Compassionate Self Study

Yoga is a lifelong passion of mine.  Since my son left home 10 years ago, and is successfully pursuing his own life I have been able to deepen my practice and dedicate more of myself to this amazing discipline.  I love asana practice.  For those of you who may not know much about the practices of yoga, asana is the practice of physical postures commonly referred to as hatha yoga, designed to connect body, mind, and soul.

As much as I love my asana practice, I love the philosophical aspects of yoga as well, and use the wisdom of the teachings to enhance the everyday-ness of my life.

It is said that the real yoga begins once we leave our yoga mats and apply what we have learned in our daily lives.  The purpose of this blog is to share ways that I have learned to apply the principles of yoga in my personal life and in my professional life as a psychologist, to establish physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being.  My hope is that you will benefit from what I have learned and continue to learn on the ongoing path to self-knowlwdge.

One of the principles of yoga that is commonly taught is the importance of self- study.  Recently in one of my classes our teacher dedicated our practice to that principle.  He invited us to consciously keep it in mind as we entered into our physical practice of asana.  It is amazing to observe what happens when you practice yoga for one and a half hours with the purpose of self-study in mind. You learn a lot about yourself – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You become aware of self enhancing and self defeating thought patterns and behaviors – and if you pay careful enough attention you become aware of what is optimal for you and what’s not.  It got me to thinking about how important self- study is and how in my work as a psychologist it is the foundation of what I teach my clients.

Learning from our own lives requires a willingness to observe ourselves and study ourselves as if we were the most interesting subjects on the planet.  Self -study is not the same as self absorption.  Self absorption is a narcissistic preoccupation with self that disregards others.  Self-study is a commitment to knowing one’s self inside and out – the best of ourselves and the worst of ourselves, with a desire to recognize how our thoughts, words, and behaviors affect us as well as others.  It is the commitment to observing all of this without arrogance or judgment – but with humility for our gifts and with compassion for our flaws.  It is the willingness to make changes that will bring us into optimal alignment with what is best in us.

Studying ourselves in this way requires cultivating a discipline of loving kindness toward ourselves.  By observing ourselves through the eyes of loving kindness we open the way to learning from our own lives.  By studying ourselves lovingly and respectfully, that is without shame, blame, or criticism, we access our own internal guidance system and discover that not only are we our own best teacher, but that we are also our own best student.  Life itself becomes our classroom.  We discover that we can learn from our successes and from our failures.

Learning to observe ourselves with compassion when we are at our worst is probably one of the most difficult lessons we have to learn, but it is surely one of the most important.  Our relationships can be wonderful vehicles for self-study as they mirror for us important aspects of ourselves –especially our most challenging aspects. We’ve all heard it said that when someone really bothers us it might be because they are reflecting some part of ourselves that we have not made peace with.

It is a great challenge to face our flaws and our suffering with compassion. When we receive feedback that invites us to consider making some changes, it’s hard to look at our errors. The need to be right causes us to defend against any suggestion that we may need to improve.  Instead, we act as if we know everything and reject the feedback and limit our ability to change.

Deep inside in the privacy of our own minds we blame ourselves for our mistakes, condemn ourselves for our failures and criticize ourselves for being imperfect. Ouch! No wonder we hurt. We are so busy shaming, blaming, and criticizing ourselves, we become blind to what’s best in us and trapped in the habit of focusing on what’s wrong with us.   Until we are willing and able to view ourselves with compassion for our errors, and forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we remain stuck in a vicious cycle of self recrimination and deep suffering.

One of the ways to learn to identify with your strengths and what’s best about you is to notice what it is you admire in others.   When you admire a characteristic or trait of another person it is often because you also possess that trait.   Once you realize this you can focus on enhancing this trait in yourself.

You are bound to become more self-aware when you choose a path of self-study.

