Breaking the Loop of Negative Thoughts

If you pay attention, you may find that you are in a repeating loop on certain thoughts. As if your mind cannot find peace or resolve the problem so your mind keeps reminding you to think about it. I wish my brain had post-it notes so it could just write it down and leave me alone! Keeping me up at night and distracting me from having fun during the day. Ignoring these thoughts never helps. If this sounds familiar, then I have a journaling exercise for you to try.

I am currently reading a book called The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. One of the chapters is entitled “Changing Your Mind”. The author suggests that we can get stuck in a feedback loop. Very common and very human of us! Sometimes these thoughts cause negative feelings aka impact our overall happiness. Taking a psychology look at it, he explains a method from cognitive behavioral therapy. We have to catch our repeating thoughts and challenge them. When I say challenge them, I literally mean as if they were in court on trial. Letting it know that you are not going to accept it repeating in your head anymore. Understand the thought as much as possible; look at it from different angles/perspectives. The goal is to gain a more clear perspective; one that is not clouded by our own personal doubts, fears, etc.

Is it easy to dissect your own thoughts in a subjective way? Nope! But it is an interesting tool to try. Much better than sweeping it under a rug and later tripping over the huge mound that has built over time.

First I want to back track a moment and explain “where” the repeating thoughts “live”. Why we seem to have almost no control over them. (This again is from the same book.) He breaks it out into an example of a rider and an elephant. The rider is the conscious mind, our controlled thoughts. If I told you right now to think of a red rose, you probably had some sort of image pop in your mind. That is the rider. The elephant (note is it larger in size since it has the most influence on our daily life) is our subconscious mind. It is our gut feelings, emotions and intuitions. All of which are automatic in nature. The elephants takes A LOT to change/modify. Meaning working on it just once a week will not make an impact. The automatic thoughts are deeply in us. We can “train or tame” the elephant if we focus on it daily. I have found that setting aside a quiet journaling meditation has been extremely helpful to at least acknowledge the thoughts that my elephant has been stomping around with for so long.

Here is the method…

  1. Catch one thought, write it down
  2. Name the distortions. This is listing all of the ways your judgement is clouded.
  3. Find alternative aka more accurate ways of thinking. Seeing it from a different perspective. Are there any positives or benefits? If someone else had this thought, what advice would you give them?
  4. Repeat…daily. Tame your elephant of the automatic thought loop. Learning slowly to let go.

It is important to note that this does take time. Our elephants are slow to change. Focus on one single repeating thought at a time. Set some quiet time aside daily, even just 5 minutes. Best to you in taming your elephant, I know I am still actively working on mine.

Pranidhana “Surrender” Mudra for learning to let go

  • Connect thumb to middle and ring fingers on each hand.
  • Bridge the hands together by uniting the index and little fingers.
  • Aids a gradual letting go process. 
  • Allowing us to see that in this release, we are not losing anything.  But rather gaining inner peace and ability to appreciate life more completely.

Gift of Silence

How do you feel in silence? Is it uncomfortable? Do you fill the space with distractions?

Do you find yourself reacting to things automatically (unconsciously) or thoughtfully/mindfully?

Do you feel a strong connection to your true self aka who you really are as a person?

Silence is not our norm. It could even be seen in a negative light. Think of a timeout for a child or giving someone the silent treatment if you are mad at them. Our typical reaction is to avoid it or drown out the silence.

What if instead, we saw silence as a gift, an opportunity, a freedom.

Silence is the key to an inward journey to self. When we tune out everything else, it is only then that we can realize our true feelings of the heart and can mentally evaluate a situation clearly. This space of taking time to think is powerful. It can lead to a healthier and more appropriate response.

I like to think of silence as a “fitness” for the heart and the mind. Strengthening your feelings/emotions and thoughts. Just like any “muscle”, the more you work on it, the stronger it becomes. Practicing the skill of listening completely to how you feel and what you really want. Both knowing and understanding your true self. Take a reading of your internal weather. Knowing how to move forward in an authentic way. It can be thought of as practicing mindfulness.

Do you need to be in a quiet room to do this? No, but that comes after you have a strong practice. When beginning, it helps to be in as quiet of a room as possible. All electronic devices turned off.


