When I started teaching Online Mindful Self-Compassion courses a year ago, it was an experiment. Would it even work? Would people be able to connect with each other and the teacher online? Would we feel common humanity? The answer was yes. Here are 10 things I didn’t know about online self-compassion training that I’ve learned since then:
- Our levels of self-compassion can increase in an online program similarly to increases experienced through in-person programs. Amy Finlay-Jones, a researcher in Australia, did a pilot of an online self-compassion training a number of years ago and found that following the program, participants reported significant increases in self-compassion, as determined by Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion Scale. Along similar lines, the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion will use Kristin’s scale to see if self-compassion levels in the current Live Online MSC class participants are affected. Stay tuned!
- We redefine our home or work space as a practice space. We learn in the environment we’ll actually be practicing our mindfulness and self-compassion skills in – in your home or work environment. We practice mindfulness of sounds, sights, smells, taste and touch in our living environment, bringing a new awareness to familiar objects, spaces and companions as we savor their existence. We spend time in retreat in our home. Marcella Cox, who did Live Online MSC in 2016 and is now teaching this program, reported that during the 3-hour MSC retreat online, she had the opportunity to practice with a pile of her son’s clothes that he left on the floor – something that would usually cause her stress, but that, in the context of a retreat, became something to savor because of the association with her beloved son.
- We can practice with our pets. Cheryl Harris, who did Live Online MSC in 2015, said that she enjoyed practicing with her cat nearby and the hummingbirds outside her window. For many of us, our pets are our instant connection to the affiliative system, evoking warmth, soothing touch and a gentle tone of voice. Having them nearby as we learn self-compassion skills can help remind us to stay connected.
- Our practice is more tangible for our family members. Cheryl also said that her husband became more involved in her self-compassion practice when he was aware that she was “in class” in the home. She could relate to him during and after class time, fresh from being immersed in mindfulness and self-compassion. He became more interested in what she was doing and could offer her more support simply because MSC was a part of their weekly routine together at home.
- We share deeply with our fellow participants. We were surprised how comfortable we felt sharing about ourselves on the discussion boards in Online MSC. In fact, I started giving advice to participants to be careful to not share too much about themselves before they got to know the group. Courtney Seiter writes in her piece, “The Psychology of Social Media,” “Talking face-to-face is messy and emotionally involved – we don’t have time to think about what to say, we have to read facial cues and body language. Online, we have time to construct and refine. This is what psychologists call self-presentation: positioning yourself the way you want to be seen.” In an online environment we get to audition our posts, delete, save drafts, and then finally publish!
- All material can be self-paced. Live meetings are recorded and every part of the course can be viewed at any time. It’s great to attend live sessions, but most of us have busy lives so having the opportunity to do our self-compassion training at a time that is most easeful for us is a great act of self-compassion! This means that if we are unwell, have unexpected scheduling issues, or we are just plain tired and need to close at the time our class is about to start, we can give ourselves what we need rather than feeling we have to make it to another appointment.
- Online offerings teach integration through a variety of media. We have become accustomed to some pretty creative and professional online media – beautiful stock images and video, professional websites, creative YouTube shorts, a plethora of recorded talks, previously unreleased music – and the online learning environment offers these aesthetically pleasing modes of learning. Adam Rosenblatt, in his piece, “On Beauty and Classroom Teaching,” writes, “Connections, even quite sophisticated ones, are made through the senses and emotions, especially when they are activated by beauty. Whether in pocket notebooks or Instagram feeds, we can now pick and choose from various forums where we create integrative streams of images and reflective text, poetry and political argumentation.” We all learn differently, and online courses can offer us a smorgasbord of beautiful offerings to facilitate integration into our own understanding of ourself in the world.
- Online learning brings down language barriers. The language your teacher is speaking might not be your first language. But given some space and time and the opportunity to read and watch material with the benefit of the “Pause” and “Rewind” button might be all you need to catch the nuanced meanings in the teachings. If anything needs clarifying, the teacher is only an email away. Connecting with the teacher outside of class hours can feel like a safer way to connect if you feel embarrassed about asking for translation in front of other participants.
- Online classrooms are diverse. We meet people from all around the world in an online classroom, people we would never have the opportunity to spend time with otherwise.
- Online classrooms are accessible. As Cheryl told me, being able to access Online MSC in her own home meant she didn’t need to make the difficult drive in traffic to and from a training, and she could take care of her body in whatever way she needed during class. Cheryl has painful mobility issues that make driving a challenge – attending MSC at home offered her “the gift of fearlessness.”
- (Bonus!) You can wear your pajamas! As long as your nightwear is not too revealing, tapping into your affiiative system by being as physically and emotionally comfortable as possible is the trend in online self-compassion learning! The association with pajamas includes feeling warm, soothed and rested, helping us get in touch with our innate ability to feel fondly toward ourselves.
If you’d like to try it out, see the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion’s Live Online Mindful Self-Compassion trainings coming up. I’ll be there!
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