I can hear your groans from here. “UGH… Self-care, such a buzzword, who has time for that?”
I spent many years groaning the same way when asked the question, “What are you doing for yourself,” after my daughter was born 16 years ago. She was a medically fragile child, and I put all of my being into giving her a joyous and purposeful life.
Self-care wasn’t much of a choice for me for a very long time.
Sure, I went to yoga classes. Yoga and my husband were my primary sources of self-care. I was a devoted hot yogi for over 25 years and even trained to become a teacher. I was passionate about hot, intense, highly structured yoga classes. I now question whether my drive was self-care or just an extension of my fiery, intense life.
After pouring my heart and soul into caring for my daughter, surviving her death, processing some very intense grief, and giving birth to a surprise baby boy 4 years ago, I hit rock bottom. I found myself exhausted and depleted from years of intense caregiving and brutal child loss. I’d lost my sparkle. I couldn’t bring myself to sweat in a hot room, or to repeat the same yoga postures I had found so grounding before while staring at my sparkle-less self in a mirror for 90 minutes. The yoga practice that had been my escape for so many years was now just burning me. The hot yoga drained my already overstressed body.
I decided to do a complete change and find activities that were as restorative as possible. I would not allow anything that would deplete me in any way. Thus, a year ago, a month before I turned 45, I made a commitment to myself to regain my sparkle. I started with what I loved, yoga.
I threw away my stinky, hot yoga mat and began practicing yoga nidra. Yoga Journal describes yoga nidra as a yoga nap. “Yoga nidra may be the key to feeling well-rested.” Heck yeah, I need a nap! I downloaded a few yoga nidra podcasts, none longer than 30 minutes. In fact, my favorite nidra yoga podcast was only 20 minutes long. All I needed was a comfortable, quiet, warm place to lay down. I’d put in my earbuds and lay comfortably still for 20 blissful minutes. Often, I would practice in bed before going to sleep. This routine stopped me from watching TV, checking my phone, and engaging in activities that disrupted my ability to fall asleep.
Within a week, I was sleeping better and woke up calm and centered. Bingo, I was on to something! I began searching for more self-care practices that would bring back my sparkle.
Not long after I began my yoga nidra practice, I enrolled in a 200-hour Foundations of Ayurveda course at The Ayurvedic Center of Vermont. Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science. Ayurvedic knowledge originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is often called the “Mother of All Healing.” Ayurveda places emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in life, right thinking, diet, and lifestyle.
With guidance from my teachers, I dove head first into a journey of self-care. I began a practice of dinacharya, an Ayurvedic tradition of daily self-care.
Each morning, I woke at 5:30, lit a candle, sat in meditation for 20 minutes, prayed, gave thanks, and practiced very gentle yoga postures with pranayama breathing exercises. Then, I slowly and quietly moved into the bathroom, scraped my tongue with a small metal scraper to remove toxins built up overnight, gargled with sesame oil and washed my face and eyes with rosewater. Every few days, I performed abhyanga, a full body self-massage with warm oil. Yoga Journal states, “A daily abyanga practice restores the balance of the body and enhances well-being and longevity. Regular abyanga is especially grounding and relaxing.” Then I drank a glass of warm water with lemon and finished up in the bathroom.
Silently, I moved into the living room and brought out some essential oils that my Ayurveda teachers introduced me to. I’d take my time to smell the oils and decide what would work for me on that day. I’d put some oil in a diffuser, on my wrists, the top of my head, the bottoms of my feet and over my heart. By this time, my family would be awake and we would start our day together. Most days with a toddler, work, and studies are busy and full, however, I felt centered, calm and fully present because of my daily self-care ritual.
My morning ritual made me mindful of my thoughts and feelings that I put out and into my body, as well as the energy I choose to take in and put out into the world.
Through this exploration of self-care, I began to sparkle again and realized that I loved, craved, and thrived by creating rituals for myself. My morning ritual felt sacred and precious. I began seeking out other ways that I could create daily rituals for myself. Taking time for an afternoon tea in a beautiful mug. Lighting a candle before I sit down to write. An Epsom salt bath in the evening soaking my body and massaging my heart center with rose oil. Turning up music that I love and dancing freely for 30 minutes. Getting my nails done every three weeks- gel manicures are awesome and last forever! A good friend of mine shared her ritual of silently chopping vegetables for her family’s dinner each night. Over the past year, my daily rituals have changed and evolved. When time permits less, I do less. When I have time, I do more. I don’t always wake at 5:30 am, sometimes I sleep in.
I honor what I need at any given time. Through that honoring of myself, I create ritual where I am honoring the self, honoring the cycles, seasons and phases in my life.
Sometimes life calls for hot, sweaty, intense yoga and other times we are called to quiet, gentle self-soothing practices. Self-care can be simple. Find what nourishes you and create a ritual around it.