“You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring you.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean.
Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.
So I brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me”
Mirror practices, such as mirror meditation, can increase compassion toward ourselves and others.
I’m a psychologist and my specialty field is self and identity. The use of mirrors within these areas are special to me, as I began using mirrors as part of my own self-development practice years ago, and it changed my life.
I was surprised to see little research bridging the use of mirrors and proven positive self-development practices.
I’ve been following Tara Well for a few years; she was the first person I came across to offer a mirror meditation process that was embedded with science.
When I saw a recent post on Elephant Journal calling for contributions that could make a positive impact, my heart leaped at the chance to shine a light on the power of mirrors as a tool for connection and growth.
I know from personal experience that using our reflection to be there for ourselves and to learn to love ourselves is the most powerful therapy I have ever endured.
I learnt that even though we search outside ourselves for answers, all that we need we already have—within.
Meditation has a long history and has recently regained a lot of popularity. Mirrors have also held a long history within human culture and have been used as a tool for self-exploration and as a divine gate to mystical worlds.
There is a niche research field that looks into the power of using a mirror to create and enhance positive experiences. All that we need does exist within ourselves, however we have yet to learn how best to connect to it—mirrors are a vital tool in that journey.
Why Mirror Meditation?
The self-improvement market is estimated to rise to a value of £13.2 billion by 2022. With the ever-increasing demands to support ourselves and to feel better, focused practices using a mirror could offer a simple approach that is easily accessible to all of us.
Considering the impact of our dependency on technology, which has disconnected us from ourselves and others—mirrors may help bridge that widening gap.
The importance of our face in social communication and emotional development is extensive. It’s through exchanges of non-verbal communication via another person’s facial expressions that help us understand our own emotions.
A study conducted by the Nielson Company in 2018 concluded that in the United States, people spend an average of 11 hours per day on electronic media, compared to the United Kingdom at nine and a half hours.
This was before the COVID-19 pandemic shifted our lives to be more dependent on screens, and indirectly increasing our usage. The increase in screen time equates to the loss of essential face-to-face reflection that we need to stay emotionally connected to ourselves and others.
Mirror gazing expert Tara Well suggests a novel way to look at ourselves in the mirror and recreate a compassionate connection to ourselves. She advises us to use the experience in front of a mirror not as a moment to reflect on our external appearance, being led by our inner critic or narcissist, but to be nonjudgmental and present with ourselves, however we’re feeling in that precise moment.
Mirror meditation combines two concepts: the practice of mirror gazing to bring one’s attention inward, creating an opportunity for real time awareness, and the meditative act of simply observing oneself without trying to alter anything.
How to Practice Mirror Meditation:
Nicola Petrocchi suggests that a five minute practice in front of a mirror can enhance compassionate self-talk, while Tara Well, who coined the term “mirror meditation,” suggests a daily 10-minute practice of being present with oneself in front of a mirror.
1. Set the right intention and space.
Meditation practices have promoted the importance of intention for many years. We can verbalize the experience we intend to have in speech or writing, which invites the right attitude. For instance, to find more compassion, we need to frame this as our intention.
By setting an intention, we still create the space for any possible outcome. We’re not attempting to force our experience to be a certain way, we’re simply declaring the attitude we’re taking into the practice, regardless of how the experience manifests.
Imagine that one of your dearest friends is experiencing an upsetting situation, which involves some kind of rejection, disappointment or failure, and they are feeling self-critical about it.
Write four phrases that you would use to soothe and encourage them, expressing compassion, understanding, and unconditional acceptance for your friend and for the parts of the self that they dislike.
Let these phrases inspire your intention, and perhaps even repeat these loving words to yourself during the mirror meditation.
2. Now sit alone in a well lit, distraction-free place in front of a mirror.
Ensure you’re physically comfortable and position a mirror in front of you so that you can see into your eyes without having to strain.
Don’t use a small mirror where you can only see your eyes. The more of yourself that you can see in the mirror, the more powerful the connection you’ll have.
3. Tune into your breath.
Before starting to look at yourself in the mirror, close your eyes and tune your attention to your breathing. Are you holding your breath or breathing heavily?
Begin by taking deep, slow breaths—in and out—returning your breath to its natural rhythm. This is an extension of the present moment of Zen philosophy. If we are to connect with ourselves in the present moment, breath is a great tool to use as an anchor.
During the practice, anytime our minds begin to wonder, we know that returning to the breath will return our attention to the now.
4. Set a timer for five minutes and focus on sitting with yourself.
Begin by gazing into your eyes and begin to establish a connection with yourself.
Notice if your breathing changes when you first look at yourself, if so, bring it back to a full and steady breath.
Notice your gaze, does it begin to harden? If so, soften your gaze by focusing on how you’re breathing.
People can feel uncomfortable at first; however, it’s important to focus on your intention and take time to connect with yourself.
