Photo: Angelac72/

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates And Yoga

Does kindness matter?  This simple question is central to a recent article in Diabetes Spectrum highlighting research revealing the health benefits of self-compassion.  According to the article “Self-compassion is defined as the practice of treating oneself with kindness, care, and concern in the face of negative events.”  The article goes on to state that “self-criticism, a common consequence of self-care failure . . . can be seen as the opposite of self-compassion”.  Although this article focuses on the effects of self-compassion and its absence on diabetes patients in particular, it is clear that these health concerns can be more broadly generalized.  The article cites “A series of experimental studies suggest[ing] that quantifiable physiological and neurological processes underlie the experience of self-compassion.”  Furthermore, “consistent evidence suggests that self-compassion is related to physical and psychological health”.  As an example, “in a study [see citation below]* in patients with obesity and pain problems, self-compassion predicted lower negative affect, higher positive affect, more adaptive pain coping, higher pain self-efficacy, and lower pain catastrophizing.”

Not surprisingly, the opposite has also been shown to be true.  For example, ” the opposites of self-compassion, including self-criticism, self-hate, self-judgment, and negative perfectionism, have been linked to greater psychological distress, including depression.”  The article is full of additional confirmations, citations and examples of the positive health effects, both physical and psychological, of self-compassion and the related negative consequences of its deficiency.

An article in the Washington Post that refers to this research also cites a book by Kristin Neff titled “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself”.  In it, the author speaks of the three elements of self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness – the ability to be understanding with yourself rather than judgmental or harshly critical;
  • Common humanity – the recognition that none of us is perfect and all of us make mistakes, thus viewing ourselves as part of the human experience;
  • Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention to the present moment, neither dwelling on the past nor excessively worrying about the future.

If you’ve been following this blog, you may recognize these themes.  In fact, a very recent post discusses the benefits of self-care which are obviously closely related to self-compassion.  The articles referred to here also talk about the ways in which we sabotage ourselves.  For example, some of us may believe that being kind to ourselves needs to be secondary to taking care of others.  Think about that:  how can you give others something you are unwilling to give to yourself?  Furthermore, the consequences of denying ourselves the compassion that we wish to share with others can be pretty dire.   From the Washington Post article: “The opposite of self-compassion is emotional reactivity, isolation, self-judgment and unhealthy perfectionism, all of which have been linked to depression, stress and reduced quality of life.”

These ideas are echoed in an article in Health Psychology Open.  It states that “Substantial evidence supports the idea that self-compassion
can reduce perceived stress”.   Research findings show that  “people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better — they have less of a physical stress response when they are stuck in traffic, have an argument with their spouse or don’t get that job offer — and they spend less time reactivating stressful events by dwelling on them.”  Since chronic stress has direct effects on all aspects of our health, this is no small thing.  Additional research is also cited in this article indicating that people with higher levels of self-compassion are more likely to start and adhere to healthy behaviors which further enhances the benefits.  In other words, self-compassion promotes better health which contributes to better feelings about oneself which enables more self-compassion.  Conversely, negative self-care leads to poorer health which takes one’s self-image in a downhill spiral in the opposite direction.

So next time you’re tempted to run yourself down for any reason, it might be worth remembering that berating yourself may be more than just a temporary mood darkener.  It just might have more serious negative health ramifications that could be avoided with a little kindness.  Isn’t that simple step worth the effort?  Try noticing those negative thoughts.  Maybe you can remind yourself that “to err is human, to forgive, divine”.  Our world would be a safer and healthier place if we all practiced a little more kindness.  You can start that practice with yourself.  If you want to treat other people well and you want other people to treat you well, you can set an example by treating yourself well, too.  Your health care practitioners will applaud!


* Wren A, Somers T, Wright M, Goetz M, Leary M, Fras A. Self-compassion in patients with persistent musculoskeletal pain: relationship of self-compassion to adjustment to persistent pain. J Pain Symptom Manage 2012;43:759–770

Internalizing Kindness

Photo: Sarajuggernaut/

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
December 4, 2017

In this season of giving, we are all thinking about what we can do for others. This is certainly noble and important. But we’ve also all heard the expression, “charity begins at home”. In particular, I’d like to focus on what Buddhists call “right speech”.

