Yoga: Practicing Kindness
Gratitude for your mentors.
In the past few months, I’ve been exploring metta (kindness) meditation in CATALYST. The first installment covered practicing kindness for an easy being: someone, human or animal, with whom you have an easy, uncomplicated relationship. The second installment covered kindness toward ourselves, an important foundational practice for extending kindness to others. If you haven’t read the previous posts on kindness, you might want to find them in the March and April issues of CATALYST online.
This month will focus on extending kindness for your mentors. If you reflect on your life, you can probably remember one or more people who have gone out of their way to help you along your path. In Buddhist parlance, these people are called “benefactors.” A benefactor could be a mentor, teacher, clergy person, grandparent, parent, other family member or friend. In general, a benefactor is someone who has generously shared resources such as their wisdom, or emotional or material support.
Reflecting on these people and their generosity toward us is a way to develop gratitude. We often tend to remember the big and little hurts in our lives and the people who have harmed us in some way. But there are many, many people who have helped us at various times along the way as well. It’s important to remember these people and reflect on our gratitude for their place in our lives.
Practicing kindness for your mentors increases gratitude. As spiritual practitioners know, gratitude, in itself, is very beneficial. Even Forbes has reported that scientific research has found at least seven benefits to practicing gratitude:
- Gratitude opens the doors to new relationships.
- Gratitude improves physical health.
- Gratitude improves psychological health.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
- Grateful people sleep better.
- Gratitude improves self-esteem.
- Gratitude increases mental strength.
How to practice kindness for your mentors
There may be several people in your life you consider to be benefactors. Instead of trying to fit them all into your practice, start by focusing on a single person, at least for a few months. This helps deepen your practice.
- Sit in a comfortable position. You can sit on a meditation cushion, meditation bench or in a chair. Make sure you’re comfortable. It’s hard to cultivate kindness when you’re struggling with your sitting position!
- Place your right hand over your heart. You can also cross your left wrist across your right one so that you are practicing the “metta mudra.” In this mudra, your wrists are crossed at chest level and your hands are resting gently on your chest. This mudra is optional, of course, and if at any time your arms get tired, relax them and rest your hands on your thighs.
- When we reflect on the people who have supported us in our lives, gratitude can arise naturally. So to begin your practice by inviting one of your mentors into your heart space. Reflect on this person—what you appreciate about them and how they have supported you.
- To your benefactor, offer the following four sentiments, imagining your benefactor enjoying these qualities:
- May you be safe.
- May you be happy and peaceful.
- May you be healthy and strong.
- May you live with ease.
If you go back to the first column on metta, you’ll find alternate wordings for the phrases. You can also make up your own phrases that express these sentiments. Practice as long as you like. Metta is a creative practice: you can fashion it to fit your life. Make sure you practice in a way that makes it easy. The point of practice is to develop the quality of kindness, so if working with your benefactor doesn’t resonate today, go back to yourself or your easy being.
Charlotte Bell has been practicing yoga since 1982. She is the author of several yoga-related books and founder of Mindful Yoga Collective in Salt Lake City. CharlotteBellYoga.com