Self-care is a term that is bandied about these days. ‘Look after yourself’, we say on bidding farewell, and ‘take care’. But the truth is that we are mostly very bad at looking after ourselves.
We ‘look after ourselves’ by binge-eating chocolates, lying in bed, chilling out and watching TV, or scrolling through our social media feeds. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing any of these things…occasionally.
But, to be accurate, this is not taking care of ourselves, but switching OFF from ourselves. Instead, we can find a way to switch on to ourselves. Here are five ways to true self-care:
Self-care starts with self-awareness
The reason why we feel tired, stressed and depleted is because we are rushing about using our sympathetic nervous system.
When our cavemen ancestors came face to face with a woolly mammoth their sympathetic nervous system kicked in. This floods the body with the fight or flight hormone, cortisol, which gets the heart racing, flooding the muscles with oxygenated blood, ready to stand and do battle or turn tail and scarper.
The only problem is that, although the context of our lives is rather different, our brain’s hardwiring hasn’t evolved to keep up. So now, instead of woolly mammoths, it’s deadlines and never-ending ‘To Do’ lists.
Our first job is to allow our parasympathetic nervous system a chance to take the reins for a while. The PNS (for short) slows the heart rate, dilates blood vessels, increases digestive juices and relaxes muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, allowing efficient working of the digestive system. It is in charge of all the sub-conscious bodily systems, without which we wouldn’t function.
In order to access the PNS, we need to turn our brains from fight and flight to ‘rest and digest’. A sure-fire way to do this, is to do savasana. Savasana is the pose which allows the benefits of all the other poses to be absorbed into the body. We completely relax the face, limbs and body, which in turn convinces our mind that there is no danger. Our state of high readiness is briefly turned off and the PNS allows the body to simply be.
Self-care starts with the basics
The fact is we are actually not as bad at self-care as we might think. If you’ve got dressed, washed and had breakfast, you’ve already done quite a few acts of basic self-care. While this might not seem like much to you, ask a new parent, or someone suffering from a mental health condition whether this is a big deal and they’ll tell you that sometimes, just getting out of bed and getting dressed feels like a huge achievement.
Just making sure we get to bed in good time, eat regular meals and wash occasionally is a great start to taking care of ourselves, and sometimes it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.
In the book, ‘mindfulness for busy people – turning FRANTIC AND FRAZZLED into calm and composed’ by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel say:
“We have done more in a day already than most other species are even capable of, and definitely outwit every computer ever invented.”
So well done YOU!
Self-care sometimes means STOPPING
Self-care sometimes means that we say ‘no’ – to everything – including yoga. I know this seems crazy, but all these hashtags such as #yogaeverydamnday lead us to think that if we don’t hit the mat every single day, we’re not practising. This is simply not true.
The first principle of Yama (moral ethics) is ahimsa or non-violence. When the body is exhausted, doing a yoga practice is a form of violence on our own body. The best yoga is actually just to rest, or we risk a depletion of energy or even injury.
Self-care includes self-appreciation
We are too hard on ourselves. We compare ourselves to others. We always fall short. But if a close friend confides in us about a challenging issue, we would tell them to take it easy, that they’re doing the best they can and to try to let things go…but we are often terrible at taking this advice for ourselves!
Think back and make a list of all the things that you’ve achieved, big and small. Try to remember a kind thing that you’ve done for someone recently. Tell yourself that you’re proud of yourself and take a moment to let it sink in.
Self-care can sometimes be care of others
There are many of us who spend a lot of our time caring for others, be it as parents, carers, nannies, doctors, nurses, teachers and of course, yoga teachers.
It is the hardest job in the world being responsible for other people’s well-being, both physical and mental, but it is also one of the most rewarding.
Sometimes, when we feel that we ourselves are at a low ebb, turning our attention outwards and giving our energy to others, suddenly a mini-miracle occurs: the energy that we give out comes back to us, quadrupled.
There are so many ways to care for ourselves. Try one today!