Kindness Counts – A wellness conversation from Tracy Anderson Magazine.
A conversation between Sarah-Marie Hopf and Dr. Kelli Harding – as featured in the summer issue of Tracy Anderson Magazine.
A little bit of kindness certainly goes a long way. So, what if we all treated one another and ourselves with a little more compassion, respect, and understanding? The impact would be profound. Life would be more meaningful, enjoyable, and easy. We’d all be able to overcome challenging times, such as this past year, with more grace and strength.
A global pandemic and other national events have thrown us many curveballs recently. These have tested our limits and brought intense emotions to the surface, so practicing kindness has been essential in order to persevere. Because cultivating more compassion for ourselves and others is a significant part of our health and well-being, we asked two leading voices of the kindness revolution to share their insights and experiences. Dr. Kelli Harding is a psychiatrist, physician, educator, and author of the book The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness, whose work focuses on making the world a kinder and healthier place. Sarah-Marie Hopf is an integral leadership coach, mindfulness and compassion teacher, and the founder of Thriving in a Noisy World.
Through their professions, these two women have explored the role of kindness at both micro and macro levels, so we wanted to invite them to further that conversation over video chat. In this discussion, Kelli took on the role as the questioner while Sarah-Marie provided her responses. Read where their exchange of mindfulness took them, here:
Kelli starts by asking Sarah-Marie about a silent meditation retreat that she participated in over Zoom. Because 200 people around the world attended the retreat from their homes, Sarah-Marie says it was powerful. “It was a beautiful experience and also really interesting to do it at home, to really reenvision what engaging in the home environment looks like,” Sarah-Marie recounts.
Because our homes are full of distractions, especially the lure of technology, Kelli asks how Sarah-Marie was able to remain focused and mindful throughout the retreat. Sarah-Marie explains that at the beginning of the retreat, they were encouraged to turn off their notifications, put their phones on airplane mode, and exit out of unnecessary tabs for the purpose of “just cultivating that discipline of not giving into the urges to check and see what’s going on.” Eliminating distractions allowed members of the retreat to dig deeper and get more out of the experience.
Besides the occasional check-in or talk from the teachers, the retreat was primarily done in silence, so the experience emphasized living in the here and now. “It’s all about being fully present in the moment, to be with all that is arriving and passing, to check in with what’s there,” Sarah-Marie summarizes.
When you completely let go of distractions, press pause, and truly carve out the space for stillness, unresolved thoughts and feelings can pop up, Kelli notes. She asks how Sarah-Marie was able to cope with those unsettling emotions during her silent retreat.
To manage intense emotions, Sarah-Marie affirms the effectiveness of body awareness. “If it feels too overwhelming, maybe resourcing ourselves and coming back to body sensations, opening to sound, or coming back to the breath,” she says. If the emotions are manageable, Sarah-Marie stresses the importance of tolerating the discomfort and replacing judgments, labels, and storylines with curiosity and kindness. For instance, notice where you feel tension in your body and ask yourself, “Can I offer some kindness inwardly?” Or put a hand over your heart and repeat a mantra like “You are loved” or “You can be with this.”
Moving the conversation along, Kelli asks about Sarah-Marie’s coaching experience and what her approach entails. On her quest to unlock a content and balanced life for human beings, Sarah-Marie found that acknowledging the systems that affect us was the answer. “It has to be a holistic way of thinking about life and well-being that includes all of who we are, our whole selves, our relationships with others, and our relationships to our environment and how we fit into our culture and society,” Sarah-Marie enumerates.
Kelli ponders all the reasons why an individual might request Sarah-Marie for coaching. “I think it’s when the way people have been doing things isn’t working anymore,” Sarah-Marie proposes. “They’re hitting a wall in some way, or there’s just some interruption in the pattern of their lives that they can no longer ignore.” Sometimes, an issue with a current job, an illness, the loss of a loved one, or other life events can put people’s lives into perspective and make them reevaluate their current behaviors. Other times, people want to continue working on themselves and challenge limiting beliefs, perfectionism, or their inner critic. “It might be those who want to go even deeper and just continuously want to work on being the best version of themselves and realizing their full potential,” Sarah-Marie describes.
Kelli circles back to the theme of perfectionism and asks Sarah-Marie how she approaches that mode of thinking as a health coach. Sarah-Marie says the first step to overcoming the high standards we set for ourselves and the harsh voice that guides us is by recognizing its purpose—to keep us safe. “The inner critic has a function of wanting to protect us from being rejected or failing or not fitting in,” Sarah-Marie expresses. “It’s just this old conditioning from childhood and other societal messages that have created that inner voice.” Once we learn why the inner critic exists, we can train that voice to be kinder. Because the inner critic keeps us stuck in a cycle of shame, fear, and anxiety, we can overcome the spiral by turning to the inner coach, which is what Sarah-Marie calls “that wise, calm, and compassionate voice or inner part of ourselves.”
Sometimes, we can treat ourselves with compassion, but our work environments aren’t always conducive to kindness, Kelli points out. She asks how we can create kinder atmospheres at work. “So much has to do with the leadership of those environments and organizational values and the culture,” Sarah-Marie observes. When leadership prioritizes kindness and models that behavior, it becomes ingrained in the workplace culture.
It’s also important that the leadership team adopts a culture of inclusivity and acceptance. “Creating a culture of belonging where we can be who we are with all of our identities, experiences, and background, and all that is welcome, and we don’t have to hide any part of ourselves,” Sarah-Marie adds. Aside from the leadership team, we can also ask ourselves how to contribute to the environment and practice kindness.
Kelli shifts gears in the conversation, wondering how to deal with those who aren’t always kind and how to see the good in people who have done wrong. Sarah-Marie reiterates that to be human is to struggle, so it’s important to approach every conversation with empathy and consideration of others’ perspective. “Just to even ask that question, ‘How is this person struggling or hurting,’ to open us up to that shared human experience and the messiness of life,” Sarah-Marie broaches. Understanding another person’s past can help us open up our hearts, forgive others, respond intentionally, and be kinder to them.
Kelli articulates how delighted she was to have had the opportunity to chat with Sarah-Marie and to learn more about her work. Kelli tells Sarah-Marie that she’s making a huge impact on individuals and groups by bringing love, kindness, and well-being to all.
Sarah-Marie ends the discussion by emphasizing kindness as a radical and transformative tool. “We can all plant the seed of kindness, and we never know how it’s going to touch others or how those seeds will bloom,” Sarah-Marie says. “If we are all putting out these seeds, we’ll create a more beautiful world.”