Some of you might know it, but a big part of how I found yoga came from my struggle with mental health issues when it felt like I was turning against myself.
Yoga has helped me stop running away from myself and bring more acceptance and kindness to the parts I find difficult to be with. Notice how I'm still using the present tense?
What got me into practising yoga is also the big reason why I teach and what I want to share with my teaching more - to empower you, help you help yourself, equip you with tools to reduce self-generated suffering, and cultivate inner trust that you are enough and resilient to navigate through life's ups and downs.
One of the tools I wanted to share with you today is the practice of self-compassion, the importance of self-compassion and how it can be the tool we turn to when we struggle.
The leading researcher on self-compassion, Kristin Neff defines it as your ability to treat yourself with the same kindness, care, understanding that you would show a close friend who is struggling.
Sadly, this doesn't often come naturally to us and in moments of difficulty we're wired to do the opposite - be harsh on ourselves, judge our feelings, think we're inadequate and feel alone in our struggle.
How can we practise self-compassion and
what does it entail to be a compassionate person?
Kristin Neff breaks it out into 3 necessary components - mindfulness, common humanity and kindness.
Mindfulness helps us become aware of when we struggle as so often we can be lost in it, overidentified with our story and our reaction, not able to see outside of our struggle. Mindfulness helps us turn toward our suffering with perspective and create more space around our experience.
With that space, we can recognise our common humanity and remember that no one lives a perfect life and never struggles. It seems obvious, but it's the first thing we forget when we fail, or make a mistake, or go through something difficult ourselves. We often react that this shouldn't be happening, or something is wrong with us, and no one else feels this way or struggles with it. This makes us feel cut off and alone in our struggle. Common humanity can remind us that life is difficult for everyone and instead of feeling alone with our problems we can feel more connected to others.
When we realise we might be going through something difficult and that it's part of being a human, instead of defaulting to being harsh on ourselves we can practise responding with kindness. To give ourselves the compassion we need just the way we would support and help someone we care about when they struggle. Kindness and compassion don't deny us from feeling what we feel, don't require us to get rid of the pain, but can bring a loving perspective to it and encourage us to take action to be there for ourselves in the midst of a struggle.
So a couple of questions to you my dear yogi, if you too could use a bit of self-compassion practice. Do you recognise yourself in some of these patterns?
Do you often try to escape difficult feelings?
Do you feel alone when you struggle?
Do you talk harshly to yourself in moments of difficulty?
My default answers to all of these would have been 'yes', but it's empowering to realise we can practise changing it, right? Instead of adding to our struggle, we can learn to be there for ourselves like a caring friend.