This article was first published on July 16, 2016, then updated on July 21, 2020
When I started teaching self-compassion programs online six years 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 that others in the group had a sense of what we were experiencing internally? The answer was yes. Here are 10 things I didn’t know about online self-compassion training that I’ve learned since then:
1. 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 study 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. Similarly, our initial research into the effects of Somatic Self-Compassion Online showed increases in self-compassion using Kristin’s scale.
2. We redefine our home or work space as a practice space. We learn in the environment we’ll actually be practicing our mindfulness, embodiment, and self-compassion skills in – your home or work environment. We practice mindfulness and embodied awareness of sounds, sights, smells, taste, movement, balance, internal body awareness and touch in our living environment, bringing new awareness to familiar objects, spaces and companions as we savor their existence. We spend time in retreat in our home. A participant who did Live Online MSC with me in 2016 reported that during the 3-hour 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.
3. We can practice with our animal family members. Online self-compassion training participants have said that they enjoyed practicing in the company of their pets; watching the birds at the bird feeder outside their window; and listening to the sounds of frogs at the creek near their home. For many of us, animals can be an instant connection to feeling safer. Having them nearby as we learn self-compassion skills can help remind us to stay connected.
4. Our practice is more tangible for our family members. One online self-compassion training participants 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 self-compassion was a part of their weekly routine together at home.
5. We share deeply with our fellow participants. In the early days, we were surprised how comfortable we felt sharing about ourselves on the discussion boards in online self-compassion trainings. 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!
6. All material can be self-paced. Having live meetings recorded and every part of the course viewable at any time allows for differences in learning styles. 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.
7. 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 provide us with a smorgasbord of beautiful offerings to facilitate integration into our own understanding of ourself in the world.
8. Online learning brings down language barriers. The language your teacher is speaking might not be your first language, and it might be tricky to follow the teachings in real time. Online programs can offer the space, time, and opportunity to read and watch material with the benefit of the “Pause” and “Rewind” button to support you in catching 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.
9. 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.
10. Online classrooms are accessible. As one participant told me, being able to access online self-compassion training in her own home meant she didn’t need to navigate 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. This participant had painful mobility issues that made driving and sitting a challenge – attending training at home offered her “the gift of fearlessness.”
11. (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.
I hope to see you at an online training soon! You can find a list of my online offerings, including Secular Mindfulness, Somatic Self-Compassion and Mindful Self-Compassion, here.
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