Find your inner spark: How to cope with stress and be kind to yourself in challenging times

Clinical psychologist and yoga teacher Kristin Vikjord shares a practical exercise to help you be kind to yourself in stressful situations. 

If you find that the little voice in your head becomes its most critical just when you need it the least, you’re not alone. Here, clinical psychologist and yoga teacher Kristin Vikjord explains how self-compassion is vital when navigating challenging and stressful times, and shares an exercise which will help you cultivate a kinder, gentler relationship with yourself. 

As well as working as a clinical psychologist, Kristin is the co-founder of Delight Yoga, the Arctic Yoga Conference and the Inner Peace Conference in Amsterdam and New York. Her first book, Inner Spark, is a practical toolkit to help you find, regain and nurture your inner spark. 

How do you meet yourself with gentleness when you feel overwhelmed with stress? How do you find your inner spark when you’re going through challenging times? 

We can all be pretty strict with ourselves. You know when that inner dialogue takes an explicit critical tone, and you start believing it. Acting from it. Your behaviour becomes informed by it. That’s when those negative core beliefs take charge, directing you, instead of you acting from your strength and goodness. We can all be ruled by high standards at times, but we don’t want that to direct our being and drag us further down that negative spiral when we’re already in emotional intensity caused by challenging times. 

We know that cultivating compassion towards yourself recharges our emotional reserves, and over time can build our emotional and mental wellbeing. This can, in turn, support us in containing other emotional intensity as well. 

Compassion towards yourself is practised through Wellbeing Prescriptions such as Kindness and Patience, amongst others described in my book Inner Spark. In this practice, “Meeting Yourself with Gentleness,” you get to invite a more loving-kind and soft attitude toward yourself. If you are stuck in an inner critical dialogue, it can be hard to fully feel the gentleness as you practice, which is fine. As long as you keep inviting in gentleness, and keep practising this over time, a shift will eventually occur. 

The more you practice meeting yourself with gentleness, the more you’ll be able to connect with yourself, the goodness, the spark that instigates your aliveness and playfulness. A state where you can access and cultivate emotional wellbeing, free from thoughts based in fear, free from controlling behaviours and free from being imprisoned by negative emotions. A state poignant with the capacity to hold space for yourself. That is Inner Spark. 

Nudge to action: meeting yourself with gentleness 

This is it. The meditation you need to evolve your relationship with yourself. To develop a kinder, more gentle relationship with yourself in challenging times. 

1. Take a seat

Find a comfortable seat. Somewhere you can sit undisturbed, even if only for a few minutes. Close your eyes if you like, or simply keep your gaze softly on the floor. Take some deep breaths. 

2. Connect with your body

Bring your awareness to your body. Feel the body in contact with the ground or with what you are sitting on. Take notice for a moment of how it feels to sit here right now. Can you feel your whole body, from the bottom to the top, from the front to the back, from inside to outside? 

3. Noticing

As you sit, can you notice what is alive within you right now? The quality of your 

mind. What type of thoughts or stories? What feelings are present, connected to these stories or thoughts? What do they feel like in your body? Recognize the presence. Allow it space. 

4. ‘Hello, my love’

As you notice what is present, can you silently say to yourself and to everything arising and passing: “Hello, my love. Is this how this feels right now? And this feels like this. And this feels like that.” Accept and notice any bodily sensation, thought, or emotion arising and passing. Meet it and greet it as you surf the wave. 

5. Return: After sitting for a while, return your attention to your body. Simply notice your body, sitting. Perhaps notice the whole body, from top to bottom, back side to front side, from the inside to the outside. 

6. Breathe: Take a couple of deeper breaths, and open your eyes when you feel ready. Take a few moments before you move out of your sitting position and go on with your day. 

May you be well. May you feel your own goodness. May you find ease within yourself, and connect with that inner spark of aliveness that moves you onwards. 

With warmth, Kristin 

Inner Spark

by Kristin Vikjord

Book cover for Inner Spark

This practical toolkit of exercises will help you to find, regain and nurture your inner spark. Kristin explains how the pathways in the brain work, and why it's so important for anyone going through a difficult time to be able to re-connect with themselves. Inner Spark will help readers embrace the challenges of modern life, from burnout to navigating new parenthood.