Updated: Jul 21, 2022
I often end my yoga classes with the notion that our practice isn’t really an exercise of physical ability. The goal is not to make perfect shapes with our bodies; rather, it is a practice of self- study. Each pose informs us about the way we hold on and let go, the quality of our breath, the quality of our inner dialogue. In their truest form, our mindfulness practices are innately nourishing, the very essence of self-care. But self-care comes with an unfounded correlation to selfishness, especially for parents. So let’s take some time to destigmatize the idea that self-care is synonymous with self-serving and remember that the more self-love we practice, the more love we have to give.
The World Health Organization defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
The key word in that definition is, “prevent,” and I would even peel it back another layer by saying that self-care is prevention from the small, sometimes undetectable internal meltdowns we each experience as a result of the busy world we live in. Self-care allows us to manage stress and that reduction of stress is what allows us to maintain our health.
So what constitutes self-care and where to start? I think we often assume self-care means an expensive day at the spa or something that requires a lot of time, but that is not the case when we learn to thread self-love throughout the day. Self-care is anything that allows you to slow down and feel nourished. It can truly be as simple as taking a moment of pause, closing your eyes, and breathing deep. This can happen in the car waiting for you kids at school pick up, in your office before you walk into a meeting, or first thing in the morning before the world gets busy.
Self-care is most effective when it is a routine built into our lifestyles rather than something we scramble to do when feeling depleted. Not only does routine make it more accessible, it takes the energy out of trying to find a “quick fix.” You might even choose to think of it as a ritual rather than the mundane essence that the word “routine” can bring to mind. For example, the ritual of lighting a candle you love, taking a shower and intentionally transitioning from the busy day to the evening. A ritual of slowing down.
I have created a menu of self-care ideas organized from more accessible, quick doses of self- care to more involved options. I hope this list serves as a tool that you can access in moments when you need it most. Mostly, I hope that this gives you the permission that’s already yours, to take time for self-love, to show up for you, so that you can continue to show up for everyone else in your life with more fuel in the tank.
Breathe: When we slow down our exhales we send a signal to the nervous system that we are okay, that we are safe, that we can rest here. It allows us to quite literally hijack our nervous system in a nourishing way. The following breath work can be both beneficial in a pinch, a moment of stress, or as a daily practice to soothe the nervous system.
DO THIS: Breath in for a count of 4, breath out for a count of 4, for three rounds. Next, breathe in for a count of 4, breath out for a count of 6 for another three rounds. Continue this breath pattern for as long as you need. This can be a great tool in a moment of stress or nervousness. I often use it before I have to give a speech or while experiencing turbulence on a flight.
Meditation: After just seven minutes of meditation we are able to rewire brain patterns,moving from the deep grooves of negative talk or repetitive thoughts we often suffer from to more positive routes for the brain pathways.
DO THIS: Meditation doesn’t require anything outside of us, only that we notice when the mind wanders and tether ourselves back to presence by focusing on what is currently happening in the body without judgement. It feels like a simple concept and yet it is not that easily done, so if you are new to meditation or you just prefer to be guided through your meditation, I am fond of the Insight Timer app which has a variety of themes and styles. I also have this free 7 minute body scan meditation that is a great starting point. https://youtu.be/V5ffNCkk7tY
Movement: Our body stores both physical and emotional tension in the body. Think about the shoulders, for example. When we are cold, uncomfortable, in a difficult conversation, our shoulders rise and constrict. Over time that becomes stored tension in the body. Exercise helps to process that tension sooner, reducing stress and preventing discomfort.
DO THIS: Find a movement style you enjoy! That is the most important, that it feels like something to look forward to rather than something to dread. This could be a virtual yin yoga class once your kiddos are down, a morning walk around the neighborhood, an in studio work out class, or dancing in the kitchen while you make dinner. Don’t put constrictions on it; let it be free, fulfilling, and intuitive.
Morning Ritual: Waking up even just a few moments before the rest of your house can be a game changer. This allows you to enter the day in an intentional way rather than feeling like the day happened to you.
DO THIS: Set your alarm early so you can slowly sip your morning drink, write in a gratitude journal or take a walk in fresh air. Return to the essence of ritual so that it feels special and just for you. Carve out space for you.
Evening Ritual: Take a shower or bath to intentionally transition from the busyness of the day to the energy of the evening.
DO THIS: Try adding a fragrant bath bomb, essential oil, or shower fizzy to create an at-home spa experience. Add in self massage of the lymphatic system by bringing your fingertips to the jawline and sliding them down the side of the neck with as much pressure as it feels good. Complete a few strokes on each side. This flushing of the lymphatic system is good for our immune system, and it feels great!