Yoga has amazing tools for soothing our mind, body and nervous systems during stressful times.
And were there ever more stressful times, globally?
Here in the UK we’ve spent years watching other cultures around the world having their lives disrupted. By war. By famine. By civil unrest. What we’re experiencing is so small compared to what we’ve seen others’ endure. And yet the very fabric of our lives feels unsteady. Ungrounded. Unsure.
I’ve thought about what I can give to help you.
I’ll be creating a series of audios which aim to give small oases of peace in disruptive times. This one is a Yoga Nidra. It lasts for 30 minutes. Its goal is to help you relax mentally, physically and emotionally. And all you need to do is lie down. Or listen, sitting on a chair.
Its name, Yoga Nidra, means ‘union at one pointed awareness’ and ‘sleep’. That may sound a bit contradictory but it is very like meditation, or being in a state of self hypnosis. You are somewhere between wakefulness and sleep.
It’s also meant to be energising – a 1:4 ratio equivalent of normal sleep. So if you’re not sleeping well – 30 minutes yoga nidra is like a two-hour sleep. Sound good? Give it a go! Yoga Nidra is very traditional. You may find the concepts a little strange, if you’ve never been to a yoga class and enjoyed a relaxation at the end of the session. it’s an extended version of one of those.
I’ll make some short relaxation recordings in the coming few weeks, but in the true Blue Peter fashion, here’s one I prepared earlier… (those of you from outside the UK, Blue Peter was a kids’ TV programme where we learned how to make things like dolls houses from cardboard boxes, loo roll centres and double-sided tape).
All thoughts and feedback gratefully received in the comments below.
Yoga is good for our health and in multiple ways, with age being no barrier to seeing wellbeing results on multiple fronts, according to multiple science research projects.
If you’re approaching midlife, or you’re right in the thick of it, you may well be aware there’s a whole host of physical, emotional and mental health issues that can accompany life now.
Not only is menopause taking us women through a physical, mental and emotional change process but our bodies can be showing a few wear and tear issues.
I had a hip replacement a few months before my 50th birthday. Now in hindsight maybe that kickboxing obsession in my early Thirties wasn’t my brightest idea, but I know yoga helped me in a huge way as I dealt with the 24-7 pain of the arthritis and a joint that needed constant mobilisation attention in the run up to surgery.
Yoga works for you on multiple levels, it’s not just about flexibility and strength. Yoga can help you breathe more effectively, better nourishing your body with the oxygen it needs. It can also support mindset, mental health – the original wellbeing hack!
My advice; I highly recommend going to a yoga class. Although the research projects mentioned here don’t refer to it, as a long-time practitioner (I went to my first class at 14) and now a yoga teacher, I can tell you that from both ends of the room, the class experience is special.
As a student, not only will you enjoy tuition and help in getting the most out of your time, but you’ll be surrounded by people doing the same thing. That collective experience is quite different from solo practice. Yoga friends are very special.
What do you think about the power of community in yoga? I’d love to know if your experience of class v personal practice. Do drop your thoughts in the comments below before you tuck into these science research findings.
Yogic breathing, pranayama, is a whole arm of yoga on its own. Yogic breathing seeks to improve lung function, improving oxygen intake and so better feeding the body’s cells. A 2009 study showed yoga improved the lung capacity of mild to moderate asthma.
Yoga can help reduce pain and improve mobility of joints affected by osteoarthritis and has been linked to improved strength and pain reduction for people with carpal tunnel.
Can cut your health bills
Yoga does so much for your health it cuts medical bills. In the United States, studies show people who do yoga use 43 per cent fewer medical services, and they save anywhere from $640 to more than $25,000, according to Harvard Medical School.
Improved flexibility and balance
Both these body assets are useful at any time of life, but especially as we age. A 2013 study found yoga helped improve the balance and mobility of older adults and another found yoga had lasting results for elderly people, four times more than calisthenics. And 15 to 30 minutes is enough, apparently.
Yoga may reduce inflammation.Researchers have looked at groups of yogis v non-yoga regulars and discovered that after strenuous exercise, the yogis had lower levels of inflammation markers. Inflammation is a normal immune response, but chronic inflammation is linked to diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
A 10-week long study of a 64 women with PTSD, who took part in one yoga session a week, discovered the group reported a drop in symptoms. More than 50 per cent no longer met the criteria for PTSD, their symptoms had so significantly reduced.
