose statement.
“Slapping a smile on your face and thinking happy thoughts isn’t going to make you a nicer, happier person in the long run. To really thrive, it’s crucial to create inner well-being, which will help you exude genuine gratitude, kindness, and joy. Start by asking yourself if you’re living ‘on purpose.’ Are your resolutions for change in line with your gifts, passions, and values? Often we go right to thinking about ‘the how’ of personal change without thinking about ‘the why’ we want to improve. Creating a purpose statement and keeping it front and center in your life will help you focus on fulfilling time, not just filling time.
– Christine Whelan, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Creating a purpose statement and keeping it front and center in your life will help you focus on fulfilling time, not just filling time.
3. Stay the course.
“Remind yourself that magic takes guts. If you start wondering, ‘Where’s my spiritual awakening?’ Remember that effecting change takes stamina, especially when you’re not seeing the desired progress right away. Give that loud, noisy voice saying ‘I can’t’ to God, so that you can drop into the quieter and more loving voice that reminds you ‘I can.’ Obstacles are inevitable, but they make you stronger and connect you to your tender heart. This is a process alright, but there’s magic in the repetition.” – Dana Flynn, a yoga instructor at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in New York City and Brooklyn
4. Hone your ability to see yourself in others.
“Take a moment to consider the Laws of Karma. All of us have passed through the same things in the past—perhaps even worse than what we are trying to deal with and seeking to understand now. We have to accept that whatever is happening is perfect, and we have to be patient. Then, with a little bit of compassion (which means to see yourself in others), ask yourself, how can you hurt anyone? How can you criticize anyone? There is no room for this.” – Sri Dharma Mittra, legendary yoga teacher and the model and creator of the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures
5. Navigate tough interactions with more ease.
“When you’re struggling in your interactions with someone in your life, assume you’re in a dynamic. For any ‘bad’ trait you’re observing in another, you have a complementary one. Figure out what that is, and be ready to own your part in this particular dynamic before you ask the other person to own anything that’s bothering you. Similarly, when someone gives you feedback about you, assume it is valuable, especially if it’s hard to hear. Really take in the comments and make the other person’s reality valid, even if you don’t agree. When you can let yourself feel what another person feels, you are giving the gift you wish to receive—the gift of compassionate listening and a new willingness to collaborate.” – Elena Brower, yoga and meditation teacher in New York City
6. Turn around negative energy.
“Practices that uplift and elevate you can undercut the power of negative emotions and destructive habitual patterns. Such practices might include an inversion—any, from Headstand to Bridge Pose, will do. Flipping your perspective of yourself, others, and the world around you can bring awareness to the base of the pelvic floor by activating mula bandha, which gives rise to a feeling of weightlessness and possibility. Another powerful way to flip perspective is to practice the ancient technique of Skull Shining (kapalabhati), whereby the forceful exhale lifts the diaphragm muscle upward as if it is knocking on the door of the heart, igniting the dormant areas of the brain and, as a result, awakening you to your highest potential.” – Rima Rani Rabbath, yoga teacher at at Jivamukti NYC who leads teacher trainings for Jivamukti Yoga around the world
Related: Yoga Tutorial: Headstand
7. Be with your heart.
“Sit or stand and simply be with the energy of your heart. Imagine your yogi sisters and brothers right there with you and begin to breathe in and out for everyone. Plug into this living, breathing support system and feel how connected you truly are. Remember, no matter how many times you have thrown love away, it belongs to you. You can open your heart one more time. This is where your real power is—it’s in the power to transform your heart and to love in the midst of great heartache, mad challenges, and difficult humans. A daily heart-centered practice will help you build your spiritual foundation and allow you to bring more energy, sweetness, and forgiveness into your life.” – Dana Flynn, a yoga instructor at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in New York City and Brooklyn
You can open your heart one more time. This is where your real power is—it’s in the power to transform your heart and to love in the midst of great heartache, mad challenges, and difficult humans.
8. Resolve through the 4 Rs.
“Take refuge in the idea that things aren’t just coming at you, but also they are also coming from you. Cultivate a healthy regret toward the ways you have responded to situations in ways that aren’t ideal without beating yourself up. Refrain from setting goals that are too far out since habitual patterns take time to break. Repair a previous misstep either in person or by sending that person your blessings—that’s how much power your thoughts have!” – Rima Rani Rabbath, yoga teacher at at Jivamukti NYC who leads teacher trainings for Jivamukti Yoga around the world
9. Think before you act.
“Patience is important. You have to analyze your thoughts before you put them into action, otherwise you’ll end up hurting someone else and creating bad Karma for yourself as well. Remember, everyone passes through the same thing, the same mistakes. Yoga is to see God—to see love everywhere. How can you see fault in God? Impossible!” – Sri Dharma Mittra, legendary yoga teacher and the model and creator of the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures
10. Meditate to mediate your emotions.
“Oftentimes when you’re not acting like your better self, you are being reactive rather than responsive. Reactions are quick and usually thoughtless; being responsive is when we’re able to take a step back and ask yourself, ‘How do I want to deal with this?’ There are many ways to create this gap—to get hold of yourself and not react—and meditation is one of them. A meditation practice creates that greater connection with your non-reactive, silent witness and enables you to rise above old scripts, patterns, and injuries, and be better able to choose a new response.” – Linda Mainquist, Co-Director for the Center for Leadership Performance at the David Lynch Foundation
11. Get grateful.
“When I am in swimming in negative judgment or self-loathing, my gratitude is very far away. That’s when I reach into the mantra ‘thank you’, and I practice it on the retention of the breath. Breathe in and, at the top of the inhalation, hold your breath gently and say ‘thank you’ to yourself, then exhale.” – Dana Flynn, a yoga instructor at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in New York City and Brooklyn
12. Slow down and show yourself some love.
“Our minds and emotions can go so fast. The kinds of subtle feelings that help you tap into your better self are more quiet and expansive. That’s why simply slowing down can help you access what’s underneath your anger or fear. It gives you some time to just be with yourself. Of course, self-compassion is key here, letting you clue into your specific needs in each moment and also helping you cope when the slowness allows the tough stuff to bubble up. I think there’s a lot of shame that can come up in our lives, which is like a moldy blanket covering up something real. It’s not useful—and self-compassion is the antidote. ‘I feel bad, but I’m not bad.’ That’s the mantra.” – Linda Mainquist, Co-Director for the Center for Leadership Performance at the David Lynch Foundation