Here is both a yoga term and also a visual guide to help frame this better.

There is a Sanskrit term in yoga for this called Pratyahara. The withdrawal of the senses. This is the journey into the inner world, away from loud noises, to do lists, visual distractions, your daily life pace. The attention/focus is then tuned inward.

Image of a snow globe. Any stimulus from any of your senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch) shakes the globe a little bit. The snow swirls around and floats like a flurry in the globe. When the snow is moving around, we cannot see the center. The distractions continue the snow moving around. Only when we set down the snow globe, give it some time, the snow settles to the bottom. Revealing the image in the middle, aka our self or our internal world.


Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

Yoga has an element of this inward journey (aka finally seeing ourselves in the center of the snow globe) if we spend the silent time in practice. One way I suggest is a calming quiet practice where you hold a pose for a longer duration of time. Examples include yin, restorative, savasana and meditation. These are methods for us to set the snow globe down on the table. Spending at least 10 minutes to let the snow settle at the bottom. Then see when is in the center of your globe.

Try doing nothing and see what happens. You might even enjoy it!

Don’t just do something, sit there.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Keep in touch, join my free newsletter. Take care…Carol

Resources

Which Type of Yoga is Best?

Short answer…

A daily practice that contains a variety to provide balance to your whole self.

Longer answer…

I like to answer questions using science and anatomy. The following is detailing out the importance of the 3 main points in the above statement.

  1. Daily
  2. Variety
  3. Balance

Daily

Saving for a rainy day = Take an image of a jar or piggy bank. Imagine that each time you do your yoga practice, you add some coins into this container. You end up with small sum in your rainy day jar.

Rainy day occurs = When you do have those rainy days, or moments of negativity and high stress, you have a practice that is already part of your routine to provide you comfort. You do not have to start something new during a difficult time. You can cash in with a proven method to provide comfort and peace.

Duration of time = There is a wide range of how much time you take for your daily practice. It will change as your life changes, even seasonally. I would do a variety and see what makes you feel the most balanced. In a day, my practice can range from a silent 10 minute meditation to a 75 minute flow practice; and everything in between. Much of this is having the awareness to step back and evaluate your life and the missing pieces to encourage balance.

Daily dose of self-care really does add up, even in small increments.


Variety

In regards to yoga, there are MANY types. From a more active faster Vinyasa flow which is very stimulating to a restful Restorative practice. The range is wide! That is one of the benefits of yoga, but also sometimes the confusing part.

Answering the question, which one should I do? My answer would be to not pick just one. Select two yoga styles. Making sure they are compliments to each other (note I am using the term compliments instead of opposites for a reason). Each type of yoga has a specific intention or purpose.

Selecting two types of yoga provides a more balanced practice. You get the full benefits for physical, mental and emotional health.

You may react by saying…”But I only like flow classes and yin yoga is too quiet for me.” There is a science reason to that. The Law of Attraction or “Like attracts like”. We tend to be drawn to things that are the same tone of our daily experiences. Anything else is uncomfortable, since it is outside our norm.

Before becoming a yoga teacher = I used to work in a high stress corporate technology environment. I was drawn to do Vinyasa flow classes in a heated room (up to 105 degrees). Like attracted like. High stressed life led to me selecting a more stimulating type of yoga. I was adding coal to the fire. No wonder I was easily aggravated, did not sleep well and suffered from stress-induced IBS. In reality, I would have benefited from adding in a couple yin or restorative poses each week. But that would have assumed I had enough self-awareness to step back and make a conscious evaluation of my life. At that time, I was not very mindful and honestly, did not know any better.

Example of what I do each week = I was (thankfully) able to leave my corporate career and focus solely on taking care of the home and teaching yoga. My life has blimps of high stress, but overall, I create my own schedule which is freedom to me. Each week I do two longer 60 minute yoga practices that include standing poses and movement. I also fill in the gaps with walking outside, using my rebounder and resistance bands. No matter what, each day I take my 20 minute savasana to fill my piggy bank. I set up a restorative pose with many comfy props, close the door for silence, use an eye pillow for darkness, and set a timer on my cell phone. Keeping an “eye” on not getting attached to my thoughts and providing a rest for my thinking mind and my entire self.

