Human nature is a funny thing... we are deeply self-interested, egotistical and competitive (it's in out DNA), yet we also have an immense capacity for kindness, compassion and altruism (this is equally, part of the design).
How is that our 'human nature' sometimes manifests as harrowing violence, destruction and self-ishness, when it's also in our 'nature' to be deeply loving, joyful and compassionate, acting in the interest of our global community?
We spend much of our time obsessing over ourselves, how we look, what others thinks of us and how we can appear better, yet we can also be utterly selfless, putting strangers needs before our own and taking action out of the sheer goodness of our heart to make the world a better place for us all.
In my humble opinion I feel that striving to be our best selves dances a fine line between the ego-motivated fear of not being enough, and embracing our wholeness with a healthy dose of self-compassion to know we are enough, exactly as we are.
We are truly at our best when we live in love and connection, rather than fear and disconnection.
To break this down really simply, I want to talk about the evolution of our human brain and how we can activate the part of our brains (using brain training, yoga & buddhism practices) to bring out the best in us and those around us.
When we operate out of fear and disconnection we are acting from the oldest, most primal part of our 'animal' brains-- the amygdala-- which is hundreds of millions of years old and, oh how well it is wired to keep us safe from danger, which is very useful for survival! When we are functioning from this part of our brains, our vision narrows- literally, we cannot listen effectively, our heart rate increases, our energy goes to our arms and legs (away from the organs) and we get a shot of adrenalin so we can run from the threat.
This 'fight-flight' state cuts us off from our frontal lobe (which I will talk about in a minute) and is helpful in the right situation, but not a great place to come from if we need to think, listen and speak clearly or if we are looking to have transformative interactions that bring out the best in ourself and other human beings.
If we want to activate our true 'human nature' we need operate from the more recent part of our brains, the frontal lobe (which is only 60,000 years old- really fresh compared to the amygdala). The frontal lobe is responsible for activating our higher faculties-- compassion, creativity, and reason. When we are using this part of our brain we are wired for connection, we realise we are not so dissimilar from one another and so we empathise, support and lift one another up.
So how do we do it? How can we spend less time dancing with our fear (amygdala hijack as my therapist once called it) and more time acting like the humans we were born to be - compassionate, creative and rational.
5 Ways Activate Your Human Potential for Joy & Compassion.
1. Liberate the mind from fear by practicing evidence-based techniques to calm the nervous system's fight flight response. Try this restorative yoga pose for calming the nervous system.
2. Practice gratitude. It's all physics, babe... cause and effect. Think happy, positive, grateful thoughts and you will become happy positive and grateful, closing down the contracted negative thoughts. Pave those new neural pathways with daily gratitude practice-- you may like to write out your gratitude in a journal or meditate on what you are grateful for.
3. Metta Meditation-- Metta is Loving Kindness that creates a compassionate heart. Practice Metta Loving Kindness Meditation when you are feeling difficult feelings, it will guide you back to a gentle loving state of mind.
4. Smile. It sounds ridiculously simple, but it works! Yes I am one of "those" yoga teachers who invites people to smile as they practice "get some sukha on your mukha" as my teacher from San Francisco Jasmine Tarkeshi used to say -- it means get some joy on your face :) When your facial muscles create a smile, your brain receives messages that something positive and joyous is happening and it floods you with happy hormones. Try it!
5. Practice random acts of kindness. Even if you are feeling shitty and contracted, doing something that will bring joy to a stranger is a powerful way to remind yourself we are all in this together. Allow yourself to be warmed by the strangers joy at receiving your kindness. It can be as simple as letting someone in, in traffic, helping someone at the shops who is struggling with their bags; buying a drink for the person behind you in the line at a cafe. Cue Ben Lee, We're All This This Together, and while you're at it make yourself a Happy Playlist to boost your mood, here's mine :)
Want more tools for ease and joy? If you are in Sydney, you're invited to join me on Monday 16 April for a special workshop- Yoga for Mental Health. We'll cover evidence based methods to create more ease and joy in your life, manage difficult feelings and tap in to greater relaxation and peace.
1 in 3 people suffer from anxiety or depression, let's smash the stigma and build your personal tool kit for mental health.
Read more about the workshop-- >> YOGA FOR MENTAL HEALTH
May you be well happy and free,