HomeSelf-carePractices for human flourishing

In a 2-part series, VASCO GASPAR will share different methodologies and approaches to human flourishing, to help us realize our potential for goodness and compassion, and understand the interconnectedness we share with each other and the world.


Like my Portuguese ancestors who explored the world in search of goods, during the last decades I’ve also been exploring different tools, methodologies, and approaches that contribute to “human flourishing”—the blossoming of the human spirit, and full realization of our potential for goodness and compassion, as well as the understanding of the interconnectedness we share with each other and our environment. 

These include awareness-based practices like Mindfulness and Presencing; trauma-informed methodologies like Polyvagal Theory, Internal Family Systems, and Compassionate Inquiry (Gabor Mate’s methodology); and heart-rooted approaches like Giftivism and the timeless wisdom of Heartfulness, which is where I find my spiritual “home.”

At some point during this quest, I started to see and sense connections between the different fields, and how they could be brought together to allow us to flourish into our potential. That led to the design and craft of experiences, retreats, and programs we’ve delivered to hundreds of people worldwide in the past years. We call it “awareness-based human flourishing” since there is the underlying notion that, by increasing our awareness about different aspects of ourselves, we can also become more conscious of our innate basic wisdom, our underlying sanity, and, from a space of deeper consciousness, to be capable of acting in the world in ways that are wiser, saner and more compassionate toward ourselves, other people, and Life as a whole.

In sharing these practices and resources, I encourage you to be the scientist on your journey of spiritual experimentation. See how the practices resonate with you. Take everything you find helpful and leave the rest.



Integral awareness

Let’s start with the notion that we are composed and part of many different systems and sub- systems and that by increasing our awareness, we can also increase our choices and capacity to integrate those same systems. Beyond many others, here are five systems or “bodies” I invite you to consider. We’re going to bring our awareness into each one:


Gross body, the physical body
Subtle body, the mind
Causal body, the Self or soul
Social body, community and relationships
Big body, Life

Take a moment to become aware of
the present moment and the different
layers of your experience.

Here is an exercise that will allow you to become aware of each of these bodies: 

  1. Take a moment to become aware of the present moment and the different layers of your experience.
  2. Notice how Life is flowing through your different senses at this moment. What do you notice about sounds, smells, and sights? What tastes do you notice in your mouth? What signals are you receiving through your skin about touch, temperature, and humidity?
  3. Bring awareness to the physical body. How is your physical body feeling at this moment? Is it relaxed, tense, agitated, anxious, tired? Is your breath fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Any particular tension in the body? What happens if you let go of even a fraction of it?
  4. Now, turn to your inner world, your mind. Any thoughts, images, voices, or emotions you notice? What is the “inner weather” like? See if you can witness these inner movements without any judgment. What are they trying to tell you?
  5. Dive deeper into your heart. Can you sense a timeless, wise presence? What do you notice when you connect with that deeper and still space, with your Self?
  6. Keep your awareness rooted in the heart, but expand it to include all people with whom you are connected. Family, friends, colleagues, even strangers. Does anyone in particular come to mind? Feel those connections, heart to heart. Who are you connected with?
  7. Finally, expand your heart connection to other beings, to the whole web of Life. Can you sense that connection? Can you feel the inter-beingness? Can you sense that you are part of a larger whole, a larger “being”?
  8. Use the last moments to rest your awareness on these different phenomena happening simultaneously within the different bodies. There is nothing to achieve. Simply sit with a wide-open awareness, an open heart, that includes everything and everyone.
  9. Finish by asking, “What’s the wisest and most compassionate thing I can do now that can contribute to the Greater Good?” Don’t think about the answer. Simply notice any inner guidance that emerges in the form of thoughts, intuitions, and body sensations. If nothing emerges, that’s fine. Maybe the best action at this moment is no action at all.

Keep your awareness rooted in the heart,
but expand it to include all
people with whom you are connected.


