So, life’s been a bit tricky recently when a nasty bout of shingles bit me on the bum…..literally!! Ouch does not even describe the pain of this horrible virus but, it certainly pulled me up short and made me think about self care and how best to nurture myself back to health when my body was clearly under attack. Turning down the painkillers, I turned to yoga and meditation to see me through the very long painful nights and helped to keep me positive in the day when it was very tempting to slide down that rabbit hole of self pity. But, that particular hole is deep with slippery sides so, I was forced to use all the tools in my yoga toolkit to stay focussed on getting well. Time to walk the yoga walk as well as talk the talk.
Self-care is tricky to define without resorting to language as sugary and ephemeral as candy floss. Practicality is my watchword, and thankfully healthcare organisations with a mind on actionable objectives more ambitious and necessary than selling aromatherapy candles have created clear and helpful definitions such as this one:
Self-Care is a part of daily living. It is the care taken by individuals towards their own health and well being, and includes the care extended to their children, family, friends and others in neighbourhoods and local communities. Self-Care includes the actions individuals and carers take for themselves, their children, their families and others to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after acute illness or discharge from hospital.
It is important to note that self-care is not a solo trip to the spa, it is taking responsibility for one’s own wellness, as well as the wellness of the immediate and extended communities in which one lives. Self-care is a communal effort.
So we’re starting to get more specific and practical. It’s clear self-care and yoga can work well together, but still, the question arises, what do I do on my mat to take care of myself, aside from what I always do when I practise yoga? How do I know what is best?
To know what to practise, you have to have a clear idea of what’s going on in your body, mind, and heart. You can check-in and monitor body sensations, mental focus, and anything else of relevant based on your current state. A check-in fueled by curiosity and patience will surely reveal something going on that requires your attention.
Set an intention of self-care
Once you know what’s going on, actively and consciously set an intention of self-care. Setting an intention isn’t as simple as silently telling yourself “I will learn gratitude from my perfect handstand today.” Intention setting requires skillful navigation of many regions of the brain. In addition to choosing the words of a relevant intention, we must counter the self-sabotaging thoughts that arise in response. This means we replace any negative voices or thoughts with positive ones, or reframe our internal dialogues with compassion and kindness. Working even deeper, we can summon positive memories and emotions of times the positive intention was realised, and spread the associated physical sensations throughout our body. Intention setting is a full mind, body, and heart event.
Choose your yoga for self-care tools
Fuelled by your positive intention, choose the desired outcome to which you can work. For example: perhaps you are feeling anxious and want to compassionately and kindly reduce your anxiety. Perhaps you feel that anxiety in the shortness of your breath. Might you then choose a technique that helps you slow your breath?
There are no general guidelines here and there’s no ‘one size fits all’. Have a good think about how you respond to different postures and techniques. Then, based on your individual needs and intention, choose a few simple ones that work well and lead to outcomes relevant to your needs. Here’s the magic advice:
Practise short and simple tools often.
Here’s some of what you can choose from:
- Breath and rhythm (via specific breathwork or the rhythm of vinyasa)
- Restorative Yoga
- Self-massage (with hands or therapy balls)
- Self-touch (simply touching, breathing, and connecting)
You’ll notice that there is a lot here! There are so many incredible techniques to have in your toolbox. Use these yoga self-care tools by including them in your home practice or by choosing studio classes that teach them well and often.
Self-care and self-compassion
Self-care can easily be co-opted into beating one’s self up. So we need to ensure it is all done from a place of love. I love these words, offered by Jodi Strock:
My concern with the current popularization of self-care is that it feeds into a societal conditioning that we are supposed to feel good all the time, and to strive at all costs. We are a culture of scarcity aka not enough. As a result, while well intended, I am watching perfectionism and improvement make their way into the concept of ‘self-care.’Self-care then becomes a fluffy term to assign to the unsustainable diet, exercise plan, meditation, resolution, or general schedule overhaul that feels urgent in any given moment. Many of us actually engage in self-harming behaviors while believing we are engaging in self-care. Often, our efforts at self-care become the inner critic’s latest whip when we fall short of whatever unsustainable promise we made to ourselves. True self-care is deeply felt because it is free of the aggression of self-improvement. It feels more authentic than an affirmation (that can feel like a lie you are trying to convince yourself of by repeating it again and again). True self-care is not driven by an effort to become more or better. It meets you right where you are, just as you are.
I may be over the shingles but, the memory lingers and I think it’s for the better. I’ve learned not to take my own health for granted; to practice daily self care such as making time to eat nourishing food, prepared and eaten slowly and with pleasure. And, to practice gratitude for my health, my family….and a pain-free derriere!!