Stress, anxiety and depression
Several research studies have monitored groups undergoing 10-12 week yoga programmes and have seen significant reductions in the stress hormone cortisol for those test subjects. We all need cortisol in our lives, it’s an essential hormone, but when it’s too high it’s a health issue, impacting not only your mental state, but potentially your physical too. High cortisol is linked to low levels of serotonin, often linked to depression, but also osteoporosis and weight gain.
In one study, 79 people did 24 rounds of sun salutations six days a week for 24 weeks. Both men and women lost body fat and gained strength, endurance and weight loss. (FYI – 24 sun salutations is a lot! Yoga is impressive, but it’s not literally magic!!)
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. Bertrand Russell
So here’s the scene…
You want to be pounding your keyboard, but inspiration has fled and is apparently engaged in a passionate affair with someone you don’t know, because he hasn’t so much as texted for weeks now and you’re beginning to panic that you’ve broken up permanently.
There are several important phone calls to be made but you can’t bring yourself to pick up the phone… and then there’s that spreadsheet and the emails need checking and you’ve a vague recollection that something that’s probably very important needs doing today, but you can’t remember what. Your To-Do List is the size of a Victorian novel and you now feel more than slightly nauseous even though the fridge is calling you like a Siren and carefully pushing all the ultra-carbs right into your eye-line.
Welcome to my Manic Monday.
I’m not kidding.
Well, maybe a little bit kidding, but not much.
Even therapists get stressed. Even yoga teachers get stressed. Even therapists who teach and practice yoga daily get stressed. But here’s a few tips that work for me and I pass to you. With love. Which is more powerful than chocolate. (Yes it is).
Sounds counter intuitive, I know, but winning is a strategic game, not a 100 metre dash. Just 10-15 minutes engaged in another activity will change your brain state and give you a more than fighting chance. Being in a stressed state will not solve anything. Your brain is flooded with stress hormone rubbish. Taking time out and getting your head back together will shift that feeling.
2. Step away from the fridge or wine rack
Do something calming that won’t give you a regret-over later. Take a walk, have a bath, do some yoga, smell the flowers in the garden, open the back door and feel the breeze, do some ironing if you like… Inspiration is a complete lightweight when it comes to cortisol (stress hormone), runs a mile and does not phone in. Try a 20 minute stroll and a ‘eureka’ moment may pop up.
3. Power pose
Trapped in an office with no hope of escape? Bernie Clark, incredible Yin yoga teacher with a wickedly dry sense of humour, recommends what he calls The Superman Pose. You could quietly slide off to the loo and stand in a cubicle for a couple of minutes and no one would know you’re resetting your power buttons. You just adopt the stance of Superman in full cape-fluttering into the breeze mode. Two minutes of this and you’ll feel a great deal better, if not heroic. Simply stand tall, hands on hips, chest up and broad, nose lifted, noble chin raise if you find it comfortable. And breathe… Research has shown just two minutes of this cuts cortisol by 15%!
4. Square Breathe
There are many yoga breathing techniques for banishing stress and bringing calm and one of the easiest to practice is a basic breathing technique called Square Breathing. Entrepreneur Chris Reynolds of the Business Method Podcast recommends square breathing, and it is very easy. Chris says it stops the release of cortisol, brings you into a relaxed state and helps the body release positive neural chemicals. Your count is your choice, but this is not a competition so start by counting how long your natural inhale is. Say you breathe in for the count of 5 then hold your breath in for 5, exhale to the count of 5, hold the breath out for the count of 5. A few minutes of this (set your phone’s timer so you don’t rush) and you’ll feel the benefit.
Laughter Yoga is real. It began in Mumbai in 1995 and basically combines laughing with yoga (on purpose, not when you crash out of an asana). I’ve seen grown yogis quake in the face of Laughter Yoga and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also not immediately available to you when you’re sitting at a desk. But the principle works. Watch your favourite comedian on YouTube for 10 minutes. A complete mood shifter. Do it!
And there are other delicious ways to shake off stress. Grab a hug or eight (your daily minimum, apparently), for an oxytocin boost. Get outside and drink in the sunlight that help top up your serotonin reserves.
