Compassion: On and Off the Mat

This entry was posted on May 28, 2015 by Bruce Black.
compassionHow Practicing Yoga Cultivates Compassion

It’s a mystery how it happens, but, thanks to the poses that I do on my mat, I can feel a deeper sense of compassion for others and for myself. Why is that, I wonder?

When I press my palms against the mat in Downward Dog, I can feel compassion for my tight hamstrings and stiff shoulders.

Standing on one leg in Tree Pose, I can feel compassion for the back of my wobbling calf, my out-of-balance hips.

In Plank, I can feel compassion for my aching wrists and elbows.

And in Mountain Pose, I can feel compassion flow through the bloodstream and make its way into the world as I raise my arms to the sky and lean over into a Forward Bend.

The process of learning the different yoga poses–especially the more challenging poses–has taught me in unexpected ways how to soften my heart and allow myself to be who I am rather than push or strive to be someone else.

Often, this renewed sense of compassion comes in the form of a softer, gentler voice that whispers: “Relax,” or “Lighten up,” or “Stop being so hard on yourself.”

What I’ve discovered is that compassion lets you see yourself and others in the moment…and this vision gives you the ability to share, heart-to-heart, what’s deepest and true about yourself.

Compassion brings the whole world into sharper focus.

It lets you see the suffering and pain beneath the surface because, in some mysterious way, when you’re compassionate toward yourself, you can let go of your own suffering and pain and be fully in and part of the world around you.

It’s compassion that compels you to act in some way—to volunteer at your local food bank, to give a donation to the animal shelter, to help an immigrant learn to speak English—to relieve the suffering of the world.

It’s compassion that compels you to give a hug to the yogi practicing on the mat next to yours after he or she has just fallen out of a pose.

And it’s compassion that compels you to extend your arms in Downward Dog and soften your heart.

“If you want to be happy,” says the Dalai Lama, “practice compassion. And if you want others to be happy, practice compassion.”

Practice Journal: How do your yoga poses help you practice compassion? What happens on the mat that allows you to be compassionate? Why do you think practicing compassion might lead to happiness? Write: 15 min.

About Bruce Black
Bruce Black is the author of Writing Yoga: A Guide to Keeping a Practice Journal (Rodmell Press), as well as articles online at MindBodyGreen, Yogi Times, YogaMint, and Tiferet Journal. You can read more of his work at his blog, Writing Yoga With Bruce Black,, where this piece first appeared. He lives with his wife in Sarasota, Florida.

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