Traditionally, this concept refers to how we use language to avoid hurting others. According to the Discourse on Mindfulness Meditation, right speech is defined as “refraining from lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and meaningless speech”.  An abbreviated version of this definition can also be as simple as “speaking truthfully and helpfully”.   In a recent article in Tricycle magazine titled “If the Buddha Were Called to Jury Duty” by Mark Epstein, the author writes, “Conventionally, right speech refers to how we speak to others, but I also believe it can help us pay attention to how we speak to ourselves.”  This got me to thinking about self-talk and how we treat ourselves.

It is safe to say that all of us without exception have some kind of internal dialogue going throughout each day.  For most of us it is, in fact, a pretty constant companion from the moment we wake until we fall back to sleep.  The most common reason people give for their perceived inability to meditate is that they can’t quiet their constantly chattering minds.  Those of you who have a meditation practice know that this is not really what it’s all about, but I’m going to leave that aside for now and focus instead on the internal dialogue itself.

Throughout this blog I have often pointed to the fact that we are our own harshest critics.  In fact, most of us would never treat other people the way we routinely treat ourselves.  We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards and then mercilessly berate ourselves when we fail to reach them.  The fact that they were unrealistic to begin with rarely enters the conversation.  We compare ourselves to others who we are certain are doing better and tell ourselves we are failures because we can’t measure up.  Or we will find some external source to blame.  In other words, we could have been perfect if it weren’t for ______ (fill in the culprit du jour).   Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have to work with in any given moment.  And none of us – without exception – is perfect.  But instead of acknowledging that fact and moving on, we will often poke and prod at the wound of our inability like a toothache and just keep reinforcing that negative perception.  The “should haves, could haves, would haves, ifs, ands. and buts” are rerun ad-nauseum in our mind’s eye until we feel incapable of doing anything right.

It is interesting to me that it seems almost like human nature to focus on the negative.  During my years of teaching and training, whenever evaluation requests are distributed to participants, 99% could come in saying “this was the best course I ever had in my life”.  But then 1 person says, “This was horrible.  A total waste of my time.”  Instead of focussing on the positive majority, trainers will inevitably worry about the 1 or 2 instances of negative feedback.  As the expression goes:   negative experiences cling like velcro while the positive ones repel like teflon.

Turning negative thinking into positive is a practice.   There are many articles that tout this concept.  For example positive self-talk is used by athletes to improve performance. According to Psychology Today:  “Positive self-talk is not self-deception.  .  . Rather, [it] is about recognizing the truth, in situations and in yourself.  .  .  One of the fundamental truths is that you will make mistakes.  To expect perfection in yourself or anyone else is unrealistic.”  The Mayo Clinic suggests that positive self-talk can help relieve stress.  This article presents some ideas to help you practice.  For example, if you are thinking “I can’t do this because I’ve never done it before”, you can change that to “this is an opportunity to learn something new”.  Or “this is too complicated” can change to “I’ll try it a different way.”  Or “I don’t have the resources” can become “maybe I can get creative – necessity is the mother of invention.”  Of course, there are more, but you get the picture.

So to bring this back to the season we’re in and to my favorite topic – mindful movement, if you find yourself lamenting lack of time, funds, patience, skill or any other perceived shortcoming, recognize this as an opportunity to practice turning the negative self-talk around.  Remind yourself that all of the generosity you want to express during the holidays needs to begin with your own self-compassion.  You can’t give what you haven’t got.  If you don’t take care of yourself first, you will be no good to anyone else.  Be kind to yourself and everyone around you will benefit.

Steps Forward In Mental Health -House Bill 1183

Steps Forward In Mental Health
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard
February 17, 2017

PIERRE, SD – significant number of Americans struggle with mental illness. For many the struggle is silent. Some experience short-term mental health problems; it’s not uncommon for individuals temporarily to face mild forms of mental illness at some point during their lives. For others though, it’s a lifelong battle that requires consistent treatment. No community is untouched by mental illness. It affects schools, work places and families.

