If you’ve ever spent time on a yoga mat, you probably already know that yoga is so much more than a physical exercise and that it serves as an engaging and invigorating experience for not only the body, but also for the mind and the spirit. It certainly can make you feel strong, centered, and more relaxed, and after a yoga session, you may feel more connected to yourself and to others around you. It can help draw new emotions to the surface while leaving old ones behind. But, can yoga make you more compassionate?
Compassion is a wishy-washy term and can be interpreted to mean many things. One of the most straight-forward definitions, though, is taken from its literal meaning, “to suffer together,” and can be used to describe the feeling that arises when one is confronted with another’s suffering and feels motivated to relieve that suffering. There is a seed of compassion inside of each one of us and there are many ways to encourage that seed to sprout and for some, yoga may be the nourishment that helps to grow the compassion inside of them.
But why? What does yoga have to do with compassion? Plenty. There are probably as many connections between yoga and compassion as there are asanas, or poses, in the practice of yoga, itself. Here are just a few of those connections:
Yoga Can Make You More Self-Loving
Yoga teaches us to be thankful for our bodies and our abilities and helps us to let go of our faults and imperfections. It stresses the importance of self-awareness and self-respect, acknowledging that although we are all different, we are all equally powerful, beautiful, and important beings. How can we love and help others when we hold so much negativity toward our own selves? We can’t. But by practicing yoga and keeping self-love at the forefront of our minds, we can learn to love ourselves so we can, in turn, love and feel compassion for others.
Yoga Can Make You More Aware of the Present Moment
In yoga, there is no past and no future. There is only the present — the here and now. Being present and living in the moment heightens our senses and our emotions — compassion included — and can make our lives feel more fulfilled. Cait Cullen, a yogi for three years and a teacher at Sacramento’s Fusion Yoga Studio, says that yoga has helped her to be more present. “I used to barely live in my body,” she says. “I didn’t know what was going on with it, and I paid no attention to it. I’m not my body, but today I am more present in life in general, thanks to a regular yoga and meditation practice. It’s difficult to live in the present moment when there seems to be stress in all areas of life, but letting the breath be the vehicle and link between body and mind is an effective remedy,” she adds.
Yoga Can Increase Your ‘Ahimsa’
Ahimsa is the first of five yamas, or moral goals set forth thousands of years ago during yoga’s infancy and translates from its sanskrit roots to mean “non-violence.” By practicing non-violence toward ourselves first and foremost, through both our thoughts and actions, it will undoubtedly lead to non-violence toward others: compassion in action. Although all yogis are not vegan and not all vegans practice yoga, there is a definite connection between yoga and a vegan or vegetarian diet, and ahimsa is a major factor in that relationship.
So, is there a definite connection between yoga and compassion? Maybe. Maybe not. As you can see, the practice of yoga definitely has its roots planted deeply in compassionate beliefs, but the extent to which that compassion becomes ingrained in each individual yogi, ultimately, is up to him or her. If you’re looking for a way to view the world through a more compassionate lens, though, consider giving yoga a try. It can only benefit your body, your mind, and your spirit and you may just find that you’ve discovered your newest passion.
Namaste. The light in me honors the light in you. Embrace that light and let it shine brightly on the world!
Fellow yogis: has practicing yoga made you more compassionate? Or, maybe you’ve seen that transition in someone else? Please share your experiences!
By: Jenna Mazzio