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Karuna: Practice true compassion

Updated: Apr 17

Focus of the Month: March 2024

written by Uta

Compassion & loving kindness

Thinking and researching about our focus of the month for March, I stumbled across the yogic aspect of Karuna. 

Karuna can be translated as compassion, kindness, love, and mercy – and it´s one step of overcoming our obstacles and distractions which hinder us to experience the practice of Yoga. I think especially in the current political and social situation we are in – it´s a very valuable topic to focus on right now. 

In the vast tapestry of yogic philosophy, the principle of Karuna shines as a lighthouse of compassion and supports guiding practitioners toward a more empathetic and interconnected existence. Rooted in the ancient wisdom of yoga, Karuna invites us to extend a heartfelt compassion not only to ourselves but also to those around us and the world at large. With this new focus, I want to invite you to explore the essence of Karuna and to discover practical ways to integrate this transformative principle into our daily yoga practice – on and off the mat.

Extract from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Book One, Samadhi Pada): 

मैत्रीकरुणामुदितोपेक्षाणां सुखदुःखपुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातश्चित्तप्रसादनम् || 1.33 ||

maitrī-karuṇā-muditopekṣaṇāṃ sukha-duḥkha-puṇyāpuṇya-viṣayāṇāṃ bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam || 1.33 ||

The realisation of love (Maitri), compassion (Karuna), serenity (Mudita) and equanimity (Upeksha) in relation to joy (Sukha) and sorrow (Duhkha), good (Punya) and evil (Apunya) (leads to) serenity of mind (Chitta).

What is Karuna?

Karuna, which is a Sanskrit word, translates into "compassion" or "loving-kindness" is a foundational concept in various spiritual traditions, including Buddhism and Hinduism. In yogic philosophy, Karuna represents the idea that true enlightenment is not possible without a compassionate heart. It urges us to recognize the interconnectedness of all beings and to cultivate empathy for the struggles and suffering of others.

"Compassion is always born of understanding, and understanding is the result of looking deeply."

- Thich Nhat Hanh

How to integrate Karuna into our daily practice?

  1. Cultivate Self-Compassion: Before extending compassion to others, it is essential to cultivate self-compassion. Begin your yoga practice with a few moments of mindfulness and self-reflection.  How are you today? How are your thoughts? How can you act with more softness and compassion towards yourself and others? Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses without judgment, allowing yourself the space to grow and evolve from what is.

  2. Mindful Breathing and Meditation: Incorporate mindful breathing exercises/pranayama and meditation into your daily routine. These practices support you to calm the mind, making space for compassionate thoughts and actions. Focus on the breath. Inhale softness, love, and compassion – and as you exhale, release any negativity or judgment you may be holding on.

  3. Heart-Opening Asanas: Embrace heart-opening yoga poses  These postures not only open the chest on a physical but also on an energetical level and unlock the heart chakra. They support you in promoting feelings of compassion and love.

  • Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

  • Melting Heart Pose (Anahatasana)

  • Camel Pose (Ustrasana) 

  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

  • Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

  • Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)

  1. Chanting Mantra: A wonderful practice to connect immediately to your heart space is chanting mantra. Feeling into the vibration the Mantras create within you and the sound & effect of the Sanskrit words.  A wonderful fitting Mantra for Karuna is: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu  May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may my own thoughts, words and actions contribute in some way to this happiness and freedom for all.

  2. Metta Meditation: Integrate Metta meditation, also known as Loving-Kindness meditation, into your practice. Dedicate a few minutes to silently repeat phrases like:  May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at ease. Gradually extend these wishes to others, including loved ones, friends and family, acquaintances, and even those with whom you may have conflicts.

  3. Yoga off the Mat: Extend Karuna beyond the yoga mat into your daily life. Practice several acts of kindness, whether big or small, towards friends, family, colleagues, and strangers. A kind word, a helping hand, like opening the door for a stranger, or a simple smile can create ripples of compassion that transcend boundaries. Give it a try!

  4. Reflect on Interconnectedness: Take moments throughout your day to reflect on the interconnectedness of all living beings. Recognize that everyone is on their unique journey, facing their own challenges and joys. This understanding leads to more empathy and reinforces the principle of Karuna in your daily interactions.

Wow, that might sound like a lot of work, but no need to feel overwhelmed. Try to include little daily practices of Karuna into your days. 

And as we do that, we already took an active step on a transformative journey towards a more compassionate and interconnected existence. Through connecting to self-compassion and incorporating heart-opening postures in your asana practice, practicing loving-kindness meditation, and extending this kindness to others, we not only enhance our own well-being but also contribute to a more harmonious world around us. 

May the spirit of Karuna guide us on this path of love, kindness, interconnectedness and understanding.


B.K.S. Iyengar: Light on Yoga

Harris, Gabrielle: The Language of Yin 

Satchidananda, Sri Swami: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

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