How to practise self-compassion in the New Year

Poonam Dhuffer isn’t your average wellbeing mentor. A former trend forecaster, she lives with her Punjabi-Kenyan parents and siblings in a Sikh household in Southeast London. But when she began hosting Punjabi vegetarian supper clubs in 2018, she realised that the conversation would often turn to the loving-kindness meditation that has helped her overcome anxiety, and the fact that the wellbeing industry tended to be overwhelmingly white.

Her supper club spawned a monthly meetup for Sikh women and non-binary people, then a series of ‘snacks and chats’, with the deep and meaningful chats more of a focus than the food. She started building up a wider community, and when lockdown struck, she realised that people didn’t want virtual supper clubs – but virtual classes and workshops around self-compassion and emotional and spiritual wellbeing. She has since mentored headteachers, business leaders and more, while growing YSM8, which is a derivation of her life mantra, ‘Yes mate!’. While her teachings with YSM8 borrow from Sikhism, she says the real core is ‘oneness, interconnectedness and universal love’, with a side helping of ‘feeling all the feels’ and ‘cutting out the BS’. 

Here, she gives eight tips for wellbeing in the new year – because ‘YSM8’ doesn’t just refer to her mantra, but the wholeness of the number eight in spirituality.  

Savour slow mornings

‘I don’t check my phone before 10am, and I always recommend a slow morning routine to connect with yourself. We have this toxic culture of urgency, and I always say that waking up with social media is like waking up with 50 people in your room. I always try and take a moment in bed to feel gratitude that I’m seeing, breathing and living. Once I’ve showered, I get into my white meditation clothes and try to do 45 minutes of meditation geared towards self-compassion and connection. It has helped me balance my emotions, especially living with my family during lockdown. By the time I check my emails, I’m so much more ready.’

Start small

‘It’s important to start small, and not overwhelm yourself with your goals. You might just commit five minutes to mindful meditation, but that’s better than being too ambitious and not sticking with it.’

Sit in silence

‘We’re so consumed by artificial screens and noises, and it’s important to find time to just be. It’s not even about meditating – there can be this pressure to clear your mind of thoughts – but just being open with yourself and accepting where you are and how you really feel. At work, on social media or with certain people, we present facets of ourselves, but it’s important to sometimes just be as you are – if you’re happy, but especially if you’re feeling negative or lonely. When we look at ourselves without a filter, we realise we’re human beings who feel things. It helps make us more empathetic and patient with other people, and less self-critical.’

Feel all the feels

‘YSM8 is not just about the good stuff, but being open to negative feelings, and not just throwing a blanket over them. We need to allow ourselves to fully feel sad and angry. If we don’t, we can start to store up negative energy, which can turn into physical ailments. I know from experience that carrying around anxiety and fear keeps you small. Facing up to the feelings helps you overcome them. You can say, I’ve had a shitty day and I feel down, but that’s okay, this is temporary. Tomorrow is a new day.’

Reframe your mindset

‘The big shift a lot of us have to make is from self-criticism to self-compassion, and reframing the way we talk to ourselves. If we don’t get a promotion or job, it’s easy to think that we’re not good enough, but there’s always something to learn. I recommend writing down something you learned from a perceived failure, owning it, and being compassionate to yourself about it. Having a kind inner voice helps us to be better versions of ourselves, and helps us to be kinder and more loving with other people.’

Move your body

‘Sitting still all day means that energy becomes stagnant – and moving shifts that energy, and promotes body peace. I recommend doing something active in the morning – even if it’s just slow-movement stretching, or a walk with your phone on silent – because it shakes our emotions, gives us endorphins and sets the right tone for the day.’

Normalise rest

‘People often don’t realise that there are seven types of rest we need: physical, mental, emotional, social, creative, sensory and spiritual. Social rest, for example, is being with people we can be ourselves with, and vulnerable without being judged. Mental rest can be unplugging from devices. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that watching Netflix is resting, but escaping into another world is only ever a temporary fix. A lot of rest is about calmly being in ourselves, and it really helps to make it part of our lives. Resting is about aligning our mind, body and spirit.’

Write down your small wins

‘This can be a professional thing, but also a personal one – even if it’s just writing down a new recipe you’ve tried. When we write down small wins, we’re more likely to work towards big wins, and in our careers it can help to have things you’ve accomplished written down. More generally, writing is really helpful for getting thoughts out. Taking five minutes in the morning to write how you feel – even if it’s just tired and hungry – can help release emotions. Writing a gratitude journal is helpful, too. It might be three people or three things in your house, but the more specific your entries are the better. It will help you connect to people, and live in a state of love rather than fear or anxiety.’