Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Putting kindness into your practice

Dr David Hamilton gives an inspiring talk on the chemistry of kindness & compassion...
He proposes that acts of kindness increase the hormone oxytocin, which increases the space inside blood vessels, bringing about a drop in blood pressure and other benefits for the heart, so that kindness is like a cardiovascular protector. This is his theory, and he gives an example of research that found people consciously acting with kindness said they were happier than people who didn't. I think we know this intuitively, but it's good to hear it from a scientist because science informs our culture, the things we say to each other, our expectations of ouselves and each other. So rather than think of kindness as an optional but not very practical thing to do, listening to Dr Hamilton we might think that compassion is actually a way to be healthy in the heart, that adds to our happiness as well as the happiness of others around us.

This is something that crops up all the time in yoga and meditation as unkind thoughts surface such as "I'll never be able to do this", "he/she can do it, why can't I?", "I ought to be able to do this one by now"... The first thing is to notice when this is happening, because we can be so used to the dialogue in our minds that we don't realise it's there. But when you do notice an unkind thought while you're practising, rather than add to it by chastising yourself for having an unkind thought, try saying something sweet to yourself, something compassionate, supportive or reassuring, perhaps "I'm alright, I'll get there", "I've got this far, haven't I?", "I'm doing ok"... Make up your own, whatever is meaningful to you. Then notice how your body responds to a kind sentence, and then how it responds after you say something unkind to yourself. What do you find?