The Power of Self-Compassion

The Power of Self-Compassion

You don’t have to be your biggest critic…

 

When you make a mistake, have a rough day or have an emotional meltdown…. what do you do?

If you’re anything like me, you might ruminate on the things that have happened, and wish you’d done a whole bunch of things differently!

It can leave you feeling self-critical and down.

I know the feeling!!

But what if you could be kinder to yourself, more compassionate. Just as you would be for a close friend or loved one?

As it happens there’s a WHOLE research field dedicated to self-compassion. And it’s fascinating!

In this mini blog I’ll reveal how self-criticism has affected me personally when I was teetering on the edge of post-natal depression.

I’ll also (very briefly) summarise what the research has to say about self-compassion, based on the fantastic review by Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the world of self-compassion (Neff, 2023).

 

My personal story…

The most recent time that self-criticism (dare I say self-hate) has affected me was about 8 months ago. I was super exhausted and had almost no time to spend on my own health, passions and business, because I’m a mum to a little (lovely) human.

(This is the perfect storm that often leads to postnatal depression for many, many mums and some dads).

Due to my general state of frustration and tiredness I was very quick to snap at my husband, and would often start and perpetuate arguments. I could see that the way I was acting was reactive, unkind and unfair, and I started hating myself for it.

 

Negative spiral

This became a negative spiral, that led to more frustration and more self-criticism and more snappy arguments, dragging me lower and lower.

So….. why am I revealing the less-than-glamorous bit about my life?

Well, practicing more self-compassion could have REALLY helped me here.

I could have had self-compassion for my low-mood and snappy reactions to my poor husband. I WAS going through a super challenging time after all!

I now understand that self-compassion would have stopped the negative cycle of self-hatred that was pulling me down.

Does this sounds like anything you’ve experienced?

 

What is self-compassion?

Kristin Neff is a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion psychology. This is how she defines self-compassion:

“Self-compassion is a way of relating to the ever-changing experience of who we are with kindness and acceptance, especially when we fail or feel inadequate.

Self-compassion does not require feeling better than anyone else, it simply requires acknowledging the shared and imperfect human condition.” (Neff, 2023, p. 201)

I love her words, as she gives us permission to be imperfect and to care for ourselves unconditionally anyway!

 

Three magic ingredients…

Kristin Neff has conceptualised three important components of self-compassion:

  1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgement. Taking a benevolent and supportive attitude to our shortcomings, rather than condemning ourselves coldly. Acknowledging our shortcomings while caring for ourselves regardless.
  2. Appreciating a common humanity. Recognising that life challenges are part of being human, an experience we all share.
  3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification. Being willing to turn toward, feel and acknowledge our own pain. Yet, not to over-identify with it. Observe it as a temporary state that will pass, rather than something we “are”.

(All of these, especially 1. and 3. are remarkably similar to a mindful yoga practice!! …more on this later.)

 

Why be self-compassionate?

“What is the point of all this?” You may ask…

Well, there are over 4,000 scientific journal articles documenting the positive effects of self-compassion on wellbeing! (Neff, 2023)

I want to keep this blog brief, so I’ll just make a short (and very incomplete list) for you. Self-compassion has been linked (scientifically) with…

Reduced:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Suicidal ideation and self-harm
  • PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Body image concerns
  • Shame

And increased:

  • Happiness
  • Satisfaction with life
  • Hope
  • Gratitude
  • Curiosity
  • Vitality

These outcomes were found in a large range of studies using cross-sectional, longitudinal (surveys across time) and experimental methods. If you want to dive into this research yourself have a look at Kristin Neff’s excellent review here (Neff, 2023).

It’s an amazing list of mental health benefits from something that is essentially quite a simple mindset shift!

 

But isn’t it narcissistic?

Perhaps you’re thinking that being kinder to yourself and ‘loving yourself’ unconditionally might sound like a soft option or somewhat narcissistic. But that is a common misconception!

To change your mind, it helps to know the difference between self-compassion and having high self-esteem.

Self-esteem is a positive evaluation of your self-worth based on how you perform in daily life and how you compare with others. High self-esteem, while being good for mental health, HAS been linked with narcissism (Crocker and Park, 2004).

Whereas self-COMPASSION does not rely on judgments or evaluations of your performance. Instead, self-compassion is a way of caring for, and accepting, ourselves especially when we fail or feel inadequate.

Self-compassion does not require feeling better than anyone else, it simply requires acknowledging the shared and imperfect human condition.

 

What’s it got to do with yoga?

