A 15-Minute Practice to Soften, Soothe, and Allow Difficult Emotions

By allowing ourselves to experience where tough emotions are present in the body, and opening up to them with love, we can cultivate a sense of peace and acceptance toward the imperfect nature of life.

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This meditation is called Soften, Soothe, and Allow. It will take about 15 minutes to complete. It’s designed for dealing with really difficult, disturbing emotions, so if you’re feeling something very difficult right now, this may be a good meditation for you. If you are feeling peaceful and happy, you might want to choose another meditation. 

Soften, Soothe, and Allow: A Practice for Difficult Emotions

A 15-Minute Practice to Soften, Soothe, and Allow Difficult Emotions With Kristin Neff

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  1. Be seated in a comfortable position, either on a chair or on a cushion. Make sure your back is upright yet relaxed, and that your head is relaxed as well, tilted slightly downward. 
  2. Take a few deep breaths. Let out the tension that you’re experiencing right now. So in and out, three times. Let your breath return to normal, just noticing how your breath feels as it comes into and leaves your body. Notice where you feel the breath most strongly: Is it at your nostrils, your lungs, your abdomen? 
  3. Think of the circumstance or situation that’s causing you a lot of emotional upset right now. It may be something you’re feeling about yourself, something you don’t like, or some mistake you’ve made. Or it could be just a situation that’s very difficult to deal with right now. Remind yourself of the details involved, and try not to get lost too much in a storyline, but just get in touch with what it is that’s troubling you and how you feel about it. 
  4. Focusing your attention on the body, become aware of what emotions are attached to this painful circumstance. There’s probably more than one. So maybe just labeling them. Anger. Disappointment. Grief. Fear. What’s coming up for you right now? 
  5. Choose the emotion that you feel most strongly. What’s the predominant difficult emotion associated with your circumstance? See if you can tell where you feel that emotion in your body. Is it a gripping in the throat, a heaviness behind the eyes? A clenching if your gut? See if you can notice what part of the body is physically manifesting the emotion most strongly. 
  6. Describe these sensations to yourself. Tight. Hot. Tingling. Numb. Cold. Just describe it in your mind. Because this is by definition a painful emotion, we naturally want to resist it, to tighten up against it, to make it go away. But this just makes it all the more painful. 
  7. Instead of resisting, Soften around the emotion. Be aware of the emotion in the body, and try to soften around it. See if you can relax a little bit of the feeling of tension or pressure. Just soften. If emotion is very intense, you may want to focus your awareness on the edges of the emotion. Just kind of soften around the boundaries or borders of the emotion. Imagine that you have maybe a pool of water that you’ve let down the side. It’s not so tightly contained, so the water can just kind of pour out naturally. Just softening around the sensation. 
  8. Then, Soothe yourself gently. Recognize and validate how hard it is to be feeling this. Every single one of us constantly feels really difficult, painful emotions. And we need to be able to comfort ourselves for the pain of living this human life. So what I’d like you to do is take your hand, and just gently touch the place where you’re feeling the emotion. Let your touch be soft, caring. Maybe caress the spot a little bit. And as you gently touch that spot, try to soothe the difficult emotions. Tell yourself that you recognize how hard it is to feel this way. If it feels comfortable, you might even say something like, “Poor darling, I’m so sorry. It’s so hard for you right now.”. 
  9. Next, Allow any feeling you may be experiencing. Remember that you are allowed to feel this. This is your natural reaction. You aren’t choosing to feel this; this is what’s happening. Just soothe and comfort yourself with the fact that this is hard right now, to be feeling this. Just allow the sensation of the emotion to be there. You’re safe right now at this moment. 
  10. Notice if the sensation is changing at all. Is it moving or shifting or changing quality? For the next few minutes, if the same emotion is still very strong and predominant—or perhaps a new emotion is arising, that becomes more predominant—just continue locating the sensation in your body, softening around the edges of the sensation so there’s not so much tightness or constriction. Soothe yourself and your body, the difficulty of what you’re feeling right now, with lots of tender compassion. 
  11. If your mind gets pulled away into thinking about the situation or circumstance, that’s okay. It’s only natural. Gently try to bring your awareness back to the actual sensations of the emotion in your body very tangibly. If any feelings of peace or comfort arise, see if you can be aware of and be with those emotions as well. And if it’s still very difficult, then stay with the pain with the three techniques of soften, soothe, and allow. If you feel your mind starting to drift or if you feel you’re starting to tune out again, just try to refresh in your mind the source of the pain and get in touch with the feelings in your body. Soften, soothe and allow. 
  12. Now drop the focus on this particular emotion or sensation. Let your awareness fill your entire body, just feeling the entire pulsating, energetic sensation of your body, from head to toe. Just let your awareness rest in your physical presence. 
  13.  When you’re ready to end this practice, place your hand gently over your heart. Just get in touch with feelings of tenderness, kindness, concern, compassion for what you’re going through. Remember that we’re all imperfect, that life is imperfect. And that if we can open to that, we can be happy and peaceful, even in the face of suffering. 

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