How caring does your self-care feel? It is so easy to get caught up in doing things that are supposed to be good for us that we lose track of what actually feels nourishing and caring.
Self-care should feel like care that we give to ourselves, not like another to-do item on a long list.
Today, while I am taking care of myself pre-super-long-flight with some sesame oil and I Travel Well tincture, Saadia, my dear friend will take the lead on the blog to share her thoughts on self-care.
Self care is a concept that came to me late in life. This isn’t to say I didn’t care for myself. I certainly ate when I was hungry, tried to get enough sleep a few times a week, and even rewarded myself with a massage every now and then. Sometimes I’d attend a yoga class, which left me energized and feeling good. Some days I’d notice I’d a faint dizziness in the morning and I’d proudly make it my goal to hydrate that day. If I was feeling particularly battered from a long week, I’d make a visit to the local health food store to find some solutions to help me invigorate myself.
When I think back to the role I gave self-care I realize I was using disconnected, intermittent techniques as a band-aid solution to whatever symptoms I was feeling at the time. Therefore, I was practicing more self-FIXING than self-CARING. Because what is the nature of ‘caring’ after all? When we tell someone to be careful with an item, we are not suggesting smashing in and then putting it back together. The qualities of caring are a consistent and preventative routine which heals and protects and nourishes. Care is akin to understanding and love, and I was definitely not showing myself anything that remotely resembled love and understanding.
My skin was dry, my lips were chapped, my heels were cracked. Lotion, lip balm and a pedicure…but oftentimes this seemed like a waste of time and I knew that it wouldn’t solve the underlying problem. It was an economic drain to constantly look for solutions that didn’t work well or were too expensive to maintain. I often felt weak and tired, and woke up exhausted and drained from even an afternoon nap. I was anemic and had debilitating cramps that I referred to as my ‘on-the-floor episodes’, not to mention the emotional ups and downs that would come like waves every month. This is how I spent most of my 20’s and my early 30’s. My tool box was empty. I felt like I was doing everything I could to no avail. What could be done? Unless I won the lottery, I didn’t think living at a spa where I could constantly attend to my needs was a viable option that regular people had at their disposal!
It is said that our behavior is learned and we model what we see, particularly in childhood. What did I learn about self care growing up? I witnessed my mom act in a self- sacrificing manner, caring for everyone else and then eating the leftovers herself (just the scraps, both literally and figuratively!). She would peel pomegranates for us and never eat any herself. This was culturally the norm. Where did caring for oneself ever come into it? Be of service to others and that was good enough right? I now know that while giving to others is of the utmost importance in caring for one’s soul and spirit, one can never give from an empty cup. Even if you choose to live a life of service, you must first take care of yourself.
Attending the Ayurvedic Institute shifted my paradigm like never before. I was overwhelmed with information, and this “self-care” paradigm was everywhere. I remember thinking “you want us to wake before the sun comes up to begin a dinacharya or daily routine? But then I’ll be tired and will have to take a nap…or two?” I recall attending a lecture where we were told that we needed to engage in at least 2 hours of self-care daily (this included cooking meals) and that was simply to break even in the world. Living in the city would require increased self-care time since the environment places a greater sensory burden on urban dwellers. Warm oil and massage my entire body? Who can afford to waste time on such things? But now I can only think, who can afford not to have time for these things?
At the beginning these self therapies were homework, and I was just going through the motions. Now I realize how indispensable they are to self care, along with a litany of other changes and incorporations to one’s daily routine. I know now that self care is the physical manifestation of self love. If I love myself, what do I do for myself? In Sanskrit, the word for oil is snehan. This is the same word for love. This is no coincidence. The act of warm self oil massage was the same as loving myself.
As I progressed though my classes in Ayurveda, my toolbox became full. These days it seems almost like a tool shed! I slowly began incorporating these seemingly strange yet simple therapies into my life and the results were incredible. An extra moment spent scraping my tongue ,or 5 minutes spent on a post shower warm oil massage, cooking based on my own gunas, or qualities. On days I felt sluggish and dull, I’d reach for something a little sharper with cayenne. Was I feeling anxious or stressed? Maybe I needed a bowl of fresh kitchari made with lots of ghee. If I know I have to be running around all day, I will make sure I drink my hot water, use nasya or nasal drops before getting on the subway and end the day with alternate nostril breathing to balance the hemispheres of my brain.
Slowly by paying attention to these subtleties, I began to know myself in a way that I never had. As a person who is Pitta predominant, I could have easily fallen into the a life described as “a mind dragging around a person”. Through spending time on self care, I learned to know and love and care for myself even more. And the results have been life altering.
I no longer deal with dry skin! My heels are never cracked. I don’t plan my activities around my menstrual cycle. My hormones and consequently my moods are more level and balanced. Ayurveda has given me a language and a system to see and understand the world and my needs.
I spoke to my mother on the phone the other day, but she had to make it short because she was headed out for her morning walk. I’m glad to report that even my self-sacrificing mother has embraced self care and proudly engages in many Ayurvedic routines. Her new mantra is “Put your own oxygen mask first!” and I see a spark in her eyes when she proudly shares her particular routines. Her cup is full.
It is Saadia’s deepest desire and dharma to help people live to the their fullest potentials. She graduated from the 2 year program at the Ayurvedic Institute under the renowned leader in the field, Dr. Vasant Lad. Saadia is now the founder of Simply Ayurveda and has a private Ayurvedic practice in NYC. firstname.lastname@example.org