The physical body

Zoom in on your physical body. There are many data points you can pay attention to, but I’m inviting you to notice the general tone of your autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for many bodily processes, with the goal of keeping us alive and safe. It controls digestion, the breath, the beating heart, and many other things.

Most importantly, the ANS controls your energy levels and emotions (energy in motion), according to its perception of danger versus safety. If it senses that you are safe, your ANS becomes regulated and you might feel calm, relaxed, engaged, connected, grounded, curious, and playful. You can think clearly and connect with others from a place of curiosity. If, however, the ANS senses danger, it might either activate a mobilization response, known as the “fight or flight” or stress response, elevating the level of energy in your system, making you feel hyper-alert, scared, under pressure, irritated, anxious, or judgmental. It may also activate an immobilization response by lowering your energy levels to a minimum to help you survive through “disappearance.” Known as the “faint response,” this makes you feel immobilized, without energy, numb, hopeless, lost, or disconnected from yourself and everything around you.

There are other states, like the freeze response, in which you cannot think or even move. The freeze response is a blend of mobilization and immobilization, almost like having the break and the accelerator of a car pressed simultaneously.


Regulation, mobilization, and immobilization

Why are these states important? Because how you feel directly impacts how you perceive the world and the narratives you tell yourself about it. If you feel angry, you may perceive the world as dangerous and others as a threat. If you feel sad and numb, you may perceive the world as meaningless and lose the capacity to connect with others and your life purpose. If you feel calm, regulated, and safe, you will navigate the world and your relationship with yourself and others from a much deeper and saner place.

If you feel calm, regulated, and safe, 
you will navigate the world and your
relationship with yourself and others from
a much deeper and saner place.

The main message here is that if you change your physiology and the tone of your ANS, you will change how you perceive and relate to the world.

How to do it? Many things impact the regulation of our ANS, such as the number of hours we sleep, the type of food we eat, the time spent in nature, the importance of exercising our bodies, and so on. But there is one that is very accessible and simple, which is our breath. The breath is one of the few things we can control directly from our ANS—it is called autonomic as it controls most processes autonomously. Yogis have known this for ages, using Pranayama exercises to regulate themselves and achieve specific internal experiences.

Here is something you can try:

  1. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Notice how your hands move with your breath for 30 to 60 seconds;
  2. Notice now what is the main tone of your ANS: is it mobilized (feeling anxious, irritated, etc.), immobilized (feeling numb, sad, without energy, etc.) or regulated (feeling calm, relaxed, etc.)?
  3. According to your main tone, try one of the following:
    1. If your system is mobilized, close your right nostril and take some deep in-breaths from the left nostril, breathing out slowly through the mouth (the out-breath should be longer than the in-breath). Do this about ten times, and when you feel more regulated, you can move to the last step (c).
    2. If your system is immobilized, close your left nostril and take some fast and vigorous breaths through the right one. Here, the in-breath should be longer than the out-breath. Do this for a minute or two and then move to the last step (c).
    3. If your system is regulated, rest your awareness in the breath. Breathe in, counting to 4, and breathe out, counting to 6. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. Notice what happens and if it allows you to become more grounded.

Another beneficial practice I recommend, especially if you’re feeling mobilized, is Heartfulness Relaxation, which you can try on your own at

Expanding to the Mind and Community

Now we’ll expand to the inner and outer worlds, specifically our minds and our relationships with other people.

Starting with your mind, take a moment to notice all the different “inner movements” that might be present. If you are like most people, you’ll notice that your mind is inhabited by many different voices, thoughts, images, and other phenomena. It is almost like there are many different people living inside your heads. And they do not always agree with one another. Maybe a part of you wants to be reading this, while another is bored and wants to check social media. Or a part of you wants to go out and eat with friends, while another wants to stay home alone and order pizza. Maybe one is compassionate, loving, and kind, and another is aggressive and has nasty thoughts toward others or yourself. This multiplicity of the mind is not only normal but expected. It is not a sign of trauma, or something wrong with you.