By cultivating the practice of compassionate self-study, we maximize the potential for becoming aware of what is best in us.  What we focus on expands. By deepening our commitment to the practice of compassionate self-study, we can break the cycle of internalized shame, blame, and criticism. Then we can choose to align with what is best in us and begin to act in our own best interest as well as in the best interest of others.

When you practice yoga postures with awareness and a commitment to compassionate self-study you become attuned to your body’s misalignments. With this awareness you can begin to find ways to make adjustments that can protect you from injury and can free you from pain, leading to an experience of greater freedom and joy.

When you make a commitment to compassionate self-study off your yoga mat, you begin to observe your mental, emotional, and spiritual misalignments.  This awareness, even if it is uncomfortable at first, creates an opportunity to make adjustments in your thinking and behavior that can bring you into alignment with what is best in you and optimal for you.  This can greatly enhance the quality of your life benefitting you and all those around you.  What could better than that?

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82 responses to “Compassionate Self Study

  1. Douglas offered your link after we all returned from India (I was a participant on Pilgrimage I). I keep going back to your blog. You so sensitively and wisely put the feelings,thoughts and actions into balance. Ditto to all previous participants’ remarks. I continue to look forward to future blogs.

    • Thank you Joan for sharing your comments. When we, Pilgrimage Group II, arrived in Chennai it was so much fun to be greeted by you and Pilgrimage Group I as you were departing for home. I look forward to any future comments you choose to share on the blog.

  2. Thank you,Gail, Your willingness to observe the intricacies of your personal yoga practice is heightened by your talent to weave those insights into meaningful living. After reading these intelligent and beautiful passages I feel your profound practice remarkably and sensitively bonds to your writing and, for those of us so fortunate to read your words, bonds to us as well. Thank you as always, Peace Continues, Veronica

  3. Teresa R. Mathis

    OMG!!!! Gail! this is so right on time! I fall victum to this. I thaank you soooo much for your Blogs. They inlighten me, and really do bring self-study to my heart! As it brings tears to my eyes! I that God for your open-ness, and your blessings you share with us all. I see why your light shines so when you walk into a room, or when you just say Hello!!!

    Thank You For being You!!!
    Teresa R. Mathis

  4. Wow! What an on-time message. I think more people should look at challenges as blessings. We learn more about ourselves in those 3 blessings in disguise. We actually realize our true strength in those times. We learn more about who we really are. I love this. Thank you Dr. Parker for your word of consciousness

    • You are a perfect example of someone who receives challenges as blessings in disguise and grows stronger from them modeling for all of us what’s possible. Thank you for sharing.

  5. That’s funny. Thanks for sharing and for making me laugh.

  6. Again, bravo Gail! I happened to be listening to that Diane Rehm show, while doing laundry, cooking, answering emails AND then driving to an appointment – and it made me laugh out loud! Thank you for the reminder! I’m actually going to TRY IT.. promise!

  7. …. and the line I hope most to remember…

    “It is impossible to avoid change and impractical to resist it. “

  8. Bravo, again, Gail! Thank you for sharing this with us all!

  9. What a wonderful and heart-affirming article, Gail! Better than just enjoying it, I’m going to TRY it! Thank you for sharing this (and I mean YOU) with the community!

  10. Thanks, Gail, for bringing me into your blogasphere! It’s a great idea. I see the wonderful life enhancing experience of Anusara Yoga we do (often with you in the front row) on the mats in the studio like you do, as a journey of self discovery. I had one of those off-the-mat experiences today when I realized as the dentist was scaling the tartar off my teeth and she was talking about how a tweak in her ankle caused by a pebble on the ground eventually led to surgery to remove the cartilage in her knee. I showed her the scar on my knee from the removal of my cartilage after a bicycle accident in 1971. I realized what a gift that accident was. Yes. If I hadn’t crashed in that accident, I wouldn’t have found Anusara Yoga and you! It was in Anusara where learned to say ‘yes’ to everything in life, including all the things I used to think I could never do. And thank you God for your mother, and my mother!

