Wise Body

3 Ways to Build Compassion into your Meditation Practice

February 18, 2021

Compassion doesn’t always soothe or fix our pain. It changes how we hold it. With compassion, we acknowledge pain, give space for it, and offer it love.

A mother comforting a baby on her shoulder
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I'm Diana!

Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion


My youngest son had colic for his first 5 months. I bounced him, walked in circles with him strapped to my front, and rocked all hours of the night. No matter how hard I tried, he wouldn’t stop crying. One day, haggard and sleep deprived, I decided I had to do things differently or I was going to go crazier than I already was. I committed right then to stop trying to make him stop crying.  My plan was to allow him to cry and focus my attention on loving him as I held him. The result? My son kept on crying just as much. But my relationship to it changed. Instead of feeling frantic and anxious when he screamed, I felt feelings of compassion and care for the both of us.

Compassion doesn’t always soothe or fix our pain. It changes how we hold it. With compassion, we acknowledge pain, give space for it, and offer it love.

For example:

  • We can heal our relationship with our parents, without fixing our parents.
  • We can heal our relationship with our body, without fixing our body.
  • We can heal our relationship with our trauma without fixing the past.
  • We can heal our relationship with our children without fixing our children.

Meditation as a Practice Ground

Meditation is a great place to practice holding our pain differently. It offers a safe landing where we can establish new patterns of responding that we can draw upon when off the cushion. Meditation builds the neurocircuitry to use compassion when we need it most in the “real world.”

To Heal your Pain, Hold it Differently

Here are three ways to build compassion into your meditation practice today.

1. Notice Where it Hurts

The first step to compassion is acknowledging that you, or another person is in pain. Pain can show up in the form of emotional or physical discomfort or contraction in our bodies. Pain has a location, a form, a movement, and a feeling to it.

Begin your meditation with a body scan for emotional and physical pain.

      • Where do you notice physical or emotional pain in your body?
      • If you were to draw a line around it, what shape would it be?
      • How does it move in your body?
      • Does it have a weight?
      • What does it feel like?

2. Use your Breath to Make Space

After you have acknowledged the pain, bring your breath to it. Slow down your breath down, allow it to move around your hurt, and into the spaces that are contracted or sore.

      • Take in long slow breaths
      • Breathe into the tight and painful parts of your body
      • Breathe in space and make room for all your feelings and sensations

3. Hold your Pain Lightly and with Love

Next, imagine you could hold your pain in the way you would a crying baby. Handle it lightly, knowing that behind those screams is also a sweetness. Send compassionate feelings of caring, kindness, courage, tolerance, willingness toward your pain.

      • Imagine holding the pain in your body with care:  soften your face, unclench your jaw, let go of your belly
      • Generate compassionate feelings of warmth, love, courage and send them to your painful parts
      • Bring in compassionate imagery of others who love you, holding this pain with you

These teachings come from a Tuesday Teaching Talk I offer weekly through Mindful Heart Programs and Yoga soup. You can sign up here. Join me in building a more compassionate, psychologically flexible mind!

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