Breathworks Teacher Katherine Michaelis shares what she has learned from studying, practising, and teaching compassion practices, as well as from caring for her late mum.

When I was first introduced to kindness and compassion practices on a Breathworks course, I really struggled with them, particularly self-kindness and self-compassion, I felt awkward and uncomfortable and certainly didn’t feel anything positive.

I didn’t know at the time, but seeds were being sown, and from this unpromising beginning, kindness and compassion have become mainstays of my practice and my life. Self-compassion practices have supported me through some tough times, particularly when I was caring for my mum as we lost her to Alzheimer’s disease. On so many occasions I coped by putting my hands on my chest, feeling my breath beneath them, saying some kind words to myself and connecting with a sense of warmth and comfort. Compassion helped me to stay open, present and kind for my mum too, I would breathe in a sense of her and breath out kindness and warmth as I took care of her.

I’m definitely not alone in my initial struggles with self-kindness and self-compassion, I found this when teaching Breathworks courses and when I researched experiences of learning compassion as part of an MSc. The good news is that like me, even those who struggle with self-kindness and self-compassion practices can be gaining benefits that will continue to grow after the course has ended. There are so many ways that we as teachers can help to incline people’s minds and bodies towards kindness and compassion. Our own kindness and compassion are catching; supportive, kind group conversations help participants to listen to themselves in supportive and kind ways; all the helpful actions we encourage as part of home practice are creating habits of self-kindness and self-compassion; and just encouraging people to have an intention to be kind and compassionate brings benefits. So even when participants seem to gain little from the practices, often the seeds of kindness and compassion have been sown.

Katherine Michaelis