Examples of more stimulating types…

  • Vinyasa flow with a faster pace moving from one pose to another, often contains sun salutations.
  • Hatha practice with a slower pace but longer holds in poses.
  • Equivalents would be biking, running or walking, rebounding, dancing.
  • Just plugging my type of teaching, in my Vimeo library I have classes that are a moderate pace. I have a mixture in each class of some faster movement but also longer holds. If I would label it, I would call it more of a hybrid between Hatha and Vinyasa with a focus on healthy aging.

Examples of calming, more restful types…

  • Meditation is finding a focal point (like a breath pattern) to calm the thinking mind and rest.
  • Yin holding a shape, without moving, for a range of time between 3 to 10 minutes. It is a quiet practice and most poses provide a stretch which can provide flexibility and range of motion.
  • Restorative is supporting the body using props to create an environment that encourages relaxation. It is not about stretching, it is about opening. These are much longer timeframes in a pose, between 15 to 60 minutes.
  • Savasana = Around 5 to 20 minutes to take a quick rest laying down.
  • Nidra = Means “sleep” and it is a guided journey to achieve a active rest for the mind. A script is read by a teacher to take a person into a deeper brain wave state that cannot be reached while just sleeping at night. It is below Delta and the purpose is a deep mind rest.
  • Equivalents would be a bath, massage, gentle nature walk, reading, beach vacation.
  • Again, I have videos for Yin available on Vimeo and also some cozy yoga and guided meditation and breathing practices on YouTube. I will be exploring adding Nidra and Restorative as well, but it might be on a separate Vimeo library since their intentions are so different from the other styles I teach.

Balance

I like the word balance instead of the phrase “everything in moderation” since it sounds a little restrictive to me like a diet plan. Balance in this context is addressing the autonomic nervous system. This system of the body includes the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest/recover). For the remainder of this blog I will use their acronyms SNS and PNS.

Seesaw of Nervous System = Recall when you were little and you played on a seesaw (or teeter totter). One side was elevated while the other was down to the ground. But there is that magical moment in which both sides are even and the platform is horizonal with the earth. I like to describe the SNS and PNS as two kids on a seesaw. They are both always “on”, they are just at different ratios during our day. We get a work call that there is a production issue, our SNS ratio increases, that side of the seesaw elevates. This is a good stress response, we need to fix the issue. The heart rate increases, stimulating hormones released, we get revved up and can solve the issue. Normally then the body goes back to that magical place where the seesaw is horizonal.

However, this is not always the case with chronic stress. We can get stuck in a groove of continued and consistent stressors. Always going, never resting. The PNS kid is stuck on the ground not having fun on the playground anymore. This is where the importance of consciously resting with meditation, yin or a restorative practice comes in. Stopping the momentum of the day and giving the PNS a moment to increase its ratio in the body.


In Conclusion

Take a moment to realistically evaluate your life tone and pace of your daily activities. Note which yoga practice you are drawn to and what would be a compliment to it. The purpose is to fill in the gaps and provide a balance.

Fast Pace / Stress / Lots of Responsibilities (family, work) = You may have a natural tendency to only want to do a fast Vinyasa flow (maybe even in a heated room…eekk, talk about stressing your system!). Because like attracts like. It will feel natural to you. Even if that is not actually what you need. The seesaw of your nervous system would love and appreciate a sprinkle of a longer savasana, yin or restorative yoga in the week. These slower and quieter types of yoga might be extremely difficult and even uncomfortable to do. But honestly, that is just a sign of how badly you need it to achieve balance. If you need another motivation, slowing down actually making you more productive. It gets you out of the busy spinning tornado of stress and provides balance, so you can think more clearly and take actions that are less reactive and more thoughtful.

Calm Pace / Blimps of Stress = You may be drawn to restorative yoga naturally and not even want to consider another type of yoga. However to provide the best health for your body, a practice with some strengthening, faster movements and balance challenges would be beneficial.


I hope you find your way to a yoga practice that serves you in the best way possible. Please keep in touch by signing up for my Newsletter and letting me know if you have any questions on videos that I offer via my email ReikiEnergyYoga@gmail.com

Namaste…Carol