yoga poses for compassionBy Kimaya Singh 

The holiday season is a time when we are all asked to be compassionate. Compassion may come in the form of financial donations to organizations or individuals in need, or it may come in the form of volunteer work to support those organizations. Compassion is defined as the awareness of other’s distress along with the deep desire to alleviate that distress. Compassion may be self-directed, or it may be other-directed. Compassion may also be directed towards other animal species, plants and the earth. If we are very judgmental or critical of ourselves, we will have difficulty feeling compassion for ourselves and may even have difficulty feeling empathy for others.

Yoga poses that open up the heart area help to cultivate a deep sense of compassion for others and us. Practicing a brief period of meditation focused on compassion after practicing asanas that stimulate and open the heart region will help to solidify this awareness. In the past few years, researchers have been able to pinpoint the beneficial consequences of nurturing compassionate thoughts through magnetic resonance imaging devices of the brain. Not only is a feeling of compassion beneficial to others, it also helps to positively balance our own brain chemistry and prevent depression. Additionally, researchers have found that compassionate thoughts and actions actually improve the functioning of our neurological and endocrine systems. Scientists found that participants in a mindfulness meditation program study focused on compassion were less reactive to stress and were better able to handle emotionally upsetting situations.

Poses that make us feel better overall will help us to feel less irritable and more compassionate. Slowing down to do a full Yoga practice will also give a Yogi or Yogini the time to think about others. In Buddhist traditions, the fruits of spiritual practice are frequently offered up as a gift for all sentient beings. Offering the well being, health and happiness of your practice up to others is a great way to increase your feelings of compassion. A wonderful asana for cultivating compassion during the holiday season is a heart-centered Shavasana or Corpse Pose. As you lie in Shavasana, place your hands over your heart. Think of a pose that was particularly difficult for you today. See yourself striving to do the pose well and possibly failing. Feel good for yourself as you remember how hard you tried to perform the Yoga asana. Send loving energy into your heart chakra with wisdom, tenderness and compassion.

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