These are my current favourite five. My walks now involve barefoot walking on grass which seems to be improving my energy levels no end (research to be done on this, leave it with me) but what are your top stress busters? Do you practice any of these already and do they work for you? Thoughts in the comments below, all ideas very gratefully received. Shared wisdom serves us all.
References and further information
Bernie Clark, Yin yoga teacher, on Power Poses and their gifts
Laughter Yoga people in the UK
‘I realised that I and others in our culture were being methodically starved of substance, that something was awry in some of the “wisdom” of our culture, that it did not have our best interests at heart, that it saw those who are “menopausal” as somehow less. It is not so, we are instead more. Much, much more.’
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, psychoanalyst and author.
‘Oh she’s menopaual.’ Read those words and consider their emotional undercurrent. Positive? Negative? Does the voice sound excited? Does the voice sound amazed or say these words with deep reverence?
Or do these words come delivered in a tone that suggests ‘she’ is a bit batty’ or ‘lost her marbles’. Should be excused and ignored.
In our culture we’ve a long way to go in our attitudes to women’s transition from her childbearing years. What lies beyond them? A barren wasteland? Decay and decline? Regret?
You may think I’m dramatising and, yes, we see progress. Older women (albeit famous, physically attractive personalities) are now seen on magazine covers and reclaiming their place in make up advertisements. If I were cynical I would suppose that’s because marketers have woken up to how much spending power our generation have, but we are more visible, certainly, as consumers.
Midlife women make themselves heard on social media as a vibrant, intelligent, vital energy (at least the ones I’ve found do) and long may that flourish. But there is a long road to travel before we are celebrated in these years and for women as a whole to anticipate a joyful connection with this time.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes advocates we reverse cultural diminishing and see ourselves in a ‘more than’ moment. She takes the years between 49 and 56 as a time for choosing. A time to go deep inside our selves and consider what the great work to come might be.
Easier said than done within the symptoms of menopause, I know. But they are not forever. Like puberty, they pass and we emerge.
Yes our ability to physically give birth and child rear may be past, but with that comes freedom and that energy can be redirected into a broader connection with our world’s need for our vision. It’s no coincidence that environmental activists include women like the designer Vivienne Westwood, pouring their creativity into their cause.
So where’s yoga’s place here?
As Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, author of Yoga Shakti, so succinctly expresses this: ‘Part of the freedom that the practice of yoga brings to us as women is the capacity to accept ourselves.’
If life were a play, this is your third act. Time to review and consolidate where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, what you’ve learned, sort yourself out (or find someone to help you do that) and decide what comes next – because everything is coming.
The yoga practice that may suit you now is not rigid. There is no specific ‘yoga for menopause asana sequence’. You choose the practice you need.
You may consider that you need a stronger practice. I do although my students may be grateful I don’t inflict mine on them. I’m mindful of their needs, and my needs are not theirs. You may decide you need a more restorative experience.
Certainly there are sequences that serve. Warrior sequences are a fine expression of our feminine strength and power at this time and are very popular with my class.
But this is your time to explore. May your travels be happy and enlightening.
References and further reading
The Joyous Body: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Yoni Shakti: A woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli PhD
Oh, the joy when you find the right yoga class for you.
It’s all happy face, party hats flying, streamers and skippiness…
But oh my, does it take time to get there!
Last year I moved 280 miles – from Manchester to Eastbourne – away from the yoga teacher I’d been with for more than six years. I had completed my British Wheel of Yoga Foundation year course with her. I had then spent more than three years in Yoga Teacher Training with her. I attended her classes and workshops.
I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to find the right ‘fit’ again. I thought I was moving house, but I was leaving a lot more than bricks and mortar behind. You can skype your mates, you can’t skype in for your yoga class. Well, you can, but does it feel the same? There is something about the collective energy of a yoga class that works for you. You grow in ways you can’t alone and it nourishes you in ways solo practice can’t.
If the right class for you is the first one you try, you’re very lucky. As a teacher, you know students who come to you for the first time, may not come back. Because you’re not right for them at that point in their lives. And that’s ok.
I did not know that when I was younger and for years I persevered in classes that didn’t work for me as a yoga student.