    david reich

    • Hi David…It’s true the gift of yoga has aided me in my journey of self discovery and combined with psychology, (which technically means the study of the soul), has enhanced my life in ways for which I am eternally grateful. This blog is my way of saying thank you to the practice of psychology and yoga and for the practice of both psychology and yoga. I want to share the wisdom of both disciplines with others who are interested in their soul growth and who want to join in a conversation about the journey. Thank you for joining in. My mother introduced me to both psychology and to yoga gifts for which I am also eternally grateful.
      Gail

  11. Gail,
    How I have missed you and your teachings. It’s great to be connected again. I am still amazed how the Universe aligns in perfect order!
    Thanks,
    Kim

    • Thank you Kim for joining in the conversation. The alignment of the Universe is an amazing thing to behold and to think it’s in alignment all of the time. That’s just the way it is. It’s up to us to remember that.
      Gail

  12. Tom Johnson MD, MBA

    Gail,

    Bravo! The coast to coast incredibly diverse response that you are receiving on this blog from individuals of all walks of life is absolutely amazing! Your blog reflects the fabric of a universal theme expressed by many disciplines dedicated to helping humankind find peace and wellness. In my opinion This blog represents a beacon of healing light. I am grateful for and appreciate your creation of this wonderful community tapestry for exchange of healing ideas.

    • I am truly humbled by your response to this blog. It truly is an offering from my heart to all those who are able to receive the message. Thank you for sharing and for joining in the conversation. Your comments mean a great deal to me.

  13. Efforting and offering. What enticing “bipolar” concepts. And how fascinating to really self-aware the difference, both in theory and in my own life. I remember once, after fighting back from a traumatic illness, bemoaning to you that I actually feared trying to re-enter Yoga and be “as good as I used to be.” And you urged me just to be what I could be that day. Ah! How perfectly that works. To be the best that you can be . . . that day. LOVE THAT! Thanks, Gail. More yummy food for comtemplation in this latest offering. All pun intended. With gentle love, Cheryl

    • We can only be what we can be in any given moment or situation. To try to be who were yesterday, or who we want to be tomorrow is to miss the glory of who we are in the moment. Thanks for sharing.

  14. wow! i love what you are saying please keep this great info coming thank you!

  15. Gail,
    It was wonderful to cross paths again through yoga. Thank you for including me in your new endeavor. I look forward to reading more of your sensitive thoughts on this blog. For me personally, my journey of self study has brought an awareness of the flow of something Divine, tying circumstances, events and even thoughts into a continuous life tapestry of which you are a part. The realization that these synchronistic threads can occur when we are open to receive, but not necessarily expecting it, makes it all the more miraculous!
    Namaste,
    Lisa

    • Dear Lisa,

      It was such a pleasure to see you again after such a long period of time. It is my pleasure to include you in the conversation about taking yoga off your mat. When we open to receiving the miracle it is amazing to experience its manifestation. Thank you for enriching the conversation with your comments.
      Namaste,
      Gail

  16. Cherish Thomas

    Dr. Parker-

    You never cease to amaze me. Your gifts and talents are amazing.You have greatly inspired me. Please continue to share your gifts with the world as you change the lives of others as you have changed mine.

    God bless

    • Dear Cherish,

      Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents. You amaze and inspire me as well. My only request of you is that you give what you have received by continuing to do your life changing work with young people. You are amazing. Thank you for joining in the conversation.

      Much Love,
      Dr. P.

  17. Mrs. Johnson,

    Wonderful blog spot! Jason shared it with me and I will be sure to follow your blog posts to learn ways to apply yoga to my everyday life (I recently started doing yoga) for positive growth.
    With love,
    Brittany

    • Dear Brittany,

      I’m so happy to know that you have begun practicing yoga. It is an amazing practice that will serve you for a lifetime of positive growth. I will make sure you receive blog announcements. At this point my plan is to send a new post at the beginning of each month. July’s is already in the oven.

