Cutting out the mental chatter - but is there a place for self talk?

I have always loved words and stories, both printed and spoken. Languages fascinate me; their roots and origins, similarities and differences. Unsurprisingly therefore I am one of those Yogis that loves the Sanskrit names of poses and mantras chanted in Sanskrit. I understand completely though that many, if not the majority of people who attend weekly local yoga classes are less than interested in  adding trying to memorise and understand Sanskrit words on top of concentrating on the pose, the breath, the alignment and whatever else the teacher chooses to throw in. I learn aurally too so words my teacher says to me stay with me long after class is over.

Words  have undeniable power , and most of us are aware on some level of our own chatter inside our heads, a good deal of which is self talk and the stories we choose to tell ourselves to support those self talk statements. Maybe you know the ones I mean:

  • "I'll never be able to do that"
  • "I'm too fat/old/weak/inflexible for this"
  • "That looks scary"
  • "Yay - I finally nailed that pose!"
  • "Last time I tried this it was a disaster"

On top of the kind of statements above, we contend with other voices in our head:

  • "Must remember to pick up some milk when I fill up the car with petrol"
  • "Hope to goodness he/she fed the dog"
  • "Wonder if I should really take this time out for myself when there's so much to do"
  • "This mat smells horrible"

Yoga with its emphasis on concentration, focus and using the breath as a means to do this is a tried and tested route to stilling the busyness of the mind. In Sutra 1.2 Patanjali specifically refers to the cessation of fluctuations of the mind - or put more prosaically, cutting out the chatter in one's head. Certainly the examples I've given above would generally be unhelpful to a quiet and focused mind or preparation for either meditation or asana practice. Nothing is more certain than if we think we cannot do something we will fulfil that prophecy. If we fill out minds with the minutiae of every life and its dramas we will never find time to look more deeply at ourselves and find our true selves deep inside. 

Despite all that here's my confession on this subject. Sometimes I still the internal chatter with a more focused and upbeat version. Faced with something in a yoga practice that I find challenging or difficult two things happen. The first is that I hear my own teacher's voice inside my head guiding me through, and I hear my own self talk mantra of positive outcomes. It may just as simple as repeating 'I am calm and strong' to myself or 'breathe evenly' and hey presto the negative chatter disappears. Powerful magic this yoga!