These simple, yet powerful practices not only help us meet our own physical and emotional suffering with compassion, but they open our hearts to the pain of others.
Traditionally in tonglen—a Tibetan Buddhist practice for awakening compassion—you sit in meditation, but you can also do this practice lying in shavasana. Inhale the pain you are feeling into your heart, hold it there for three or four seconds, touch and feel every aspect of it. And then exhale compassion, tenderness, and healing light to wherever the pain is lodged in your body, softening and releasing your jaw, your face, your shoulders, your belly, and your neck. Do this several times until you feel you can synchronize the practice with your breath—I breathe in the pain, pause and feel, I breathe out tenderness and compassion, pause and feel. Now, inhale once again and visualize another who suffers like you do—a friend perhaps or even someone you’ve just read about. Hold their pain in your heart in all its darkness, and then slowly exhale joy, kindness, and healing through your body and out toward that person. You can do this as a formal sitting practice for as long as you wish, or practice it spontaneously throughout the day, whenever you think of someone who needs a little extra help.
Ishvara pranidhana, the yogic act of surrender to a higher purpose, allows us to move beyond the ways our pain and suffering constrict us and awakens our limitless capacity for love and compassion. To practice letting go and opening your heart: every time you step onto your yoga mat, take your medication, or endure a medical treatment, every time you take an action toward your own healing—no matter how small—dedicate the merit of that action to people suffering all over the world.