My Definition of Self Care
I have been thinking about self-care a lot lately. Going through cancer treatment tends to make you reflect on things like that. But I am also hearing that phrase a lot from other people and in the media. I think it has become a buzzword, and because of that, I often wonder what other people mean by self-care. Does it looks anything like what I mean when I say to my clients “self care is the advanced yoga”? I say this because I often see, in my friends and clients, how hard it is to really pay attention to what we need. It is even harder to make time for ourselves to do the things we need to feel balanced, let alone joyful, and thriving. It is an art, a science, and a process. It is the basis of my yoga practice.
When I say self-care, I literally mean caring for myself, actively and on a daily basis. I do this in a way that no one else does, or CAN because others don’t actually know what I need like I do. It means I have to slow down and pay attention to what I am feeling and thinking so that I know what I need. I check in with myself, get curious, have a conversation, starting with: What’s up for me right now? How is my physical body feeling? What is my energy like? Am I sore, holding tension? Joints swollen? How is my energy? Am I buzzy or scattered? How is my heart? Am I feeling solid, open and generous, or am I feeling tender and a little vulnerable?
Now I don’t always go through this list, usually something happens that gets my attention; I get impatient or feel a moment of sadness that I didn’t expect. When this happens, I spend a little time exploring, giving my self some space and consideration just like I would for my BFF if she was feeling like she needed some care. After sorting through my thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc.… I’ll ask myself, “Well honey, what are you needing right now to feel nourished, safe and balanced?” And then, (now here is the really radical part) I do it, or as much of it as I can.
Maybe my body says “I need to spend the day at the hot springs” and I can’t manage that so, I negotiate: “How about a long hot bath, an abhyanga and a yummy cup of chai?” If needed, I can even add a bonus; “We will light some candles and put a little coconut sugar in the chai.” (on my post cancer no sugar diet this is quite the treat)
When I follow through and do this I find myself soothed and if not totally back in balance, then at least I feel more resourced to do whatever comes next.
Now, this didn’t just come overnight. I wasn’t raised this way and wasn’t taught this in school or in Cosmo magazine. In fact, pretty much all of my messaging told me not even to think about what I was feeling and needing. Both cultural and family messages told me to always take care of others first. I treated my body akin to a subordinate or frenemy, where I told it what to do without much consideration for how it was feeling or what it needed. I complained about it, I disliked it. I know I am not alone out there, I know a lot of women are groaning and saying “me too sister”!
If I’m REALLY honest, it wasn’t just that I wasn’t listening to my body and caring for myself with compassion. The way I interpreted my messaging was to secretly harbor desires that I hoped others would know what I need by magically reading my mind and then taking care of my needs for me (or give me permission). If they could do this, then I wouldn’t have to be ‘selfish’ in taking care of my own needs. If they couldn’t, I was then sad and slightly resentful, seeing it as a commentary on my worth.
That didn’t work out so well for me – or anyone else in my life.
Over time I decided it had to change. I thought that if I could be a good friend to others – thoughtful, kind, empathetic, intuitive…then I could learn to be a good friend to myself. So I set out to make a new friend: my body.
To do this, I decided to treat my body as if it was a separate person, but instead of
Treating her like my slave, or subordinate, I was going to get to know her. So I did what I would do with any person I want to become friends with: I spent time with my new friend, asking questions about what she liked and didn’t like – seeing if we had anything in common J. I was curious about her, laughing at her jokes, listening – really listening – when she told me painful stories or made herself vulnerable. I remembered (as often and as well as I could) to check in with her, maybe a little extra when she was having a hard time, and tried to be thoughtful – bringing her a favorite healthy snack when she was sick, or reminding her to get a little extra sleep when she was tired. Sometimes, we would just curl up on the couch with a blanket and the dog and watch a movie while eating popcorn.
There were times when it got to be a lot, and the things she needed or told me about were stressful or intense. At those times I would use my resources to ask for extra support – my therapist, more time with my actual BFF – to make sure we both (my body and I) got the support we needed.
Over time, we have gotten to know each other intimately. There are so many things I appreciate about her but, I have to say, some of my favorites are: she doesn’t play games, she always is direct, clear and truthful, she tells me exactly how she feels and, if she knows she tells me why and what she needs. If she doesn’t know, she takes the time to reflect and sort until she does. So, I rarely have to wonder. She is fiercely loyal and supportive of me, doing her best to make sure I can fully live my life and do all the things I want and need to do. She is always paying attention and helps to keep me safe, not in a worry wart sort of way, but in a “you might want to cross the street and stay alert cause that guy over there creeps me out” kind of way. She also is the one who is quickest to point out beauty – helping me to fully notice and experience the multi sensory extravaganza that my life has become. She has a vast capacity for compassion and is quick to love and even quicker to laugh. She will dance with me at a moments notice and do a 100 squat challenge even when she doesn’t want to. She is, probably, my best friend. I certainly couldn’t live without her so I am sure to care for her.
I love this new way of being, in my body and in my life. It has not only deepened my relationship with myself, but it has spilled out into my life, deepening my capacity for compassion, love and presence. Which makes my relationships and experience of life so much richer. I used to think that self care meant brushing my teeth, or getting some sleep, but now for me it much more than that. Now, I take the time to check in, see what is needed to feel balanced, supported, loved, and then, to the best of my ability, I do it.
This is what I mean by self-care.