Apart from stretching, yoga actually works on changing how someone relates to their own body and mind.

Have you ever attended a yoga class that made a real psychological difference? (You felt happier, lighter or more hopeful afterwards?) The teacher was probably using mindfulness theming…

In the most satisfying yoga classes, a teacher invites the student work on their mindset / mind-body-connection throughout the breath and movements.

Some common themes I always find running through my classes are:

  • To observe everything going on in the body and mind, without judgement.
  • To be kind to, and grateful for the body.
  • To notice any uncomfortable sensations and thoughts, and realise that they are just that, sensations and thoughts. That they do not define your inner self.
  • Not to focus on ‘achieving’ a pose, but to accept where you are.

 

Yoga is self-compassion

After reading Kristin Neff’s three components of self-compassion, I realised that a mindful yoga practice has A LOT in common with them!

Especially with point (1) Self-kindness vs. self-Judgement, and point (3) Mindfulness vs. over-identification.

So, practicing yoga in a mindful way, while fostering a non-judgemental and accepting attitude towards the body and mind, is an act of self-compassion.

I make that yet another string to yoga’s bow!

Homework

I invite you to have a look at my latest on-demand yoga class called:

Flexibility Flow

In this class I use the theme of self-compassion as I guide you through poses to stretch the hamstrings, shoulders and hips.

It’s just 30 minutes!

 

(If you’re not yet a BendyFriend, have a look at my offerings.)

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


References

Crocker J, Park LE. 2004. The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychol. Bull. 130:392–414

Neff, K.D., 2023. Self-compassion: Theory, method, research, and intervention. Annual review of psychology, 74, pp.193-218.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Never too 'old'!

Never too ‘old’!

How to become a strong & flexible 80 year old…

 

Perhaps you feel a few aches and pains, but you haven’t thought seriously about what your body might do when you get older…

That’s OK! It’s great to live in the present moment and not to worry about the future.

However, when it comes to ‘ageing gracefully’, it DOES pay to plan a head a little.

This week, I delved into a scientific research paper that compared an Ashtanga yoga programme for people in three age groups: 20-29 years, 30-39 years, and 40-49 years (Halder et al., 2015).

The result are really encouraging!

But before I review the fantastic results of this study, let’s just briefly talk about what COULD happen as your body ages.

 

What happens as we age?

From around the age of 30 the body starts to age slowly. This might shock you! But it’s true.

By bringing your awareness to this fact, you can start to make choices to COUNTERACT these natural age-related changes.

It’s natural that:

… the body starts breaking down muscles more, and become less good at absorbing protein from the diet. This results in the natural weakening of muscles, a process called sarcopenia.

…our muscles and tendons to get stiffer, reducing flexibility. This is due to increased stiffness and rigidity of the soft-tissues of the joint capsules, muscles, facia, tendons, ligaments and skin surrounding different joints.

…our body fat starts to creep up as the hormones that drive metabolism and energy burning reduce with oncoming age (especially for women).

bone density starts to reduce (especially for women after the menopause), as the hormones involved in storing calcium in our bones reduce as well.

(BUT we can do something about all this!)

 

So what can we do?

If you’re feeling a bit discouraged after reading the list above, then please keep reading!

Exercise scientists have long agreed that weight-bearing and strength training exercise into older ages (as well as eating enough protein), is SUPER important for maintaining muscle strength and bone density.

And now there is also research showing that Ashtanga yoga is beneficial for halting age-related physical declines too!

So let’s review this super interesting study…

 

Yoga for all ages

This study recruited 79 volunteers, whom they divided into 3 groups: 20-29, 30-39, and 40-49 years. All volunteers took part in a yoga exercise regime for 3 months.

The volunteers were given a 1-hour yoga class, 6 days a week, first thing in the morning.

Yes…. This is fairly intense! But I was excited to read this, because other studies usually give just 1 or 2 classes a week, and see limited results.

The yoga style was based on Ashtanga (so lots of sun-salutations), and they also included breathing exercises and meditation.

Similar to my classes! Whoohoo! 🥳

 

‘Reversed’ ageing!

The researchers took lots of measurements: weight, BMI, body fat, and strength and flexibility of different muscles.

They found that for all measurements the oldest two groups, and especially the oldest (40-49 years) improved the most!

After the 12 weeks of yoga:

…The middle and oldest group lost weight, lowered their body fat % and moved their BMI from over-weight to the ‘normal’ category. (The youngest group was already in a healthy BMI category before the yoga programme).

…All age groups increased hand-grip strength and back strength, with the 40-49 year olds increasing strength the most.

