Swami Kripalu liked to say that the most important part of a spiritual practice is self-compassion – that is, the discipline of self-observation without self-judgment. What is stunning about this teaching is that this yoga master’s observable practices were prodigious, involving hours of daily pranayama and meditation, years of practicing silence. Yet, here he asserts that it’s the inside game, the attitude of radical self-acceptance, that is essential.
Why is self-compassion so important? Because yoga is not just about feeling better. It’s about feeling more.
Initially, your yoga practice will help you notice more in the body. How do my feet meet the floor? Are my shoulders slumping or pelvis pouring forward? I remember hearing a teacher use the tailbone as a cue in a class when I was in my twenties. I had no idea where my tailbone was! I’d never even thought about it, much less made a choice about how to move it. Blossoming awareness begins on a physical level, and it can be humbling.
Then, with time and a regular yoga practice, awareness will expand into ever more subtle realms–energy, emotion and thought. You will become aware of patterns in all aspects of your life. And it continues to be humbling. You may notice the effects of your dietary habits. How does buttered popcorn at the movies really make me feel? You may become aware of the effects of lifestyle choices. How does it feel to habitually leave work to the last minute? You may become aware of patterns in relationships. Does my family member respond to my criticism the way I want them to? Might words of appreciation be more effective?
You may even bring awareness to your beliefs. Is everything really as difficult as it feels? Might the glass be half full? Was Bob Dylan right, that “everything is broken”? A practice of self-compassion will protect you from a mental pattern of self-criticism and discouragement as you question your habitual choices. You have to be able to give yourself a break and lovingly make adjustments. What different choices can you make?
Self-compassion is liberating. Like all aspects of yoga, it becomes easier when practiced regularly. Join us for a community-supported Breath Practice/Chair Yoga or an afternoon Gentle Yoga class for a guided and concentrated dose of self-compassion. Combined with awareness and discernment, this is the key to experiencing a life of increased freedom and joy.