A few weeks ago I left a yoga class feeling charged with a refreshing burst of lightness and serenity. It was all because of a simple yet somehow difficult concept to apply in real life: the act of self-compassion.
Our teacher had instructed us to sit facing towards her. She then told us to wrap one arm around ourselves and then the other. I sat there expectantly waiting for further instruction when she softly said, “now give yourself a big hug. You deserve your love and compassion just as much as everyone else in your life, if not more. It is important to remind ourselves that all of us, including you, are trying our best.”
I let her words set in as I embraced myself, feeling very odd to hug myself. It was only at that moment I realized how little love and affection I gave myself. So often it feels as if my nurturing and forgiving side crumbles in the presence my judgmental, inner critic. It made me wonder how many others out there felt the same as I did.
Following that class, I spent the next week making an intentional effort to remind myself that we are all doing the best we can with what we have. I found it quite easy to offer compassion and kindness to others freely but once it came to shining that light inwards it felt stilted and unnatural.
While most of us are aware of the benefits of compassion, many of us fail to remember that a crucial component of compassion is applied to the self. Dr Kristen Neff, the world’s leading expert on self-compassion defines it as the act of being kind, understanding and forgiving to ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. It means taking a step back from a personal failure and asking yourself, how can I comfort and care for myself at this moment? It means accepting that we cannot control everything in life and frustrations, losses and mistakes are all a part of being human. The more we accept this as a reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more we will be able to feel compassion for ourselves.
Self-compassion does not mean issuing ourselves a free ticket to wallow in self-pity, it is not a free card out of dealing with life’s setbacks. Rather it allows us to see our mistakes and shortcomings as an inevitability of life. It does not amplify our failures, instead, it helps to find balance by bringing mindful awareness to them. When we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve failed or felt inadequate, we would begin to pay close attention to the voice inside our mind. If a critical, aggressive and belittling voice takes over we would pause and ask ourselves, ‘is this the way I would talk to someone I love? Is this the advice or encouragement I would offer?‘
If not, then change that inner voice as if you were talking to someone you love. Learn to nurture yourself and soften the edges of your mind so they can be a soft landing for the inevitable blows in life. Once we can build a solid foundation within ourselves we can learn to comfort ourselves without needing others.
This will not be an easy process and it will not happen overnight, but you can start today. Next time the inner critic takes the reigns of your mind filter those thoughts by letting go of the ones that no longer serve you and keeping the ones that lift you up.
Life may not be easy but it becomes a whole lot easier if you become your own best friend.