The Somatics of Self-Compassion

A note from Carl:

Greetings Friends,

I hope this note finds you well in the new year.
As we can never be reminded too often, especially when we are looking at a phone or computer, could you feel the support of the Earth under your butt or under your feet at you read this? Is there anything you could shift to make yourself a bit more comfortable and at ease?

In our Embodiment Lab this month we are exploring the theme of Embodying Self-Compassion. It is such a deep and complex topic. I remember listening to one of our favorite audio programs from Sounds True, To Love and To Be Loved- The Difficult Yoga of Relationship, which is a recorded live weekend workshop with Stephen and Ondrea Levine. Erin and I listened to those cassettes over and over across tens and thousands of miles driving around the West to attend various trainings and retreats. At one point Stephen describes how after many years of intense spiritual practice, one of his teachers said to him, “You know, Stephen, you could be kind to yourself,” and Stephen immediately burst into tears – he said it had never occurred to him.

Later in the program, Stephen tells how a student asked him, “How did you become so kind?” And his response was, “By noticing how unkind I was.”

The doorway of growing self-compassion is through discovering (with kindness and humor) the many places where we lack it.

I remember over twenty years ago reading a line from Cheri Huber, the Zen teacher and writer, that rocked my world. She wrote, “If your friends spoke to you the way you spoke to yourself, you probably would have left them a long time ago.” I felt so busted. Had she heard what I was saying to myself?

Our friend and mentor, Russell Delman, offers a great inquiry: How do we become the best friend of our inner-life?

Can we be the friend that listens, that shows up with care and interest, not trying to fix or change or offer “helpful” advice, but just to be with what is there?

We can grow this potent skill.

Francis Weller speaks of how often our approach to our inner-lives is more economical than reverential. That we have colonized our inner-life, asking what can I get from this, rather than what it this wanting from me? What is this sadness, or this back pain, or this elation, or this regret wanting from me?

An aspect of self-compassion that is not talked about so frequently is the physiology of self-compassion. To elaborate on Cheri Huber’s line, “If your friends moved you, or touched your body in the way that you touch or move yourself, you probably would have left them a long time ago.”

One of the most beneficial and humbling aspects of working with Feldenkrais lessons is that we begin to discover how much invisible aggression and force there is in how we move our bodies. How we roll over in bed at night, how we get up from a chair, how we brush our teeth. Do you ever watch how people put their bags into an overhead bin on an airplane? You can usually get a pretty clear reading of how one is with their inner-life, and it’s rather infrequent to see someone who is mindful, unrushed, and gentle with themselves.

Stephen Levine talks about how the softness of the belly is a clear diagnostic to the hardness or softness of the heart. Speaking of which, could we pause and take a moment and see if anything could soften in our bellies?

1000 times a day I can let my belly relax a bit more into intimacy with this moment of life. Is it possible to bring a soft belly, a relaxed brow, a full breath, and ease in your jaw to greet even your most challenging moments?


As Stephen Levine has been so present in my reflecting on self-compassion, I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favorite poems:
Stephen Levine

Mother-of-us-all prays to free us from our image of perfection
to which so much suffering clings.
When in the shadowy mind
we imagine ourselves imperfectly, praying to be freed from gravity
by enlightenment, she refines our prayers.
Putting her arms around us
she bids us rest our head on her shoulder whispering,
Don’t you know
with all your fear and anger
all you are fit for is love.


Wishing you well,

We have a new podcast that just came out! Join me for a fun conversation on Natural Movement with Erwan Le Corre, founder of Movnat and the author of The Practice of Natual Movement. You can listen here.

Natural Movement: A Conversation with Erwan Le Corre

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.