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Stop the Violence Within


Never speak badly about yourself.

It’s a simple statement, one many of us would agree with in concept. But do you follow it’s advice? Probably not. Because our inner critic speaks to us in a voice so familiar we rarely notice it’s presence.

Recently, I had a friend say out loud with absolute conviction: “God, I’m such a (expletive) idiot.” She said this more than once, and I was taken back to my childhood where this type of mental patterning was more commonly accepted. I used to say this out loud to myself all the time. Now, I just say it internally.

If we want to be free and happy, we cannot afford the luxury of negative thinking. It’s been years since I’ve allowed myself such overt and out loud negative mental patterning, but hearing my friend say it reminded me of just how insidious verbal self abuse can be. It’s the proverbial pink elephant in the room, but it’s an internal room that only we can see, so detecting the problem can be a challenge unto itself.

Many of us desire to create excellent, adventurous lives. But without our even knowing it, we could be sabotaging our plans. This got my direct attention recently when I had one of those “cranky” days (that’s code for bitchy and depressed.) I was out of sorts and nothing seemed to be going right.

I wondered: When I am in this foul humor, what is really playing out? In this cranky state, I find my old negative mental pattern comes charging through, but now it’s more subtle than my childhood. I find I give myself a hard time. I find that I become a really judgmental guy, and that this judgment is particularly harsh. In fact, as I sit with it and try to understand it more, it all boils down to this: I am simply being mentally violent, and violence is never, ever good.

Given that I am much more comfortable in my role as a lover of peace, these moments of being in a foul humor really shake me up. I am reminded of Gandhi who lived with two great goals: living truthfully (Satya Graha), and living in non violence (Ahimsa).

These two characteristics shaped his entire life. He lived truthfully, and that meant when he saw something that was clearly wrong, instead of just saying “oh well, that’s what everyone seems to be doing and I am a small man and cannot change anything,” instead, he would sit with the discomfort of the situation, and then act on it. As the Indian people were essentially being enslaved within their own country, he finally stood up and said No.

This was gutsy. But how he stood up against oppression was what was so striking about him, and probably why we honor him with such moving memories today. That he could bring an entire nation together without the use of brute strength and force is quite remarkable indeed.

But it wasn’t just external violence that he eschewed. He also did the deepest work and sought to rid himself of internal violence as well. He knew that if he wanted to change the world, it started in his own heart and mind. Much of his life was devoted to finding a peaceful path within himself to handle the extraordinary circumstances he faced. And this path, the peaceful path, was probably his greatest challenge, yet ultimately became his greatest strength.

Many of us are tired of living in a violent world. We must remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The first step is to stop the violence within.

Can you simply notice the mental pattern in your head? Are you shooting angry mental “missils” to your coworkers or to your lover when they upset you? Do you stab yourself with a emotional “dagger" when you feel stuck or fail at something?

Yoga helps us with this because as we move through our practice, we can discover all sorts of nooks and crannies where our inner nature allows for violence, and then do something about it.

For example, if you are having pain in your body during class, and you decide that it is better to “push” through the pain because you want to be fierce and really nail that posture, well, this is a form of violence, especially if you injure yourself.

We do our practice and allow the negative mind to surface. But we pay attention to it, and carefully work to steer ourselves clear in the direction of kindness, or non violence.

I encourage you: make use of the opportunity then and there to decide to make love your prime directive, not war.

Will Donnelly

Will Donnelly is a nationally recognized, certified yoga teacher and writer, and is the author of “Practical Yoga’s Wisdom for Everyday People: Essays & Inspiration for Life" (2017), a compilation of his most popular online essays now available at Will has been a pioneer in the field of yoga, developing Practical Yoga, and co-creating a yoga–reality series for fitTV (Discovery Communications, 2004). As a writer and teacher, Will encourages all students to trust their impulses and find their true voice. Will currently lives in Hawaii, where he leads weekly yoga and writing classes at Kalani retreat center. He also leads several popular Practical Yoga adventure and healing retreats throughout the year. Information on retreats, his book, DVDs and other inspiration to be found at

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