Mindful Self-Compassion

MINDFULNESS AND INNER BEAUTY

A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

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MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.

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MINDFULNESS FOR SENIORS

You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….

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MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION

Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.


However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves. Some of our actions toward ourselves are hurtful, negative, critical, judgmental, demeaning and harmful, even to the point of injury, self-neglect, illness and premature death. Our negative self-talk and self-judgments can fuel anxiety, depression, risky behaviors, cravings and substance abuse and aggravate symptoms of stress-related chronic conditions. Research increasingly shows you are more likely to stay physically, mentally and emotionally healthy if you consciously, intentionally and regularly practice compassionate self-care.


Here are three practices to consider as part of your compassionate self-care tool kit to promote resilience, manage stress, prevent burnout and cultivate compassion. These practices do not replace medical treatments. Consult your medical provider before adding these practices to your treatment plan.

Heart Awareness

Your heart is much more than a muscle and a pump. We all feel emotions in the center of the chest, an energy center that Eastern philosophies refer to as the mind or soul as well as the heart. Recall your own experience of loss and grief, love and romance, fear and anxiety. You may recall that much of that experience involved the energy center in the middle of the chest.


In his poem Two kinds of intelligence, the Sufi poet Rumi (1207-1273) describes the intelligence of the heart as “a spring overflowing its spring box – a freshness in the center of the chest.” American author Pearl Buck (1892-1973) uses a similar analogy: “Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up.”


Although you can be aware of your heart anywhere, anytime, it is helpful to begin an intentional, dedicated heart-centered awareness practice. This can be as simple as one to two minutes a day whenever you remember to be heart aware. You may also be more formal about cultivating heart awareness and include it in your other self-care practices, being heart aware as you exercise

physically, weaving awe and gratitude for the heart into your exercise routine. You may include a few minutes of heart awareness in your contemplative practice of prayer, yoga or meditation.


You can practice sitting, reclining or lying down. Adjust your body so you are as comfortable as the position permits. Without any expectation of results or particular experience, simply let your attention rest in the heart center. You may find it helpful to feel physically the sensation of the breath moving into and out of the lungs, oxygenating the blood and flowing into and out of every cell in the body.


Some people easily feel their heart beating in their chest and all over the body. Those who find this initially challenging can access this interior sense by first feeling the pulse at the wrist or neck or abdomen. However, it is not necessary to feel the pulse in the body in order to practice mindful, heart-centered awareness. Simply rest with an attitude of curiosity and openness and connect to the wisdom and intelligence of your heart without expectation. As your attention wanders off to sounds and thoughts, simply return your attention to the center of the chest and your intention to be heart-aware.


Mindful Self-Massage

Intentionally connecting with your body is a powerful antidote to stress. Bringing an attitude of openness, inquiry, discovery, kindness and compassion to your mind, body and heart can help you live mindfully at home, at work, alone and with others. The first foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of the body. While rubbing or gently pressing with the fingertips, bring an attitude of kindness and friendliness to the act of touching your body as you move either from head to feet or from feet to head. Feel your body touching your body. Feel your body being touched by your body. Let thoughts come (without following them and thinking them) and let them go (without rejecting them or pushing them away), simply returning your attention to the physical sensations in the body and the very clear intention to be kind and friendly toward your self.


Loving Kindness

The compassion practice of loving kindness can be a particularly warm and soothing antidote to the stress of life, isolation and unhappiness. My mindfulness classes always end with a brief loving-kindness practice. Some people refer to the practice as a meditation. Some refer to it as a prayer. I describe it simply as a mindfulness tool to keep in your selfcare tool kit for regular use anywhere, anytime. There are several versions of loving-kindness practice for yourself and for others.


Begin by sitting or lying down with eyes open or partially closed, then repeat these phrases once or twice silently to yourself.


May I be safe.

May I be happy.

May I be well.

May I be peacefully at ease.


After performing any of the three practices above, you may find it helpful to journal about your experience. The mindful self-compassion practices of heart awareness, self-massage and loving kindness can help you mobilize your natural inner pharmacy for self-care and healing. It can uplift your spirits, open your heart, promote resilience, manage stress, prevent burnout and heal social isolation and loneliness. Keep these practices in your self-care tool kit for use anywhere, anytime.


Resources:


I have recorded two versions of Loving Kindness practice at the Mind Body Studio Web site. They can be listened to or downloaded at www.mindbodystudio.org/?page_id=1594

DR. JOHN PATTERSON

Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

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