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Sprinkling self-compassion

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Years ago I met a woman called Katherine in a 6 week learn to meditate course I was delivering. As the course progressed, she shared more about herself including her desire to have a baby, something her and her partner had been trying for for sometime.

Katherine’s diligence and drive to date had led to great career success but the adopting the same approach to falling pregnant hadn’t worked much to her disappointment. Her doctor had recommended meditation as a useful tool to help her to better manage and relate to the anxiety she was experiencing as a result and so she’s signed up for a course. Her conscientiousness had led to her researching a lot about meditation including different techniques and their benefits, as well as discovering its cousin, self compassion which she appeared to have a real curiosity for.

In response, I shared a few ways in which one can could bring self compassion into their life from Dr Christopher Germer’s ‘ The mindfulness path to selfcompassion – freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions.

Physically – by softening your body

When your body is under stress, a compassionate response involves softening into physical discomfort, not tightening up. Christopher suggests the following –
– If you are feeling tense, try softening the belly. Let it be loose and at ease. If you notice another body part that is tight, allow it to soften too.  With softening, you’re not ‘trying to relax’ which puts pressure on you to feel something you are not. Just soften.
– Do the same with your breath. When you’re tense, your breath will become short and shallow. Try softening the breath a bit, perhaps by extending your belly outward as you inhale and exhale very slowly. Exhale twice as long as you inhale. Don’t worry if you return to shallow breathing when you are done.

Mentally – by allowing your thoughts 

When your mind is racing with thoughts, the compassionate response is to step back and allow your thoughts to come and go – to stop resisting. You might even like to label your thoughts and emotions – for example, ‘this is a thought about work, my partner, next week’s event, etc’. When you do this, notice your tone – let it be kind and friendly, rather than full of judgment and contempt for yourself.

Brain research suggests that finding words for feelings deactivates the part of the brain that initiates a stress response. Using a mantra which involves repeating a phrase over and over again can also be beneficial.  Repeating these phrases calms the mind, due to their meaning and the power of concentration. Whenever we return our attention to a single word or phrase, we are unhooking our thoughts
Some examples include – ‘let go,’ ‘don’t know, don’t know,’ ‘I’m enough.’

Emotionally – by be-friending your feelings 

The compassionate way to care for your emotional state is to be- friend painful emotions, to stop fighting them.  Treating yourself to enjoyable activities can also help such as listening to music, going on a holiday, reading a novel, gardening, etc. As someone who was suffering from anxiety, Katherine’s goal was to become more accepting of anxiety, not to have less anxiety per se, and to hold anxiety with more kindness and less adversity. If I was in contact with Katherine now, I would also share with her this article:  ‘Love yourself – learn to quit the negative self talk and you’ll reap the benefits.’

Becoming aware of her inner voice and how critical it could be was also a game changer for Katherine. Once she was aware of it, she embraced what psychologist Paul Gilbert describes as a ‘kinder tone’ towards herself, ‘ making the decision to treat herself and her critic with the kind of wise compassion you’d afford a good friend, offering helpful suggestions in a kind tone.’

One of the benefits of participating in courses like the mindfulness based stress reduction in Preston is becoming more aware of your thoughts and with that, your inner critic and voice. Join us at the next program commencing in February 2020 in Preston, Melbourne.

From late 2020, we will also be offering the mindful self-compassion course aimed at teaching the skill of self-compassion.

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