Are you a good friend to yourself?
Self Compassion has become central to my practice as I get older.
Why? Because I think the practice of self compassion provides a missing link between yoga, meditation and our lived experience in the world. In yoga, we have an important limb which is non-harming (ahimsa) and in Buddhism there are the Divine Abodes (which include compassion). In both contemplative traditions there is a reference to compassion, yet compassion towards ourself is left out of the equation.
This is often because traditional yogic and Buddhist practices are paths for reununciates. Practitioners didn’t have full time jobs, children to care, university study. They went into the forest or monastery to contemplate the meaning of life. These practitioners were primarily men. While we may get a taste of renunciation on a trip to India, or on a yoga retreat (only a few spots left!), generally our approach to practice in modern times is very different to those who walked this path thousands of years ago.
Self compassion has seen me through some of life’s most difficult moments. It is very different to self care – this is not about massage or bubble baths. Self compassion is best realised in the midst of a dedicated sadhana, which as you would know by now, is a central message at Yoga Space. Yoga and meditation work! But you need to practice and you are the only person who can do that for you (so a reminder to book your classes!).
Self compassion research tells us that there are three very important elements of this practice.
The three pillars are:
1. Mindfulness instead of over identification
Mindfulness practice gives us the opportunity to respond instead of react. This creates a non-judgemental inner landscape in which we begin to learn how to hold in awareness our negativity, emotion and difficulties. We don’t identify as strongly with our inner critic or our perceived ‘failures’
2. Understanding our common humanity instead of isolation
Often, we think we are the only people making mistakes or suffering. We often feel alone in the midst of anxiety, depression or grief. Broadening our perspective to include the vulnerability and humanity of all people makes our hard times less isolating. We are not alone. This is all part of being human.
3. Self kindness instead of self judgment
Mindfulness and understanding of our common humanity allows us to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, understand and embrace our imperfections as part of being human. We give ourself the kindness and forgiveness we would give a child or someone we care about. We speak to ourselves lovingly. In the past few years, I have learnt that self compassion allows me to hold space more deeply for all that I experience on and off my yoga mat. It has allowed me to see that often I do not give myself the same kindness or generosity I would give a dear friend. I have learnt to speak to myself more gently, to hold space for all of my emotions and experiences and ultimately this has led to greater freedom both in my practice and day to day life.
For a moment, pause and think of what a good friend is like? Then ask:
Are you a good friend to yourself?
Do you cultivate an inner dialogue akin to that you would have with a friend who is having a hard time? Are you gentle with yourself? Can you forgive yourself?
For many of us, the answer is no. We are not kind to ourselves when we don’t meet our expectations or the expectations of others. We put pressure on ourselves to constantly be achieving. And often our world becomes very small when we feel like we are the only person struggling.
This July, our classes focus on self compassion. Our wish for you is to begin to realise that you are not alone and you deserve the kindness you would give to a friend. Sometimes though this journey is best done with a qualified health professional and the support of a group.
If self compassion is something you would like to nurture in your life, we invite you to join this four week group program with Social Worker and Counsellor Satyam Brown. Held online in the evenings, once a week for four weeks. More information can be found here.
Be gentle with yourself,