When I was asked to write a piece about self-care my head was immediately filled with all the helpful practices, tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years that I have to share. However, as I sat down to write, I noticed a quiet level of resistance to putting words to paper. Why is that? As a yoga teacher, self-care is something that I teach every single day. Last year I founded ‘the girlness project’ an initiative that supports the emotional and physical health of young girls. Since then, I have taught 600 girls and the theme of ‘self-care’ lies at the very heart of what I do. It’s something I talk about all the time. So why then the difficulty to share something that is so close to my own heart and journey? I shut my laptop down for a couple of days and having sat with it, I realised that this resistance stems from the very real fact that self-care has been, and in many ways still is, a real challenge for me. And I don’t think I’m alone.
Writing this piece was a call to action to acknowledge some of the ways in which I am not taking care of myself and for most of us that can be a confronting and sometimes painful thing to face. It has also been an opportunity to acknowledge the things I am doing and amplify the specific practices that I know offer me great benefit. So after journaling on it for a couple of days, here are my thoughts, reminders and commitments to myself. I hope they might just prove helpful for you or someone you love too…
Carve out white space
I had a realisation recently that I don’t schedule any time in my diary to eat lunch. Breakfast is often on the go and very often I eat dinner at different times depending on my teaching commitments. I looked back over the last month in my diary and almost every minute of every day is accounted for. This is also a reflection of how much I love my work. I genuinely feel so lucky to do the work that I do and I am inspired every day by the people I work with. The downside side of this is that I find it hard to put work ‘to bed’ and switch off or to schedule in three meals a day to eat. I have realised that I will never ‘find’ the time for relaxation or the basics of cooking/eating. I have to make the time. This means blocking out white space out in my diary…to eat mindfully and to simply be.
It’s OK not to do your yoga practice
…Or at least, as you know it. Yes, I know, a risky thing for a yoga teacher to say. When I started working with my teacher 1-2-1, I remember one session very clearly. I arrived exhausted and emotionally drained. I was going through a lot in my personal life and I shared with her how every time I came to my yoga mat, I felt like I was just going through the motions but my body didn’t really want to move. She said to me “So, what would happen if you didn’t practice?” At the time, it was a bizarre concept to me. I had a daily asana practice and I had a deep expectation of myself that if I wasn’t doing this then in some way I wasn’t committed to my practice or my teaching. But as she uttered those words to me, my whole body took a deep sigh of relief. I realised in that moment that the deepest form of care for me at that point in time was to rest, to be still and to not feel the pressure of a daily asana practice. Five years on from that moment, I recently went through another really difficult period in my personal life. I noticed this overwhelming feeling in my body to be still and this time I stayed with it. For almost twelve weeks, my ‘yoga practice’ was simply me lying on the ground whenever I felt overwhelmed. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. No expectation, no force. And twelve weeks later I noticed that my body started to want to move again. This is the process that I support in others – how do we get behind and support what the body needs? Honoring our own process and body in this way is a deep and rich gift and for me, this lies at the core of self-care.
Self-Care is not the same as Self-Compassion
You can have the most amazing self-care ritual; hot baths, an organic vegan diet, work out every day and yet, if your internal dialogue is destructive and judgemental (to yourself and others) – no self-care ritual will be enough to support your physical and emotional self live a life that feels nourishing. This probably forms the biggest part of my own journey and the work that I do. Witnessing how we talk to ourselves is probably one of the most valuable things we can do. Noticing our ‘inner critic’ and how much that voice is influencing our day-to-day decisions and actions. Firstly, we can start by simply noticing it and then we can notice when it’s particularly active. For me, it’s when I am stressed or under a lot of pressure. In that moment, I have a choice to engage or take a deep breath and choose a different route. We could think about it as moving this voice from the drivers seat into the back of the car. What I’ve noticed is that if we have an internal dialogue that is for the most part nurturing and compassionate, we are more likely to make choices that support our self-care. Equally, if we make choices or engage in activities that support our self-care, our internal voice can become more spacious and understanding. It’s a symbiotic supportive relationship.
Keep it realistic
Depending what’s going on in your world, sometimes the luxury of going to a yoga class or cooking ourselves a beautiful meal is so far from a realistic expectation. Sometimes our self-care practice might be as simple as taking a deep breath, taking a shower or acknowledging that today we did our best. These tiny little acts are possible in even the most difficult circumstances. In other words, don’t let the pressure of ‘self-care’ feel like another thing to add to your to-do list. Sometimes the pressure and demands of life mean that just making it through to the end of the day, wrapping your arms around yourself and acknowledging that you have done enough is the kindest self-care act we can take.