The gift of self-care
I've been thinking about writing this post for a couple of weeks, and in that time have seen other blogs, podcasts and upcoming yoga workshops with the same topic - so am guessing it must be pretty timely!
As the festive season approaches, it's easy to get sucked into charging around at full speed in a whirl of preparations and socialising. Wonderful as that may (or may not!) feel, at this time of year our energy and immunity are generally pretty low, so it's even more important to focus on proactive self-care to get us through in tact!
Self-care means different things to different people, so take a moment to consider what it is for you. In what people, places or activities do you take refuge? It may be taking a walk outdoors, reading a book, crafting, having a bath, going to bed early, eating well, meditation.... whatever it is doesn't have to cost money, and doesn't even need to take much time.
If the practice of yoga is part of your self-care repertoire, then include that too. Remember that your home practice doesn't need to replicate your class practice to be beneficial. I know so many students get frustrated that they "don't know what to do" in their home practice - but 5 minutes of belly breathing, a couple of stretches of the poses you remember and another 5 minutes of Savasana, scanning and relaxing through your body, will absolutely soothe and revive your body and mind. Yoga also helps us to turn the lens inwards, so we can tune in more closely to what it is that we need.
I struggled for many years with the idea that self-care was a bit indulgent, perhaps a little selfish, but we care for ourselves so that we can care for others. The version of you after is so hugely better equipped to skilfully manage the rest of life - so basically your self-care benefits everyone around you! It's not just to make you feel good, but to make you more available to people who need you.
Framing self-care as a means to be of better service to the world reflects the theme of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the classic yoga texts, which focusses on how to practice yoga within the world, while fulfilling our duties on our path through life.
Modern science, and our understanding of neuroplasticity (that our brain structure and connections change in different ways depending on what we do) leads to an interesting perspective on this. Small, repeated positive actions which generate positive feelings start to alter our neural structure which, over time, incrementally improves your base-line sense of wellbeing. According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson "Every time you take in the good, you build a little bit of neural structure. Doing this every day for months, and even years, will gradually change your brain, and how you feel and act."
So, close your eyes and take a breath and consider "What is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?" (repeat daily x)