I had the opportunity recently to give a talk to a room of about 50 women on a the topic of Self-Care. It was a flop. I was a flop.
As a yoga instructor, massage therapist, meditation practitioner and teacher, as an herbalist with a line of organic first-aid and beauty products, you’d think that giving a presentation on this topic would be an easy task for me. You’d think that as a person whose vocation, passion, and career revolves around the very practice of self-care, that I might have a lot to say about the subject, but, well… I’m not sure what happened. I walked up to the stage, looked out at my audience, and completely blanked out. I think I summarized my most poignant points in a matter of the first 2 sentences out of my mouth and then I had nowhere go. I fumbled my way through the next 15 minutes, stuttering out some patchwork of misquotes, repeating previous points all while gripping the pencil written notes I had scribbled on a paper torn from a spiral notebook not an hour prior to the speech. I never once looked at the notes, not that they would have done me any good. I was ill prepared, to say the least.
I spent the rest of the day lamenting my embarrassing display of incompetence, wishing that I would have said this, or remembered to say that. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it sure is a bitch. So, instead of indulging any further in self-loathing or embarrassment, I thought I would wrap all of those woulda/coulda/shoulda’s into some sort of redemption speech, presented to you by way of this blog.
As women we are natural care-givers. I find that typically, we give everything we have to our careers, our relationships and our families, but when it comes to ourselves, we tend to be more neglectful. We believe that it is somehow selfish to care for ourselves as we would care for others, or maybe we feel that we just don’t have the time to do so. My métier emphasizes the importance of taking good care of one’s self, and I’d love to inspire more women to change their relationship to the word “selfish”, and remember that self-care is not exactly the same thing.
Self-care can help to replenish a depleted energetic “bank account”. In Chinese Medicine there are the concepts of Prenatal Chi, and Acquired Chi. Prenatal Chi is the life force energy we are born with, and it is a combination of our parents’ Chi at conception as well as the life force energy of our mothers while in utero—her nutrition, and general wellbeing. It is said that we use up most of our Pre-Natal Chi by the time we are 30. But thankfully, we also have Acquired Chi, which is the life force energy we gain from the moment of our birth until the day of our death. Acquired Chi is developed though our diets, lifestyles, and healthy habits, and is depleted by poor nutrition, all forms of stress, and illness. It is vital to our health to acquire as much chi as possible to maintain a vibrant and healthy life.
When we talk about replenishing a depleted bank account, Acquired Chi is what I am referring to. The energy we put into the various aspects of our life, can feel like making withdrawal after withdrawal, and can lead to the dreaded overdraft, coming in the form of exhaustion, break-down, illness, or even resentment. Self-care is like making deposits into our Chi account, making sure we have enough in the bank to freely expend the energy our lives require.
The following are few ways we can give back to ourselves on the daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly basis. Keep in mind that the small, consistent acts of self-care can seem insignificant, but can have the greatest return in the long run.
1) Start Meditating.
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy, then you should sit for an hour.” -Old Zen saying
When I talk with people about meditation, some say, “That sounds nice, but my mind doesn’t work that way. I’m too analytical, I don’t like sitting still. I can’t just turn my mind off like that.” Or, like in the quote above, “I don’t have time for that”. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about meditation, such as it is a way to turn off the mind, or transcend our current reality into some blissed out state of being. It most certainly is not that, in my experience. Meditation is a way to change our relationship to our thoughts, our pain, our embarrassment, our feelings of unworthiness, our grief. Meditation trains us to be a witness to these states of being, not a victim of them. It is a way to train the body and the mind to be able to sit with discomfort, and remember that this discomfort is in fact the very thing that connects us to the present moment, as well as to our fellow human beings.
Even 5 minutes of sitting still and observing the breath can have a profound effect on the body and mind. Meditation is a cumulative practice, the results seen over long periods of time, it is not a quick fix.
To begin a meditation practice, find a quiet place to sit. Nothing fancy, just prop yourself up on a pillow or even sit in a chair. Make your spine long, let go of unnecessary movement, and relax. Set your timer for 2 minutes to begin with. As you start the timer, just become aware of your body sitting on the earth or in the chair and feel how your breath moves through you. If the mind is racing (it probably will be) simply observe that, just as if it’s happening to someone else. Anytime you realize that you are lost in thought, simply come back with an intentional breath. After some practice with this, up your time to 5, 10, 20 minutes.
2) Start a gratitude journal.
