• Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Support Self-Compassion?

    Sometimes the hardest person to be compassionate to is ourselves.

    Compassion or, "noticing another person’s pain, experiencing an emotional reaction to his or her pain, and acting in some way to help ease or alleviate the pain” often comes quite naturally when directed at someone we care for or love. When it comes to the way we speak and act towards ourselves, however, we often lack this same self-compassion.

    Dr. Kristen Neff who has written and done research on self-compassion explains, "self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness—that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate.”  Dr. Kristen Neff's helpful description offers us insight into how self-compassion can support us and why it is is sometimes  difficult.

    One of the reasons self-compassion can be extremely difficult is because we’re often our harshest critic. A lot of our self-talk can be filled with judgment and blame, which makes it hard to be forgiving and loving towards ourselves. It also often prevents us from acting in a way that will actually alleviate our suffering like asking for help. Self-critique can isolates us and make us feel like others won’t understand us and the lack of connection makes us feel worse. 


    That's were mindfulness steps in to help.


    We can use mindfulness to bring curiosity and kindness to the way we see ourselves and our actions. When we make a mistake and notice ourselves speaking harshly to ourselves, we can remind ourselves (the way we might remind a good friend) that it’s okay to make mistakes and that mistakes often offer us valuable lessons. When we notice through mindful awareness that we're feeling lonely or exhausted we can practice self-compassion and give ourselves what would be most helpful in the moment.

    Dr. Kristen Neff offers practices and audio recordings that can help us be more self-compassionate. She offers activities that can help us be kind and generous towards our body and practices that support greater understanding towards ourselves and the things we feel and think. Below find a list of some of the activities she suggests.

    • How would you treat a friend? A writing exercise that asks us to think of the ways we would support a good friend who was struggling and compare it to the way we treat ourself when we’re struggling
    • Self-Compassion break: This activity asks us to take a mindful break when we’re experiencing difficulty and to acknowledge what we’re feeling. It then prompts us to be kind to ourselves.
    • Working with critical self-talk: In this activity we’re asked to notice when we’re being self-critical, make an effort to compassionately soften the self-critical voice, and reframe the inner critic in a friendly and helpful way.
    • Self-compassion journal: This writing exercise is meant to encourage us to reflect on the ways we might feel bad or judge ourselves on a give day. It then asks that we use mindful awareness to access our sense of common humanity and to reflect with kindness on the events of the day with some greater understanding.

    For more resources from Dr. Kristen Neff on self-compassion including video, workbooks, publications, trainings, and more make sure to visit self-compassion.org.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com

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  • Mindful Mondays: How Can Mindfulness Support Compassion for Others?

    Compassion means to "suffer together.” It is the ability to feel the pain of others and be moved to do something about it. It is a skill that takes practice and can be developed. Compassion is also good for us. Compassion supports mental and physical well-being "and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our lifespan.” Compassion also supports greater connection to others and helps us feel a sense of belonging. Research findings suggest, “people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression; studies show that they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.” By practicing mindfulness and compassion, we can tap into something greater than ourselves. In other words, mindfulness and compassion practices helps us trust and feel more connected to others.

    Paul Ekman, professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, describes different kinds of compassion. In his taxonomy of compassion he describes familial, global, sentient, and heroic compassion. He explains our ability to emotionally resonate with others and be compassionate begins through familial connection. The seed of compassion is "planted through the caregiver-offspring bond.” If that seed of is not planted, he believes Charles Darwin and the Dalai Lama would argue the individual will struggle in life. As educators and caregivers we can help our children nurture this seed and perhaps even plant it by practicing mindfulness and compassionate awareness of others.

    Ekman describes global compassion as our ability to feel the pain of strangers suffering around the world as when we feel great sadness and are moved to help after a hurricane or earthquake impacts another part of the world. Ekman argues this skill will be crucial for the future of our children and our world. Indeed, if we want to help our world find peace and find solutions to the challenges we’re facing, we need to develop our capacity for global compassion. He describes sentient compassion as “highest moral virtue” and as having compassion towards all living things including insects. Mindfulness can help us understand how all beings are interconnected and support sentient compassion.

    Ekman also describes heroic compassion or “altruism with a risk.” There are two kinds, immediate and considered compassion.  In immediate heroic compassion the person acts without thinking as when they “jump onto the subway tracks to rescue someone.” In considered heroic compassion a person is willing to put themselves at risk, expects no reward, and can maintain this stance for years. Ekman believes that by understanding the reasons why some people have an easier time being compassionate while others struggle, we can learn how to be a more connected and trusting world. 


    Cultivating mindfulness and compassion of others can be a powerful way to feel connected to the world.


    To cultivate compassion Greater Good Magazine suggests:

    • Thinking of friends and loved ones you can turn to when in need.
    • Practice compassion meditation.
    • Put a human face on suffering when reading the news or when on social media.
    • Look for commonalities between yourself and others.
    • Not playing the blame game.
    • Practicing mindfulness awareness practices.

    For more information and compassion practices you can also go to Mindful.org.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com

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