…All age groups increased upper-back flexibility and hamstring flexibility with, again, the 40-49 year olds increasing flexibility the most.

So, the participants in the middle and oldest group essentially LOWERED their own ‘biological age’ by reducing their body fat (to a healthier level), increasing strength and increasing flexibility!

 

Applying this to YOUR life?

This study gave volunteers a 1 hour yoga class, 6 days a week in the mornings. So you might be thinking…

“I don’t have 1 hour every morning to do yoga!”

Well, looking closely at the study report, the active part of yoga contained 5 minutes of sun-salutations, and 20 minutes of yoga poses.

(The rest of the time was taken up with breath-work and mediation.)

While I don’t want to reduce the importance of the mediation side of yoga, it is fantastic to see these physical results with JUST 25 minutes of yoga a day!

This suddenly becomes a lot more realistic. 😎

(Most of us spend 2-3 hours a day scrolling social media, so perhaps we can fit in 25 minutes of yoga!)

 

A gift to your 80-year old self!

Today you might not feel the effects of age on your body. Today it is SOOOO easy to choose a chilled half hour, scrolling your phone with a lovely hot cuppa.

Yet… if you are over age 30 you WILL be ageing the tiniest bit every day.

Every bit of muscle strengthening and stretching exercise you do today will top up the ‘health’ bank-account of your future 80-year old self!

So what do you think?

Is it worth getting a little sweaty today for a fit 80-year old you?

Yoga homework

I invite you to pick a yoga practice that includes sun-salutations.

Hint: ALL my online classes do…. 😉 

 

Start saving for the future

Find a class lasting between 10 – 30 minutes, and do this on

3 mornings/evenings a week.

Let’s focus on establishing this routine…. Maybe one day you’ll do more!

 

I can help you!

If you’re not yet a BendyFriend, have a look at my offerings.

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Halder, K., Chatterjee, A., Pal, R., Tomer, O. S., & Saha, M. (2015). Age related differences of selected Hatha yoga practices on anthropometric characteristics, muscular strength and flexibility of healthy individuals. International journal of yoga, 8(1), 37.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Exercise Snacking

Exercise snacking!

Busting the myth that you need a solid-hour…

 

“I won’t be able to do that 1 hour class, so there’s no point.”

Have you ever thought this?

It’s such a common thought that exercise needs to be a ‘sufficient amount’ or there is no point doing it.

Why is this?

I don’t know why most of us think this way, but I do know that it stops a lot of people doing enough healthy movement!

In this mini blog I am advocating for the “exercise snacking” approach. Especially for anyone feeling too busy to take 20 mins out to exercise!

But what IS exercise snacking?

 

Grab a snack! 😉

Exercise snacking is a term coined by Sports Science researchers. It means to do very short bouts of exercise often, sometimes even several times a day. The exercise is often of quite vigorous intensity.

What can this look like?

  • Squats /squat jumps
  • Running up some stairs
  • Push-ups
  • Burpees
  • Sun-Salutations!

The Research

Researchers Oliver Perkin and his team at the University of Bath have researched the effects of exercise snacking on 20 adults over age 65.

They found that a few minutes of leg exercises twice a day, for 28 days, significantly improved leg strength compared with a control group (Perkin et al., 2019).

This is a new and emerging area of research and most available studies include older adults. So you might think:

“How is that relevant to me? I’m not over 65.”

 

Is this relevant?

Well, it’s actually a lot more difficult for older adults to gain muscle strength than for younger folk.

Older adults are working an up-hill battle when it comes to gaining strength due to a natural decrease in hormones geared towards building-up muscle tissues.

The older we are, the more our muscles start reducing in size and strength (a process called Sarcopenia). UNLESS, we do something about it. Cue: exercise snacks!

Sooooo it stands to reason that if someone over age 65 can improve their strength with exercise snacks, then there’s a good chance that younger peeps can do so too!

 

Younger people?

I could only find one study with younger participants.

This was a group of 12 adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes. These teenagers performed 6-minutes of exercise snacks three times a day for three months (Hasan et al., 2020).

After 3 months of exercise snacking the teenagers had lost 2.2% body fat.

This study is perhaps even less relevant to you than that with the older participants, however it is still a proof of the exercise snacking principle!

Needless to say, there is room for a lot more research into exercise snacking! Personally, I’d love this principle applied to adults working from home or first-time mums, just to name a few.

 

A Yoga snack?

So where does yoga come in?

