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Balance

These 6 Simple Exercises Can Help You Cultivate More Compassion For Yourself

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For so many of us, it’s easy to show kindness, love, and compassion to others—and a totally different story when it comes being as lovely when we talk to ourselves. These 6 practices will change that.

These six exercises from psychologist Courtney E. Ackerman will help you cultivate and boost self-love, as well as find deeper compassion and appreciation for who you truly are.

One of the most important pieces of living a happy and healthy life is loving yourself. You’ve most likely heard the phrases, “If you can’t love yourself, how can you love anyone else?” and, “If you can’t love yourself, how can anyone else?”

Of course, the implied meaning of these phrases is not entirely accurate, but there is a kernel of truth: It’s hard to have a healthy relationship with anyone else when you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself.

See also 10 Ways to Love Yourself (More) in the Modern World

6 Ways to Boost Self-Love

If you’ve struggled with showing yourself love, the following exercises will help you boost your self-love and extend understanding, compassion, and forgiveness to yourself. Keep an open mind and give these exercises a try—they just might have a profound effect on how you relate to yourself and to others.

1. Differentiate your inner critic from your authentic self

A key step toward enhancing your self-compassion and self-love is acknowledging your inner critic. This may sound counterintuitive, but it really is very important to be able to determine when your inner critic is speaking and when your optimistic and confident inner self is speaking.

Grab a journal or notebook and open it to a fresh page. Draw a small self-portrait in the center of the page. Don’t worry—it doesn’t matter if it’s good! Next, draw several thought bubbles sprouting out from your portrait. In these thought bubbles, write down your most frequent negative thoughts about yourself. This might be a little painful, but try to push through it. Once you’ve filled in all the bubbles, take a moment to recognize that all of these thoughts come from your inner critic. Label the portrait “My Inner Critic.”

Next, flip the page and do the exercise again, but with a focus on alternate ways to think about each bit of self-criticism. Label the portrait “My Authentic Self.”

Whenever your negative thoughts start crowding out the good ones, return to these two pages to remind yourself that you are not your negative thoughts and that they don’t need to define you.

See also 4 Ways to Take Down Your Inner Critic

2. Start a positive focus group

This may be the most difficult of these exercises, because it requires the commitment of several people; however, it is also one of the most impactful. A “positive focus group” is a group activity that involves each member taking turns as the subject of a discussion of their strengths and positive qualities. Here’s how you do it:

Enlist a group of friends and family members. If you have trouble getting people to agree to it, try reminding them that they will benefit from this exercise as well. Set aside an hour or so (depending on how big your group is) and gather in a comfortable and private space, such as someone’s living room. Choose someone to take the first turn, then engage in a discussion of everything you like about him or her: their strengths, their skills and talents, the qualities that make them a good friend or family member, and anything else you appreciate about them. Repeat until each group member has been the subject of the discussion.

If this sounds uncomfortable to you, then you’re probably one of those who stands to benefit the most from it! When you have low self-esteem and don’t show yourself enough love, it’s vital that you learn to recognize the good in yourself and believe in the positive things others say about you.

Create and write down self-love affirmations to create more compassion for yourself.

3. Create self-love affirmations

You may have already come up with some affirmations to boost your confidence, but you can also come up with some additional affirmations to enhance your self-love. Follow these guidelines to create effective self-love affirmations.

Write your affirmation in the present tense. Focus on accepting yourself for who you are, right here and now. Show yourself love in your current state.

Use a first-person perspective. Don’t write statements about yourself as if you were someone else; write them from your own point of view. Here are a few good examples of self-love affirmations:

I am a good person.

I am worthy of love and respect.

I accept and love myself exactly as I am.

Repeat your affirmations at least once a day. It can be helpful to set a time of day for your affirmations to make sure you always remember to do them. Many people repeat their affirmations in the morning to get a boost of self-love for the rest of their day. If at any point you feel yourself lagging in self-love during the day, go ahead and repeat them again. Don’t worry about overdoing it—you’re in no danger of developing too much self-love.

See also 4 Ways to Practice Compassion in a Pinch

4. Commit to the equality principle

If someone asked you whether you believe that all people are equal, what would you say? You’d probably say yes, right? But you’ve also probably had plenty of negative thoughts about yourself, like, “I’m not as good as her,” or “They’re so much better than I am,” or even, “I don’t deserve to have what she has.” Everyone has these thoughts at some point, but it’s unhealthy to think them too often.

