5 Ways to Practice Compassion

151015_LEAF_0174

Photo by Tucker Wilson

“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”– Albert Einstein

What wise words from a man of genius, to free oneself by offering compassion to others, to creatures, and to the natural world. So what exactly is compassion, and how can you feel the effects of freedom in your own life by practicing it?

Compassion can be defined as the conscious recognition and acknowledgement of another sentient being’s ability to feel pain, joy, love, sadness, grief, happiness or any other emotion or experience. (1) Being in tune with another’s emotional experience can broaden our awareness of the world around us, and lead to greater harmony in our lives and the lives of others. Keep reading to discover our five suggestions of ways to practice compassion in your daily life.

5. Perform a Random Act of Kindness

Performing kind and thoughtful acts that aren’t expected can have an exponential and contagious effect in alleviating suffering and brightening someone’s day. In fact, studies show that not only the people directly receiving a random act of kindness benefit, but that people observing a random act of kindness also benefit. A 2010 news article from UC San Diego reports on the study, “When people benefit from kindness they ‘pay it forward’ by helping others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network.” (2)

Put it in Practice:  At least once a day, practice compassion by extending a random act of kindness. Try allowing someone with a child in tow ahead of you in the grocery line, smiling at a stranger, giving a compliment to someone you don’t know, or holding the door open for another.

4. Volunteer

Dedicating unpaid time and talent to a worthy organization or cause that is doing great work can not only broaden your horizons, it can also help to ease the burden that many nonprofits face, a lack of human resources.

Put it in Practice: Volunteer based on criteria. Think of a cause that’s near and dear to your heart as well as your current availability and location. Consider how interesting a project sounds or the need of the organization or cause. These days you can even volunteer on vacation! If you need assistance in finding a worthy cause, check out the website VolunteerMatch.org.

3. Employ Sympathy & Empathy

Sympathy is an awareness of and reaction to another’s suffering. Empathy is understanding and feeling another’s pain yourself. Both are noble ways to respond to another’s suffering, and both offer avenues to practice compassion.

Put it in Practice: Reflect on times in your life in which you experienced suffering. Perhaps it was after the loss of a loved one, or after hearing a medical diagnosis. Think about how you were able to get through the pain and hardship. Contemplate your family, friends, neighbors, or fellow human beings going through the same suffering that you experienced. Respond with compassion by lending an ear, joining a recovery group, and/or sending intentions or prayers for healing and peace.

2. Consider Commonalities

We are all human. Even if we don’t have the exact same experience as another and cannot respond empathetically, we can still consider the commonalities that exist within everyone in the human race. Compassion is a fruitful result of thinking about these commonalities.

Put it in Practice: We recommend using the 5-Step Commonalities practice, as quoted below, that originally appeared in Ode Magazine (now, The Optimist). (4)

  • Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
  • Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
  • Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
  • Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
  • Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
151015_LEAF_0204-2

Photo by Tucker Wilson

1. Use Metta Meditation, or “Loving-Kindness” Meditation

‘Metta,’ often translated as ‘loving-kindness,’ is “altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest.” (4) Practicing compassion through Metta Meditation is a powerful tool that can cross time and space. When you start cultivating an understanding of the suffering of others, it can help you feel connected to others and peaceful in the midst of your own struggles. You realize that suffering is a universal experience, and this compassion meditation can help you become more patient and kind with all beings in the face of hard challenges.

Put it in Practice: Metta meditation is an active practice, where the practitioner cycles through various intentions for loved ones, friends, strangers, and even enemies. The practice can be performed anywhere and at anytime by consciously extending wishes of health, love, freedom from suffering, and peace to all sentient beings. Repeat the phrases below with the key words of “safety, happiness, health and peace” to practice a simple compassion meditation.

  • I wish you safety.
  • I wish you happiness.
  • I wish you health.
  • I wish you peace.

Continue the meditation by substituting “I” or “us” for “you” to increase the effectiveness of the meditation to create a compassionate state. (5)

This blog post was co-authored by Melanie Trivette, Anna Ferguson, and Becca Odom. For more information about the authors, click here.

Please note that these suggestions and tips are based on our opinions, and should not be considered medical advice. If you are seeking to treat a traumatic experience, please consult a licensed mental health professional before engaging in these tips. You can find a practitioner in your area at the National Association of Social Workers web site: www.helpstartshere.org

References:
(1) Ferguson, Anna. “Practicing Compassion: A Highly Effective Technique for Happiness.” Vibrant Heart Yoga. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

(2) “‘Pay It Forward’ Pays Off.” ‘Pay It Forward’ Pays Off. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

(3) “WHY IT MATTERS.” Seeds of Compassion : Why It Matters. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

(4) “Contents.” Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.

(5) Anna’s Metta Meditation Recording

5 Tips to Create a Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Class

IMG_1155

Over the past two years, more than 200 wellness professionals have completed our Yoga for Trauma trainings and workshops throughout North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The feedback we’ve received is that therapists use the techniques we present in clinical settings with their clients, and yoga teachers apply the skills they learn when creating trauma-sensitive classes. While many components go into the formulation of a trauma-sensitive yoga class, in this blog post we’d like to offer five tips that can start the class-creation process (1).

