Self-compassion is My New Yoga
August 25, 2014
by Kim Childs, CPPC
It’s been a rough year on the planet, with headline news that’s alternately heartbreaking and horrifying. In addition, so many people I know are losing loved ones or facing serious health issues, and I’m hearing cries of overwhelm amid the relentless buzz of modern life.
Whether or not you’re feeling the strain, I recommend that you be extra kind to yourself these days. In fact, I recommend that you do it all the time.
Accepting ourselves, flaws and all, and truly loving who we are is one of the most challenging journeys we’ll undertake. I’m absolutely on that journey, making self-acceptance and self-compassion my primary practices as I navigate some major life transitions.
I distinctly remember two moments that positively altered my relationship with myself, and the first one came through my body in 1999. It happened during a yoga class in which the teacher was leading us in head-to-knee pose. As I extended and folded my torso over my leg, the teacher said, “Breathe, and don’t abandon your body.”
His words woke me up.
For years, I had criticized, abused and rejected my body. In that moment I saw it as something aware and deserving, even desiring, of my admiration and companionship. It was the beginning of a healthier partnership with my physical self. Now I sing love songs to my body, because I know that it’s always listening, and I honor it as the wondrous, intelligent being that it is.
The second awakening came at the end of a brief romantic relationship, right before the holidays (for the second time in a year!). Amid big sobs over a man who didn’t return my affections, I suddenly wrapped my arms around myself and said, “I’m sorry, so sorry, that you are going through this. I love you, and you deserve a man who will love you, and stay.”
Two weeks later, I met one who did.
Although that relationship ended after several years, it was full of more unconditional love and devotion than I’d ever known with a man. I think that’s because of the decision I made to love myself first on that tearful evening.
There’s a quote, attributed to the Buddha, which says, “You, yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
That’s not the message that most of grew up with, so we have to learn it as adults in order to reverse our tendency toward self-criticism. When I teach The Artist’s Way, my students are often surprised to discover that treating themselves kindly—as opposed to beating themselves up—is what actually motivates them to make the changes they desire in life.
As humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers wrote, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
My coaching clients sometimes need reminding of how much they’ve done and how far they’ve come when they’re only focused on their perceived inadequacies and unmet goals. We’re all so hard on ourselves, when acknowledgement and kindness would go a much longer way.
I’m not talking about self-indulgence, by the way, which can be linked to self-pity and may lead to self-destruction. I’m talking about the kind of positive self-regard that makes us want to care for ourselves, do better, try again and improve.
Love inspires that.
Kristin Neff, a leading author and researcher on the benefits of self-compassion, notes that it doesn’t make pain or hardship go away. Instead, self-compassion acknowledges that life involves failure and suffering and gives us “permission to be human,” as I often heard in my Positive Psychology studies. It then directs us to find comfort and connection within ourselves when times are hard, being our own best friend.
Sometimes, self-forgiveness is a necessary first step to self-compassion. We may need to view any actions we regret through the lens of understanding and affirm that we did the best we could with the consciousness we had at the time. I often recommend that my students and clients write love and forgiveness letters to themselves, and the results can be powerfully transformative.
I recently spoke with someone whose life has been turned upside down by a health crisis. When I told him how sorry I was for his suffering, he remarked that he knew others who were much worse off. “Yes,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean you aren’t having a hard time, too.” His face softened as he acknowledged that he was, in fact, really struggling to cope with his new condition.
It felt like an important admission for him to make, to himself.
Self-compassion is my new yoga, and it doesn’t require any straps, mats or stretchy clothes. It only requires mindful awareness and inwardly directed messages of love, support and encouragement. It can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and the only posture involved is a hand placed gently over the heart.
A few winters ago I bought a rose ring to represent my commitment to myself. Whenever I look at it, I’m reminded to love the person who’s wearing it. May you, too, love yourself a little more each day.
Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.