To neutralize these negative thoughts and shift how you see yourself, try committing to the equality principle wholeheartedly. The equality principle is the principle that we are all equally human and deserving of dignity, love, and happiness—including you!

On days when you’re feeling particularly down, it might be tempting to make an exception for yourself—but remember that the equality principle has no exceptions. If everyone is deserving of love and happiness, you are deserving too.

If you’re having trouble embracing this principle and accepting that there are no exceptions, try this technique: picture a dear friend or beloved family member, and remind yourself that since there are no exceptions, you are just as deserving of good things as they are. It’s harder to keep up the negative thoughts when you have to apply them to someone you love!

See also 5 Ways to Infuse Your Self-Talk with Self-Love

Place your hands over your heart and rest them for a few deep breaths.

5. Give yourself a loving touch

We often show others we love them through touch. We give our friends and family members hugs, kiss them on the cheek, hold hands with our significant other, and give back rubs or neck massages when we’re feeling especially generous. This physical gesture of love can be extended to yourself too!

The next time you’re feeling upset, sad, or worried, soothe yourself with a loving touch. Try any of the following, or go with whatever works best for you:

• Place one or both hands over your heart and rest them there for a few deep breaths.

• Give yourself a hug by placing your hands on your shoulders.

• Use one hand to gently hold the other.

• Stroke one arm with your opposite hand for a few minutes.

• Place a hand on each cheek and gently cradle your face.

• Wrap your hands around your belly and give a gentle squeeze.

• Run your nails lightly down your neck and/or over your shoulders.

You may feel a little silly or self-conscious at first, but these are excellent ways to show yourself a little bit of love.

6. Repeat self-love mantras

To carry your sense of self-love with you all day, wherever you go, try coming up with a mantra—words, phrases, or short sentences that help keep you focused on the things that matter to you. They’re similar to affirmations, except affirmations are about boosting self-love through self-acceptance. Mantras generally come from a doing perspective—they are focused on what you’re capable of—while affirmations come from more of a being perspective.

When coming up with your mantra, follow these simple guidelines: Your mantra can be anything from one word to several sentences, but generally the shorter the better. Your mantra should remind you of something you’ve accomplished or something you are good at. It should also make you feel good about yourself. For example, if you’re proud of your success in beating a drug addiction or healing from a major injury, you might choose a mantra like, I have overcome obstacles before. I will overcome obstacles again—or even just Overcome.

Keep this mantra a secret tool for your use only, a special thing that you share only with yourself. Bring it out whenever you’re struggling with fear, anxiety, anger, restlessness, or any other difficult situation or emotion, and allow it to remind you of where you’ve come from, where you’ve been, and where you’re going.

See also 5 Ways To Practice Compassion—and Get Better at It

My Pocket Positivity by Courtney Ackerman.

Excerpted from My Pocket Positivity by Courtney Ackerman Copyright © 2018 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Courtney E. Ackerman is a researcher and author of 5-Minute Bliss and My Pocket Positivity. She has a master’s degree in positive organizational psychology and evaluation from Claremont Graduate University in California. When she’s not working, she’s usually spending time with her dogs, reading books, visiting a nearby winery, or playing video games with her husband.



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Balance

7 Simple Ways to Call in More Joy—and Feel Less Stressed

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It can be easy to get caught up in the non-stop “go” of life and lose sight of what brings you the most happiness. If you can relate, this emotional detox is for you.

Clearing toxins from your life—not just your diet—can help you find more peace and joy. Sherianna Boyle, author of Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Release Toxicity and Energize Joy, shows us how.

Joy. It’s our most natural state. When we are in it, we feel light, effortless, smooth, confident, and free. What makes joy so powerful is its purity. It is an unfiltered state of unconditional love. Joy is abundantly and effortlessly alive, yet we let so many things—frustrations, mishaps, fears, anxieties, unhealthy relationships, and past experiences—taint it. These emotions are not toxic, but the way in which we have conditioned ourselves to respond to them is—that’s what I call reactivity.

Here is the thing: we are born with emotions; reactivity is what we learn. Raw emotions are like nutrients, reactivity like toxins. No one comes into this world with denial, expectations, the urge to gossip, guilt, doubt, and insecurity—these are reactions reinforced by how we interpret and respond to our feelings. Our spirits want to stay in sync with joy and avoid disconnection, but joy can be stripped from life at times when we most want to connect with it—like now, during the holidays.

See also A Meditation Practice To Let In Joy + Happiness

Like a food detox, an emotional detox leaves you feeling energized, clear, and fulfilled; it cleanses the pathway for new habits and behaviors, and lays the groundwork for connection, happiness, and love.