Last year the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Rural Healthcare Program released a study on mental health in South Dakota. The study found that our state has a high prevalence of undiagnosed and untreated depression as well as a very high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. While 87 percent of survey respondents reported receiving all needed medical care, only 64 percent reported receiving all needed mental health care, and just 54 percent received all needed substance use care.

Without proper treatment, individuals with mental health problems can land in the emergency room or in jail. When a person showing signs of mental illness behaves in a way that causes arrest, a court may order an evaluation of the person’s fitness to stand trial. In recent years, the increased number of these court-ordered evaluations has caused delays for the mentally ill. In some instances, mentally ill individuals had to wait in jail several months for competency evaluations to be completed.

Recognizing this problem, South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson convened a task force to address delays in court-ordered mental health evaluations and shortfalls in treatment for the mentally ill within the justice system.

Funded by a grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the task force released its report in November. Among its findings, it recognized that our system lacks procedures to identify mental illness quickly after an arrest, and in many cases jails are not equipped to deal with mental health needs. In some cases, diversion options that are already authorized by statute are not available in all areas of the state.

This legislative session, the Legislature is considering House Bill 1183, which would enact the task force’s recommendations.

The legislation will provide law enforcement with tools to better identify and respond to mental health crises, prevent unnecessary jail admissions, and assist communities in building capacity to offer intervention services. The bill will also expand the pool of providers who can provide competency evaluations, and will shift funding from the Human Services Center directly to counties to perform these evaluations. An oversight council will monitor implementation and recommend changes to future legislatures.

I thank the Chief Justice and task force members for undertaking this work and offering their recommendations, and I thank the Helmsley Charitable Trust for the funding they provided.

I support HB 1183 and I hope legislators will send the bill to my desk. These common sense proposals will be steps forward for our state.

South Dakota Mental Health Task Force Submits Recommendations

Mental Health Task Force Submits Recommendations

To Gov. Daugaard

 PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota task force studying mental health and criminal justice today submitted a report with 15 recommendations for consideration by Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the Legislature. Expanding training and tools for law enforcement, standardizing mental health screenings in jails, and increasing opportunities to divert individuals with mental illness to treatment are among the task force’s recommendations.

Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson convened the 22-member Task Force on Community Justice and Mental Illness Early Intervention from March through October. With support from the Governor, the Chief Justice established the group to address delays in court-ordered mental health evaluations and shortfalls in treatment for mentally ill individuals within the justice system. The task force consisted of representatives from all three branches of government and local governments, criminal justice officials, and mental health stakeholder groups.

The task force’s work was funded through a $302,500 grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The Crime and Justice Institute at CRJ, which assisted the Governor and Chief Justice with recent adult and juvenile criminal justice reforms, provided technical assistance.

“I thank the Chief Justice and task force members for undertaking this work. Prior to this, we had not had a comprehensive review of the evaluation and treatment of individuals in the criminal justice system who struggle with mental illness,” said Gov. Daugaard. “I will take this report seriously and carefully review each of the recommendations.”

The task force met eight times to review state laws, requirements for mental illness evaluations, court and jail data, and input from more than 100 stakeholders statewide. The group surveyed 24 jails and found the majority of surveyed jails had no access to a staff or contracted psychiatrist and little to no access to other mental health staff.

“Through our research we learned that diversion options are limited to certain geographic areas and there is a lack of procedures for early identification of mental illness. We also found that people with signs of mental illness were more likely to be detained pretrial and to spend more time in detention,” Chief Justice Gilbertson said. “South Dakota can do better. The recommendations of the task force represent common sense approaches to move us in the right direction. That should not only reduce the time these individuals spend in the criminal justice system, it will save the taxpayers considerable tax dollars in the running of the jails.”

The task force’s list of recommendations includes:

–          Expanding Crisis Intervention Team training;

–          Establishing a grant program for counties and regions to set up crisis response options;

–          Identifying mental illness through timely mental health screenings;

–          Providing training to criminal justice stakeholders on options to de-escalate crises and divert people safely into treatment in the community;

          Piloting a mental health court in Pennington County; and

          Expediting completion of court-ordered competency evaluations.

The full report is available at: