Cultivating Self-Compassion

This guest post is written by yoga therapist and contemplative coach Alexa Owen. Alexa’s methodology is rooted in bridging the non-dual psychology of Eastern traditions and empirical rigor of contemplative science to illuminate ways of being in our 21st century world. 

Infusing wellness, education, and organizational cultures alike, compassion may be the most recognized practice for cultivating a healthy life. From the Latin root “compati,” which means “to suffer with,” compassion asks us to not only connect with someone’s suffering, but to also generate the altruistic wish that the suffering be relieved. 

Take a moment now to pause and recall a time when you learned about a loved one going through a difficult time. That tugging on your heart -- empathy coupled with a natural longing to help – that is compassion.

The Pillars of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is compassion directed inward: it asks us to treat ourselves just as we would treat someone we love and care about when there is pain or suffering. Psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff identifies three main components of self-compassion: mindfulness, self-kindness, and shared common humanity. 

-Mindfulness asks us to become aware of and notice our suffering – e.g., a recurring self-critical thought like “I’m not good enough.” Bringing this into conscious awareness gives us the space to work with it, so that it’s not unconsciously causing distress.

-Self-kindness asks us to be warm and understanding toward ourselves in difficult moments, like when we fail or make mistakes. Responding to ourselves in a nurturing way, just as an all-caring mentor or friend would do, creates a culture of safety within the mind and body. This sense of safety and care creates the conditions for intuition to arise. 

-Shared common humanity asks us to acknowledge that any pain, distress, or suffering we experience is not in isolation: that countless other human beings also make mistakes, get frustrated, and live imperfectly. We share the exquisite imperfections that make us all human, and this is okay. It may even be beautiful.

Benefits of Self-Compassion
Self-compassion has a wide range of benefits for health, relationships, and overall well-being. It is our constant companion, our unwavering support for diffusing stress, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and providing a protective buffer against anxiety and depression. In terms of secondary benefits, it has been shown to increase productivity and perseverance. That’s right: research shows that cultivating self-compassion rather than self-criticism increases the likelihood that you’ll reach your most meaningful goals. 

Strengthening intuition is a lesser known and substantial benefit of self-compassion. Calming the stress response and holding ourselves with care shifts the nervous system into a parasympathetic state: the “rest and digest” mode. When we are willing to connect compassionately to ourselves, the ease and sense of deep safety created opens a portal into states of creativity, intuitive insight, and flow. Continually tuning into this intelligent wisdom of intuition, this intimacy with the deeper self, mobilizes us to live our lives with fierce authenticity. 

Tips for Cultivating Self-Compassion
-Start your morning with an affirmation – for example, “I am loved, all is well.” Keep it short and in the present tense, so that the fertile ground of the subconscious mind can help it grow into lived experience

-Use a daily meditation practice to lay a foundation for mindful self-awareness. Consistency is key: 5-10 minutes daily (as opposed to an hour sit once per week) creates neural and cognitive shifts that stick

-Catch the critic (and do it kindly). Noticing a critical thought when it arises creates space between the thought and acting on the thought – even if the thought is there, you don’t have to believe it

-Set 3-5 reminders on your phone to take pauses for self-compassion throughout the day.  Rest a hand on the heart, ride the rhythm of your breath, and allow any supportive words or coaching arise from a space of intuitive awareness.

-Take a moment before you go to sleep each evening to reflect on the action steps you completed that day to cultivate self-compassion. Rejoice in the effort and any fruits or benefits that arose from it – this builds momentum to continue and deepen the practice

Practicing self-compassion builds the foundation for a flourishing life through mindfulness, self-kindness, and sincere connection. It propels you toward your most meaningful goals while inviting you to align with your own intuitive wisdom. May these tools guide you into a lived experience of self-compassion that infuses all aspects of daily life. 

Connect with Alexa on Instagram @alexaowen_