UCLA just received a $20 million grant to open its Kindness Institute. The Institute is designed to study the effects of kindness across many disciplines. Daniel Fessler, the director of the new Institute, says that “science shows practicing kindness and compassion has direct emotional, psychological and medical effects.” A yoga mat is a great place to begin or to deepen a practice of kindness that is as good for you as it is for the world around you.
Yoga gives us the space to act like better people. We feel better in our bodies, so we’re pleasanter. We have the space (physically and mentally) to take a deep breath, so we’re calmer and more even-keeled. We’re less distracted so we’re able to be fully engaged and compassionate with whoever is right in front of us. We have some space from our feelings, so we’re less likely to react and more likely to respond mindfully. All in all, yoga helps act like the people we want to be.
I did not have great experiences with philosophy classes in my years of higher education. Somehow, not a single one of my professors had ever been able to make me see the real-world applications of all these things that other people, ages ago, had thought about. When I started to study yoga philosophy, I understood immediately that it is less about ideas and more about living. From the very beginning, it was clear to me that yoga philosophy was something I wanted to think about. More importantly, it was something I wanted to do – all of the time.
Is it OK to groan at yet “another flippin’ growth opportunity?” Heck, yes. They can hurt! But once you’re done grumbling, do yourself the favor of stretching. If we don’t consistently push at the edges of our comfort zones, we’re not going to grow. In fact, we risk becoming inflexible and stagnant.
One day, sitting in my driveway while the kids played with sidewalk chalk (which was infuriating because two of them were throwing it over the fence rather than drawing with it), I had an epiphany. I was being called to live my yoga right here, right now. This crazy, messy life was my metaphorical mat. My real-life challenging postures were these lovely little people who were simultaneously driving me batty and overwhelming me with love. Because of my practice with yoga philosophy, I understood that this life (my life!) is a gift. In that instant, something inside of me softened and shifted. I stopped fighting. I stopped looking for an exit. I opened myself fully to my life and received it as the gift it is.
One of the most powerful lessons I have gained from raising three children to young adulthood is that they each need to be loved in a different way. It might surprise you that the same is true for the way we love ourselves - it needs to vary! Our work (and it’s profoundly rewarding work) is to discover as many of these different ways to love as possible. Because when we love someone (especially ourselves) the way they need to be loved, not only do we help them stretch toward their potential, but we also stretch a little closer to our own potential.
Go ahead. Let yourself “feel all the feels.” And don't be worried if you don’t actually know specifically how or what you're feeling. Knowing you are a mess and need to do something to sort yourself out is enough. A good trick is to unroll your mat. There’s no better place than there to figure out that it’s just life that you’re feeling.
Being yourself is hard. It is easy to get mixed up by the advice and pressures from the world around you. Mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation and journaling can help you hear more clearly and walk more surely to the beat of your own drum.
Do the good thing. Say the kind words. Even when you’re having a bad day. You might never know how your generosity impacts others. But, as soon as you choose to make someone else’s day a great one, you will realize that your day just got a little better, too.