A couple of days ago I had an interesting conversation with a lovely lady who is a yoga practitioner and teacher. She explained that over the last decade of her yoga practice there was a time, over a period of a few months when she would come to her yoga mat and just sit there. She didn't practice asana. And she beat herself up about that.
This got me thinking about yoga, self-care and guilt. Maybe she needed to sit there and meditate. Maybe not. Maybe she needed to sit there and contemplate. Maybe not. Maybe she needed to sit there and breathe. Maybe not. Maybe she needed to do absolutely nothing and not feel guilty about that. Probably!
We spend a lot of time 'should-ing' all over ourselves. We should be eating better. We should be exercising more. We should be working more. We should be more productive. We should get up off the couch. We should be running 10k. We should be practicing yoga every morning at dawn. We should be perfect. We should think of others first and only tend to our own needs when, or more likely, if we get a free minute.
Self-care is the first and most important step towards achieving balance. We dedicate an enormous amount of time and energy to personal and professional relationships but often neglect the relationship we have with ourselves. Taking care of yourself first is not selfish. If we are perpetually exhausted, irritable, unhappy or even mentally or emotionally absent, there is a good chance that we are not the most delightful people to be around. By prioritising our own well-being, we can significantly enhance our relationships and enrich the lives of those around us. We can only serve others if we serve ourselves first.
Make a commitment to be kinder to yourself and do your utmost to fulfill that commitment. If something comes up that interferes with that commitment be flexible and find a compromise but do not give up. Most of all do not feel guilty about it and do something positive instead.
Even the smallest changes can have a profoundly positive effect on us.
- Eat good quality whole food. Try not to eat on the run or at your desk. Ditch the processed stuff where possible. Allow yourself to have something naughty every once in a while. And really enjoy it! If someone is kind enough to cook a meal for you and it's full of butter. Eat it, savour it and be thankful! You can eat a bucketful of veggies tomorrow. Oscar Wilde said it best, 'everything in moderation including moderation'.
- Get more sleep. Most of us spend so much time on autopilot because we are burnt out. We can barely get out of bed in the morning. We rely on sugar and caffeine to get us through the day until we can go home and crash and burn on the couch only to get a second wind just before bed and then have difficultly falling or staying asleep. We end up caught in a cycle of poor quality sleep and exhaustion. Go to bed when you feel tired. Have a technology curfew. Read instead of staring at the laptop in bed. Try to maintain a routine over the weekend rather than having a mammoth lie in to recover from your busy week only to find it is impossible to fall asleep on Sunday night.
- Take some time off social media. Turn off your phone, your tablet, your computer for a set time every day or a once a week at the very least. Disconnect to reconnect to yourself and those around you.
- Exercise in a way that nourishes you. We are all different. Some bodies respond well to vigorous exercise, some respond to a more gentle regime. Do something that feels good but don't feel pressure to run a marathon if you would be prefer to just get a bit of fresh air and go for a walk. If you feel the urge to train for an Ironman competition and it makes you feel good. Do it! If it makes you tired just thinking about it. Maybe it isn't for you! If you come to your yoga mat and feel the urge to do a vigourous vinyasa practice, then go for it. If you just need to sit there every once in a while, then do that.
- Schedule some down time. If you have a busy schedule and struggle to find some time for yourself then make an appointment with yourself. Mark that time as busy in your diary as though it was any other meeting. And show up for that meeting! When you have this time to yourself maybe start a meditation practice. Take just one minute to watch your breath and see how you feel afterwards. Maybe set an intention at the beginning of your meditation and focus on that. It is the simplest way to reconnect with yourself.
- Surround yourself with people who support you and enrich your life. Toxic relationships can zap energy and do not serve either person involved. We can often let certain behaviour slide. When we neglect our own well-being, we often fail to set clear boundaries. If you wouldn't treat yourself and someone else in a particular manner then don't let someone treat you in that way.
Self care not only serves us but those around us too. By looking after ourselves first we enrich our own lives and by extension all of our external relationships can flourish. Self care without the guilt becomes a selfless act. In the words of Jerry Springer (yes, Jerry Springer!!), 'Take care of yourself and each other.'