Alright, so you're willing to try it? Sa-weet!
The three ingredients above (mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity) are hugely helpful in developing a self-compassion practice. Beyond that, there seems to be some flexibility, as you learn to speak your own unique self-compassion language. However, there are a few more 'expert tips' that might be helpful.
Number 1? Have a conversation with your body — in its language. Not just with words or thoughts, but with touch, tone of voice, and warmth of intention. Begin to get curious about how to relate to your physiological systems when practicing self-compassion. Put another way, "It’s not a mental practice," says Germer, "it’s an embodied practice."
Both Germer and Neff strongly emphasize the importance of friendliness and touch in relating to and activating your body's care system — the complex interworking of your nervous system, brain, and sensory processing. In short, explains Neff, "we are mammals." From the time we are a newborn, we have a physiological need for human connection and kindness. It takes around 25 years for our prefrontal cortex to fully mature — meaning that connection to our caregivers is biologically encoded as a need for about as long, leading humans to have very evolved care systems. This is in large part why kindness, emphasizes Neff, lowers cortisol and activates physiological system designed to make us feel safe.
But what if, for one reason or another, we did not receive a surplus of kindness and human connection growing up? This is where the practice of self-compassion can help us to heal some of these wounds for ourselves.
Have you ever, in a moment of pain, placed a hand on your heart and felt something happen internally? Or perhaps a hand on your belly or solar plexus has brought a sense of calm or groundedness in moments of stress? This is you learning to speak the language of your body. And of course our bodies have a language of their own — long before we learned to talk or 'think rationally', we were experts at forming connections and evaluating threat. We did this through touch. Through tone of voice. Through a sensing of genuine warmth and connection that triggered a cascade of neuro-chemicals (oxytocin, etc) that allowed our body to feel safe, secure, and cared for — or not.
This is the same process that we can work with when practicing caring touch, kindness of tone, and warmth of intention with ourselves. As Germer says, incorporating these techniques into self-compassion allows us to drop out of our mind and story and into our body, activating the parasympathetic nervous system (repair) and reducing cortisol levels (stress).
So when that inner critic is busy telling you “I’m not good enough”? Germer suggests that we tune into the pain of that, bringing a hand to our heart or belly, and offering kindness to the places inside us that hurt. Perhaps we say to ourselves what we would say to a friend, but we do it sincerely and with a soothing tone of voice.