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  • Writer's pictureClare C. Chan

"Mindfulness" and "Mindful Self-Compassion"

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

“Mindfulness without kindness is concentration only.”

Mindfulness refers to the moment-to-moment awareness of what is going on within us and our environment, including the thoughts, feelings, sensations and the surrounding environment. It is about observing the present moment with a non-judgemental attitude, and without clinging onto any of these thoughts and feelings.

In last 30 years, there were surges of research on mindfulness, and the benefits of mindfulness have been solidly established. Namely, practicing mindfulness meditation can help to enhance attention, reduce rumination by disengaging from persistent thoughts, reduce stress and anxiety and depressive symptoms, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve immune system.

Practicing mindfulness has became a trendy sign of being healthy. However, as therapist, I sometimes heard of people blamed themselves for “not being mindful enough”, “It is shameful that I wasn’t hardworking enough to practice mindfulness meditation”, which lead to guilty feeling. What is missing here is not mindfulness, but a mindful self-compassion.

In a recent meditation retreat that I attended, retreat teacher shared that

“Mindfulness without kindness is concentration only.”

This highlights the importance of compassion in mindfulness training. Compassion and mindfulness, are like two wings of a bird (Tara Brach, 2003), they are interconnected and equally important.

In 2008, psychologists Kristin Neff and clinical psychologist Christopher Germer developed Mindful Self-Compassion course (MSC), which is built on mindfulness training but shifted the focus on cultivating self-compassion. MSC thus can be called mindfulness-based self-compassion training.

What is Mindful Self-Compassion?

Dr. Kristin Neff explained that Self-compassion entails 3 core components:

  1. Self-kindness: be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental

  2. Common humanity: feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering

  3. Mindfulness: hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it.

Neuroscience research found that meditation that focus on training focused attention (e.g. Mindfulness meditation) and meditation that focus on cultivating compassion (e.g. Metta meditation) trained on overlapping but different brain regions. And thus produce different effects and benefits to the meditators. I have personally trained in both programs and think that these two programs are cultivating different abilities. MBSR focuses primarily on attention training, cultivating awareness and thus help to stabilise emotions. MSC focuses more on cultivating self-acceptance, learn to be kind to oneself and to others. MSC is like cultivating our heart, to produce kindness and gentleness in response to the distress in oneself and others. Precisely, the MBSR also include some cultivation of compassion, but do it in a more subtle way, while MSC fully focus on cultivating compassion to self and to others. MSC would be suitable for people who are self-critical and self-blaming, and people who tend to overly focus on fulfilling others’ needs but ignoring one’s own needs.

Research found that MSC program increased self-compassion, and compassion for others, mindfulness, and life satisfaction, as well as decreased depression, anxiety and stress. Therefore, both the Mindfulness and the MSC courses are worth learning.


Brach, T. (2003). Radical Acceptance- Embracing your life with the heart to the Buddha. New York USA: Random House.

Neff, K.D. & Germer, C.K. (2012). A pilot study and randomised controlled trial of the Mindful Self-Compassion program. Journal of Clinical Psychology 00,1-17.



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