Eye contact has been shown to have numerous benefits, such as creating a memorable impact of our words or intentions, increasing our self-awareness, and increasing honesty.
5. Observe your inner critic.
If your initial reaction to looking at yourself in the mirror is critical, notice your eyes as you look at yourself in this exacting, maybe even harsh or cold way. See if you can flip your attention from the person that you’re scrutinizing to seeing the person who is underneath, the receiver of that scrutiny—that’s who you really are.
How does that part of you feel about receiving critique? Coming face-to-face with our inner critic is an opportunity to respond to ourselves with compassion.
We have the chance to see ourselves in a new perspective by incorporating the mindfulness principle of “open-awareness.” Shifting our perspective from being the object of our own criticism, and seeing ourselves as a subject of it instead.
Studies found that seeing emotions on faces triggered the observer to imitate the emotion. Therefore, when we become aware that we are critiquing ourselves, we have the choice to think differently.
6. Notice where your attention goes and how you’re feeling.
Gaze at your reflection, staying open to whatever arises. Notice any sensations or emotions that come up and allow them to be there without judgment or interpretation.
Let your feelings and thoughts simply pass by as you breathe, relax your body, and gaze at yourself with no goal other than to be present with yourself.
Notice if your attention becomes narrow and exacting, and if so, see if you can expand it back to seeing your whole body, your whole self, and notice any emotions on your face.
Observe the expansion and contraction of your attention, and the thoughts and images that come to mind. Notice where your attention goes and any feelings that are associated with it, without judgment.
You may be surprised how much your view of yourself can change over the course of five to 10 minutes.
Please note that if you’re new to meditation, or even if you’re not, it may be difficult to articulate your emotions during the first few practices of mirror meditation; this is part of reconnecting.
As with every meditation, your attention may waver and lose focus of your reflection. This is natural.
It’s important to remember the intention that was set at the start of the practice.
The last meditation principle that’s incorporated is loving-kindness toward oneself: through the repetition of your generated phrases, this is where self-compassion gets invited in.
Different Mirror Meditation Variations:
Modern society doesn’t promote giving ourselves our own undivided attention, but it’s a powerful gift that we can offer ourselves. It reopens a connection to ourselves in a compassionate way, by conditioning ourselves with gratitude for the experience it becomes likely to be integrated into a habit.
Self-soothe by breathing and smiling.
Practice deep, calm breathing while gentling smiling at yourself during mirror meditation. You can fake it until you make it.
Research has highlighted the benefits of touch and affectionate, low-intensity touch can stimulate the release of oxytocin in our blood and brains. There have been many demonstrations of the benefits of oxytocin, such as reducing stress and increasing our sense of well-being.
Therefore, you can incorporate a warm touch or stroke on your chest, while in front of the mirror.
Mirror meditation, and its additional variations, offers a new approach to reconditioning how we see ourselves and build a better connection to who we truly are.
By approaching ourselves in a compassionate way and being there for ourselves without judgement, we leverage the power of self-signaling by shaping who we are based on what we observe ourselves doing.
The Science Behind It
Mirror meditation is a specific term and practice coined by Tara Well, however, it cannot be denied that across our human culture and history mirrors and meditation have both played significant roles in serving as tools to explore ourselves and our inner world.
Mirrors have played important roles in a variety of cultural practices, such as Shamans who use magic mirrors to journey into the spirit worlds to perform healings.
Even modern culture finds use of mirrors, such as the fairy tale of Snow White where the mirror held truth to be shared when looked into.
Psychology hasn’t shied away from mirrors either, Hofmann and Heinrichs demonstrated that mirror exposure mediated self-evaluations resulted in people becoming more balanced in their self-statements and less self-critical.
Ramachandran’s use of mirrors helped restore brain activity in participants and reduced phantom-limb pain.
Tara Well found that participants of mirror meditation reported reduced levels of stress, depression, and anxiety; and an increase in self-compassion. Interestingly to note, narcissism scores didn’t increase as a result of the practice.
Research has shown that there is a difference between narcissism and self-esteem, so it may be that mirror meditation can form a base for new positive self-care practices, counteracting mirrors being a symbol of narcissism.
A mirror enhances the power of compassionate self-talk. A study found that mirrors do have a bolstering effect; participants that said soothing or encouraging phrases to themselves in the mirror reported higher levels of positive emotions.
Alongside this, meditation in general has been shown to have a positive impact on well-being, to improve positive social emotions and behaviors, and to have an overall positive effect on health.
Research has also shown that being compassionate toward ourselves through self-talk after we’ve criticized ourselves increases good feelings; simply verbalising positive statements has a positive impact on self-esteem.
Mirrors amplify the effects of compassionate self-talk, but further research is needed to fully understand the benefits and what processes cause them.
Through a simple process, people who mirror meditate are able to see beneath their surfaces, compassionately. Therefore, guided meditations or preset affirmations seem like a sensible way to progress and move forward.
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