      Much Love,
      Dr. P. (AKA Mrs. Johnson)

  18. Jason Parker Johnson

    GP,
    That is a wonderful post that is relevant to anyone regardless of the stages of connection with the internal that they have achieved. Keep it coming.

    JPJ

    • Dear JPJ,

      Thank you for 29 years of love and support. You came into this lifetime deeply connected to the heart and have only deepened your connection over the years. You have helped me deepen my connection to the heart by your example. You have been and continue to be a great teacher and a source of great inspiration to me. I will keep it coming as long as it seems relevant. Thank you for sharing this with people who you think will enjoy it.
      ILYMTILY,
      GP

  19. Dr. Parker, I think that you are brilliant and this blog presents stimulating contemplation. As I connect with your thought “We are bound to become more self-aware when we choose a path of self-study” I wonder if one loses his or her innocence during the process?

    • Dear Shekenia,
      Thank you for such an interesting question. Here’s my take on it:
      The line that follows “We are bound to become more self-aware when we choose a path of self-study.” is, “By cultivating the practice of compassionate self-study, we maximize the potential for becoming aware of what is best in us.” I think that as we become aware of what’s best in us we become wiser while simultaneously maintaing our innocence, thereby becoming more balanced.
      Dr. P.

  20. Dear Gail,
    My sister-in-law having returned from experiencing the power of a retreat where you were a presenter gave me your name. I did a Google search and found your website, which contained a link to, what appears to be a newly created blog.

    After reading your bio, resume/CV, I was compelled to move to your blog page. I read not only your recent/first entry, but every comment posted; you have quite an impressive following. I’m sure it’s because of the power of your words, insight, experience and wisdom.

    I must thank my sister-in-law for sharing you with me– and you for sharing yourself so liberally. Your words are powerful. When completing my graduate studies, I wrote a paper entitled “Compassion as a Strategic Tool within Organizations”. Your blog has made me realize that not only is compassion an organizational strategy but a strategic element for self-study.

    I’m looking forward to continuous learning and growth through your words of wisdom and power through the dialogue your blog will initiate.

    Namaste

    • Dear the1divadi
      Your comments are truly inspirational and auspicious. Thank you for joining in what I hope will become a regular conversation with all of us. As you may have noticed I taught as an adjunct faculty member, in the Executive Education program in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, for 10 years. During that time one of the classes I taught, as an assistant to Professor Robert Quinn, an organizational change management expert, was called “Change the World”. Dr. Quinn authored a book by the same title. His premise was that no matter what our status within an organization, it is through individual personal transformation that we can change the world. In the text he uses Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandis Ghandi as examples of the power of individual personal transformation as it relates to profound world change. From my perspective, optimal personal transformation occurs within an internally cultivated compassionate context. My hope is to support people in cultivating this approach to self study and self awareness. Again thank you for joining in the conversation and thank you to your sister-in-law for sharing my information with you.
      Namaste,
      Gail

  21. Teresa R. Mathis

    Gail, I thank you! For sharing and for touching so many people with the in sight to become compassionate of there salf-study. I my self have always taught of you as a strong and beautiful person inside and out. You are truly a blessing of seeds. I am also looking forward to reading more. Thank you!!!!

    Teresa

  22. Thank you, Gail, for creating this blog. I’ve thought about your words of wisdom both on and off the mat the past few days and have found them very powerful and helpful. Thank you for sharing this newly born blog with me and so many others. I look forward to future postings. With much love and gratitude.
    Sarah

    • Dear Sarah thank you for all of your support over the years. Your warmth and consistent welcoming energy are truly transformative and an expression of taking yoga off the mat. Much love to yo.
      Gail

  23. Gail, as always, you’re “right on”! I’m so proud and fortunate to call you friend!

    • And I’m so proud to call you one of the best yoga teachers I have ever had as well as a good friend. Thank you Linda for being you.
      Gail

    • And I’m so proud to call you one of the best yoga teachers I have ever had as well as a good friend. Thank you Linda for being you.
      Gail

  24. Lorelei Claiborne

    I alwyas thought the study of Yoga was just learning how to “twist youself into a pretzel” Thank you for the enlightenment! Wonderful blog.

