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Self-Compassion ‘Is’ Self-Protection: A Guided Practice

By Ann Saffi Biasetti //

The word self-protection may feel elusive and hard to wrap our mind around as it is not something we may think of often. Self-care, yes, but self-protection, not so much. However, whenever I teach about self-compassion I make sure to define self-compassion as self-protection because that is really what it is.

Consider that with all the research done on self-compassion, the thing we know the most is that it helps to soften and soothe a self-critical moment. The question, “How would you treat a friend?” is the question used most often in the conceptual teaching of self-compassion. Understanding it through the door of being a friend to yourself and treating yourself in a kinder way is the first step. However, it is important to take the practice further and deepen our understanding of it.

When we deepen our understanding of self-compassion, we come to understand that through treating ourselves with more kindness we are really practicing a critical form of safety and protection. When we soothe a self-critical moment, we are actually creating an internal safety net within our nervous system and within our mind. Therefore, we are not just changing a thought, we are changing an entire bodily system. That change creates a new way of being in relationships and in the world that feels more safe and that feels more protected, the two things that humans wish for the most.

Our Metta practice is all about this. We wish for the safety and protection of self, other, and all beings. Why? Because we have to feel safe and internally protected first before we can move safely through the world. Self-compassion practice on a daily basis builds this sense of safety and resiliency within. Once this is practiced with regularity, what you may notice first is a difference in your level of reactivity. Maybe you start to feel calmer and less likely to react in the same way you usually do. This is the internal, bodily shift that happens first as internal protection builds and soothes our nervous system.

I like to start with building this sense of safety and protection through the body, as our body is our foundation, and when we tend to our body in a compassionate way we can begin to feel and sense the internal shift, and start to build a compassionate relationship with self. A practice I like to use is one that brings awareness to built-up tension in the body and helps to free it.

Freeing Tension in the Body

  • Start by taking a comfortable, supported seat (preferably in a chair). Close your eyes and come to focus on your breath. Take an inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat for a few rounds.
  • Next concentrate on inhaling for the count of 3 and exhaling for the count of 6. Slowing down your exhalation is the first step in calming your internal body. Repeat for a few rounds.
  • Draw your attention to the grounding points of your body, all the areas you feel making contact with the ground. Lengthen your spine and feel the connection of your seat beneath you. Repeat this attending for a few rounds.
  • Now draw your attention down to your feet and press your feet into the ground and release. Now, press your feet into the ground and tense the muscles in your legs, starting in the lower leg and traveling up to your thighs. Slowly release that tension and just observe the stillness and softening. Start to internally say the words, “I have stilled; I have released; I have softened.” Repeat three times.
  • Next, move on to the upper half of your body. Create some tension in your abdominal area by drawing your naval in and holding. Slowly release that tension and just observe the stillness and softening. Start to internally say the words, “I have stilled; I have released; I have softened.” Repeat three times.
  • Lengthen your spine and roll your shoulders back down and away. Slowly release that tension and just observe the stillness and softening. Start to internally say the words, “I have stilled; I have released; I have softened.” Repeat three times.
  • Draw your attention down the length of each arm. Make a fist in each hand, squeeze and tighten. Feel the tension build throughout each arm. Slowly release that tension and just observe the stillness and softening. Start to internally say the words, “I have stilled; I have released; I have softened.” Repeat three times.
  • Draw attention to your jaw and neck. Tighten your jaw, notice the tension building. Slowly release that tension and just observe the stillness and softening. Start to internally say the words, “I have stilled; I have released; I have softened.” Repeat three times.
  • Lastly, take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this release breath a few times. Sit and observe your breath; observe your entire body while internally saying the words “I have stilled; I have released; I have softened.” Repeat three times.

As you are ready, open your eyes and know you have taken the time to soften through your body building the moments of self-compassion and self-protection.

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About the Author

Dr. Saffi Biasetti is a private psychotherapist in Saratoga Springs, NY, specializing in somatic psychotherapy and embodiment. She has been a practicing clinician for 27 years, holds a certificate in mindfulness, is a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) teacher, Certified Yoga Therapist and Yoga Teacher. She is the author of Befriending Your Body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself from Disordered EatingVisit Dr. Saffi Biasetti’s website to learn more.

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