I found them too crowded.
I found them too rigid.
I found them too samey.
But I ploughed on, because if nothing I am resilient and I do not ‘give up’. It won’t surprise you to read I’m fairly introverted with a mile-wide rebellious streak and I get bored fairly easily. So was a honouring who I was in those busy, repetitive, ‘well if this modification doesn’t work for you then leave it out’ classes? I doubt I gave ‘me’ any thought at all as I grew up a ‘pleaser’. I was invested in pleasing the teacher, not myself.
Your yoga is all about your self care. Your honouring and deep communication with yourself. Yes, there’s a place for being led, but you’re an individual, not a facsimile of your teacher.
You’re communing with your Self. The heart of you. The soul of you, if you like.
Yes, it’s about moving your body and stilling the mind, but it’s also an intimate experience that challenges you. It’s not about pushing a square peg into a round hole.
In my fierce determination to not ‘give up’ I forgot all of that.
Of course, now I’m in my fifties and I’m accumulating more wisdom, I’m better at choosing for me, whether I’m wearing my yoga student hat or my teaching one.
I teach in the evening. I focus on slow classes, designed to build strength, but also calm the nervous system, quieten the mind and prepare my students for a good night’s sleep. It’s absolutely appropriate for the class. But more importantly, it’s important to me to give an alternative to fast flow. I value smaller, cosy teaching environments. It feels right. It feels nurturing and, to me, it feels slightly rebellious. Ticking all my core value boxes.
So if you’ve tried yoga and you thought it wasn’t for you, try a different teacher. But don’t give up just because your first experience wasn’t a perfect fit. The right fit is waiting for you. It’s not you. It’s not the teacher. It just is. Think about who you truly are and find someone who reflects those values in a way you can recognise.
Everyone will be far happier.
‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’
This is a saying I hold close. And deep. In my heart.
Gandhi led a revolution, using peaceful means to free his country. My aspirations are a quite revolution, but he is a huge influence for me.
You don’t need to be leading a revolution to find this phrase useful. You can use it to change your own circumstances for the better.
If you want the world to be different, you need to embody that and be part of that change in the world around you.
So if you want to feel loved, behave in a loving way. If you want to be loved unconditionally, you’re going to have to be prepared to give that out to others. Which I know some people find very difficult, because I hear it all the time…
Why aren’t my children more grateful?
Why does my husband have to leave the lid off the toothpaste/toilet seat up/toast crumbs in the bed?
Why can’t my mother admit when she’s wrong?
People are flawed. They just are. Get over it. And if their experience of being with you is that you scold them, hold back from them, flash micro-expressions of irritation at them when they displease you; don’t imagine they won’t pick up on that.
We see more than we realise.
Communication isn’t just about words. It’s about flashes of movement. Shifts of tone. Sudden silences.
Author and inspirational speaker. Danielle La Porte, very astutely reminds us that when we behave in the way we want to feel, we become that. Change is an inside out job, not an outside in.
If you want to feel amazing, consider what that would feel like. What would that look like? How would you eat, exercise, think? What would your home look like? What would you be reading? What would your best friend be like?
Have you noticed how some people are very good at telling you what they don’t want? They spend all that energy thinking about that they want to reject, but put no energy into thinking about what they want to create.
Interesting. There’s an irony in that without a plan you don’t move; there’s no risk. Except you stagnate, of course, and which is worst?
Accessible Yoga for All
Here’s something I want to see: accessible yoga for all.
I know what it’s like to be unemployed; it can be limiting in many ways. You have time, but little money. I remember being unemployed and that unsettled feeling of instability I carried. Which is ironic when I think about the jobs in which I earned a lot of money; I had no time and my self care was woeful anyway.
That’s why I created a yoga programme for employees to enjoy in their lunch break. It started when I worked in a university and I taught it there for two years. It’s an on-site delivered, easy to fit in option that gives an oasis of stress recovery for people who spend too much time sitting.
But what if you’re not working?
Now I strongly suspect a lot of yoga teachers will overlook a student’s inability to pay for classes during periods of unemployment, because we know if there’s one thing that’s going to help them it’s regularly getting away from their worries and spending time in a calm environment.
