By Marilyn Galan
Compassion is the space of friendliness and love that we have the power to create in our world. Most often, it takes place in the quiet moments. It is a soft handkerchief that wipes away another’s tears, followed by the funny joke you tell just to tickle someone back into smiling again. It is when the confusion and anxiety of a new situation is allowed the time to calm down, before we can take the first step toward healing. Like yoga, expressing compassion is a gift of this experience on this planet, for ourselves and those around us.
When we are happy, we are naturally motivated to help others. It is when our energy level drops, after dealing with the stresses of the day, that negativity tends to creep in. yoga can both increase our energy levels and bring our awareness back to an energized, happy state. Taking time out for yoga or meditation at different times throughout the day helps to keep us in the space of compassion from moment to moment.
Compassion and gratitude
A picture of a little-girl cartoon character, Strawberry Shortcake, used to hang in my childhood room.
Though I was too small to remember when my mother first placed it there, this picture was always the first vision in my waking eyes. As Strawberry happily picked flowers on her forest path, the delightful rhyme went, “Take some time along the way to see what’s nice about today.” A flash of wisdom from a simple nursery rhyme can really change the course of a day.
For an instant lift-me-up: Take out a sheet of paper and make a list of ten items to be happy for today. Now, stretch your list to 20. Tell me, are you smiling yet? Nourishing this feeling of gratitude each day, compassion and abundance of love can take root in our lives.
Yoga for compassion
Daily yoga practice can help us build this sense of calm that sticks from day to day. Yoga practice also goes beyond just yoga poses. Practicing yoga breathing techniques can powerfully calm the mind from stress. The breath is a direct indicator of the emotions in the mind. A yoga breath technique called Sudarshan Kriya, taught by The Art of Living Foundation, uses the breath as the direct link to relax the body and the mind. Through daily practice of yoga and Sudarshan Kriya, a person can let go of accumulated negative impressions that can block a person from their natural state of compassion.
Self-compassion blossoms in yoga and meditation
After yoga practice, sitting in meditation, the mind relaxes and returns to a natural state of quiet calm. In these moments with eyes closed, we can relax with our awareness drawn inward, letting everything be “alright.” This is self-compassion, experienced through yoga. Thoughts come in the mind, sensations or emotions flicker across this mind. These are all okay, and we don’t have to do anything about them. These are just thoughts, so we can just notice them, sitting in a space of silence.
Volunteer service is compassion in action
Service is the result of a mind energized with happiness. I have an early memory of volunteering in a disaster relief shelter as a teenager. I had completed a volunteer training in disaster relief when, before long, a tornado roared through a nearby town. I held hands with families affected by the tornado, helping them fill in paperwork. At times I would gently take the pen out of their shaking hands, to write down phone numbers and addresses that were now home to shards and damaged buildings. It was a small moment, but what a groundbreaking moment for me as a 15-year old! I realized I was helping these families take a first step toward recovery. Like a ray of light shining into my life, I knew this experience of service had changed me forever. Being engaged in service makes us forget our own worries and instead puts our focus on helping others, putting our compassion into action.
(Marilyn is a yoga enthusiast who loves to incorporate her inspiration about yoga postures and spirituality into her writing and art.)