In last week’s blog, Sampada Desai espoused the benefits of self-compassion. We followed up with her to learn simple and effective daily practices for cultivating self-love.
Since who we are at the core goes beyond just the physical body, a multi-faceted approach targeting the body, mind, and spirit is essential to cultivate loving kindness to the self.
Before we can embark on this journey, however, we must be aware of who we are by using self-inquiry. We do this by sitting with all parts of our being—the ones we are proud of and the ones we are not so proud of—with compassion. Mindful awareness can give us insights into what is holding us back, allowing us to face our pain and then asking questions like, “What is this pain? What can I learn from it?” Rather than ask, “Why me?” or negatively think, “I’m not a good person,” we can instead ask, “Can I use this information to make positive choices in my life?” And this starts the process of owning and respecting both the light and the shadow.
Incorporate movement in your life
Activities like walking, Yoga, hiking, bicycling, and dancing promote wellness by cultivating a healthier body, clearer brain, and increased confidence. Movement helps to free energy that is stuck due to stress. Some physical practices like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Chi Gong are more helpful in this regard. For example, biking on a stationary bike might help with controlling one’s weight, but a practice like Yoga or Tai Chi gets us deeper into the experience of our body. Personally, Yoga allows me to connect with my body the best.
When the body is relaxed, the breath is relaxed. When the breath is relaxed, the mind is relaxed. This is important to keep in mind when we can’t seem to stop the constant loop of mental negativity. The regulation of breath, also known as Pranayama in Yoga, helps decrease the stress response. Breathing slowly and deeply through the nose is a simple but powerful way to calm the nervous system. Slowing down the exhalation in relation to the inhalation helps reduce anxiety and increasing the inhalation in response to the exhalation can help uplift a depressed mood.
Restorative Yoga is a practice that focuses on effortlessness and ease, using well-placed blankets, bolsters, eye pillows, Yoga straps, and chairs to safely support the body in various postures. This process invokes a natural state of balance, releasing deeply held tensions. My favorites poses are forward bends, legs up against the wall, and supine bound angle. If nothing else, do savasana, the deeply relaxing corpse pose. I learned about Savasana from my father, who practiced it daily. He would answer my many questions about the pose with, “This looks like a simple pose, but it’s not that easy. Yet, this is the most important Yoga pose. With regular practice, you’ll reap it’s many benefits. It calms and rests my mind and body. On a busy day, even 5 minutes of Savasana will calm you.”
The frequent and long use of computers, cell phones, or tablets causes eye strain. A simple Yoga practice that soothes the eyes is called palming. Simply rub your hands together to generate heat and gently place the warm palms on your eyes for a few minutes.
Give yourself a hug
A warm hug releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, also called the hugging or social bonding hormone. If you can’t find someone to hug, you can still release oxytocin by giving yourself a loving, compassionate hug.
Change your attitude
We suffer when we hold irrational beliefs about the self and others. We suffer when we expect life to be fair and free of pain. We struggle when we expect others to think like we do, but if we change our negative attitudes and thoughts by reframing them in a positive manner, we can find relief. In Yoga, this is called pratipaksha bhavana, where negative thinking is discontinued by replacing it with its opposite. This practice is akin to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic technique which replaces irrational, negative thoughts with rational, positive ones.
Develop an attitude of gratitude
Let’s be thankful for all that we have and not focus on what we don’t have. One way you can do this is through a gratitude prayer or meditation. Regular entries in a gratitude journal are also helpful. An attitude of gratitude softens my pain. For instance, at this stage in my life I am in deep anguish over my mother, who is severely debilitated by Parkinson’s Disease. What makes this particularly difficult is that she lives 8,000 miles from me. Seeing, hearing, or visualizing her physical and psychological pain brings up feelings of helplessness, guilt, fear and despair. To calm myself, I regularly meditate on gratitude by saying, “I’m thankful for my legs, for I can walk. I’m thankful for my eyes, for I can see. And I’m thankful for all that life has provided me.”
Practice spiritual acts meaningful to you
There’s also a spiritual component—no matter how one defines it. For some, spirituality and formal religion are the same. For others, it has to do with their relationship with the self and others. Prayer, meditation, and chanting are some examples of spiritual practices. We can also connect with nature by taking a walk in the woods or meditating outdoors during sunrise or sunset. I love it. It’s very recharging.
Build a strong support network
We may be grounded in who we are, but we are social beings who thrive on positive connections with family and friends. Our relationships offer support and keep us comforted during hardships. Build a strong supportive circle of friends and kindred spirits that don’t insult your soul.
Practice loving-kindness meditation
With its roots in Buddhism, loving kindness meditation can help us discover the radiant, joyful heart within—it is unconditional, inclusive love, a love with wisdom. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out to all living beings, including those we feel have wronged us. The practice is the softening of the mind and heart, an opening to deeper and deeper levels of the feeling of kindness and pure love. To extend compassion to yourself, you can say, “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be at peace.” You can use your own words as long as they are affirming.
Sometimes when we have difficulty being compassionate to ourselves, it’s helpful to be of service to others. When you help somebody, it takes the focus off your own issues and brings you much joy. Seemingly small acts like giving up your seat for someone, offering genuine praise, and forgiving others for their limitations are examples of compassionate service.
Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping
Tapping works like emotional acupressure to quickly, gently, and easily release the negative emotions and beliefs that are at the root of our problems and pain. For the practice, you tap on key acupressure points while using affirming verbal messages. For example, “Even though I feel unkind toward myself after making a mistake, I profoundly and deeply love myself. “
Medical research has demonstrated that sustained laughter has numerous health benefits like increased immunity, confidence, resiliency, and emotional wellbeing. To bring laughter into your life, make a funny face in the mirror and laugh. Watch funny movies, comedy shows, or join a laughter Yoga group where you laugh along with others for no reason. Realizing the lack of laughter in my life, a few years ago I completed a certification program in laughter Yoga. Now life doesn’t feel as serious as before. We can learn to laugh at the biggest cosmic joke of all—that we aren’t coming out of this life alive! Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha!