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How to Stop Punishing Yourself

This weekend I went to a hot yoga class for the first time in a long time. 

About halfway through, when I could barely see from all the sweat in my eyes and had firmly decided I wouldn’t be going anywhere near a handstand, I remembered a feeling. Yoga, at one point, had been self-punishment.

It started over a decade ago at a studio near my Edinburgh flat. In the classes, ninety minutes of intense poses in a sweltering heat, I pushed myself more and more. 

Not from a place of challenging myself, or building strength in my body. From a place of trying to prove I could. 

My ego was flattered when I became known for having ‘a good practice’ and I secretly felt smug when I saw new people struggle at the back. 

I wanted to believe I was better – but also that ‘better’ meant something. 

Still, there was some impossible standard I strove for. 

And at times there was an anger to it, the type of violence, that comes with being at war with yourself. 

And this is the thing about self-punishment, it shows up in hundreds of tiny ways. 

Maybe it’s pushing yourself to injury in the gym. Or not speaking up with friends because the last time you did you decided you offended someone. Or ordering the third best option at a restaurant. Or not buying a dress because you once had debt and made it mean something. 

You can write self-compassionate things in your journal (which I’m a huge advocate of) but actions matter too.

Stop punishing yourself for things you didn’t get right, weren’t aware of or didn’t have the resources to do. 

Lately, several of my clients have been caught in the trap of good and bad or right and wrong. Binaries are a punishing place because there’s no place for us to be messy humans. 

If you have any form of belief that you are ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ it’s possible that you’ll continue to punish yourself for it.

Bring these beliefs into the light.

Let yourself challenge them. 

Now, during yoga I sit out anything that feels like too much. 

A final note: this can run deep. Don’t feel like you're failing if you can’t forgive yourself, or find it hard to get out of the pattern of self-punishment. That’s when I’d suggest getting support from a coach or therapist who can be in those places with you.

Thanks for being here and being you. 

All love, 


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