The practice of gratitude is the simplest, most satisfying way of replenishing a depleted heart. It is a simple and direct way of accessing the present moment. Find a blank journal, and jot down 5 things you are grateful for today. They don’t have to be big-deal things, just some thing that evokes the real and genuine sense of gratitude in your heart. The added beauty of this practice is that after a few months of gratitude journaling, you get to look back on all the things that sparked the feeling of gratitude within you and feel the joy this brings you, even after the moment has passed.
3) Add a special product to your daily beauty routine.
Taking care of our skin, not only makes us look better but it really does make us feel better as well. Radiant skin comes from within, but it doesn’t hurt to take good care of the outside, too! Adding a high quality, natural and organic product to your daily regimen can be a guiltless way to treat yourself right on a daily basis. Might I suggest Herban Myth Botanicals Beauty Oil? It has an instantly calming effect on the nervous system and a rich herbal scent. The flowers infused in this beauty oil are selected for their soothing essence, anti-inflammatory properties, and skin regenerating and healing qualities. You can feel good about what you are putting on your skin without breaking the bank.
4) Make your bed and DRINK MORE WATER.
Doing something as small and seemingly insignificant as making the bed everyday can actually have profound affect on your mood and mentality, and even set the tone for the rest of your day. It’s the first small success of the day, and it can and should be celebrated! When you get to the end of a long day and get to crawl into a beautiful and tidy bed, it can actually boost your serotonin levels and help you sleep better. And as drinking more water, it’s a no-brainer. Water helps us to re-hydrate and cleanse our precious tissues. Why not live a little and add some lemon water to your daily morning routine? Lemon water is alkalizing and helps to maintain a healthy Ph balance, it aids and stimulates digestion, is jam packed with Vitamin C and other crucial minerals. People have been drinking lemon water medicinally since the 1400’s. Your body will thank you for it.
5) Ritualize it
Ritualizing one’s morning program or bedtime routine can be an easy way to care for one’s self. Whether it is doing things in a certain order or adding incense and candles, make your routines sacred by adding a bit of mindfulness and intention. Use the time it takes to brush your teeth as an opportunity to say a few daily affirmations to yourself, as an example. Self-love is the basis of self-care.
6) Take a walk in the park with a friend.
Autumn is a wonderful time to get out to your local park for a walk. Solo walks are wonderful too, but walking outdoors with a friend can help you feel connected and supported again, in a world where we often feel disconnected from each other, and nature. Walking with a friend is great for your body, (move it or lose it!), and it also nourishes the soul to spend time with people who truly love and care for us. Plan a weekly walk with a pal!
7) Take a yoga class (or three).
Not only is yoga an effective method of strengthening the body, helping with balance and flexibility, but it is an ancient form of preventative healthcare that affects the internal systems of the body- the nervous, endocrine, lymphatic, immune and cardiovascular systems to name a few. Yoga activates the systems that increase our health from the inside out. It supports the ever-important mind-body connection, bringing a sense of integration into our lives. Yoga is one of the best methods for cultivating life force energy (or Prana/Chi).
The dedicated practice of Yoga leads the practitioner deep into her being. The yogi begins by first bringing her awareness to the body. She first becomes more sensitive to her muscles, joints and bones. With development, she becomes more aware of the organic body– the visceral, the cellular, the energetic. As her practice grows she becomes acutely aware of all bodies, as well as the mind, giving her the ability to respond and intervene quickly when any imbalance is revealed. This is real health insurance.
I started practicing yoga 20 years ago. It has gotten me through the inevitable times of anxiety, uncertainty, upheaval, transition, and grief. It has taught me strength of body and mind when all I wanted to do was break. It has taught me balance, in both diet and lifestyle, and both personally and professionally. And it has taught me flexibility, and to understand how and when to bend when I am feeling most rigid.
There are a variety of different styles of yoga, ranging from gentle and restorative, to the more dynamic physical practices of vinyasa– everyone should be able to find a class that suits their specific needs.
8) Try at-home facial and body care.
There are a million recipes online for DIY body care (keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming blog post on the topic by yours truly). Most ingredients for scrubs, soaks, and masks can be found in your very own kitchen. Try making a sugar and coconut oil scrub to polish your body, a clay or honey mask for your face, an herbal foot soak for tired feet or an epsom salt bath this week. Treating your body with care not only reinforces a quality of self-respect, but doing it yourself at home is empowering (not to mention totally affordable).
9) Get a massage.