  25. Claire Crowley

    What a beautiful way for me to stay connected to you and the Detroit yoga community as a whole. Thank you for helping to weave this practice more deeply into all of our lives.

  26. Melva Thomas Johnson

    Hi Gail:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom in such an inspirational, provocative and practical way. In other words, I love it! Looking forward to future postings.
    Love,
    Melva

  27. Gail – Thank you for sharing this – it’s wonderful! I feel renewed and relaxed just reading it. Keep up the awesome work.
    Des

  28. Dear Gail,
    I love what Yoga does for me physically, mentally, & spiritually! I love psychology, too; people are the most fascinating beings to study! Of course, studying oneself is probably the hardest. You have written what most of us are thinking about on a daily basis and trying most of the time to put into practice. I will always remember a psychology professor I had as a nursing student who had us listen to George Benson’s song, “The Greatest Love of All”, that resonates with what you are saying about compassionate self-study. Most of suffering is self-imposed. Self-love and “compassionate self-study” can lead us to a more balanced and joyful life. My life is most certainly uplifted by these practices and those around me receive the good energy! Thank you so much for your blog.

  29. Gail,

    I think it is wonderful that the vision has taken form.
    Joni

    • Joni thank you for holding the vision for so many years. I never forgot your wisdom when you told me all those years ago “It is already written.”

  30. Dear Gail, I lapped up every morsel of this “birthing” of your blog. And how I anticipate more. The concept of self-study, with emphasis on facing ourselves and our flaws with compassion, is integral to my life. I read recently in a novel: “How in the world was she going to get past something that had taken her decades to perfect.” And I smiled, recalling my journey to do just that. That quote is stuffed inside Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul, a book that was revelatory and “shoring up” at the same time. So much self-awaring yet to come . . .and it is exciting. I am so proud of you! YOU GO, GIRL! With gratitude . . . and with gentle love, Cheryl

    • Thank you Cheryl. Growth never ends as you know and I’m happy we can continue to share the journey.
      Gail

  31. Gail, thank you for being such a courageous leader. You are a continual inspiration to me. I feel I grow whenever I am in your presence, and now I can experience that with you here online as well. Your blog is noble. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world!!

    • Thanks Ellena. As I said in the blog you can only see those qualities and characteristics in others that you possess yourself. Thank you for sharing the journey.
      Gail

  32. As a fellow traveller on the journey of integrating yoga and psychology, I am so delighted Dr. Parker is sharing her depth of wisdom and her story with us. Gail, you beautifully weave together the essences of both these practices, which is truly to know ourselves and to peal away the layers that obstruct our true luminous nature. Thank you.

  33. Gail,
    Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world. What a wonderful forum for enhancing positive growth. You suggested that I try Yoga ten years ago and I have been practicing ever since. I look forward to having a dialogue on your blog about the numerous positive benefits of Yoga and meditation and how they have helped me off the mat.
    Namaste,
    Tom

  34. WOW! what a pleasant surprise. I truly admire your ability and willingness, to “walk your talk”. Thanks! for the invitation. BRAVO!

    • Hi Tanya…Thanks for reading and for sharing. I hope you keep reading, and commenting , sharing your insights.
      Gail

  35. Gail, this is a wonderful expression of your two loves, psychology and yoga! Thank you for another personal growth opportunity to explore and enhance myself and others. I truly appreciate your knowledge and insight. I can’t wait for your next entry. You go girl!

    Pauline

    • Thank you Pauline. Your comment means a great deal to me. The next one is brewing. And thank you for joining the conversation.
      Gail

  36. Wow! So many threads in the fabric of this blog – how wonderful. Just imagine beng compassionate, kind and forgiving in thoughts and actions towards one’s self . . . sounds like the very heart of transformation for joyful living – one thought at a time. What positive life enhancing actions will follow! Thank you for putting “pen to paper”, Gail, this is so inspiring. (Twice a month maybe?)