5. Learn the language of trauma.
Certain words, phrases, metaphors, and the like that may be commonly used in a ‘typical’ yoga class, may be trigger-inducing in a trauma-focused yoga class. Suggestions of ‘pushing further’ or ‘coming out of one’s comfort zone,’ which are meant to inspire students to be open to the practice, can actually have the opposite effect in a trauma-sensitive yoga class. An article published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, suggests using ‘Invitatory Language,’ or language that is exploratory, invitational, undemanding in a trauma-sensitive yoga class (2). Adding some simple cues along with instructions will help to create a safe, non-judgemental environment for your students.

Our Tip: Discover some new ways to invite students to participate in class using phrases such as, ‘when you are ready,’ ‘at your own pace,’ ‘I invite you to,’ and ‘if you’d like.’ Practice using these cues as much as possible so that they become second nature.

-14. Prepare the environment.
Providing a safe, inviting environment for yoga practice is of utmost importance. Limiting external noises, minimizing distractions, and giving ample, designated space to each student are some considerations in preparing the setting for a trauma-focused class.

Our Tip: Our suggestions are aligned with our friends over at The Breathe Network. Consider things such as the positioning of windows, doors and mirrors relative to the practice space. If at all possible, do not have people facing mirrors or with their backs to a door or window. Place a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the outside of the door. Lay out mats and suggested props for people ahead of time to orient people in the same direction and minimize potential distraction (3).

3. Give choice in EVERYTHING
Jenn Turner, the Coordinator of Yoga Services at the Trauma Center at JRI, says, “We know that complex trauma damages our ability to feel our bodies in the present moment, to practice interoception, and to feel empowered in our bodies; Trauma-Sensitive Yoga focuses on both. (4)” Giving choice to trauma survivors in a yoga setting allows each person to explore what is right for him or herself on a moment-to-moment basis, and empowers each person to make appropriate decisions.

Our Tip: Remind students often throughout class that everything is an invitation or suggestion, and that each student has the opportunity to make empowered decisions about how/when/if they join in the practice.  

Canvas_Assist2. Ask before assisting or don’t assist at all.
In a ‘standard’ yoga class, assists may be given to direct, deepen, or awaken a student’s pose. In a trauma-sensitive class, where the students are making empowered decisions about what is right for themselves, assists are oftentimes not necessary and can even become triggers.

Our Tip: Decide ahead of time if you are going to offer assists to your students. Communicate this decision clearly at the beginning of class. Before touching anyone, ask. Provide clear suggestions and consider demonstrating poses rather than physically assisting. Consider using “Flip-Chips” that each student can display on his or her mat. One side of the chip invites assists, while the other side of the chip alerts the teacher to not assist. The Flip-Chip gives the student choice throughout the entire class because it can be changed by the student at any time (5).

1. Let compassion be your guide.
Trauma can have enduring physical, mental, and emotional effects on people. Many times, these effects may not be communicated or noticeable among your students. While you may not know the extent to which your students may be dealing with trauma, you can relate to each person on a human level- in a kind, and supportive way.

Our Tip: Practice compassion by taking time to be present with your students, and meeting them where they are in their journey. Remember this quote from the Dalai Lama, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. (6)”

For more tips and techniques in creating a trauma-sensitive yoga class, we invite you to attend one of our trainings. Check our website for more information, upcoming dates, and details of registration.

 

About the Author: Melanie Trivette has received over 500 hours of formalized yoga teacher training, including trauma-focused modules. She enjoys working with Yoga for Trauma, and shares the passion to invite healing through ancient practices and modern neuroscience.

Please note that these suggestions and tips are based on our opinions, and should not be considered medical advice. If you are seeking to treat a traumatic experience, please consult a licensed mental health professional before engaging in these tips. You can find a practitioner in your area at the National Association of Social Workers web site: www.helpstartshere.org

References

(1) Odom, Becca. Top 10 Thoughts on a Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Classroom. Comp. Anna Ferguson. Print.

(2) Emerson, David, Ritu Sharma, Serena Chaudhry, and Jenn Turner. “Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Principles, Practice and Research.” Yoga Therapy in Practice. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 2009. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

(3) “The Journey to Heal: Understanding Trauma-Sensitive Yoga.” The Breathe Network. 4 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

(4) “Question Answer with Jenn Turner: Trauma-Sensitive Yoga | ISHTA Yoga.” ISHTA Yoga. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

(5) “What Is the Flip-Chip?” Q+A. Flip Chip, n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015. The Flip-Chip picture is a representation of the product being sold at www.yogaflipchip.com, and is being used for informative/educational purposes only.

(6) Smyth, Tracy. “Can You Teach Compassion?” Can You Teach Compassion? Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, 8 Dec. 2103. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.