In a modern yoga scape littered with self-development literature and enlightenment-centric teachings, some of yoga’s finer–and more beautiful–teachings are often overlooked. In the Kripalu Yoga Tradition, self-compassion (Kripalu is Sanskrit for “merciful,” “compassionate,” or “compassionate”) is a teaching that is particularly stressed. The modern emphasis on physically demanding yoga practices often sacrifices compassion for achievement. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can encourage self-compassion in yoga while maintaining its intensity and challenge.
What is self-compassion
Self-compassion involves expressing compassion, understanding, acceptance, kindness, and tenderness towards oneself in response to feelings such as suffering or inadequacy. Accepting one’s imperfections and seeing the opportunities for learning, growth, and wisdom from our mistakes and misfortunes is necessary to practice self-compassion. We can be compassionate in the face of suffering, even though it is a part of human life.
Self-compassion can be a powerful tool to reduce negative thoughts and promote inner strength, mental well-being, and resilience. Self-compassion is a powerful tool to promote mental well-being, inner strength, and resilience. Swami Kripalu said once, “My beloved Child, do not break your heart anymore.” You break your heart every time you judge yourself. You stop feeding off the love that is your source of vitality. It’s time. Your time. Your time. You, my child, are divine. You are pure. You are free …”
Self-compassion, at its core, is tantric. For a Western population used to self-criticism and accustomed to self-reflection, loving yourself completely and appreciating both your dark and bright sides equally doesn’t seem right. Were we not supposed to be “on the fast track to enlightenment,” staying positive, and shunning aspects of ourselves that don’t match our ideal selves? How can we be perfect when so many things need to be “fixed” in us? How can we reconcile the tantric maxim of infinitely more than we are with our feeling of “not enoughness”?
How to cultivate compassion for yourself in yoga
Even after ten million self-help guides and a strengthened inner critic, the suffering – and our inept attempts to stop it – persists. Jung noted that the more we resist or deny our suffering, the worse it gets. Self-compassion, tantra Yoga, and other practices teach us that we can only walk in the light by loving ourselves fully. This includes embracing both suffering and joy. Four simple techniques can be used to add more kindness and compassion to your yoga practice and life.
Treat yourself as a dear friend
Self-compassion on the mat can help to reduce self-judgment. This may occur during a difficult pose, an injury or fatigue, comparisons with others, or when you feel like you are not “yogi enough,” whatever that term means. This is a moment of pain (however small or great). Give yourself permission to care for or soothe yourself like a friend or loved one would. You can back out of this pose any amount. You can find it in your heart to allow yourself to come into child pose for a few breaths.
Connect your Breath
Your breathing will tell you how relaxed and kind your yoga practice is by its quality, length, and depth. During your yoga practice, pay attention to how you breathe. If your breathing is becoming laborious or shallow during your yoga practice, change your breathing pattern to bring kindness and sweetness to your practice. Maintaining a deep, slow breath will promote compassion, reduce stress, tension, and trauma, and bring energy and awareness into your yoga poses.
Close your eyes and practice yoga
You can reduce your self-criticism and stop needing external validation by keeping your eyes closed during poses. Focus on how the pose feels instead of what it looks like. Make adjustments to your posture based on how you feel about the pose rather than comparing yourself to others. Turning your attention inwards, rather than letting others drive your actions, will increase your self-motivation. This will create a sustainable and rewarding practice.
Send yourself compassion
Asanas in Kripalu yoga are seen as practices of yoga for life. You can use your hands to comfort yourself when facing challenges on your mat. Imagine that you’re sending compassion to the part of yourself shared by all living beings or to a pet or loved one who is an extension of you.
How do you cultivate self-compassion in your everyday life or on the mat? Tell us what you find to be most effective.