But being unwaged happens when we retire, when we’re students, when we’re running the house, bring up children… if you want to start an activity and lack on money is an issue, how can you access what you, of all people, could benefit most from? And how disempowering is it, to be ‘given’ when you can give and make a choice about how much
So here’s my little Be the Change solution. I’m not sure if it’ll work for me and it’s not original, but this was what I came up with – and I strongly suspect the Universe lent a hand…
Yoga by donation
I teach one class a week where if you’re unwaged, the price of a place is by donation. There’s a minimum donation of £1 (so I can cover the room costs) and if you’re waged a mat is £6 (still pretty good value for where I live). If you want to read more about my classes, the details are here and there’s a Yoga with Deana Facebook group too.
Where I’m teaching classes is subsidised through the philanthropic legacy of the man whose building it once was. That means, if every space goes I’ll cover the cost of the room hire anyway. I’m looking at grant applications to extend this too.
But as far as I can see, when I give of my time the energy I put into that doesn’t have to come back to me as money.
I’m helping people in my location, in a small way. I’m helping feel better and hopefully live better. I’m pushing positive energy into the world in a different way which means positive energy should return.
Maybe not so altruistic of me; but I’m enjoying the journey there. I’ll let you know how it turns out!
What does lunchtime look like where you are?
A refreshing walk in the park with your work best-friends?
Maybe you’re juggling the job and family so for you it’s (yet another) quick dash around the supermarket, grabbing everything you need to keep the home life together?
Or is it this… Another uninspiring sandwich, eaten el desko as you plough on with your spreadsheets and emails between bites?
If you work in a small team or you’re a solo operator, pounding the keyboard at home, it’s very easy to prioritise everything but what’s screaming out for your attention.
Can’t hear it? No? Let me ask you this…
Got any niggling aches and pains? Do you find you’re flagging as the day progresses? Reaching for snacks and caffeine to push you through the work?
That’s the screaming. Your body’s screaming ‘Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!’ And probably swearing it’s backside off too.
So, no – another headache pill and another shot of coffee is not the answer. Not when your mind, body and soul needs nourishing.
Yoga: the stress buster supremo
Yoga cuts through stress like a knife through butter and stress costs your business – a lot. Have you considered how many days productivity you’ve lost to stress? And if you’re a solo operator like me then you know how valuable your health is – losing time is one thing, being ill is not going to help our profit margins.
One of the world’s biggest health insurance companies, Aetna Inc, worked with a university to measure employee stress and evaluate a corporate yoga programme they introduced at the company. Employees taking part showed a 33% reduction in stress levels in just 12 weeks. If stress is costing your business; yoga is a great investment, not a luxury.
Yoga: mindset booster
Yogic philosophy has an assortment of highly effective weapons for battling though any day. Like mind martial arts. The art of ‘non attachment’ changes your life like no other when it comes to getting along with coworkers. Once we can separate our emotions from our actions life gets a lot easier.
Yoga: instant energy
Want to change how you feel. With yoga. Right now. In just 2.5 minutes? Try this.
Set your phone timer to let you know when 2 minutes are up.
Stand with your feet apart. Hands on your hips. Chest lifted. A slight smile on your lips.
Close your eyes.
Feel the energy flowing up from the ground. Sense your spine lengthening as the energy surges up.
Imagine your cape, your wonder woman or superman cape, fluttering in the breeze behind you.
Breathe in deep.Breathe out deeper.
When the timer rings, throw your arms up into the air – like you’re celebrating Olympic gold. Hold your arms up there for 10 breaths.
Feel free to shout ‘YES’ if you want to.
How do you feel now? Better? That power posing exercise – viramudra to jayamudra, if you want the yoga terms for that– is a very quick way to shift your psychology through your physiology. Imagine what a weekly class could gift you.
Yoga: the office painkiller
We all know sitting is ‘the new smoking’ and our desk bound lives are doing us no good. At all. But as well as giving you great tips for yoga at your desk, the strength and muscle work developed through a physical yoga practice, together with improved posture, makes our lives more comfortable.
Yoga: the focus sharpener
Mindfulness is an amazing tool for helping us get through all those annoying jobs we purposely ignore in favour of the ones we prefer. Turn the dull jobs into a mindfulness exercise and the joy can start to reveal itself.And, being completely present, you make fewer mistakes. Saving more time. Hurrah.
