A wonderful clinical tool is self-healing, and I have found that this is only possible when one learns self-kindness and compassion. I love to see new research that supports the physical changes that occur in the body during exercises that promote self-compassion and loving kindness. This week, such a study was published by researchers at Oxford.
Self-healing through self-kindness and compassion
The study supports taking time to think kindly about ourselves and our loved ones in order to impact our physical bodies and mental wellbeing.
The study looked at 135 healthy University of Exeter students who were divided into 5 groups. Members of each group were asked to listen to different audio instructions that guided participants through various focused meditative type exercises. The audio tapes were all 11 minutes long.
Research team looked at the following
The research team looked at physical effects such as heart rate, sweat response, and heart rate variability. Participants were also surveyed on how they were feeling before and after the audio tapes – questions included how safe they felt, and how likely they were to be kind to themselves and how connected they felt to others.
Two groups & two inner voices
The two groups were given instructions to be kind to themselves and the response was feeling more self-compassion and connectivity to others, as well as bodily responses that were consistent with relaxation and safety. Heart rate decreased and heart rate variability increased. They also had a lower sweat response. These are all responses consistent with a lowered perception of threat and distress.
On the other hand, instructions which included the use of a critical inner voice had the opposite response, and individuals hearing these recordings had bodily responses consistent with threat and distress.
Being kind may switch off threat response
First author Dr Hans Kirschner, who conducted the research at Exeter, said: “These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing.”
Lead researcher Dr Anke Karl, of the University of Exeter, said: “Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health, but we didn’t know why.
How being kind to yourself when things go wrong could benefit psychological treatment
“Our study is helping us understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be beneficial in psychological treatments. By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing. We hope future research can use our method to investigate this in people with mental health problems such as recurrent depression.”
“Self-focused loving kindness exercise” and “compassionate body scan”
The recordings that encouraged self-compassion were a “compassionate body scan” in which people were guided to attend to bodily sensations with an attitude of interest and calmness; and a “self-focused loving kindness exercise” in which they directed kindness and soothing thoughts to a loved one and themselves.
Co-author Willem Kuyken, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, said: “These findings help us to further understand some of our clinical trials research findings, where we show that individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate.
Self compassion may radically transform negative thoughts and feelings for many people
“My sense is that for people prone to depression, meeting their negative thoughts and feelings with compassion is a radically different way — that these thoughts are not facts.
“It introduces a different way of being and knowing that is quite transformative for many people.”
- Kirschner H, Kuyken W, Wright K, et al. Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion. Clinical Psychological Science, 2019; 216770261881243 DOI: 10.1177/2167702618812438
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.