The research on yoga generally gives participants a 1-hour class once or twice a week. But I think it would be MORE interesting to see what 10-15 minutes of yoga 6 days a week would do!

As exercise snacking involves strength-movements, this can be incorporated in a short yoga practice. This could look like a few minutes of:

  • Sun salutations
  • Plank pose / Side plank pose
  • Chair pose
  • Warrior 1, Warrior 2 or Warrior 3
  • Yoga squats
  • Crow pose
  • …I could go on!

Yoga snacking has not yet been scientifically studied, unfortunately.

However, I HAVE heard from some of my online BendyFriends that they have felt a difference in their strength after consistently doing my 10-15 minute classes!

As well as the physical benefits, I’m also interested in the cumulative mindfulness aspect of 10 minutes a day.

So the jury is still out, but YOU can explore for yourself whether yoga snacks will make a difference!

 

Snacks lead to (good) habits…

While this is not a good thing when it comes to chocolate…. It IS a good thing when it is about exercise or yoga!

Finding the time to do just 10 minutes of yoga or exercise is SO MUCH EASIER than it is for 1 hour.

If short ‘yoga snacks’ then become a regular occurrence, it MIGHT eventually become a healthy habit in your life. When something is a habit, then you no longer need to spend mental energy on it. It will just happen!

And once it’s a HABIT, you will slowly start finding a little more time to spend on your yoga mat.

Yoga homework

I invite you to start a heathy snacking habit! 😉

Decide whether it will be:

10 minutes of yoga

2 minutes of squats

1 minute of plank

(or something else!)

 

Then decide WHERE and WHEN you’ll do this each day:

In the morning?

during lunch?

pre-dinner?

 

Let’s get snacking!

(If you’re not yet a BendyFriend, have a look at my offerings.)

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


References

Hasan, R., Perez-Santiago, D., Churilla, J. R., Montes, B., Hossain, J., Mauras, N., & Darmaun, D. (2020). Can short bouts of exercise (“exercise snacks”) improve body composition in adolescents with type 1 diabetes? A feasibility study. Hormone Research in Paediatrics, 92(4), 245-253.

Perkin, O. J., McGuigan, P. M., & Stokes, K. A. (2019). Exercise snacking to improve muscle function in healthy older adults: a pilot study. Journal of aging research, 2019.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x


Yoga Science: Heart Health

Yoga Science: Heart Health

Vinyasa Yoga for your heart…

 

Have you ever walked out of yoga class / finished your home yoga practice, and felt like you were walking on a cloud?

This is often the feeling that keeps yoga students coming back for more! It does feel rather lovely…

But I don’t just want to say ‘yoga makes you feel good’. I’m interested in exactly WHAT yoga does to the body that makes us feel so amazing…

 

My Science background

Some of you may know I studied Sports and Exercise Science and then worked as a researcher at the University of Bath.

I absolutely loved the opportunity to learn more about health and exercise every day, however… writing science papers reeeeeally wasn’t my thing.

After a decade in academia, I took a long (and much needed) break from reading scientific literature. HOWEVER…. My science-brain has recently woken up again!

So I’ve been enjoying searching Google Scholar for the science available on yoga and health.

Today, I’ll be reviewing a study looking at the heart-health benefits after a single Vinyasa Yoga session.

 

Is Vinyasa Yoga special?

Why did the searchers choose this style of yoga?

Well, Vinyasa Yoga is a little bit special because it links up each yoga pose (or set of poses) with a ‘Vinyasa’. This means a flowing movement involving:

  • Reaching over head
  • Bending forwards at the hips
  • A plank pose
  • Low plank (plank with elbows bent: Chataranga Dandasana)
  • Upward dog (lying on the ground, pressing up to arch the back), and
  • Downward Dog (Hands and feet on the floor, and bum pointing to the sky!)

The first of these movements is done with an inhale, followed by the next movement coinciding with the exhale, etc.

 

A unique form of exercise

These Vinyasa movements, coordinated with breathing, makes it a form of aerobic exercise (raising the heart rate a little), but also helps to keep the nervous system in a ‘rest and digest’ state, as the breath remains relatively slow.

This makes Vinyasa Yoga DIFFERENT from exercise such as running or weight-lifting as these put the body in a more ‘fight or flight’ state. (Which is a good thing too, while exercising!)

Vinyasa Yoga is also different from other styles of static yoga (like Iyengar). The more stationary types of yoga focus on stretching and strength, but don’t include flowing movements coordinated with breath.

 

What did this study do?

Thirty healthy adults (between 20 and 70 years of age) attended a 1-hour Vinyasa Yoga class.

