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Building Compassion through our Yoga Practice

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Being a creature of habit I usually attend my yoga classes at the same time every day. This particular Wednesday I wasn’t so lucky and I ended in a class I had never taken before.

I rolled out my Chakra Pro yoga mat feeling a bit skeptical about the class and the teacher. I was out of my comfort zone and feeling a bit guilty about being in a class at 9:30am instead of earlier like I usually am.

That guilt and skepticism vanished the second Melissa (my new favorite yoga teacher) spoke. She started the class with a story about what had happened earlier that morning. Melissa explained that as she was getting on the ramp to the highway at peek hour, the driver on the ramp would not let her merge even though it was her turn. The driver ignored her, pretended not see her, and did not to let her through. She used this anecdote to explain how we are constantly separating ourselves from other people and beings.

Melissa explained that just like in that ramp where she was confined to her car, we tend to live in this imaginary bubble that enables us to perceive the world in terms of: ‘me’ and ‘them’

Instead of connecting to one another and breaking the barriers of perceived separateness, we build walls around us and we isolate ourselves subconsciously. This sense of separation hinders our ability to be compassionate, and thus our ability to create a better world.

To help us break down the walls of isolation and build more compassion, Melissa had us do a quick exercise prior to starting our yoga practice.

First, she had us visualize someone we love and care for - and send them love and compassion. That was easy and took no effort. I think its safe to say that we are always compassionate towards those we care about.

After, Melissa had us think about someone we are indifferent to. We don’t know them well enough to have feelings towards. This could be the clerk at the bank, or the cashier at the grocery store etc. Once we had that person in our mind’s eye, she had us also send them love and compassion. Pretty easy exercise so far.  Why wouldn’t we send a stranger in our lives love and compassion right?

For the final part of the exercise Melissa had us think about that one person in our lives that makes us cringe with annoyance.  That co-worker who is always sabotaging your work, or the super critical boss who is constantly making your life a living hell, or that neighbor you run from the second you see them because all they do is complain about every single thing you do, or don’t do. 

The class chuckled at this part of the exercise, but nonetheless we all continued on with it thinking about that undesirable human in our lives.

Once we had our not so wonderful human in our mind eye, Melissa had us send all the love and compassion we had in our hearts to them.

She waited a bit longer than the other two knowing with wasn’t an easy bit. The she said “not so easy as the other two is it?!” and laughed.  We all laughed as well and with that, Melissa asked that we offer that hour of practice to that third person. She said “As you move and as you breathe through the practice send only good thoughts, love and compassion to that person that you don’t like so much.

And with that we started our hour of super intense Ashtanga yoga.

At the end of class right after savasana, she asked if the way we felt about the third person had changed, or if our perception of them had somehow gotten better.

And even though I can not speak for everyone in the class, the second I started thinking about my third human, suddenly they didn’t seem so bad and I found myself reflecting on reason as to why they were a certain way, and I started understanding and being more considerate of their feelings and reasons for being.

 By offering my practice to this individual and consciously sending them love and compassion, the walls I had built to keep that person separate from my world started to crumble and the negative feelings towards them started to fade.

That Wednesday morning I learned that we can workout our compassionate muscle through our yoga practice. Melissa taught us a simple but effective (and oh so necessary) way to reduce the negative emotions we feel towards others, break down the walls we build to separate from each other, and help us reconnect in a more meaningful and caring way. 

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