I’ve written this self-care newsletter for the past few years and received so much of your great feedback. (Thank you for every bit you’ve ever sent. It means the world to me!) Over time, I’ve noticed a few patterns in what you respond to the most and from that, I think I’ve come to understand a few things about our collective self-care blocks.
Here’s what I observe: So many of us are living these brilliant-seeming lives. We’re getting those promotions, taking dream bucket vacations, and finally getting our home decor game to the A+ level. For the most part, we’re good at having a goal and turning it into reality. On one level, we really believe in ourselves and our capacity.
But the inside is a different story. Underneath the outer success, I think a lot of us are struggling in subtle, but important ways. We worry a lot about what other people think of us, have difficulty asking for what we want and need in our relationships, and still feel insecure about whether we’re making good use of our lives. We wish we could better understand the anxiety that still keeps showing up in our minds and bodies.
I really understand all of this because I spent most of my life living it out. On the surface, I always seemed okay. I made great grades throughout school, lived in South American for the Peace Corps, became a yoga teacher, and have pretty much always worked for myself. Whenever someone asked me how I was doing, it was easiest to talk about what was happening on the surface. “Things are going really well!,” I’d say.
If I had chosen to tell what was happening on the inside during this time, it would have been messier. Any one of these statements would have probably been more true:
“I don’t feel at home in my body or comfortable with eating in general. Even though in theory I’m body positive, I really wish my thighs looked better in my yoga pants and I’m still beating myself up about the brownie I ate last night.”
“I don’t know why finding a healthy relationship feels so hard. I keep thinking about this guy I’m kind of dating. Even though I think he’s a jerk, I’m really upset that he isn’t texting me back and I’m analyzing our last conversation over and over in my head even though I know that’s stupid.”
“I don’t know why I can’t make my life work as well as my friends. My friends are moving up professional ladders and getting married and generally seem like they have it more together than me. I know it doesn’t help to compare, but I’m worried that I’ve gotten off track somehow and that I’m falling behind.”
Yup, those were a lot of the thoughts that ran through my head throughout my 20’s and into my 30’s. I felt anxious more than I ever would have admitted to another person (lest my illusion of external success be shattered) and would get caught in these terrible bouts of FOMO for things both big and small.
Keep in mind that for most of this time I was learning and teaching yoga to other people. I could talk an amazing game about seeing through the destructive ego and the benefits of spiritual empowerment. But inside, I still didn’t feel like I was walking my talk and I didn’t know what to do about that.
Then, when I was 33, everything shifted in a big way. That was the year that I finally decided to learn more about Ayurveda.
Every yoga teacher knows a little bit about Ayurveda. I knew enough to be fascinated and always sensed that learning more about Ayurveda would transform my life in some important way. So, I signed up for a nine-month long immersion. Just after making this commitment, my then-partner and I went through a big breakup. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I decided to just fling myself into practicing Ayurveda in my daily life.
Thus, I started waking up early and sitting for meditation before the sun rose. For the first time in my years of teaching yoga, I developed a consistent morning home practice. I made more delicious home-cooked meals and naturally stopped snacking. I began giving myself weekly oil massages to calm my nervous system. I stopped feeling so anxious and really began enjoying my life.
I wouldn’t have had the words for it at the time, but this was the first time in my life that I was developing discipline. This wasn’t the discipline of pushing myself toward an outer life goal (I knew a lot about that already), but rather the discipline of making self-care a real priority.
As I experienced the benefits of daily routine, called dinacharya in sanskrit, I noticed other parts of my life changing. I fully decluttered my living space (which to this day remains decluttered), signed up for an immersive training in Integral Facilitation, and began attending a 12-step program that helped me heal from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic household. Over time, I stopped tolerating any kind of abusive or self-destructive tendencies in relationships and faced the abandonment fears that were keeping me from committing myself to another person. (Oh, and I became a mother in the process of all this too!)
When I trace these life changes back, I always land in Ayurveda. Learning and practicing Ayurveda changed my life. As I’ve taught it to my clients, I’ve seen it transform so many other lives. The results are individual, but the overall effect is the same. Ayurveda seems to give us a pathway home to our truest selves.
I want to recognize that Ayurveda is an ancient science that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. You may ask yourself why one has to learn a self-care practice from a completely different time and culture. Isn’t there lots of great health research and self-care ideas coming from our modern culture? Haven’t we evolved over the past 5,000 years to find better ways to take care of ourselves?
I’ve asked myself this a lot and the answer I always come back to is how hard it is to practice authentic self-care within our modern consumerist culture. In our externally-focused society, so many of us have been indoctrinated to see ourselves and our self-care as a commodity. We’ve been taught to ignore our inner lives so that the outer can shine. I think it’s very, very hard to have an authentic spiritual life when the subtle or overt messaging has always told us that we need to fix ourselves and be more perfect. For me, learning self-care from a completely different time and culture was the key for me finally learning how to take care of myself.
(If the idea of practicing self-care within a consumerist culture is interesting to you, please order my new book “selfcarefully.” I go much deeper into these topics and offer ideas for healing through cultural critique and subversive self-care.)
So for me, it’s been a true privilege to learn from Ayurveda’s wisdom and pass the message along to others. As I’ve taught other people and witnessed the power of practicing Ayurveda in community, I’ve recently come to believe that Ayurveda is not only a wonderful personal wellness practice, but it also contains the wisdom we need to practice real community care and save our world.
This is where it gets really exciting! Over the past few months, I’ve been analyzing what I know of Ayurveda and what I think our society needs in order to create a real collective healing. I’ve found some really exciting connections and parallels that are giving me a lot of energy and hope. And I want to spread the message!
For this, I’ve decided to host a free class called “Getting Free with Ayurveda” on Friday, July 19th from 12 to 1pm EST. I’ll share specific Ayurveda tools that will create a change in your life immediately while cultivating the tools to create a greater liberation of well-being for all.
(And yes, you’ll get the recording right after the call, so sign up even if you can’t be live!)
I can’t wait to share more and move a few more steps along the path of taking our self-care beyond the self. Let’s be on the path together and help each other find the way home to ourselves.