Massage Therapy is hands down (pun intended) my favorite form of Self-Care. Not only will a skilled massage therapist help to work out the kinks, but like yoga, will also address the subtle body, bringing energetic blockages back into balance. We all know the importance of loving touch, yet somehow, I find that people are actually starving for connection. Oftentimes this desire for connection is sexualized unnecessarily, making it culturally challenging for us to even hug, or show any kind of loving touch to each other for fear of being misunderstood. Or the problem might be that we go looking for connection in the wrong places, which can lead to draining situations that leave us sapped of precious life force energy. However, we must never underestimate the healing power of compassionate touch. Book a massage today!
10) Spend time alone in nature.
Think of this as a mini vision-quest. Find some quiet place where you won’t come across too many other people and take an hour to just sit and listen. Refrain from using technology as you do this. Be as close to the ground as possible, and simply observe the natural beauty of the world around you. The Earth is our Mother, our origin, from whence we came, and to which we will return. We are not separate from the Earth. Reconnecting to this source can help to give us some perspective on our lives and remind us that we are an intrinsic part of a much larger landscape than the technological world would have us believe.
Set a day aside each month to disconnect from technology altogether. We are starting to discover the penetratingly negative affect that social media and constant reliance on our devices can have on society, our psyche, and on our physical bodies. Take a break from always being reachable, validated or judged. Take the time to instead reconnect to the people closest to you, in a personal way, even if you don’t know them. Dinner with family, a walk with a friend, a nod, smile, or even a conversation with a total stranger can go a long way. To paraphrase Jack Kornfield, “Tend to the parts of your garden you can touch”. Meaning, focus your energy on what’s right in front of you. Otherwise, we risk being overwhelmed by exposure to too much information. We haven’t yet evolved emotionally or physically to be able to process the amount of stimulation we subject ourselves to on a daily, hourly basis. Take a break.
12) Go on retreat.
Plan to attend a healing retreat, whether it is a yoga, meditation, or spiritual retreat of your choosing. This kind of intentional setting and complete disconnection from the daily grind can help to reaffirm your connection to Spirit and can charge the batteries for quite some time.
13) Do a cleanse.
Every Spring I do a cleanse. Cleanses can vary widely from a simple fast, to a juice cleanse, to Master Cleanse, a liver cleanse, colon cleanse, an elimination diet or even a spiritual “dieta” (the elimination of sugar, meat, oil, salt, spices, alcohol, and sex for a period of time), and can range from 1 day to several weeks. A clean-up of the diet can help to reset the body after a cycle of seasons. I find it to be especially beneficial in the springtime, after a winter of questionable eating, hibernation and high stress. Do your research and find the one that is right for you!
14) Psychedelic reset.
Using our entheogenic allies as an annual re-set can, and probably will be, the most profoundly shifting experience of all the aforementioned, which is why it is in the “yearly” category. These plant medicines can assist us in our ongoing healing and help us to process undigested trauma that may still be depleting our precious life energy. Not to be confused with abusive recreational use of these substances, plant spirit medicine needs to be approached with unwavering reverence, so great is their power to heal. Set and setting are the most important aspects of this type of experience. A couple days at Burning Man can be mind-blowing, but using these entheogens for healing purposes requires the proper support—a knowledgeable guide, a safe and peaceful place, an open schedule, and appropriate assistance for integration on the other side of the experience. There are many very promising studies being done on the healing potential of entheogens (click here for current data)- after a 40-year forced hiatus on research, and criminal prohibition of the use of these substances. Deep personal research and inquiry needs to be done with regards to finding the right medicine, the right guide, and the right set and setting. Support the decriminalization and rescheduling of these substances so that the research can move forward and these powerful plant allies can be made accessible to everyone who needs them.
As women, we are the care-takers of the world. I once had a client who was distraught with a feeling of hopelessness at the current state of affairs. She said “Why isn’t anyone asking us old ladies what to do? We are the keepers of wisdom!” And although I know this to be true, when she said it, it felt like a thunderbolt hitting me straight in the heart. The essence of the Divine Feminine is needed now more than ever. In a world thrown out of balance and polarized by the excess of Yang qualities (action, dominance, control, heat, hardness, etc.), we are now experiencing the symptoms of this excess– in the form of cultural tension, mental and physical rigidity, rage, agitation, and manic behavior. I believe we are all (consciously or subconsciously) craving the qualities of Yin (fluid, feminine, soft, cool, etc.) to bring us back into balance. If we, as women, can’t even take care of ourselves, is there really any hope of restoring balance to humanity?
Return to your natural power, regain your strength, and honor your innate qualities of wisdom and nurturing. By taking good care of ourselves, we will have the fortitude to help each other. It is up to us now to find the equilibrium that we all seek. Let the rise of the truly powerful begin.