A moment of bliss at Kaliyoga Yoga and Wellness retreat

Tune into you at Kaliyoga

For years I struggled with my ‘head bully’ aka the voice in my head that bossed me around and made me feel small. Sometimes the comments were so nasty, I had to shout STOP! as if a handbag chihuahua had just jumped to the pavement and was preparing to take a shit on my shoe.

I was shocked at how quickly my head bully could hijack my mood with a few well chosen insults. Where was my conscious adult – that wise, kind mentor that offered sage advice to her friends and family, and only when solicited?

One day, after a particularly intense castigation over some minor infringement – I think I’d forgotten a friend’s birthday – I sat myself down and reflected on how vicious my self-talk had become. Honestly, If spoke to others the way I spoke to myself, I would have no friends left.

So why was I so mean to ME?

According to renowned US psychotherapist and self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden, anxiety and depression stems from the negative messages we give ourselves – that nagging, bullying voice in our heads that gives us constant and unsolicited grief for not living up to the impossible standards we have set for ourselves.

You know the kind of thing:

“Don’t even think of speaking to that person. They’re way out of your league.

“There’s no point applying for that job. You’ll never get it”

“You can’t possibly go to that party. You’ve got nothing to wear and anyway, you look terrible at the moment”

The Office for National Statistics reports that one in five UK adults experience anxious or self-deprecating thoughts all day, every day. That doesn’t surprise me as many people I know, regardless of age and circumstance, have a head bully that lives to undermine their self esteem.  Ask these people how they are and their mouth will smile and reply “Fine thanks” whilst their eyes tell a different story…

Freud refers to the head bully as the super ego. The superego reflects the internalisation of cultural rules, mainly as absorbed from parents, but also other authority figures like teachers and mentors. Sometimes my head bully ventriloquised my mothers voice, sometimes it was that of my big sister berating me for being an idiot, and sometimes, when I’d done something particularly ‘naughty’ I’d hear the hoary bark of my former boarding school headmistress, the dreaded Pandora Moorehead.

But there is a part of me that is actually grateful to my head bully. It was tyrannical self-talk that drove me to book myself into a health retreat in an drafty old farmhouse in Dorset where a Twiglet of an old lady called Sheila who had more life in her than a newborn baby taught me my first ever yoga class. Through Sheila I met Fausto who offered meditation classes in a decommissioned church in Kensal Rise that smelt of cabbage. But I didn’t care because finally, after years of abandoned projects and broken relationships, I was one foot out of crazy town.

Sheila and Fausto then led on to the great maverick yogi Godfrey Devereux whose inspiring, earthy teachings turned me into a yoga teacher and gave me the confidence to co-create my very own Spanish health retreat, Kaliyoga, voted by Guardian readers as one of the best yoga and wellness retreats in Europe.

At Kaliyoga Wellness Retreat our guests are given the time and space – via somatic yoga sessions, deep meditation and bespoke therapeutic treatments – to ignore the ‘would have, should have, could have’ and express themselves in a way that chimes with how they are really feeling rather than how their head bully tells them they should be feeling.

If you sleep in and skip morning yoga class because you’re exhausted, then there is no need to feel guilty. If you need to be alone, then there’s no need to socialise just because you think it would be rude not to. Likewise if a yoga, meditation or therapeutic treatment session has unearthed a difficult emotion, there are professionals around to talk to, or gorgeous mountain paths along which you are welcome to process these emotions. The days are yours to re-connect with the real you and get some space from the socially constructed version that has been programmed, from birth, to concur with the herd.

According to Pablo Perez Mendez, Kaliyoga’s brilliant naturopath, the secret to taming your head bully is to re-frame your relationship with it. A constant stream of nasty messages is bad enough but if these messages are compounded with your own guilt about giving in to these messages, or a fear of the voice itself, then we’re talking major unconscious stress. The trick is to remove the conflict around how you feel about your head bully – then it won’t have such a hold over you. As all bullies are essentially fearful, when you are not longer afraid of it and therefore stop reacting to it, it will eventually give up.

With Pablo’s help I was able to stop identifying the voice in my head as a bully (and therefore myself as a victim of it), and re-frame it instead as a hyper conservative, somewhat misguided friend who is desperately trying to protect me from everything from social death to actual death. He explained that this compulsive yet unwanted vigilantism comes from the limbic or primitive brain and has been developed over thousands upon thousands of years of successful human evolution. Because human technology is light years ahead of our historical human experience, our head bullies have not yet ‘caught up’ with the fact that there are no longer any sabre toothed tigers ready to pounce nor next door tribes primed to colonise our cave, and that our only predators are physical disease or self annihilation.

After just one session with Pablo I my vicious head bully became my friend. I even gave her a name, Joan. Don’t ask me why, it just seemed to fit. Joan continues to live in my head and dole out advice but ever since I have understood that she is coming from a desire to protect rather than destroy me, the dark potency of her negative messaging has been completely neutralised.

I am now able to hear Joan’s warnings and judgments without automatically heeding them. I simply listen and then decide from my heart how I wish to react. And this is one of the main things you will learn on any wellness retreat worth its salt. How to trust your heart’s wisdom rather than your head’s conjecture. That is not to say that we should live 100% from our heart. We all need a Joan to a certain extent  – to tell us to keep away from fire, slow down on motorways and swim between the flags. But those Joans who outstrip their security brief and turn into bullies must be reassured by the heart that it’s OK, they don’t need to worry, because as the great John Lennon once said: “Everything will be okay in the end. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Rosie Miles © 2024

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