I never tire of thinking about the concept of self-care. Caring for yourself is a central part of maintaining good health and projecting the kind of energy you desire out into the world. I think most of us can agree on that. But life can complicate things.
Lately, I’ve been so caught up with seemingly everything else in the world, that I’ve nearly lost touch with the kind of self-care I really need. In fact, I’ve started to think of “doing more work” as self-care, as in, if I do more work, I’ll have less weighing me down. But it rarely works that way, and while there’s nothing wrong with being productive, generally speaking, working for the sake of getting things done is not self-care.
Even though I write about how important it is to show yourself love, I sometimes hit phases when I need a lesson in caring for myself. Fortunately, there is yoga. In my book, yoga is the ultimate teacher of self-care. Yoga is not only a form of self-care itself but also a practice laced with self-care lessons.
There is wisdom in your body.
We often hear the phrase, “listen to your body.” When we’re aware of the sensations in our bodies, we’re more capable of knowing when we need to rest and recharge and when we can keep going. I think most of us have experienced times when we didn’t listen to our bodies and just kept pressing on until we hit a wall. Without knowing when to recharge (or ignoring our the body’s request to do so), we’re setting ourselves up for a collapse, which can manifest itself in different ways—mental burnout, emotional distress, and physical discomfort (if not all three at once).
It’s amazing how a just a single yoga practice can help us tune in, however. Movement on the mat has a way of letting us know where we’re holding tension and what kind of movement we need on a given day. A regular yoga practice may have even more benefits in this regard. Not only do we experience this kind of “tuning in” during our practice, we can also experience a greater connection to our bodies when we’re off the mat as well, so we’re more likely to heed the body’s needs at all times of the day and practice self-care as necessary.
Moreover, through body work, yoga teaches us perspective. Paradoxically, by turning inward and paying more attention to your body, you may start to have the sense that there is a larger world out there–that your day-to-day stresses may not be as threatening as they seem. This wisdom can free us to devote more time to caring for ourselves.
True self-care isn’t always easy.
For better or worse (perhaps worse), our contemporary work/life-balance ethos seems to prioritize activity and productivity—even in our “downtime.” When we’re not working, shouldn’t we be striving to document our thrilling lives (in just the perfect light)? Shouldn’t we have something to show for our non-working hours, too? Although this idea may seem silly, the pressure to “relax” in the “right way” can be immense.
I sometimes feel guilty if I haven’t filled enough of the day’s hours with work and non-work work. But that’s not practicing true self-care. Sometimes, we need to consciously give ourselves permission to do what we need to do most. Yoga offers two lessons in this regard.
First, self-care doesn’t exist in a vacuum, as much as we may wish that it does! We have to practice self-care in the context of our entire lives. It must coexist with work, family, bill payments, lawn care, and cat hair. We have to invite self-care into the lives we’re already living. It will not magically come to us, nor should we wait until we have the “right lifestyle” to establish a self-care routine. If you regularly practice yoga, you’re aware that yoga is the same. Yoga is sometimes interrupted by nagging thoughts or the needs of others. Yet we must continue to create space for it amongst the many directions we’re pulled in. Fortunately, when we’re able to do this for yoga, we’re better able to do it with the other priorities in our lives—including self-care.
Second, yoga teaches us that rewards aren’t always immediate—but they will come. I don’t begin every practice with enthusiasm. Some mornings, even rolling out the mat takes effort—even though I know the practice will be worth it. Self-care is similar. Say you’ve designated Saturday afternoon to be completely about what you want to do. While the idea sounds great, once Saturday rolls around, it may feel unnatural to simply do something good for yourself—especially if you’ve come off of an intense work week. In this regard, self-care doesn’t always come easily. Like everything else we want to invite into our lives, self-care requires intention—and the faith that it’s worth our focus.
What lessons in self-care has yoga taught you?
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