Most of us learn from a very young age that kindness is a wonderful virtue. We all have the ability to be kind and compassionate, yet most of us pick and choose when it suits us (our mood, our judgments etc). Practising loving-kindness and compassion can benefit not only others around us, but ourselves in immensely powerful ways.
In both Buddhism and yoga, having empathy and compassion for others is said to be able to change the world. The Dalai Lama himself truly believes that one's efforts to be kind and compassionate radiate and have a rippling effect that can change many lives.
Let us look at some ways that compassion actually changes our physical health.
A healthier immune system - according to psychoneuroimmunology (the study of the effect of the mind on health and its resistance to disease) and social neuro-genetic science, loneliness and stress result in a weak immune system.
Regular compassion meditation practice (metta meditation) is shown to reduce inflammatory conditions, negative neuroendocrine (nerve and gland cells) and behavioural responses to psychosocial stress.
Oxytocin is the hormone produced from hugging, falling in love, breastfeeding, and when we are feeling happy and connected with people. This is a very positive hormone in the way that it reduces blood pressure and has anti-inflammatory effects.
One of the best ways you can practice compassion and kindness is by compassion meditation (metta). Dr James R. Doty says "the practice of Metta meditation is a beautiful support to other awareness practices. One recites specific words and phrases evoking a boundless warm-hearted feeling. The strength of this feeling is not limited to or by family, religion, or social class. We begin with our self and gradually extend the wish for well-being happiness to all beings." This is a very simple practice, in the following link, you can listen to a guided meditation:
“The act of experiencing compassion and helping others actually leads to tremendous mental and physical well-being for us as well. While survival of the fittest may lead to short-term gain, research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to the long-term survival of a species. It is our ability to stand together as a group, to support each other, to help each other, to communicate for mutual understanding, and to cooperate, that has taken our species this far. Compassion is an instinct. Recent research shows that even animals such as rats and monkeys will go through tremendous effort and cost to help out another of its species who is suffering. We human beings are even more instinctually compassionate; our brains are wired for compassion" by James R. Doty, MD.
When practicing compassion meditation, speak the loving words out loud in a confident, affirming way, rather than speaking them in your mind. This helps affirm what you are saying to yourself, and makes it more of a powerful intention.
Read writings on Buddhist views on how to practice compassion, they are truly inspiring. And if you happen to be a mother, Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali is a beautifully written book.
Practice mindfulness and awareness, this can help you change your old habits into new, beneficial ones.