How to Do an Emotional Detox: 7 Simple Steps

These tips will help you let go of stress and tap into your own joy. The best part? You can do them all today.

1. Up your turmeric intake

Turmeric is a warm spice that’s high anti-inflammatory properties. Besides finding it in the spice aisle, you can also find it in the form of a supplement. It is used as a natural medicine for conditions such as headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia, itchy skin, and more. Turmeric, to me, is an essential yet affordable way to support your detox. Try adding it to soothing herbal tea (non-caffeinated teas such as elderberry and peppermint ease digestion, while ginger and saffron can help ease tension and promote emotional balance), spicing up salads, or simply take it in the form of a supplement.

See also 10 Ways to Love Yourself (More) in the Modern World

2. Use your heating pad

By placing warmth on your abdomen or heart, you can help calm down and soften resistance of your emotions. Heat increases blood-oxygen and circulation, detoxifying the area being treated. I love to use aromatherapy heating pads for a bit of extra therapy. Try using one to detoxify your neck, feet, and hands, and even face and forehead.

3. Incorporate crystals into your practice

Crystals can be a conduit for healing because their properties can increase the flow of energy in your body as well as within your environment. Crystals can ward off negativity while promoting relaxation. If I know I am entering a heavy or possible toxic situation, I tend to put some crystals around my neck or in my pockets. A few essentials are selenite (for clearing negativity), rose quartz (the crystal of unconditional love), and kyanite (for decreasing our resistance). Meanwhile, crystal elixirs (made by infusing water with the healing energies of crystals) can help move you through stuck emotions and patterns. Stones work deeply and permanently in our subconscious level of being and have the capacity to move energy on many levels, even upgrade our DNA.

See also 6 Steps to Use Crystals in Your Daily Routine

4. Try sound therapy

Sound therapy is a form of vibrational medicine. It is often created with instruments such as tuning forks, singing bowls, and gongs and found in wellness and healing centers. Personally,

I prefer the healing sounds of crystals bowls. My husband and I have attended a few crystal bowl circles together. We both found it powerful to lie on our yoga mats next to each other, holding hands, as the vibrations penetrated our bodies.

5. Practice alternate nostril breathing

This technique helps you deepen your breath, reaching the depth of your lungs. Begin by sitting up tall, either crossed-legged on the floor or in a chair. Gently press your shoulders back and down. Place your chin parallel to the earth. Soften your eyes. Take the thumb of your right hand and close off your right nostril so that you’re exclusively breathing out of your left nostril. Breathing from your lower abdomen, begin to inhale slowly (inflating the sides of your waist) to the count of three. Pause at the top of the inhalation for one count, then exhale out of the same nostril, pulling in your navel to the count of of four. (Make sure your exhalation is one count longer than your inhalation.) Pause. Then using your right hand again, close off your left nostril with your ring finger. Repeat the same count on this side. Repeat this exercise three to four times, and notice how relaxed and open you become.

See also Looking for an Emotional Detox? Try This Sequence from C.L.E.A.N.S.E. Yoga

6. Change your pillow

Replacing your pillow can give you a surprisingly fresh start. When you sleep, you release the stress from the day. Your pillow and mattress are two places you discharge a ton of negative energy. I once had a client who tossed her entire mattress after getting a divorce to dispel old, trapped negative energy.

7. Exercise your olfactory system

Using essential oils in a diffuser or on your skin can help you relax and feel more balanced. So long as the oils are non-synthetic (organic), using scents is one of the quickest ways to activate the calming centers of your brain. Certain scents have been proven to calm organs such as your heart, liver, and intestinal tract. Lavender is known for its soothing properties, while the scent of sandalwood can help you get grounded.

See also 5 Essential Oils Combos That Smell Better Than Your Favorite Candles

Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Release Toxicity and Energize Joy by Sherianna Boyle

Excerpted from Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Release Toxicity and Energize Joy by Sherianna Boyle. Copyright © 2018 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.



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5 to 15 Minute Meditation

Slow Flow: Learn to Live from Love with a Brahma Vihara

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Take a few minutes to dedicate each practice to love and watch what begins to shift.

Ready to move deeper into vinyasa and build a practice that supports you for decades to come? Start today with Slow Flow: Sustainable Vinyasa Yoga for Life, designed by Cyndi Lee, renowned yoga teacher and founder of OM Yoga. This six-week online course will refine your approach to vinyasa yoga through creative asana sequences, essential modifications, dharma talks in mindfulness, and much more, so sustainability and precision are top of mind every time you flow—now and in well into the future. Learn more and sign up today!

