Four ways to treat yourself compassionately

It is not uncommon to treat your friends and loved ones gentler than you treat yourself. In fact, research demonstrates 84% of people are kinder to their friends than they are to themselves. In the energetic body, the seat of love and compassion resides in the heart chakra, known as Anahata in Sanskrit.

Located at the center of the chest, Anahata chakra governs the thoracic spine, heart, lungs, arms and hands and thymus gland. At the mental-emotional level, the heart chakra supports compassion, self-acceptance, love, devotion, the ability to connect with others and the capacity to forgive.

Qualities of the heart chakra include lightness, gracefulness and sensitivity. When Anahata is out of balance, one may tend to focus on the negative, and in general, feel weighed down by life. The heart chakra is strengthened by practicing gratitude, unconditional love and compassion.

The primary obstacle that people face to becoming more self-compassionate is actually themselves. A well-known barrier to practicing self-compassion is the negativity bias. Studies from the field of psychology reveal the human brain actually has a bias toward the negative. We tend to remember, even ruminate on the negative more than the positive.

Maybe you can relate to having a really great day overall, yet you can’t stop thinking about the one negative comment from a coworker, or the person who cut you off in traffic. Rick Hanson describes the negativity bias as the brain’s innate tendency to be like Teflon for the good, and Velcro for the bad.

While practicing self-compassion is an excellent tool for experiencing the gifts of the heart chakra, it is natural for it to feel awkward or uncomfortable at first.

Four strategies for awakening self-compassion:

  • Soothing touch: The next time you find yourself speaking unkindly to yourself, place one or both hands over your heart and take a few breaths. Physical touch releases oxytocin (hormone associated with love, empathy and trust), and soothes distressing emotions.
  • Softening words of self-criticism: When you catch yourself saying something like “I never get anything right”, you might try “I will get it next time” or “I’m learning and growing every day.” Experiment with what feels right for you.
  • Self-compassion break: A strategy by leading self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff.
  • Loving-kindness meditation: There are three stages to this meditation. Offering words of loving-kindness to yourself, a neutral person, and a challenging person. Start slow. Take it in stages.

Balancing the heart chakra through the practice of self-compassion benefits oneself as well as others. In addition to building inner strength and self-reliance, nurturing self-acceptance also increases the ability to understand others and make compromises in relationships.

I invite you to choose a strategy that challenges you to step outside of your comfort zone. I am always interested in hearing your experiences. If you care to share email me at mcrawfrd@illinois.edu