Both before and after the yoga class, the researchers measured the participants’:

  • Blood sugar and blood fat levels: total LDL (aka. ‘bad’), HDL (aka. ‘good’) and triglycerides (also ‘bad’).
  • Several markers of heart health: artery stiffness, Augmentation Index (AI: a measure of how blood flows through the heart), and blood pressure.
  • Participants’ mood (using a standardised questionnaire)

 

Less blood pressure stress

After just one Vinyasa Yoga session, Augmentation Index (AI) was lower.

Lower AI is a sign of reduced blood pressure stress on the heart. The heart’s arteries can be damaged by frequent surges of high blood pressure. When the blood vessel lining gets damaged that’s when plaques can start to build up, which eventually can lead to heart disease.

Sooooooo any lowering of blood pressure stress is a positive change to keep the heart’s blood vessels healthy!

 

Yogic breathing and heart health

The stiffness of the heart’s arteries did not change after the 1-hour Vinyasa Yoga session. The researchers noted that this was very interesting!

They were predicting that the artery stiffness would increase, as it does after one session of strength training.

Strength training raises arterial stiffness because it temporarily increases blood pressure. As many yoga poses involve contracting the muscles for several breaths, the researchers though yoga might also increase the blood pressure and arterial stiffness.

The researchers named this a “potential anomaly” that may be related with the intentional slow yogic breath:

“…while yoga postures combine isometric contractions with stretching, both of which should elicit sympathetic nervous system-induced elevations in blood pressure, the slowing of breath by linking breath cycle (inhale/exhale) phases with movement transitions in vinyasa yoga could counteract the causative factors which increase arterial stiffness after the session.”

“It has been shown that slow breathing acutely reduces muscle sympathetic nerve activity [fight or flight], AIx [blood pressure stress on the heart], PWV [aortic artery stiffness], and inflammation while improving baroreflex sensitivity [blood pressure regulation].”

So, perhaps there’s sense in this slow breathing thing!

 

Vinyasa Yoga and Cholesterol

After the 1-hour Vinyasa Yoga class, participants also had lower total non-HDL cholesterol. This represents all the fat floating in the blood minus the ‘good guy’,  HDL.

This is also a positive thing for artery health. It is accepted in the medical world these days that lower non-HDL blood fats can help reduce the onset of heart disease.

 

Vinyasa Yoga and Mood

Participants had significantly reduced negative feelings after the 1-hour Vinyasa Yoga class.

This is a point that is easily verifiable by us all! Have you ever finished a yoga class in a more negative state than how you started it??

The researchers hypothesised that there could be a link between the positive psychological improvements and the reduction in blood pressure stress on the heart.

 

How is this relevant for you?

Whether you’ve ever thought about your heart health, or not, this is relevant to you!

Keeping your blood pressure within a healthy range is one of the the best things to do to avoid a future heart attack (apart from stopping smoking!)

Yoga is by no means the ONLY way to do this. Any exercise is beneficial in the long run, as well as not smoking and keeping a healthy body weight.

That said, yoga is a great exercise choice!

As well as physical benefits it also has proven psychological benefits. And what I love about yoga is that it is an activity that you’ll be able to maintain throughout your WHOLE LIFE.

So, do you fancy becoming a yoga-ing 80 year old with healthy arteries??

Then start a healthy yoga-habit today! 😉

Let’s practice!

I invite you to practice one of my more physically demanding yoga classes. (I have LOTS of online yoga videos!!)

Perhaps one from the Strength theme (orange)

or the Ashtanga theme (turquoise). 

As you move through any challenging poses, REALLY focus on lengthening and slowing down your breath.

 

Let’s get sweaty!

(If you’re not yet a BendyFriend, have a look at my offerings!)

Learn more!

I hope you enjoyed this mini blog. 🤓

Please share your views in comments below!

Jolanthe x


Reference

Piña, A. A., Shadiow, J., Fadeyi, A. T., Chavez, A., & Hunter, S. D. (2021). The acute effects of vinyasa flow yoga on vascular function, lipid and glucose concentrations, and mood. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 56, 102585.

Strength, Posture & Mindfulness

I’ll help you gain body confidence and contentment

with short, easy-to-follow yoga classes from your LIVING ROOM!

On-demand and LIVE

Check out what I offer!

I’m a Small Business

Give yourself the gift of self-care for a super affordable price, while supporting an independent, small business!

I enjoy getting to know each and every new yoga student – so can’t wait to meet you!

Love, Jolanthe x