Meditation and mindfulness practices involve paying attention on purpose, to the present moment, with an open, curious and accepting attitude. There are various meditation and mindfulness techniques that can be used, and each have their own benefits. However, more important than the technique employed is the underlying intention, or attitude, of the practice.
Don't meditate to fix yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather do it as an act of love, of deep warm friendship to yourself.
- Bob Sharples, Meditation teacher and Psychologist.
With an attitude of curiosity, acceptance and kindness, a meditation practice can help enhance self-compassion.
Self-compassion is your ability to love yourself. Treating yourself as you would a close friend or family member. The aim is to become aware of your suffering (such as when you feel let down, fail an exam, or have an argument with someone) and offer yourself comfort and support.
Self-compassion has many and varied benefits. Individuals who rate high in self compassion are:
Better at managing stress via the release of oxytocin and endorphins which deactivate the “fight or flight” defence system
Less likely to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following exposure to combat
Report experiencing greater enthusiasm, inspiration, and excitement than those who are self-critical
Less anxious and depressed
Feel more confident and trusting of self when imagining an embarrassing situation
Improving our self-compassion helps us enhance our well-being.
Here are 3 of our favourite meditation practices to strengthen self-compassion.
A traditional Buddhist technique, loving kindness meditation involves sending love to yourself, to people you love, and then to your whole community, country and all human beings. You could repeat phrases to yourself such as “May I be happy, May I be Safe, May I be healthy, May I live with a sense of peace and ease”; changing the “I” to “you” when bringing to mind friends, family, community etc. It may help to place a hand over your heart, and physically feel a sense of connection to your heart as you do this practice.
The RAIN meditation by Tara Brach involves acknowledging and recognising difficult emotions, thoughts and situations, and can be particularly useful when our inner critic is taking over. The practices goes as follows:
Recognise what feeling/emotion is most prominent.
Acknowledge the presence of the feeling/emotion. Allow it to be there, just as it is.
Investigate the physical sensations of this emotion/feeling. How does it make the mind feel? What body sensations are present?
Nurture yourself with self-compassion. Like you would a friend who is going through a tough time - offer yourself kindness, understanding and comfort.
Spend 1 minute on each letter for a short meditation, or up to 3 minutes on each letter for a longer practice.
Recollective Awareness (see ‘Unlearning Meditation’ book by Jason Stiff) involves meditating and then journaling about your experience. While meditating, simply become aware of what is going on around you. Notice the natural arising of sounds, smells, body sensations, the breath, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When writing about your experience afterwards be as detailed as you can. Reflect on what thoughts came up, body sensations you felt, the state of your mood, memories, etc. Do this practice each day (5 to 20 minutes) for a week and then read over your entries. You may notice patterns or repeated themes that occur, and will likely gain a greater understanding and awareness of yourself, and your current level of self-compassion.
Building compassion takes time
The development and nurturing of self-compassion is an ongoing practice. Some days will be easier than others, and there’ll likely be challenges along the way. But, ultimately, being more self-compassionate can enhance well-being and help us be more compassionate towards others. If you take on this practice, we’d love hearing about your experience - leave a comment below or post to our Facebook page.
Developing a new view toward oneself is no easy task, for it goes against the grain of a lifetime of conditioning. It is not a matter of so-called positive thinking or the naive affirmations exemplified by vows like "today I will be kinder to myself." It requires the shedding, gradually, of defences constructed long ago… Needed are both a desire to accept oneself and the courage to look honestly.
- Dr Gabor Mate, M.D. and Psychiatrist.
This article was written by meditation and mindfulness coach Sophie Ball. Sophie is available for one-on-one consultations at Vital Chi Wellness where she teaches a 4 week introduction to meditation program. Call 98940014 to find out Sophie’s available appointment times.