I could go on, but here’s the bottom line. Yoga saves you money, makes you happy, stronger and more effective, your team more effective and so your profit margins more effective.
All you need is space for a yoga mats, a dance studio space is not required.
I teach corporate yoga in the Eastbourne area of the UK, but every town has one, if not more. What have you got to lose? Except maybe your back ache.
Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time we have any power.’ Leo Tolstoy
Ever find yourself wondering about the future and getting a nagging, unsettled feeling?
It can be unnerving, can’t it. Looking forward, into the unknown. It sounds like fun, like day-dreaming, but the not-knowing is unsettling. Especially when you’re not making all the decisions on the desired outcome.
I’m currently in the middle of selling my home, aiming to move to the seaside at the other end of the country.
Last night, about midnight, I had one massive, completely out of nowhere, bells, whistles and screaming sirens flap? ‘What if the sale doesn’t go though?’ ‘What if there’s something “wrong”?’ ‘What if the buyers pull out?’ ‘What if the lawyers mess up.’ ’What if…?’
So how do you talk yourself down from the ceiling when you’ve worked yourself up into a lather over the What Ifs?
You might find yourself lying in bed rehearsing a conversation with a difficult colleague or imagining how you’re going to perform in an exam or face speaking in public for the first time in ages.
I like a holistic approach to letting go of the What Ifs… There’s no point trying to get that fear out of your head if you’re starting to hyperventilate.
Calm your body
Lie on your back or stand/sit tall. Collarbone up, shoulder blades drawn down.
Square breathing is an excellent technique that can defuse the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Breathe in for 4.
Hold the breath in for 4.
Breathe out for 4.
Hold the breath out for 4.
This is a basic breathing exercise I’ve taught in yoga classes, and I pass on to clients I see with all manner of issues, from insomnia to anxiety, because it has such an effective, calming strategy for getting the body back to balance.
If 4 feels a bit much, try 3. If 4 feels too little, try 5.
2. Calm your mind
Accept what you can control, let go of what you can’t.
Whether you like it or not, you’re not in charge of the universe. (If only, right?) There’s other people involved in almost any process and you can’t control their behaviour any more than you can sit in front of the sea and turn back the tide. So let that go. Seriously. Let it go.
3. Focus on what you can influence
Take massive action. Get as much done towards you goal as you possibly can. When you’re awake and suddenly your mind flits to the 101 things your lawyer could mess up (yes, back to me!), acknowledge this is flapping, make sure you’re on top of your moving plan and then think about what will go right.
How did I get to sleep last night? I imagined the view from the window of the apartment we might rent until we buy. I visualised the rippling breeze, the smell of the sea, beachside walks and my skin turning golden. I imagine finding a yoga studio, teaching classes, making new friends with ease…
And do you know what? I was off to sleep in 20 minutes. I’m enjoying the life I want without even leaving my bed and if something doesn’t go to plan over the next few months I know I’ll get there. I just need to find another way, because in my dreams I’m living that life already.
Of course we like to think ‘progress’ just keeps making the world better and somehow the next generation will prosper in comparison to us. But what is the reality? Is the planet better off for nuclear fusion? Mass production and globalisation means some of us can have ‘more’, but at what cost?
Has plastic turned out to be such a great thing? Apparently every plastic straw ever manufactured is still on the planet somewhere and busy killing wildlife, if every ecology snippet I see on Facebook has any validity. Was the atomic bomb a great idea? Will we regret creating robots that can do jobs people currently do to earn a living?
Unlike our optimism, or that song by D:Ream, things do not keep on getting better. And that’s just one of those universal laws that effects the path of our lives. Our careers progress in less than a linear fashion. How much money we have or how much the pound is worth is up and down like a fiddler’s elbow over anyone’s lifetime. Even how much we love our partners can vary from day to day. You may adore your partner today, but when they’ve farted on you in their sleep for the third time that night – not so much then, eh? I can’t think of anything that just goes up at 45 degrees..
Yoga teaches us that living in the past or the future is a waste of time, because it’s all about now. Being present in your yoga practice is a large part of the practice. The Mindfulness movement is based on this observation of reality. You can only be here now, so focus on living now. This is it. Yes, now.
‘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.