by Sue Fuller
The physical practice of yoga is not just about conditioning your body; here yoga teacher Sue Fuller shows us how to develop compassion through yoga.
Compassion is sincere, genuine and selfless. It flows freely through the heart chakra. When developed it brings so many benefits to us and all those that we come into contact with.
By increasing feelings of compassion towards ourselves and others we become kinder towards ourselves and others, we are less critical and more accepting. Practicing compassion also activates the areas of the brain responsible for healing and calmness.
Scientific studies suggest that people who practice compassion produce 100% more DHEA, a hormone that counteracts the ageing process, and 23% less cortisol — the “stress hormone”. Negativity is highly destructive both physically and emotionally and by reducing it we can enjoy so many positive changes. Compassion brings joy and greater levels of contentment. As positive emotions and feelings occupy our thoughts there is less room for negative emotions such as anger, greed, hatred or jealousy.
Compassion helps to maintain a clear mind free from guilt or regret, it helps us sleep peacefully, it also removes negative obstacles, brings a sense of contentment and provides guidance.
Bringing more compassion into our lives is easy to do. All we need to do is set aside a little time on a regular basis to focus on developing and cultivating compassion.
Yoga encourages us to become more compassionate and increases our awareness towards ourselves and others. Whilst practicing yoga it is possible to introduce simple elements of the Metta Bhavana meditation technique and combine these with a few easy yoga postures to raise compassion and allow us to enjoy all of the benefits this combination can bring.
The Metta Bhavana is an ancient Buddhist meditation technique that works to raise levels of compassion. Metta translates from the ancient language of Pali to mean loving kindness or friendliness and Bhavana means to cultivate.
The Metta Bhavana works by increasing feelings of loving kindness towards all beings.
It is usually performed in five stages and starts by cultivating metta towards ourselves, then a good friend, followed by a neutral person, then a difficult person and finally towards all beings.
It is possible to associate each stage of the Metta Bhavana meditation with a simple yoga posture that presents similar qualities. It is also possible to introduce one or all of the stages of the Metta Bhavana meditation technique during the final relaxation (savasana).
Yoga Asanas to Help Develop Compassion
Virasana (the hero pose)
This variation of Virasana offers an alternative to Sukhasana (the easy pose) or Padmasana (the lotus), if performed with the hips elevated on a bolster or folded towels it is much kinder on the knees.
Begin kneeling with a yoga bolster or a couple of folded towels under your hips. Have a small space between your knees and maintain a straight spine. Lightly rest your hands on your thighs, close your eyes and begin to breathe slowly in and out through your nose.
When you are ready bring your hands to a prayer position in front of your chest and bow your head. Continue to breathe slowly in and out through your nose. Allow your mind to fill with caring thoughts towards yourself. Do not allow any negative thoughts to enter your mind. Tell yourself how wonderful you are, focus on your positive qualities and congratulate yourself for rolling out your yoga mat and taking the time to develop a more compassionate nature.
Say to yourself. “May I be well, may I be happy, may I be at peace. May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.” Remain in this position as you repeat the phrases silently to yourself at least ten times.
Dandasana (the staff) and Paschimotanasana (seated forward bend).
Slowly extend your legs, place your hands beside your hips and sit as tall as you can. Flex your feet. Feel that you are opening your chest and notice positive energy radiating at your heart centre. Bring a good friend to mind, someone who you are not sexually attracted to or involved with. Send the positive energy you are creating out towards your good friend. Picture this person clearly, see their face and use this person’s name as you say to yourself. “May ……… be well, may they be happy, may they be at peace. May ……. be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.” Repeat at least ten times slowly to yourself.
When you feel ready inhale and lift your arms up as you exhale fold into a seated forward bend. Just allow all thoughts to settle as you remain in this posture breathing slowly in and out through your nose.
Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose) with a simple spinal twist
Sit with a straight spine, the soles of your feet together and allow the knees to fall out to the side. Place your right hand to the outside edge of the left foot and your left hand to the floor behind you. Inhale and lengthen the spine as you exhale rotate around to the back looking over your left shoulder. Hold the twist maintaining a straight spine and breathing slowly.
During a spinal twist we are presented with an opportunity to see the world from a new perspective. Whilst performing this seated spinal twist bring to mind a person that you have neutral feelings for. Perhaps they are someone who you pass by regularly, maybe someone in a shop or on the street, a stranger. Whoever you select make sure they are someone who you do not already have any feelings for. Send your positive thoughts towards this person. Picture them clearly in your mind as you say to yourself. “May they be well, may they be happy, may they be at peace. May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.”
Repeat these phrases five times and then release the twist. Repeat the twist on the other side and select another neutral person to focus on.
Setu Bandhasana (half bridge)
Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet firmly on the floor. Slowly lift your hips keeping your feet and shoulders in contact with the floor. Breathe slowly in and out through your nose.
This posture creates a bridge, perhaps a bridge between you and a difficult person, someone you don’t like to be around but not someone you are not angry with right now. As you perform the half bridge bring a difficult person to mind. See their face in your minds eye and focus on this person as you say to yourself. “May they be well, may they be happy, may they be at peace. May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from suffering.”
Try to repeat these phrases ten times before relaxing the posture and allowing your thoughts to settle.
Apanasana (the wind releasing pose)
After the half bridge, gently draw your knees in towards your chest and breathe slowly.
Spinal Twist: From apanasana take your arms out to the side level with your shoulders, your palms are facing up. Allow your knees to fall to the right as you turn your head to the left.
As you breathe slowly in this posture you are going to send positive thoughts out to all beings. This time say to yourself. “May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be at peace. May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering.”
Repeat these phrases at least five times and then repeat the spinal twist on the other side whilst continuing to send positive thoughts to all beings.
Savasana (the corpse)
Lay on your back with your legs extended and your arms beside your body with your palms facing up. Breathe slowly whilst acknowledging all the positive feelings you have cultivated and take a moment to allow these feelings to settle. When you feel ready bring your focus back to your breath and breathe slowly in and out through your nose working to release tension with each out breath. Remain in this posture for as long as you feel necessary.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – The Dalai Lama
About the authors: Sue Fuller is a leading yoga teacher. Her range of Yoga2Hear audio yoga downloads and CDs includes her latest offering Yoga for Compassion available from www.yoga2hear.co.uk & www.wellbeingworldonline.com. You can take advantage of a 20% discount at Yoga 2 Hear & WellbeingWorld by entering the code KS20 at the checkout. Sue’s classes are also available from Amazon, iTunes and all good bookstores.