‘It’s all about falling in love with yourself and sharing that love with someone who appreciates you, rather than looking for love to compensate for a self love deficit.’
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the true nature of self care before writing this post.
On my Facebook page I’ve been promoting the idea of Self Care Sunday. The notion that at least once a week we should spend time on ourselves, for ourselves.
Shame on me.
Shame on me, because I now believe that is just not enough. That is selling yourself short and starving yourself of precious nourishment.
Would we treat a child like we so often treat ourselves? Would we send a child out for the day without being fed, to run on empty all day, and then let them grab whatever came to hand when they were famished? Get them up at the crack of dawn, working way beyond the hours that are healthy and then let them crash out without a moment to themselves? Constantly criticising them for how they look, what they do? Would you deny a child time to play, to dream, to imagine? We’d call it abuse, wouldn’t we…? But how many of us recognise these habits? Why is it ok for us?
I know I used to. I was a self-confessed workaholic and proud of it. My idea of self care was a decent brand of ground coffee in the cafetière strapped to my desk.
Self care is defined by the Self Care Forum as being the actions individuals take to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.
I think self care also goes much deeper than just habits of action. I think its influence runs much deeper – to the thoughts we have, to the emotions we feel in relation to ourselves. Self care is a habit to be cultivated, that feeds our self love.
As a concept, self care currently trips off the zeitgeist tongue with ease, probably with too much ease as the marketers have found another street in which to sell, paving it with expensive products, cased in the glittering wrapping labelled self care.
Because you’re worth it.
But if you’re really worth it (and you most undoubtedly are) why is it that each shiny bauble – whether it be a handbag, moisturiser, dress or car – can never fill the void that self care should be filling. It’s the great consumerism smoke and mirrors act; the stark reality is the shiny new toy cannot fill our heart, it cannot touch our soul, it cannot light that inner glow of enoughness.
From a yogic perspective, self care is viewed as healing-focused. It’s not about needing to buy something or go to something, it’s about how you treat yourself and speak to yourself.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘more is better’ maxim, drawing up schedules and then criticising ourselves for not living up to this agenda we’ve concocted and chosen to label self-care.
That whole #yogaeverydamnday hashtag, with its 12.5 million posts on Instagram, is packed with extraordinary postures you’ll never see in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the seminal yoga texts dating back to the fifteenth century. I can see that sitting in sukhasana doesn’t have the same visual impact as swinging from the ceiling upside down in a sling, but that doesn’t mean yoga has to be physical and visually extraordinary.
Daily yoga practice doesn’t even mean you need an hour of asana in your life everyday to be a ‘proper’ yogi/yogini. Eating mindfully counts, being grateful for what you have counts, being kind to yourself is enough. It’s called ahisma. It counts.
Choosing to eat nutritious food, learning to listen to our body, telling ourselves that we are doing our best and that is more than enough. That, I think, is all self care.
The quote I began with is by the singer and actor Eartha Kitt, one of the most extraordinary women of her generation whose exquisite beauty and vitality radiated.
I remember her vividly as cat woman, a role she played in the 1960s’ TV Batman series and as a child I was always captivated by her feline, purring grace.
It was only when I read her biographical details that I realised how extraordinary it was that, given her early life, Eartha Kitt grew to be the force of nature that Orson Welles described as ‘the most exciting woman on earth’.
Eartha Kitt overcame rejection during a childhood peppered with poverty and domestic disruption, and then again as an adult. She chose to speak her truth on the subject of the Vietnam War before the First Lady at a White House luncheon. Having pointed out that raising sons, only to have them sent to war, was acutely painful for mothers, Mrs Johnson was left in tears. Eartha Kitt suddenly found herself unemployable in the USA – so she took her career to Europe and Asia.
However often Eartha was shunned, she bounced back. Because she valued herself she showed fearlessness in the face of criticism. She recognised that without caring for yourself – first and foremost – you cannot perform at your best, nor give at your fullest to others.
I recently had self care’s crucial role explained to me like this: ‘Think of yourself as a beautiful pot, all curves and warmth and softness, that needs to always be full. Full of self care, full of self love. When we’re not full and we try to give we feel a resistance, we feel a resentment. We should give to others from the self-love that spills over our rim, from the abundance that we have spare, because that is available to give and we can give it with ease and grace and an open, generous spirit.’
Now this idea of putting ourselves first can feel distinctly unnatural. Like indulgence, like greed, like selfishness. And those words come from our childhood. They are branded into us over years, but they do us no service. Little girls, certainly of my generation, where brought up to be pleasers, to give to others, put others first and that self-sacrificing was somehow ‘good’.
If this ideal still feels uncomfortable to you, remember the child you once were, who still lives within you. Take care of her and you’re taking care of yourself.