    The Universe is smiling,and I am too, much love back at you,
    Mary

    • Thank you Mary for taking the time to read the blog and to comment. I appreciate your feedback. Maybe twice a month down the road. My hope is that people will want to go deeper into the concepts presented and that we can dialogue with each other about our own personal experiences and insights.

  37. Nicely put Gail! It however is one of the hardest things to do; to turn the mirror around and look deeply inside yourself from your thoughts to your actions – it takes a huge amount of courage and definately compassion! My brother may still be alive today if he was mentally, emotionally & spiritually ready to break this family cycle of the shame, blame & guilt you mentioned.

    Because of this wonderful gift of Yoga and the principles it teaches us, I’ve been able to chip away at these “character defects” that were draging me down. Thank God that we are not perfect! I’ve always said that if we were, we wouldn’t be here!

    One of our teachers said that it is a gift to be born into this realm of life so that we have the opportunity to come out of this cycle of suffering (samsara). It does take compassion, faith and courage to start the process of self study; asana, meditation and a litttle help from your friends who are already on the path, are great tools to help support this life long journey on and off the mat!

    Blessings always,
    Kathleen

    • Dear Kathleen, thank you for your willingness to be so vulnerable in expressing your comments. It does take tremendous courage to open your heart especially when it comes to yourself. The no shame, no blame, no criticism rule is sooo hard to follow but just as we remind ourselves in asana practice, and as you point out so beautifully, it’s not perfection we’re after…it’s practice we are engaging in. Thanks for your insightful comments.
      Gail

  38. All who read Gail’s blog are blessed as she continues to expand her talents and passions to help us grow in such insightful ways. I am so touched that you have developed this blog to share your wisdom. Thank you.

  39. I love the self-study aspect of your blog.
    “One of the ways to learn to identify with our strengths and what’s best in us is to notice what it is we admire in others. When we admire a characteristic or trait of another person it is often because we also possess that trait. Once we realize this we can focus on enhancing this trait in ourselves.”
    And you ,Gail, are someone I have always admired.

    • Hi Cisco….I like remembering that bit of wisdom my self. The traits and characteristics we see in others are actually traits and characteristics that we ourselves possess. I always fid that so comforting, especially when I’m being hard on myself. The admiration is mutual.
      Gail

  40. I’m looking forward for it…You will always be the best..

    • AA…Thank you so much for your supportive comments. When we practice seeing the best in ourselves, everyone around us benefits because we begin to see the best in them as well.
      Gail

  41. Gail,
    Your blog is an inspiration and beautifully written. I am proud and lucky to be your friend plus to have the honor of practicing yoga in your presence.

    Congratulations on launching the blog, I look forward to following your insights!

    • Thanks Dale…As I said before without your support I might never have done this. Thanks for being my mirror and seeing the best in me. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

      Gail

  42. Tracy Peterson-Jones

    I think your blog is great. It offers good insight for all of us, as we go through life’s successes and challenges. Great job! I look forward to your other entries.

  43. Nick Hood III

    I think this is great. Thanks for sharing your insights on
    Yoga and spirituality with the larger world. Blessings…
    Nick Hood III

    • Dear Nick…thanks for your support and encouragement over the years…I see this blog as a continuation of our healthy moments project. Hope you’ll share this with others.
      Gail

  44. Finally! Your words (heart) in print. I love it, but I already want more. Monthly? Why not at least weekly (smile)? Anyway, thanks for taking it off the mat and for help all of us do the same. May you be blessed with all good things always.
    -The Ladybug

    • Hi Ladybug…I want to start slowly and see how this builds plus I want people to think about what I’m sharing and apply it to their lives and then share what works and what doesn’t. I’m really looking forward to the conversation. Thanks for your support.
      Gail

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