The following is an excerpt adapted from the chapter: “Compassion in Pain Care” in the textbook Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain p.252-253 (1).
Here is a practical example of how you, the healthcare provider, may use yoga to cultivate self-compassion during a challenging moment, using Neff’s three elements of self-compassion as a framework (2).
Imagine a time when you may have experienced an interaction with a patient in which you felt frustrated, irritated, angry, helpless or indifferent towards the situation or perhaps the person. You were not fully present, and your mind was on other things that you considered more of a priority at the time. As a result, you acted impatiently, felt disconnected, and were somewhat abrupt during the session. After the interaction, you may have felt a sense of guilt or shame for experiencing the negativity and behaving in a way that was not in line with your values. Perhaps you remained angry, not feeling heard or understood by your organization, coworkers, leaders or maybe even your patient. Perhaps you felt hopeless because you did not have enough time to spend with your patient or the resources to offer. Or perhaps you noticed that you were blaming yourself or others for not helping, fixing or curing the person’s pain and suffering.
1) Mindfulness: Pause, take a moment to bring awareness to breath and body. Acknowledge and accept: “OK, this is really challenging for me right now. I am aware that I feel guilty, ashamed, frustrated and angry. I made a mistake. This is hard.”
The Resurrection Breath can be practiced, as described below (3):
The Resurrection Breath can serve as a reminder to begin again and return to focus on this present moment. If we are present in each passing moment, we realize that all is changing. Remaining present with what is helps us to move through changing experiences with greater ease rather than getting caught up in the past or projecting into the future.
Technique: Begin with inhaling through the nose with the head at center. Turn the head over the left shoulder as you double exhale out the mouth making a “haa haa” sound with light force. This breath is symbolic of leaving the past behind. Then, as you inhale, bring the head back to center. Turning the head over the right shoulder, exhale by gently blowing out through pursed lips. This breath is symbolic of extending the future from grasp. Inhaling, return the head to center position having established a ritual of a new beginning. Exhaling, bow your chin to heart center and allow yourself to connect to the present moment with greater focus and clarity on the now.
2) Common humanity: You can offer self-talk such as, “I’m human. I’m not the only one this happens to. Many people would have done the same in this situation. I did the best I can given the circumstances. Our lives are a practice.” Bring your hands to your heart, one on top of the other, and repeat the phrase silently to yourself: “I am not alone in my struggle.”
3) Kindness: What would you say to a close loved one who made a similar mistake? Offer that same advice to yourself. Remind yourself that you have another chance to practice a different response next time. In meditation practice, we talk about “beginning again” each time the mind wanders. Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher, suggests that each time our mind wanders, it actually provides us with an opportunity to be different. It provides us with the opportunity to bring kindness and compassion into our meditation practice. She states that nothing is ruined. We simply begin again (4). We can use this same concept and practice during the moment after we made a choice of which we are not proud, or a mistake we made. Forgive ourselves and offer compassionate self-talk, reminding ourselves that we have a chance to “begin again” at this moment.
Thanks to Swami Lisa Pearson for contributing the Resurrection Breath and other inspirations in this chapter.
This post is dedicated to all the health professionals and caregivers who are serving our communities around the world during our current global pandemic. Thank you for your compassionate care and service.
1) Prosko, S. (2019) “Compassion in Pain Care.” In: Pearson, N., Prosko, S. and Sullivan, M. (Eds). Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. London, UK: Singing Dragon Publishers. 235-256.
2) Neff, K. D. (2003) “Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself.” Self and Identity 2, 85–102.
3) Pearson L. (2016) The Resurrection Breath. Advanced Pain Care Yoga Training. Originally from: Oral Teachings of Goswami Kriyananda 1997-2009.
4) Salzberg, S. (1995) Loving-kindness: the revolutionary art of happiness. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
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