Empathy evolves into compassion, which is “I feel for you”.
Empathy evolves into compassion, which is “I feel for you”. Photo Thinkstock

Nurture compassion and it will nurture you back

PERHAPS it is where I am at in my life, in experience and age; I have spent the past two years reflecting and focusing on being a more compassionate, mindful human being and so have been inquiring into the impact on our system - the body and brain.

Dr Dan Siegel is one of the pre-eminent experts on neuroscience, writing several articles and books on the subject. His writing and research have developed our knowledge of mindfulness and compassion and the impact of those activities on the brain.

These activities are described simply as the practices of cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment, and extending a loving awareness to others. In consciously engaging with these practices science has finally caught up on what has been demonstrated for millennia by the wisdom traditions i.e. there is a profound and improved health effect on our wellbeing over time.

The side-effects of compassion are plentiful, according to David Hamilton PhD: compassion causes growth on the left side of the prefrontal cortex region. The effect is we find it easier to be compassionate and kind. Compassion begets compassion by creating actual changes in the brain.

Compassion also boosts oxytocin, a key hormone responsible for heart health by reducing blood pressure and dilating our arteries. Oxytocin is a feel good hormone which, when released, fosters our emotional connection, is good for the heart and enhances relationships.

Compassion breaks down barriers in relationships with people who challenge us. It fosters emotional connections between two people. A structured practice of compassion meditation improves the quality of personal and professional relationships, bringing us back to ourselves.

Compassion slows aging by increasing "vagal tone", or the health and fitness of the vagus nerve, which controls the body's inflammatory response. As we increase vagal tone, we improve the body's ability to reduce inflammation. The cultivation of compassion, where volunteers practised the loving kindness meditation, actually reduced inflammation.

Compassion motivates kindness, enhancing empathy. Empathy evolves into compassion, which is "I feel for you". Compassion quickly evolves into kindness, where we are moved to do something to ease the person's suffering.

I'm sharing this with intention - that perhaps you may find genuine benefit from your own engagement with mindful compassion. Namaste.

Nick Bennett is a facilitator, performance coach and partner of Minds Aligned: http://www.mindsaligned.com.au