Self-Compassion: An Essential Component of Yoga
In a modern
yoga-scape littered with self-development lit and enlightenment-centric
teachings, some of yoga’s finer—and more beautiful—teachings may be overlooked.
Self-compassion is one such teaching
that’s particularly emphasized in the Kripalu Yoga tradition (Kripalu means
“compassionate, merciful” in Sanskrit), referring to a deep and affective acceptance of present
moment experience as it arises, as well as recognition that one’s suffering is
common to all of humanity.
Swami Kripalu once said, “My
beloved child, break your heart no longer. Every time you judge yourself
you break your own heart. You stop feeding on the love, which is the
wellspring of your vitality. The time has come. Your time. To live,
to celebrate, and to see the goodness that you are. You, my child, are
divine. You are pure. You are sublimely free…”
Self-compassion is, fundamentally, a tantric approach. To a
western population accustomed to self-criticism, loving oneself
wholly—appreciating all facets equally, both dark and light—just doesn’t feel
quite right. Aren’t we supposed to be on the “fast track to enlightenment,”
staying positive and shunning those aspects of ourselves that don’t align with
our ideal selves? How could we possibly be perfect when we have so many flaws
that need “fixed”? How can we reconcile our sense of “not enoughness” with the
tantric maxim that we’re infinitely more than
Ten million self-help books and strengthened inner critics later,
suffering—and our haphazard attempts to thwart it—persists. As Jung poignantly
noted, the more we deny or resist our experience of suffering the stronger
it becomes. Self-compassion and tantra teach that only by loving all of
ourselves can we truly walk in the light of our hearts, embracing suffering as
much as joy.
On the yoga mat, self-compassion can buffer self-judgment that may
arise during a challenging pose; injury or fatigue; self-other comparisons; or
beating yourself up for not being quite “yogi” enough, whatever that means.
Note this as a moment of suffering (however great or small). Then give yourself
permission to self-soothe or care for yourself as a loved one might. Can you back out of
the pose any amount? Take a child’s pose or nap on your mat?
In Kripalu yoga, asana (postures) are only practice for the
yoga of life. Here, whenever challenges arise, you may place both palms on top
of your heart and internally note, “this is an experience of suffering.” Then
say phrases to self-soothe and comfort (may I be safe, may I be healthy, etc).
If it is hard to send yourself compassion, then imagine that you are expressing
compassion to the part of you shared by all beings, or towards a beloved pet or
loved one as an extension of yourself.
As poet Mary Oliver beautifully elocutes in her poem "Wild
You do not have to be good.
do not have to walk on your knees
a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
only have to let the soft animal of your body
what it loves.
What effective ways have you found of cultivating self-compassion on the mat or in your daily life?