The Science of Self Compassion by Michele Lawrence

Remember the “no pain, no gain” attitude of the 1980s? It was thought that we needed to push ourselves in order to succeed. I grew up this way, perhaps you did too. And the mindset definitely didn’t go away in the 1980s.

Over the years I noticed this attitude of drill sergeant move from high school gym class to the yoga studio. Somehow strict forms of yoga were perceived as better, I even heard students mention that teachers who taught this way were the “real deal.”

In yoga therapy, we embrace the opposite mindset. We ask our clients to take on a personal yoga practice that they can do on their own, on a regular basis, a practice that meets them where they are, and empowers them to work toward their health and wellness goals. As yoga therapists, we’re there to co-create a practice with our clients, and then support, guide and cheer them on in a steady fashion and with kind presence. We want our clients to be successful and experience life changing results. A key component is not self-criticism, but self-compassion.

Research now tells us that being hard on ourselves doesn’t deliver results anyway. According to Stanford Medicine and The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, scientific data shows that “self-criticism makes us weaker in the face of failure, more emotional, and less likely to assimilate lessons from our failures.”

The research goes on to say that developing self-compassion is vital to helping us achieve our goals. “Though the term ‘self-compassion’ may sound like self-indulgence or may feel like a weakness, it is actually the secret to resilience, strength in the face of failure, the ability to learn from mistakes and to bounce back with greater enthusiasm.”

Self-compassion can be learned and practiced. It involves three key components: treating oneself as one would a friend, being more mindful, and understanding our situation in the context of a larger human experience. The research at Stanford concludes, “When we can be more understanding and gentler with ourselves, identify less with the emotions that surround our mistakes, and understand that failure is a normal part of the larger human experience, we become stronger and more successful in the long run. We become stronger and more resilient.”

As a yoga therapist, I hope to pass the attitude of self-compassion along to my clients. I want them to be stronger and more resilient. I can teach them to be more mindful, treat themselves as they would a friend, and help them recognize their shared human experience. And the more I can embrace this for myself, the more natural and authentic it becomes to hand it to others.