I recently came across something about meeting resistance with compassion, and it really got the hamster wheel in my brain turning.
I saw how easily this simple idea can apply to so many areas of our physical and mental lives.
Take exercise (or physical activity or movement), for example. I immediately thought of a yoga DVD I used to practice to all the time. When talking about how intensely to do one of the poses, the teacher reminded views to “find your edge, for your body.”
The point is that a yoga pose will not look (or feel) the same for everyone. You might be more (or less) flexible. You might have been practicing longer than many people, or you might be a beginner. You might be stiff because you went on a hike or did heavy gardening the day before. You might have joints that aren’t cooperative.
Not only do I apply this idea every time I get on my yoga mat, but I apply it to other forms of movement as well.
If I’m doing bench presses, and even though I know I did 12 repetitions last time, this time 10 feels barely possible, I treat my body’s resistance to doing more with compassion. That’s true whether my energy levels are low, or because I’m noticing some discomfort in my shoulder. (I had shoulder tendonitis a dozen years ago, and to make up for listening to what my body was telling me then — thanks, diet culture — I really tune in now.)
If I’m walking up hills, and am more winded than usual, I’ll meet that resistance with compassion by pausing, taking a breath while I take in the views, then continue. If you feel resistance to walking a route with hills because you might get “too out of breath,” your compassionate self can give you the permission you need to go at the pace that’s right for you.
Tending to thoughts and feelings
I also see so many mental and emotional applications of the idea of meeting resistance with compassion, especially when you add a dash of curiosity.
As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, you may feel resistance to returning to certain types of activities. You might also feel some fear (fear of missing out if you don’t participate, or fear of getting sick if you do). Or maybe you you didn’t miss having fewer social obligations — and still don’t — but get a case of the “shoulds” when you think of RSVPing “no.”
Meeting that resistance, and any accompanying feelings, with compassion will help you explore your true desires. Maybe that’s more solo time and space, or maybe that’s continuing to wear masks or opt only for social settings that feel safer.
If you’ve gained weight recently, you may feel resistance when you think of going to the doctor. Perhaps you fear a lecture or pressure to lose weight even though you’ve vowed never to put your body through a diet again. Meeting that resistance with compassion can help you NOT avoid the preventive or follow-up care you need. Instead, it can help you decide what boundaries you need to set and how you need to advocate for yourself.
If you’re an introvert, you may desire to try something new, but the fact that it would put you in the position of talking to strangers puts up your wall of resistance. Meeting that resistance with compassion (“Yes, talking to new people feels intimidating, but is there a way that would make it feel easier?”) can help make your world bigger in a way that feels OK to you.
You may want to heal your rocky relationship with food through intuitive or mindful eating, but feel some resistance to the idea of giving up on weight loss. Compassion can help you see — and ultimately accept — that of course it feels hard to say no to what you’ve always been told you were supposed to do. Of course it feels hard to give up on the fantasy that weight loss will make you happier, more popular, more confident, or whatever.
Compassion as tool for getting unstuck
Let’s return to yoga as an example. When you feel the edge of resistance, meet it with compassion, and allow yourself to be in your edge — to really settle into it each time — you gradually become more flexible.
Contrast this with approaching that edge of resistance with fear or shame (backing away), force (pushing through) or shame (closing down).
- With fear, you don’t get to explore what you are capable of.
- With force, you will probably hurt yourself.
- With shame, you erode your sense of self-worth.
Either way, you end up stuck. Meeting resistance with compassion allows you to explore what you are capable of and eventually gently move beyond your current limitations — real or perceived.
Rather than making resistance a hard “no,” see it as a canary in a coal mine, a real call for compassion. (I also view emotional eating this way, not as something wrong or bad, but as a sign that we need some compassion and curiosity.) Imagine a conversation between your compassionate self and your resistant self:
- Compassionate self: “What’s wrong, my dear. What’s behind this resistance?”
- Resistant self: “I’m nervous ” / “I’m tired.” / “My hamstrings are really tight today.”
- Compassionate self: “That’s OK…some days are tougher than others.” / “What would help you feel better?”
The bottom like is that there is no downside to self-compassion. True self compassion (a marriage of mindfulness, self-kindness and common humanity) isn’t selfish, or lazy, or indulgent. It is the opposite of shame. It is far more motivating than self-judgement.
If you’re new to self-compassion, I recommend checking out self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff’s website, or the website for the Center of Mindful Self-Compassion.
Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.
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