Try these practices of compassion on and off the mat.
If we are concerned with self-improvement or cultivating physical disciplines, we can be quite hard on ourselves, especially when things aren’t going as well as we’ve hoped or planned. Off the mat, there are sure to be times we disappoint ourselves, failing to live up to some ideal expectations. Instead of chastising or punishing yourself, or suppressing behaviours that you think are beneath you, can you instead be kind to whatever it is inside of you that is calling out for help? Can your kindness be unconditional? When your thoughts dive into dark places, instead of wishing you were feeling something else, can you listen, befriend yourself, and see what you may need to feel better?
It may be helpful to have a visual. Imagine that cranky part of you you find so annoying, or the part of you you think is weak and filled with bad habits, or the part of you that can’t get over some heartache – imagine that that person was someone else. Let’s say a small child. Your child. Or your little brother or sister. Maybe even a five-year old version of you. Someone small, cute, and helpless. What type of love and kindness would you be giving them when they were going through a difficult time? Can you give that to yourself?
On the mat
When you’re sweating, you’re breathing is getting laboured, and you start feeling frustrated that there is a pose you cannot do, where does your mind go? What is your internal monologue? Is it filled with angry reproofs involving your perceived inability or is it being kind to where your body is today? Can you accept limitations, temporary or permanent, and simply be with what is? Can you be so kind as to do something different? Can you be so daring to ask for help from a teacher if you need it?
If and when those dark thoughts arise, be kind to them and see what they need. Maybe it translates to working less physical intensity. Maybe it is giving yourself permission to be fiery. Maybe it means more time in the pose or more patience in general. Develop a fundamental attitude of friendliness to your body and its needs as you practice.
Off the mat
Every human being faces challenges, griefs, stresses, frustrations, and failures. Sounds a bit of a bummer, but we know that is one part of human experience. Of course our ability to navigate the tough times impacts on how well we can enjoy the good times. Meaning we can get stuck in the muck.
I’m sure I’m not alone in my sometimes feelings of disappointment with myself. Sometimes it’s annoyance and anger with how I behaved, performed, or responded in a challenging or stressful situation. To be frank, my mind doesn’t immediately go to soothing kindness to a part of my personality in turmoil. But again, if I could visualise that part of myself as a small version of me I would probably respond a bit differently. I’d ask that part of me what I needed to feel better. I’d give him kindness and reassurance. There might be a temporary feel-good solution and a long-term bit of tough love to get on the right or more productive and happiness-filled track. I’d let go of arbitrary punishment or wishing things would just be better while averting the shadow parts of my personality in distress.
The ‘good’ parts of ourselves are not the only parts that deserve love. There are parts that we struggle with. There are parts that hurt. There are parts of us that are right asses – and they need some love and friendship too. We have to sit with, accept, and bring all the parts of ourselves into the fold. If we never befriend the darker bits they will continue to be our adversaries and keep us embroiled in a lifelong fight.
Instead, a practice of kindness can be transformative. When you develop kindness and compassion towards yourself, your heart begins to grow and deepen its compassion towards your loved ones and those in ever widening communities around you. It is the entry point into an experience of human life that allows us to love, be loved, and be enriched by the joy of that love.