You may not think of tending to your social relationships as a way to improve your physical health, but research shows that having high quality social relationships can be as important to your health as quitting smoking. What can you do to improve your interpersonal connections? Nurturing your ability to express appreciation, kindness and compassion can help you build your sense of connection with the people around you. In this practice, you will alternate between focusing on the breath and expressing kindness to others. Try this five minute active practice with Cortland Dahl.
Guided Practice: Kindness
Led by Cortland Dahl
Kindness is the motivation for someone to be happy and content. It’s a capacity we all have, and one of the most important factors when it comes to having healthy connections with other people. Here we’re going to treat kindness like a skill and practice it.
You can continue your activity as you normally would, and we’ll use this as an opportunity to train the mind. Remember that you want to be doing something simple, any activity that doesn’t require much focus or mental effort – like light exercise, commuting to work or folding the laundry.
Next, form a clear intention for your practice. You can say to yourself, “I am going to strengthen kindness, and be fully mindful and present as I do the practice today.”
For the rest of the practice, we will alternate periods of kindness with periods of mindfulness of the breath. Let's start here with the breath. Notice the movement of the breath as it moves in and out of your body, perhaps feeling the sensations in your abdomen or your chest, or in your nose, as you breathe in and out.
If you happen to be around other people, you don’t have to imagine someone. Instead, notice someone around you and imagine they’re a close friend, a child, or someone who’s shown you great kindness.
Now imagine extending them all the happiness in the world. As you do this repeat this phrase in your mind, "may you be calm, healthy and content. May you be calm, healthy and content." Feel free to change the wording, just repeat this silently in your mind as you extend a sense of kindness to them.
As you repeat these phrases, imagine they grow lighter, happier, more content, radiating happiness and wellbeing.
Now you can let go of the kindness practice. You don’t have to stop your activity. Just let your mind rest for a few moments. Notice whatever thoughts and feelings are present in your mind and body.
Okay, that's it. You can practice this simple technique with anybody. You can do this with your friends and loved ones, people you randomly encounter throughout the day, and once you get more familiar with the practice, even with people you find challenging.
Before you continue on with your activity, form the intention to try this out a few times each day. When you remember the intention, hit pause, notice what's going on, who you're with, and repeat the phrase a few times with the wish for them to experience happiness and well-being.
Awareness. Connection. Insight. Purpose. We consider these to be four ingredients of a healthy mind. You can train yourself to improve these skills, just like you can develop any habit. This audio practice is provided by Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), an external, affiliated nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mission of the Center for Healthy Minds. Learn more about how HMI is bringing our research to life with new and innovative programs.