We are creatures of constant change. We are resilient and adaptive, but sometimes it is just plain hard to keep up. Life doesn't give us a time-out and just when you think you have come into a rhythm, seasonal shifts come to change the beat bringing us allergies, arthritis, sports, gardens, classes, etc.
As both a massage therapist & yoga instructor I need to be fully present to care for my clients and lead my students and I am constantly reminding those around me to drink plenty of water, to sit & stand tall, and carve out time for self-care. It is so easy to say. And it's just as easy to smile in complete agreement with every intention of actually doing these things and then absolutely not do them. I know because I am having to constantly remind myself of these things as well. I ignore myself time and time again, having to come back and start again.
By not respecting our bodies as our homes and neglecting to take self-care seriously we invite injury and illness, we stretch ourselves to limits that are no longer effective or efficient. And for many of us there are no sick days, no substitutes. So to bring ourselves to the edge becomes a dangerous game.
In yogic philosophy there is a concept called tapas. When yogis come to the mat day after day, we are not merely seeking a fitness ritual, but are devoting ourselves to a spiritual practice. Tapas is the discipline within, it's the sweat, the ritual, the devotion. Tapas isn't achieved through a few quad burning warrior poses, it's developed with patience and dedication. And yoga, as a spiritual practice, is not just practiced on the mat. It is practiced every moment in our breath, in the way we treat ourselves and those around us, it's how we interface with our surroundings, with the mundane, the stressful, and the joyous.
Self-care is about devoting yourself to yourself. Not to your ego - to your being. How can we be of service if our bodies are injured? How can we be of service if our minds are muddied?
"Our mind is like a clear glass of water, if we put salt into the water it becomes salt water; sugar, it becomes sugar water; shit, it becomes shit water. But originally, the water is clear. No thinking, no mind. No mind, no problem." -Zen Master Seung Sahn
To start, drink water. Seriously. Over half of your body is water. The circulatory and lymphatic systems of our bodies need water to flush out wastes.
Next, be conscious of your posture. Correct posture & alignment facilitates a healthy home for your organs and capacity for breath as well as keeping muscles in their natural resting state (instead of chronically overstretched or shortened). If you have a sedentary lifestyle or career listen to how your body would like to be moved. If you are in a chair for most of your day take some time throughout the day to lean back, rolling the shoulder arms back to open the shoulders and chest, lift your heart and gaze. These small practices have an effect on the muscles and the mood and capacity for self-esteem as well.
As much as you can, choose clothing that that doesn't change your posture (heels, corsets or shape-wear that inhibit breathing) or cut off circulation. Indentations & red marks in the skin left behind after taking off belts, bras, bracelets, etc are indications that your blood and lymph can't easily move throughout the body (and can also indicate dehydration). If you've been given exercises by a physical therapist, stay dedicated to them - your functional movement abilities will increase and your body will thank you for this!
Build your body awareness so that you may become a better listener to your true self, not judgments from others or numbers on a scale. Dietary habits should include a rainbow of different colored fruits & veggies. You don't need to dedicate unrealistic amounts of time to learning the benefits of each food that you eat, as long as you eat an wide range of foods you'll receive a variety of nutrients.
Go outside. Another possibly tired but everlastingly true mantra of self-care. Get to know the flora & fauna around you at different times of the day. What does your skin look like in the morning light? In the evening light? What does your dog's fur look like against the green grass of a rainy day? When do the flowers open to receive sunlight? What does a big crunchy dead autumn leaf feel like under your shoe? Recall the feeling of packing fresh snow in your hands, the kind that really sticks together, and hauling it through the air. This space humbles us and instills compassion.
If you practice yoga seek out the broader scope of spiritual practice, letting go of the false ideology that it is just a fitness routine. Everyone, yogi or not, should have a movement practice that elevates the heart rate, encourages sweat, and strengthens and lengthens muscles. This will keep your body in shape and encourage hormonal balance.
Take epsom salt baths for tired, sore, or spasmodic muscles. Follow up by treating your skin well. Our skin protects us and absorbs both nourishing and toxic substances into the bloodstream. If your budget allows, treat yo' self to some really nice oil. I use a blend of carrier and essential oils at Tapestry.
Love yourself. We create narratives about ourselves based on repeated words and phrases that become mantras. Check in to make sure that your mantras are empowering.
If you need the hard science for why these things are so important, do some research. Read up on dehydration, overstretched/shortened muscles, uterine positioning, blood & lymph flow, and hormone balance.
When we are healthy beings inside and out we can better explore our true potential. We can enjoy life and care for children, elderly, and animals who depend on the devotion of others. And we can care for our ecosystems, our planet, our grand home.