Words carry intention and plant seeds. That’s why taking a moment at the end of your asana practice for this dedication could start to shift things in your life. This practice called Brahma Vihara, which translates as “abode of the gods” or “abode of the heart,” is not to be confused with prayer. It’s shared by several eastern traditions and can be used as a prescription for living from the heart. In this video, you’ll learn the dedication and how to interpret all four of its parts. 



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Advanced Yoga

A TCM-Inspired Home Practice to Ease Holiday Stress

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This 12-pose sequence will help you remember what the season is really all about.

Feeling stressed? This TCM-inspired sequence will help. 

’Tis the season of good tidings, peppermint mochas, and gatherings with friends—and also lots to accomplish (gift-giving anyone?), people to accommodate (hello, Aunt Erma!), and more than likely, weeks of over-extending ourselves.

And while all of this busy-ness is due to a truly wonderful time of year, it’s important to get clear on what “stress” actually entails.

See also Ready to Let Go? A TCM-Inspired Sequence for Fall

The Physiology of Stress

When we are in high gear, plowing through a long to-do list to get stuff done (read: we’re stressed!), the body turns on the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), otherwise known as the fight-or-flight mode. When the SNS is turned on and we’re under perceived stress, it triggers energy to be released, allowing the body to fight or take flight.

By activating the SNS, the energy is directed to prioritized systems to fight or flight and takes energy away from (or shuts down) non-priority systems, such as the immune, digestion, and reproduction systems. This is why some people are more prone to illness, digestive upset, and for women, menstrual irregularities during or after stress.

The SNS’s counterpart is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS), or the rest-and-digest mode. When the PSNS is activated, the body conserves energy and turns “on” all down-regulated systems.

So, how can you activate the PSNS? By stimulating the vagus nerve: the longest cranial nerve that interconnects the brain to many organ systems and runs through the back of the throat and through the diaphragm.

Pranayama and Yoga are primary ways to access the vagus nerve, because the breath has the capacity to stimulate the vagus nerve through the back of the throat (hello, Ujjayi breath!) and diaphragmatic breathing (a.k.a. belly breathing). By stimulating the vagus nerve, we increase our vagal tone and turn on the PSNS, ultimately counter-balancing the stress response.

See also 8 Detoxifying Poses to Boost Digestion of Holiday Feasts—& All That Seasonal Stress

Interval Yoga: The Ultimate Counter to Stress

Interval Yoga is a combination of heart-pumping, timed movements interspersed with strengthening flows. The dynamic change between increasing heart rate and space for the heart rate to slow is great for a few reasons:

  1. Research indicates interval training may lengthen telomeres by increasing activity of the enzyme telomerase. Telomeres are the ‘end-caps’ on chromosomes (DNA that carries our genetic information) that protect the genetic information and prevent cell aging. Every time a cell replicates, the telomeres become shorter, eventually leading to cell death when the telomeres have been “used up.” By increasing telomerase activity to add telomere length, we are essentially adding longevity to our cells—and therefore ourselves.
  2. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the energy of yin within yin—and yin equals cold, rest, and non-movement. To counter-balance all of this yin energy, we will add yang energy (heat and activity) through movement and blood-pumping intervals.
  3. In TCM, stress affects the energy of the liver, creating Liver Qi Stagnation. One of the liver’s functions is the free-flow of energy throughout the body and to all organ systems. Which means stagnation here can feel like constriction in the body, neck and shoulder tension, constipation, irritability, and being quick to get angry. The best remedy for liver Qi stagnation is movement. Moving the body and getting the blood flowing will move the liver Qi to alleviate the above symptoms.
Try this 12-pose TCM-inspired sequence when you’re feeling the holiday stress. 

A 12-Pose Home Practice to Counter Holiday Stress

The Holiday season is about giving to others—our time, presence, presents, and energy. That’s why it’s especially important to make this practice about giving to yourself. Create a space that feels supportive to you: play music that feels good for movement; light a few candles; diffuse your favorite essential oils; and set an intention to nurture you.

Also, keep in mind that you can customize how fast or slow you move based on your energy levels. Please, honor your body and modify this sequence to fit your needs.

See also Slow Flow: 4 Tips to Polish Your Step-Forward Transition

About our author

Teresa Biggs, AP, DOM is a board-certified Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Yoga Medicine Instructor and founder of Biggs Acupuncture & Wellness Center in Naples, Florida. Learn more about Teresa at biggsacupuncture.com.

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