A Self Compassion Practice
A guest meditation to help you tune into greater self compassion
The Soothe Soften Allow Meditation
by Kristen Neff
*click play to listen to the meditation
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., is an associate professor in human development and culture at the University of Texas, Austin, and the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and co-author of The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. She is a world leader in the field of Self-Compassion research.
Learning to be kinder to yourself
As you start to pay attention to your own inner dialogue, it can be quite shocking to discover how self-critical you are. If you grew up with very critical parents you probably learned to talk to yourself that way, but it’s also a reflection of our own unique temperaments. Through increased self-awareness, cultivated through mindfulness, it’s possible to shift the quality of this self-talk and move towards a more loving relationship with ourselves.
Our minds are intimately connected to our bodies, and the kind of thoughts we have impact our physiology. Take a moment to bring to mind something you love: maybe it’s an image of a beautiful beach, or someone you care about. You may notice how just thinking about this image calms and relaxes your body, perhaps lowering your heart rate and slowing your breath. Similarly, when you remember something that’s upset you in the past, you can feel the impact of that thought on your emotional state and in your body – your stomach churning, or perhaps a tightening in your throat.
When we have self-critical thoughts, we actually trigger areas of the brain that are associated with stress. If we do this over a long time, it leads to high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. In contrast to that, self-compassion is associated with a different system, the ‘tend-and-befriend’ system. When we practice self-compassion, we’re caring for ourselves like a mother cares for a distressed baby, activating this tend-and-befriend system and releasing oxytocin (the love molecule), which reduces the level of cortisol in the body.
A Self-Compassion Exercise
If you find yourself in a difficult situation where you’re angry, disappointed or anxious, or things just haven’t gone the way you wanted, take a moment to actually put your hand on your heart as a way of actively caring for yourself (touch is a powerful way to self-soothe and activate the tend-and-befriend system). You can also add soothing words such as, ‘This feels really hard’, ‘I’m not alone – imagine all the humans that are suffering in this moment’, ‘May I be kind to myself’.
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