Self-compassion involves becoming aware of the presence of suffering in our bodies, emotions, thoughts, and actions—and then taking steps to diminish the suffering. Compassion is the natural and spontaneous feeling that arises when we witness suffering, and that triggers our taking action to alleviate the suffering. While it may sound easy, practicing compassion for ourselves is the more difficult of the two. Creating a practice to integrate self-compassionate feelings into your life can heal your mind and body, and open your heart to new heights.
Benefits of Self-Compassion
Research indicates that cultivating self-compassion can contribute to beneficial physical, emotional-mental, and interpersonal changes, such as:
- Modulates hormonal functioning, especially of oxytocin and cortisol
- Reduces the intensity and frequency of negative and chronic stress reactions
- Copes with difficult emotional experiences
- Moderates depression and anxiety
- Increases emotional well being
- Mitigates negative thinking, including rumination
- Improves interpersonal relationships
- Enhances patience, generosity, gratitude, acceptance, humility, openness, and gentleness
10 Steps to Self-Compassion
Set aside 15 minutes the first time you do this practice. Read through the sequence to get a feel for the flow of the practice before you begin. You will develop your own pace and rhythm as your practice grows, extending or decreasing the amount of time you need to get the most out of it.
- Lie down or take a comfortable seat that feels both relaxed and alert.
- Practice mindful breath: Become aware of your breath; breathe naturally while noticing in-breathing and out-breathing. Anchor your attention to a specific body-part, for examples you can focus at the tip of the nostrils or lips, sensing air entering and exiting the body, or you can focus on your belly as it rises while breathing in, and falls while breathing out.
- Place one or both hands over the region of the heart, and bring a mental picture or memory of a loved one into awareness, someone with whom you have experienced a feeling of unconditional acceptance. This may be a human being or an animal, any being whose presence elicits natural happiness.
- Recognize that your loved one, like all beings, experiences the vulnerabilities and the aspirations that life brings. He or she is subject to the sufferings of pain, accidents, disease, undo fear, or sadness, and eventual dying and death.
- Bring the presence of this person into your heart-space while silently repeating the following:
- May you be safe
- May you be well
- May you be happy
- May you live with ease
As you notice that your attention has wandered elsewhere, gently encourage your attention back to the presence of the loved one at your heart center, and resume the practice of repeating each of the four phrases.
- Add yourself to the goodwill you are generating from the space of your heart, repeating the following phrases:
- May you and I be safe
- May you and I be well
- May you and I be happy
- May you and I live with ease
Repeat these or other phrases that feel natural to you, while cultivating an attitude of openness, acceptance, and loving-kindness.
- Picture the entirety of your mind-body. Gently and slowly begin to scan your body by moving your attention:
- From the crown of the head down the neck, shoulders, both arms, hands and fingers
- Along the front and back of the upper torso, and then the pelvic region
- Up the body from the toes all the way to the crown of the head
- Toward any areas of pleasantness and unpleasantness
- Offer compassionate loving kindness to yourself by repeating the following phrases:
- May I be safe
- May I be well
- May I be happy
- May I live with ease
- If it feels safe, then revisit areas of unpleasantness while holding a part of the mind-body in the heart space. Consider naming the mind-body part within the phrases, for example:
- “May the knee that I am trying to take care of be well …”
- “May the fear that I have tried to push away be at ease …”
- “May I be at ease with the negative thoughts that I have fought for so many years …"
- Conclude your practice by bringing awareness back to the entire mind-body, and sensing the entirety of your being as a singular organism intimately connected with all other life forms. As you breathe, feel your connection with all of life. Lie or sit for some time in silence.
Shorter Options for a Self-Compassion Practice
At any time in your day, you can practice self-compassion, even if you only have 15 or 30 seconds. Whether you’re at work and feeling stressed, at home with your family, or anywhere you feel you need a little extra self-love, take a moment to activate self-compassion by bringing loving kindness to your awareness.
7-Day Self-Compassion Challenge
Form an intention to practice for seven consecutive days to see how the powerful the benefits can be. If possible, practice at the same time each day. After one week of practice, ask yourself:
- What was your experience?
- Has practicing self-compassion catalyzed more personal awareness? If yes, of what?
- Has practicing triggered answers on what to do to alleviate your suffering?
- Have you taken actions you had not taken before doing this practice?
- Evaluate whether you want to commit to practicing for another week, and then another...
Formally practicing each day generates, solidifies, and strengthens deeply positive experiences in your life that literally etch into the brain. Being compassionate with yourself generates acceptance of your humanness and the humanness of others, an essential quality for a fuller awakening. Your focus shifts from the time-bound personal narrative of the small ego-self to present-moment compassionate awareness. When you awaken self-compassion, you can strengthen your familiarity with your essential nature and reconnect with the vast fullness of the All/the One/the Ground of Being.
After a steady practice, you will find yourself more often spontaneously feeling self-compassion, even when you’re not practicing.