Protecting and Keeping Your Heart Healthy with Self-Compassion

By Etta Hornsteiner
January 28th, 2019 Health & Wellness No Comments
heart, senior, self-compassion

Life brings changes and challenges as we age—health issues, relationships, losses, and other challenges—can impact the heart and lead to a broken heart. A broken heart whether romantically related or not can lead to cardiac consequences. Are you taking care of your heart? Are you being kind to yourself? Sometimes we can be hard on ourselves as we try to adjust and regroup to these changes. When at such a time, the kind of strength we need is not the kind that comes from tough love or stoicism. We need the strength and resilience that self-compassion gives. Here’s why during this time of the year self-compassion can help to heal a broken heart and keep the heart healthy.

What is Self-Compassion?

According to Wikipedia, “self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.” It is not self-pity. Neither is it self-indulgence. Kristin Neff Ph.D., widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, defines self-compassion as being composed of three main components – mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity.

Mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist, who was influential in bringing the word into the mainstream medicine and science, explains.

It is being aware of your emotions and feelings and recognizing them as neither good nor bad. Acknowledging your feelings becomes important in practicing mindfulness. Your body is in tune with each change you undergo.

Any of these changes can cause a broken heart:

1. Divorce or relationship breakup6. Retirement
2. Loss of health7. Death of a pet
3. Losing a job8. Loss of a cherished dream
4. Loss of financial stability9. Loss of a friendship
5. A loved one’s serious illness10. Loss of safety after a trauma

 
Ignoring or avoiding certain emotions can be toxic and damaging to the heart. Therefore, acceptance of your emotions plays a significant role in mindfulness. This “apprehending the present moment with acceptance does not mean that one allows unnecessary suffering or injustice,” writes Shapiro.  “Whatever is arising in the present moment is greeted because it is already here. Then, from a place of clarity, a person can consciously discern what is needed and respond in an appropriate and skillful way.”

Self-kindness is the capacity to be warm and kind to yourself as you would be to a hurting friend. When you are in pain, feeling inadequate or experiencing some form of suffering, you show self-compassion towards yourself instead of self-criticism. In other words, by practicing self-compassion, you are training yourself to have an inner ally instead of an inner critic. This behavior helps to de-stress the heart, and a stress-free heart is a healthier heart. Harvard Health Publishing Online Newsletter gives this warning: “It is important to control your worry and stress, not just because you will worry less and feel better, but because less worry means less stress for your heart. This applies to the entire range of stressors, from a small episode of acute panic to a larger context such as living through a natural disaster.”

If you are suffering from a broken heart or experiencing cardiovascular disease, be patient with your healing. If you are fortunate enough to be without any ailments, remember to keep self-compassion as a companion.

Common Humanity is knowing that you are not alone. We are all connected, and we are all flawed beings. Unfortunately, no one is exempt from suffering or pain. However, we can build resilience and protection for our heart by cultivating self-compassion.  In cultivating self-compassion, we can respond to our community with compassion in return. For you cannot offer authentic compassion unless you have shown it to yourself.

Example of Self-compassion Meditation from the book Meditation in Plain English:

This is rather psychological medicine. If you take this medicine according to directions, it will bring temporary relief from the symptoms of the malady from which you are currently suffering. Then you can get to work in earnest on the illness itself.

You start out by banishing thoughts of self-hatred and self- condemnation. You allow good feelings and good wishes first to flow to yourself, which is relatively easy. Then you do the same for those people closest to you. Gradually, you work outward from your own circle of intimates until you can direct a flow of those same emotions to your enemies and to all living beings everywhere. Correctly done, this can be a powerful and transformative exercise in itself.

At the beginning of each meditation session, say the following sentences to yourself. Really feel the intention:
1. May I be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to me. May no difficulties come to me.
May no problems come to me. May I always meet with success.
May I also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

2. May my parents be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

3. May my teachers be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

4. May my relatives be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

5. May my friends be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

6. May all indifferent persons be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

7. May my enemies be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

8. May all living beings be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success.
May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.

Once you have completed these recitations, lay aside all your troubles and conflicts for the period of practice. Just drop the whole bundle. If they come back into your meditation later, just treat them as what they are, distractions.

The practice of Universal Loving-Kindness is also recommended for bedtime and just after arising. It is said to help you sleep well and to prevent nightmares. It also makes it easier to get up in the morning. And it makes you more friendly and open toward everybody, friend or foe, human or otherwise.

Now, close your eyes and quietly sit, allowing your thoughts to float by without engaging with them. Breathe deeply and be still.

Final Words of Thoughts

The heart and the brain are closely connected. When your emotions adversely affect your brain, they affect your heart. Therefore, protect and keep your heart healthy, for it is a matter of life or death.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *