Self-care, I thought, was reserved only for those with the luxury of time. A perfectionist and people-pleaser my life ran at 100 miles an hour. I felt like I was in a tailspin, out of control, constantly reacting to other people’s demands, putting off precious me-time for the needs of others and the day I was ‘less busy’. As the anxiety that I’d struggled with since childhood started to creep back with unsettling regularity, I began to realise; something had to change.
It was during small windows in my day, when I took to my yoga mat that I dared to slow down, taking deep breaths, and becoming more mindful and intentional. Why, I asked, couldn’t I bring those lessons off the mat?
And so I began to slowly relearn, undoing years of over-achieving and striving, weaving the teachings into my daily life. I began to see self-care less as a luxury, and more an obligation, less an occasional treat, like a massage or a leisurely soak in the bath, and more a daily practice. During this time I read the work of yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater and learnt about the negative effects of constant stress on the body and mind, including high blood pressure, ulcers, back pain, immune dysfunction, reproductive problems and depression.
If we’re not careful, yoga becomes just another thing on our never-ending ‘to-do’ list. We arrive frazzled from a hectic day and carry that energy through our practice, perpetuating our sense of exhaustion. But if we allow it, yoga can help to balance our energy, restore us back to our centre. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my yoga practice that now help me every day.
Self-care begins with self-compassion. For a long time my kindness was only reserved for other people. I was always hard on myself, but I’ve learnt to notice that inner voice that is quick to criticise and complain, and by thinking kinder thoughts towards myself I’ve been able to make space and time to rest and restore more.
In order to give, you have to be able to receive. Ok, so this sounds really fluffy, I know, but just like the inhale and the exhale of the breath we have to be able to take energy into the body in order to be able to give it out. We don’t have unlimited reserves, as the saying goes ‘you can’t give from an empty cup’. Quiet time and moments of stillness every day will literally recharge your physical and emotional batteries.
Practice less effort and more ease. It was whilst reading a quote from the Buddha that this message really struck me ‘how we do anything, is how we do everything’. I realised that when I was pushing too hard in my yoga practice, I was usually pushing too hard in life too. By softening and being a little kinder to myself I could bring more ease and less struggle into my day.
Notice the breath. Our breath is such a great indicator of how we’re feeling, when I notice I’m going into the tailspin again I take time to breath a little deeper and more intentionally, and it helps slow me down.
I still need to remind myself of these lessons every day, my old habits and patterns run deep, but slowly I’ve begun to take much better care of myself. If you’d like to learn more you can join myself and Gemma Sands for an afternoon of self-care for women at the Reach on the 9th of December.