by John P. Rettger, PhD, ERYT-200
Yoga Tree Teacher
Recently my work as a research psychologist brought me to the study of self-compassion. I was so inspired by what I learned; I wanted to share it with you. Therefore, I have two aims in this article: 1) describe the psychology of self-compassion; and 2) offer a few tips on how to bring more of it into your own life.
Psychology of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion, as defined by a leading scholar in the field, Kristin Neff, PhD, is one’s willingness to be contacted by and receptive to one’s own suffering, rather than turning away from it. Being self-compassionate involves a desire and willingness to be with this suffering and committed to healing it with a soft kindness.
Neff suggests that self-compassion has three facets: (a) self-kindness- the application of kindness and understanding to oneself instead of harsh judgment and self-criticism; (b) common humanity- remembering and feeling that one is a member of a larger human tribe, rather than an isolated and separate being; and (c) mindfulness- to embrace fully the painful aspects of one’s experience with equanimity, rather than becoming enmeshed in them.
Beyond theory, being self-compassionate appears to be connected to numerous positive psychological outcomes. Researchers recently conducted a meta-analysis study, which is an aggregate analysis of many similar studies, surveying the larger field of compassion and psychological symptoms. They found that having higher levels of compassion were related to lower levels of symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. Other researchers3 have linked self-compassion with other improvements, such as worry and quality of life.
Practices to Cultivate Self-Compassion
Given the psychological benefits of practicing self-compassion, it makes sense to cultivate a practice of it, so here’s some possible ways. Neff’s three facets of self-compassion provide a useful framework for practice. Next time you have a difficult experience or are struggling with challenging emotions, consider trying out these practices:
1. Practice self-kindness: Sit in meditation, soften into your own pain, and with some soothing breaths move deeper within to connect to yourself in a way that acknowledges and honors something really good about you. Envision a time when you did something kind for someone else, or remember a time when you did something well or were successful. While you do this, stay with whatever pain or challenging emotions are happening for you. Know that by turning inward towards oneself, one is able to empower more self-reliance and confidence in being able to skillfully manage challenging emotions without turning toward external (or in some cases, unhealthy) coping mechanisms. We then establish our own heart as our place of true refuge. Spend as much time as you like in this meditation.
However, and this is important, know that it is common, when experiencing intense emotions, to not be able to think of something good, so in that case, do something that brings you happiness and joy. One of my go to practices is to take myself out for a cup of coffee at a favorite cafe with a really good book or a caring friend.
2. Connect to the larger tribe: When in strife, remember your sacred membership to an abundant planet of fellow human-beings, animals, plants, natural resources, and a larger universe of stars, planets and all things cosmic. It is common when something traumatic or really difficult happens to us, that we may feel as if we are alone in the experience. Finding safe ways to get more connected to a positive community builds self-compassion by fostering feelings of warmth and affiliation. Broadening one’s perspective outward beyond the self puts one in contact with others who have walked a similar path and this may relieve feelings of isolation. In meditation, one can imagine being fully and beautifully interwoven into this inseparable web of life and sending well-wishes of healing, love, and kindness toward the self and outward to all beings, plants, animals and the universe.
3. Practice mindfulness: Perhaps an oversimplified way of describing mindfulness is that it is present-moment awareness, held with intention, in a way that is discerning, yet non-judgmental, and compassionate. Mindfulness builds self-compassion by providing a lens to notice self-judgments, and it offers us a framework to intentionally let go of the desire for things to be other than what they are. As we develop a radical acceptance of all things, including ourselves, exactly as we are, we are essentially laying down fertile soil for a flowering of the seeds the practices sow for positive self-transformation. It may sound paradoxical that change comes through acceptance, but imagine how much easier it would be to move through the world without the ten thousand pounds of self-judgment that you may have been carrying around all of these years.
Practicing self-compassion is a powerful way to bring more happiness, freedom, and grace into your life.
The tools of self-compassion are simple, yet they hold the potential to make profound, meaningful, and positive contributions to your well-being.
Now is the perfect time to begin to practice. As you finish reading, I invite you to take a few moments to honor yourself for your commitment to your well-being and reflect on how you may deepen this commitment by offering self-compassion and kindness to yourself every day. You can write your thoughts down and create a self-compassion action plan.
For an extended version of this article, please visit: http://johnyoga.com/home/?p=492
About John’s Teaching:
John teaches weekly Restorative yoga classes at Yoga Tree and offers numerous Restorative yoga workshops throughout the year at numerous YT locations and will be teaching an Advanced Yoga Teacher Training- The Psychologically-minded Yoga Teacher, on Nov. 15 at YT Potrero.
View his full class schedule 6th Ave, Valencia and Telegraph, as well as his upcoming workshops:
Gracefully Balance Your Being: Restorative Yoga, Hot Stones & Reiki Healing with John Rettger & Ewa Litauer
August 17, 1:00 – 4:00pm at Corte Madera
August 30, 1:15 – 4:15pm at Valencia
September 21, 2:30 – 5:30pm at Telegraph
December 21, 1:15 – 4:15pm at Valencia
Hypnotic Restorative Yoga with John Rettger & Ewa Litauer
September 28, 1:00 – 4:15pm at Corte Madera
November 23, 1:00 – 4:15pm at Potrero
Dr. John Rettger is the Director of Mindfulness in the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Early Life Stress & Pediatric Anxiety Program. John’s current research is focused on developing mindfulness and yoga-based wellness programs for youth, teachers and mental health and wellness professionals. He has taught, consulted, and lectured on mindfulness and yoga for mental health in a variety of settings including professional development groups; a law firm; an International Workgroup on War, Violence, and Trauma at Stanford; the Stanford School of Medicine’s Residency program & Psychiatry Grand Rounds; the Stanford Dept. of Religious Studies; elementary schools; retreats; local school district staff development trainings; and psychology clinics. He is a lover of poetry, hanging out with friends and drinking awesome coffee.
1. Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.
2. MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(6), 545-552.
3. Van Dam, N. T., Sheppard, S. C., Forsyth, J. P., & Earleywine, M. (2011). Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. J Anxiety Disord, 25(1), 123-130. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2010.08.011