Meditation for self-compassion
With the mind’s constant chatter, and within the busyness of modern-day life, the idea of self-compassion might seem like a lofty goal — a distant emotion to be achieved sometime in the future. But it’s worth remembering that if we speak, treat, and judge ourselves with gentleness and kindness, we are far more likely to take that into the outside world and how we interact with, and think about, others.
Compassion is something to be cultivated, mainly because it is an innate quality, waiting to be tapped into. It is a quality that simply gets buried deep by the pace of life, the obligations we have on our plate, and our own internal dialogue. It’s only when we quiet the mind and create some mental space that our compassion blooms. By practicing meditation for self-compassion, we gain control over the mental chatter and encourage our compassion to come to the forefront.
Think about the way you treat a close friend — whether it’s on a day-to-day basis or in times of trouble. Chances are, you speak to them in a gentle manner and are sympathetic toward their struggles. Now think about your internal dialogue, whether it’s daily thought patterns about yourself, or when you feel you’ve failed at something. Are you giving yourself the same kindness and understanding that you’d offer a friend? Most likely not. But imagine if you were. What would happen if you approached your own thoughts and feelings in the same manner that you would approach a friend’s?
When starting a meditation practice, one of the goals is to learn to let go of self-judgment and the harsh inner-critic to create a softer, more gentle mind in which kindness can thrive. First, we need to learn to be kinder to ourselves. Once we learn to make this internal shift, everything starts to flow.
According to self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff, self-compassion is made up of three components: being kind to ourselves as we make mistakes (self-kindness), recognizing that suffering is part of the human experience and applies to everyone (common humanity), and observing our emotions and thoughts in a manner that’s non-judgmental (mindfulness). A mindful self-compassion meditation can help you tap into these components.
For many of us, it can be difficult to let kindness seep in, particularly when directing it toward ourselves. But difficult does not mean impossible. By practicing meditation for self-compassion, we can start letting go of that nagging inner voice that is constantly trying to bring us down or, even worse, sabotage our chances of success and happiness. Another piece of good news? Practicing self-compassion does not have to be one-size-fits-all. There are multiple meditation techniques that can help improve your relationship with your thoughts and feelings. All it takes is to find the approach that works best for you. These self-compassion meditation techniques are a great place to start experimenting:
Skillful compassion: A visualization technique in which we breathe in the difficulties of others, exchanging them for all the good things we’ve ever experienced on the out-breath. In sharing our moments of good fortune with others, we begin a journey toward more compassion and happiness for our own minds.
Compassionate body scan: Body scan is a technique in which you bring awareness to the body, starting at the very top of the head and scanning down to the tip of the toes as you bring awareness to any tension you’re feeling within the body.
Noting your emotions: A technique in which we gently pause to acknowledge the object of our distraction, giving a sense that it has been dealt with. As we get lost in thought during the practice, we simply run an imaginary feather along the thought taking over, then move on.
Meditation for self-compassion is a great tool to become more in-sync with your body and mind. Beyond teaching you to be kinder to yourself and treat yourself as a friend, the practice brings about other important benefits.
Improved relationships: Being kinder and more compassionate to ourselves has a ripple effect that extends into our everyday lives and relationships with others.
Improved sense of body image: According to a study published in the journal Body Image, people who are self-compassionate tend to have a better relationship with their own bodies.
A healthier relationship with food: The same Body Image journal study revealed that people who practice self-compassion approach eating in a more intuitive manner and have a healthier relationship with food.
These exercises, voiced by Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe, helps us recognize that we are not our thoughts. We're not our feelings. We are not what we look like, what we wear, or what we do. It helps us to see that there's something beyond all of that, beneath all of that. It's almost like a quiet confidence which underlies all the busyness and the noise of the mind. It may sound incredibly simple, but what it does, it starts to create a little bit of distance between ourselves and the thought, ourselves and the feeling so we don't get so involved in it, and it creates a more restful, confident state of mind.
Try this 10-minute meditation on self-esteem
This visualization technique, self-compassion meditation, will focus on cultivating a non-judgmental space for yourself, where kindness can prevail and ultimately translate to kindness toward others. Begin in a comfortable position, with a soft-focus in the eyes as you take in deep breaths: in through the nose and out through the mouth. On an out-breath, close your eyes and focus on the weight of your body’s points of contact stacked upon each other. Notice the different sounds around you before bringing your attention back to the body.
Next, bring your attention to the top of the head, and gently scan the body downward, all the way to your toes. How is it feeling today? Where are you holding tension? As you bring awareness back to the breath, where can you feel its movement?
When you are ready, shift your attention to the top of the head again. Take a moment to imagine a steady stream of sunlight flowing into the body, filling it up. This sunlight is flowing through the body, starting at the feet, traveling through the knees, reaching the upper body and extending through the arms, up the neck and the head. You’re just watching this happen — it takes no effort on your end to fill the body with sunlight.
Take this time to feel any tension floating away, and connect with the body’s sense of warmth and ease. Allow this feeling to remain for a few moments, while simultaneously letting the mind do whatever it chooses. As you bring the attention back to the body and how it feels within the space it inhabits, gently open the eyes. In your own time, take a few moments to reflect on what being kind to yourself feels like.
If you’re ready to begin showering yourself with self-compassion, the Headspace app offers a 10-session Kindness course that uses a combination of the body scan, visualization, and skillful compassion techniques in order to foster feelings of compassion within yourself, ultimately leading to more kindness toward others.
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