“Are you ready to take your self-care practice to the next level?” my teacher asked. My eyes widened. I flipped my palms up, sat up straight, and with no hesitation, replied, “Yes.”
As this point, I had been in India for almost six months. It was the tail-end of my second pilgrimage there since I’d started practicing Buddhism two years prior.
“Stand naked in front of a full-size mirror for 10 minutes every day for 30 days,” my teacher said. “You will see all of your judgments and flaws in a magnifying glass until after some time, they will fall away.”
I gulped, wondering if I was ready to truly see myself. I decided, despite my fears, to take on the challenge.
How mirror gazing helped me get to the root of my negative thought patterns.
The first few days of this mirror “challenge” were tough, to say the least. I quickly became aware of the thoughts and judgments I was holding on to about myself, and they were harsh enough to make me break down and cry at some points. Sticking with it, I began to see my 11-year-old self looking back at me as I remembered growing up and watching my mom criticize herself in the mirror, unaware that I was picking up on her subtly destructive habit. It wasn’t her fault; she just didn’t know any better. But this ultimately gave birth to the belief system that I wasn’t good enough.
Reluctantly, I stayed with the practice of really looking at myself in the mirror, watching my body breathe from my belly to the crown of my head.
After the first week, the critical voices slowly lost some strength. I began to accept my belly even when it was bloated, the cystic acne scars on my face, the discoloration from my ACL surgery. After the second week, I incorporated a mantra—”I love my beautiful, powerful, strong body”—knowing I wouldn’t speak to my 10-year-old self with critical words, so what made it OK to speak to my adult self that way?
The practice of facing myself in the mirror helped to peel away years of conditioning and prejudice and discover a new sense of self-acceptance. It ultimately helped me fall in love with myself after years of battling an eating disorder and never feeling at home in my body.
How you can cultivate self-compassion using a mirror-gazing ritual.
Through that self-acceptance, I discovered self-compassion, a Buddhist concept that means to relate to oneself with kindness. It’s a powerful emotion; one that might even be more beneficial than self-confidence in the long run. Self-compassion has taught me that my worth is unconditional and reminded me of the shared humanity that unites us all. So many of us do not feel at home in our bodies. Our inner critic runs the show while we suffer quietly.
Through this challenge, I began to forgive myself for this inner monologue of shame, judgment, and harm; for all those years I convinced myself I was unlovable. I also learned to forgive those who harmed me and forgive society for making me believe I had to look like the girl next door.
Fast-forward to today, and I now recommend this practice to all of the clients in my coaching business. Here’s how I tell them to ease into it:
1. Start by looking at your face in the mirror for five minutes, three times a week. Put on a relaxing playlist in the background. Use your breath to come back to the present moment and repeat the mantra: “I love myself; I accept myself; I am safe.”
2. After two weeks of doing that, increase to 10 minutes five times every day for one week.
3. For the last week, stand naked in front of a full-length mirror every day and repeat your mantra. Stick to the practice and show up daily, and when you catch yourself being negative, come back to kindness.
The mirror meditation has become one of my favorite methods of coming back to myself and supporting my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I encourage you to try it out and use it as a tool for remembering your worth, for remembering who you truly are.