The Recipe for Real Rest (Even When You Feel Extra Guilty About Needing It)

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Photo by the uber-talented Ann Marie Van Tassell

 

I hope this message finds you well! As we move into September, I hope you are also considering the self-care you'll need for this changing season ahead.
 
Personally, I love the fall self-care practices of soothing self-massage with warm sesame oil, reading a novel while soaking in a tub with Epsom salts, and eating cinnamon-dusted baked apples for breakfast. 
 
However, I live on the east coast of the US and your climate might be asking you for different practices. What feels most nourishing and appropriate for you during this transition?
 
These days, my other main practice is dedicated rest. Now that Jonah is here, it was recommended by my midwives that I spend two weeks in bed recovering from the birth (which is a lot on the body), learning how to nurse the babe and psychically adjusting to this new stage of life.
 
Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (and many other cultures) back this up, recommending that women take a 40-day postpartum rest to rebuild strength and safeguard future reproductive health. For centuries, many cultures supported this fourth trimester time for new mothers in order to help them emerge as powerful caregivers.
 
In theory, I completely agree and practically, having an 11-day old infant means I can't leave the bedroom. Jonah's eating, sleeping and pooping needs wouldn't let me get too far out in the world, even if I tried.
 
Yet still, these realities don't stop the voice in my head from telling me that I should really get a few thank you notes in the mail, organize the fridge so nothing goes bad, and start walking my way back into pre-pregnancy shape. 
 
"Forget the rest," it says, "let's get back to work."
 
Even with the sweetness of a sleeping baby on my chest, my ego still just wants to check items off a to-do list. This makes it feel like it's still in control. It's an amazingly powerful urge.
 
This might be because motivating those voices is a shakier, quieter one. It's the one that desperately wants to know if I truly deserve so much care from others in this moment. It cringes when I see my loved ones inconvenienced by my needs and feels the weight of the world on its shoulders every time I make a request.
 
In these past years, I've gotten really good at self-care but how does that translate to letting in the loving care of others? 
 
My recipe for rest is all about tending to my self-doubt about receiving. In order to do this, I have to see through so much learned untruth about personal and cultural value of myself as a woman and how that translates to mothering.
 
It's only when I can reassure myself that I am as worthy of care as any other new mother (or person) and that our culture desperately needs these qualities of rest and nurturing, that I begin to let in the love.
 
Rationally, I understand that if I don't give myself this time then I won't show up as the kind, patient and good-humored mother I wish to be. If I can be truly cared for then I can really care for others. I think those two practices have to go together.
 
And wider, if I don't give myself this time of conscious rest, I will continue to expect too much from everyone else around me. I will abuse the privilege I have by demanding that the people who work for me and depend on me cut their own self-care so they can maintain maximum efficiency.
 
I want to live in a world where we are all allowed to take sick days, everyone is encouraged to take time off to care for sick and elderly relatives, and all parents are celebrated for bonding heartily with our infants.
 
To me, this feels like the antidote to our capital-driven society. In a culture that so willingly auctions off humanity for the outward appearance of success, let's reclaim in the space of heart-centered care as a place of healing for us all.
 
The space of care is as messy as it is nutritive. Laundry doesn't always get folded and sometimes Cheetos are the only appropriate snack. We tend to stay up late because it feels so good to be silly and laugh deeply.
 
In this space, the lines of self-care can feel blurred. What about our cherished rules of five vegetables a day, eight hours of sleep and intense cardio on the weekends? Can we occasionally let these things go so we can truly open our hearts?
 
It's important in these moments to understand that we letting go of control and laying down our shields. It's beautiful and it's scary. During these disorienting moments, love and worthiness have to be the guiding force. This is ultimate self-care.
 
Following these, we heal and help others to do the same. We find the energy we need to keep moving forward - out into the workings of the world or perhaps more deeply into ourselves. The two can become a dance, one that nurses us all back to health.