On a Foundation of Gratitude, Growing into Compassion-in-Practice through Journaling and Integrative Yoga Practice

January 14, 2021

With all of the ups and downs of the past year, one key theme has emerged that has left me feeling humble and inspired is compassion.  More than empathy, or, feeling what another feels, being compassionate, or showing compassion is action oriented.  See the difference?

Human beings have the ability to exhibit profound levels of compassion in their actions.  The tiny Saw-whet owl that got stuck in the Rockefeller Christmas tree from the start of its long journey from upper New York state to the center of Manhattan is a great example.  Just think about what that experience was like for the tiny creature!  And then, to finally be gently cupped in the hands of a his first rescuer and then, finally, to be released from the loving hands of a wildlife expert, we got a peak into what we are capable of.  Compassion lives in human hands!

YOGA weaves the idea of compassion throughout the Sutras.  It is a meditative intention, but it is also a practice of embodiment.  Through understanding, for example, that, according to Deborah Adelle in her interpretation of Ahimsa, the Yama that deals with the principle of non-violence, compassion is a key quality of non-violent engagement.  The embodiment of compassion in practice can be reflected in how we approach warrior poses.  How do we lean when we settle into Warrior II?  Do we lean into aggressive reaction, or do we stabilize our posture with the capacity for peace and to respond with goodwill and compassion?  

During a recent YOGA class, I introduced the hand embodiment for the awakening of compassion, Karuna Mudra.  It was not planned, but it became part of tree pose, Vrikshasana, when we brought cupped hands to our chest in this poignant posture.  In all honesty, it did not occur to me at the time that this the coupling of tree pose and the gesture of compassion was probably inspired by the tiny Saw-whet owl.  

So, if you’re looking for ideas for your gratitude journal, add these questions to your reflections.  What opportunities arose today to show compassion to myself or to someone else?  Was it ever difficult to act compassionately?  Or, was it clearly the path you chose because you simply knew in your heart that it was the right thing to do?  I hope you will join me this year by practicing gratitude to strengthen our own roots and by practicing compassion to enrich those of others.  

By Nancy Kristiansen

YOGA Teacher (200YTT) and Fountain of You Wellness Community Member

Associate Professor of Business and Leadership at Saint Joseph’s College