From August to October, over eight 3-hour sessions, every Wednesday evening, including a day retreat, I attended a course on Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), led by Mara Elwood, from Moa Compassion. My partner, Sacha, had completed Mara’s course a couple of times and I knew how beneficial the course had been for her. I wanted to experience this for myself too.
This is a review of the course. And let me say right up front that I absolutely loved the course – all the material and the skilled, compassionate facilitation from Mara too.
What is Mindful Self-Compassion?
This is a clear definition for the the MSC website: “Mindful Self-Compassion combines the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion, providing a powerful tool for emotional resilience. A randomized controlled trial demonstrated that MSC significantly increased self-compassion, compassion for others, mindfulness, and life satisfaction, as well as decreased depression, anxiety and stress.”
The Mindful Self-Compassion course was developed by Kristin Kneff and Chris Germer. They have many resources, practices and further information here: self-compassion.org
We began on the first evening, meeting the other participants, with Mara setting the scene of what’s to come and what we were to expect in each evening. This was an important first night as it helped create a safe space and a connection amongst us all, which only grew over the time of the course. A safe space for us to ease into Mindful Self-Compassion is so essential as it then invites us to be authentic, real, perhaps vulnerable at times, as we come face to face with our daily and life challenges. MSC invites us to meet these challenges with curiosity, with compassion and kindness.
It was inspiring to see how Mara held the space beautifully, listening with ease as we shared how the practices landed with us, often making gentle, wise suggestions and questions as to how we might continue with them, without ever being imposing in her facilitation or sharing.
Mara holds an exceptional and safe space, full of ease of being, and she shares her experience, knowledge and the teachings with intelligence and humour. These practices are beautifully accessible and relevant to everyone’s daily life, offering tools for compassionate resiliency and equanimity. I highly recommend learning Mindful Self-Compassion with Mara.
The course introduced some core meditations:
- Affectionate Breathing
- Loving-Kindness for Ourselves
- Giving and Receiving Compassion
These practices became the ground from which many further meditations were shared, such as Loving-Kindness for a Loved One, Compassionate Body Scan and much much more. Some of the practices were somewhat familiar from my world of Yoga meditation and iRest, and some were entirely new.
Doing the course gave me a powerful framework from which to delve deeper into these practices and meditations just for myself and then allow my experience to seep into the rest of my everyday life and also further into how I teach Yoga, relaxation and meditation.
Being on this course has given me so many more tools and a much wider vocabulary for self-compassion and kindness practices.
My favourite self-compassion tools
A few ractices which stood out for me are:
- Affectionate Breathing – not just being attentive to your breath, but using the breath as a way to connect with ourselves in a friendly, affectionate way. There is nothing to change about the breath – just allowing it to be just as it is. The practice asks us to bring an “Affectionate Awareness” to our breathing, and then allowing ourselves to be breathed. The mindfulness involves just being present with each breath, returning to the breath when our mind naturally wanders away.
- Compassionate Movement – Giving the body what it needs through movement. This connects so beautifully to how I like to teach movement in Yoga – listening and responding to what the body is self-suggesting.
- Giving and Receiving Compassion – Breathing in compassion for myself, breathing out compassion for another – simple, powerful and very practical and this has been helpful in resolving conflicting situations in my life, by giving not just a breathing space, but a compassionate breathing space – it resonates much more deeply within me.
These are just a few of the many tools Mara shared with us.
Along with the eight evenings together and the day retreat, Mara also gave us an invaluable 50-page manual chockful of theory and explanation of MSC along with all the practices we go through on the course. And after each week she connects with us via email, sends poems, and links to online meditations and talks.
Would I do a repeat of the course? Most definitely! The course has truly had a positive effect on my life, my relationships and my teaching.
“A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”
About Mara Elwood
Mara Elwood is a Certified Mindful Self-Compassion teacher based in Auckland and teaching both in Auckland and on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. She has been a practitioner of Mindfulness and Meditation for over 17 years and regularly attends residential retreats in New Zealand and abroad.
Find out more here: moacompassion.com
Further Info on Mindful Self-Compassion
There are a number of online resources for MSC, particularly useful are:
And a TED talk from Kristin Kneff on what is Mindful-Self Compassion: