Compassion, Starting with Yourself

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by Juan Villegas, E-RYT® 500

How to Be a More Compassionate Human

There is great importance in creating compassion for yourself so you can spread that care to others. I find it interesting on flights when during the emergency protocol announcement the flight attendants stress that you need to put your own mask on first before helping anyone with theirs.

This used to be difficult for me to understand. I thought that if I were a parent I would put the mask on my child first. Now I understand the reason, how can you help others put on a mask if you are struggling for oxygen yourself? If you are a compassionate person who wants to help others, as we are as yoga teachers, it’s possible to do too much for others before we consider applying that compassion to ourselves.

Buddhism has addressed this issue! The practice of Metta Bhavana (loving kindness) is a meditative practice centered on cultivating compassion and there are multiple steps to this meditation. First is cultivating loving kindness to yourself, then a friend or loved one, then a neutral person (this could be a person you see on the subway) then a difficult person, then all those four people together, and then all sentient beings.

In order to cultivate compassion to others the first step of the practice is cultivating compassion for yourself, the Buddhist equivalent of putting your oxygen mask on first. Spending time to wish yourself well sets up the environment for you to be able to do the same for others. This could also be called self-care. It seems common for people to describe themselves as “burnt-out”, especially in the healthcare and wellness industries. When you spend your time helping others with little regard for your own well being, over time this can compound until you’re no longer in a position to continue helping.

Compassion towards yourself doesn’t just have to be meditation, it can come in the form of asana practice, floating tanks, time spent with loved ones, or reading a lovely book. However, there are some incredible benefits to practicing compassion meditation, the practice has been shown to help meditators with pain, emotions, and stress reduction. In addition, it is a rare thing to spend time actively cultivating compassion for others and the feeling that is left with you after performing this type of meditation is beautiful.

Does compassion come in any other forms for you?

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