Have you ever noticed how you are so much tougher on yourself than your partner, friends, family, colleagues? Or how you seem to set yourself higher standards?
We find it easy to accept the flaws and imperfections of the people we love. Comforting words and actions come naturally to us when our friend gets fired or doesn’t get the promotion she wanted. And should a colleague mess up at work, of course we will support them with kind words and advice.
But what happens to that compassionate self should we get let go, or lose our temper or make a mistake? Instead of turning towards our suffering with words of comfort, we berate ourselves as useless, convincing ourselves that we are unworthy, unlovable and simply not good enough.
Self-compassion is not merely a state of being or quality; it’s a practice, and we learn it through experience. My practice of Yoga has been one of my most powerful teachers for cultivating self compassion. During asana, pranayama, meditation, and other yoga practices, we learn to observe and befriend the body and mind—developing self-awareness and discernment.
Yoga and the Body
With regular practice you learn to understand to the body and be guided from a space of innate wisdom rather than driven by ego. In short, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to. You know when you need to rest or ease out of a posture. You recognise that some days the balance is just not there and you find acceptance with that.
Self compassion is recognising that some days you are more tired and allowing yourself to come to child’s pose. Self compassion is modifying your postures or skipping the vinyasa’s to suit your needs in that moment.
The real challenge comes in when you reach a little further in your forward fold or you do a headstand for the first time to not let that define your practice and worth. Whether you can or cannot touch your toes has no impact on your innate self and the love you deserve.
Yoga and the Mind
Through your practice of yoga you learn how the mind works and have space to listen to the way you talk to yourself. When you fall out do you criticise and judge yourself? Do you look at the person next to you with their perfect form and think, ‘why bother, I’ll never be able to do that anyway!’ Or do you say, ‘that’s okay, everyone falls, let’s try again’.
The way we talk to ourself during our asana practice is most likely the way we talk to ourself during our everyday. When you make a mistake do you look for a way to castigate yourself? Or do you empathise and support?
This attitude can be so hard to cultivate, but each time you come to the mat, you get the opportunity to greet yourself with a little more compassion.
Yoga off the Matt
How we think and behave on the mat mirrors our everyday living. What we learn on the mat, applies off the mat. What good is forcing yourself into a pretzel like position if you’re just going to get injured. In the same way, what good is pushing yourself harder and harder, regardless of how you feel and what you actually need. How helpful is it to slander yourself every time you fall down or make a mistake? What would your life be like if your language was supportive, compassionate and kind instead?
We can think of our yoga mat as a playground in which we can explore, test, and practice cultivating a compassionate attitude. So next time you fall out of half moon, notice how you speak to yourself and switch it up to something kinder, more loving. When your teacher offers you the choice of legs up the wall or headstand take a moment to pause and listen to the little voices keen to impress or better. When you’re feeling tired, give yourself the permission to spend the entire class in child’s pose. Once you get comfortable treating yourself in this way on your yoga mat, you’ll start to notice how compassion finds it way into all other areas of your life.
Life is too short, too wonderful to be unkind. Change doesn't happen overnight but with awareness we can consciously cultivate a more loving and compassionate relationship with the self.
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