The first thing I invite you to do is stop fighting your thoughts and these inner parts.

The second thing I invite you to consider is that all these parts actually have good intentions. Yes, including the one that criticizes you, the other that is selfish toward others, and even the one that sometimes makes you do things that you are not proud of, like engaging in addictive behaviors—food, drugs, sex, pornography, shopping, work, and so on. What would happen if you discovered that all these parts are, in fact, trying to help you? Maybe the inner critic is just making sure it criticizes us first to ensure that others do not criticize us later. Or that the one who is using addictions is just trying to distract us from feeling the pain (physical or emotional) or the negative beliefs we carry inside.

If you are like most people, you’ll notice that
your mind is inhabited by many
different voices, thoughts, images,
and other phenomena.

Perhaps the one who shows up as arrogant, or shows a cold and closed face to others is protecting a vulnerable part inside that was hurt in the past and pledged to make sure that you would not show vulnerability to others anymore. What would change if you started to relate with these inner parts from a place of compassion and understanding?

Here are some practices you can try in order to regulate your mind and connect with your inner world:

  1. Heartfulness Cleaning: the practice of cleaning ( will allow you to let go of all the complexities and impurities your parts carry inside, regulating your mind and increasing your awareness.
  2. Awareness of parts: notice the parts or sub-personalities that live inside you all the time. How do they manifest? Thoughts, images, inner voices, color, sensations? When you notice one, try to find where it lives in or around your body. Is it in the head, the shoulders, the gut, the Heart, behind the back? Notice how it manifests with curiosity and kindness. What happens when you pay attention to it without judgment?
  3. If you find an inner part, ask it some questions. Yes, try asking the part some questions and don’t think about the answers. Simply notice if something emerges from within. For instance, ask it how old it thinks you are (if it shares a different number from your age, you can tell the part your actual age and update it). Or ask, “Why do you do what you do?” Another question that is helpful is, “What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t do your job?”
  4. If you want to go a step further, see if it is possible to extend some compassion and understanding to the part. Let it know with your inner voice you understand and respect what it’s trying to do for you. Notice how it reacts.
  5. Last, ask it what it needs from you—if there is something you can do or stop doing in order for it to relax, as it has been working so hard to help you.

Perhaps the one who shows up as arrogant,
or shows a cold and closed face to others is
protecting a vulnerable part inside that was hurt in
the past and pledged to make sure that you would
not show vulnerability to others anymore. 

What would happen if you could do the same with other people? To see them beyond the masks they show in the world. To realize that all of us have these different parts that are trying their best to make us happy and not suffer.

Try to see beyond the mask the next time you engage with someone. Maybe behind the mask of a highly intellectual part hides a 7-year-old child who doesn’t know how to manage their own emotions. They took refuge in the conceptual space since it was safer than feeling the turbulence in which they grew up. Maybe behind that terrifying bully hides a scared and vulnerable child who is afraid of being too fragile. Perhaps behind a highly perfectionist part lies a child who believes they are never enough.We are all trying our best, and deep inside, we all want to be seen, valued, and loved. Can you see beyond the mask?

We are all trying our best,
and deep inside, we all want to 
be seen, valued, and loved.

What happens when you allow some heartful wishes to be directed toward the people around you? Try with your inner voice to wish them well: it can be as simple as “May they be happy; may they be free from suffering; may they be at peace”. Notice how it profoundly impacts how you feel, and how it allows you to sense into our common humanity.

To be continued.

Illustrations by JASMEE MUDGAL


Vasco Gaspar

Vasco Gaspar

Vasco lives in Portugal. He works as a Human Flourishing Facilitator, inspiring change and transformation in organizations worldwide for a more human and compassionate world. With a toolbox of cutting-edge awareness-based technologies, and ... Read More