Hi everyone, I’m so inspired by the response to last week’s video series, What Gets in the Way of Your Self Care. You guys have stellar self-awareness and a collective great sense of humor. I’m also comforted because it means that I am not the only one with a shitty voice in my head or destabilizing FOMO (fear of missing out). It’s a funny thing to call myself a self care expert. It makes the shitty voice in my head say that if I really understood self care then I wouldn’t check my email first thing in the morning or watch Downton Abby some nights right before sleeping (blue screen light and sleep...eeek). If I was an expert, I wouldn’t take second helpings when I’m more emotionally than physically hungry or get anxious about what I’m doing next Saturday night. But I do! Oh do I. A man I teach outreach yoga to on Wednesday mornings is obsessed with being an expert. He wears a name tag that says “DC EXPERT” and only agreed to do yoga with me when I promised I was an expert as well. He is full of human flaws and I find his willingness to own his strengths very refreshing in our false modesty society. So for this guy, I’m going to say that I am a SELF CARE EXPERT and I still struggle to find the right balance of self care. For me, the hardest thing about self care is that I am a constantly changing being and my self care needs to keep up with that evolution. I love investing in myself and now understand that with every investment, I evolve into a 2.0 version of myself. With each uplevel of my communication skills, my work mission, my self-confidence, I need to also upgrade my habits. For example, I used to eat dinner at 6:30pm and now I eat by 5pm. I sleep better when I do and I need the deep recharge of sleep now more than ever. I used to enjoy a glass of wine a few times a week and now one glass makes me uncomfortably foggy. I’m actually losing my desire to drink which I never thought possible (although I still do love half of a hoppy IPA). Oh and the low level of anxiety I used to live with now feels deeply uncomfortable to my nervous system although it still likes to visit me from time to time. Habits that worked beautifully last year aren’t cutting it now. This means throwing perfectionism out the window and declaring there isn’t a magic formula, just the daily, beautiful grind of self-awareness matched with inspired action. This means feeling great some days and off others and learning from that constant humility. Do you want to hear my big ole theory on why this is? I believe in universal energy--called prana in the yoga world--and that this big, bold energy REALLY wants to live through us and evolve through us. I feel this energy when I am teaching a yoga class and know exactly what needs to be said without much thought. Or when a blog post suddenly opens up and ideas much wiser than me pour forth (like right in this moment). Others experience this when they play the piano or teach children or say the names of trees under their breath. It’s genius at work and it makes us stop in awe when we get the scent of it. We may think we get excited about the producers of the work but I think we really worship this big energy that makes us remember our connection to the larger whole. How does this relate to self care? Like I mentioned, this energy is powerful and has to run through our systems. I think we are all desperate for that feeling and terribly afraid of it. If we are sensitive--which creative people are--it can all feel overwhelming, especially when we don’t pay attention to our evolving our self care. We numb ourselves with bad habits so we don’t have to feel so much. It causes us to shrink back when we want to step forward and to live our life in a state of mild to extreme anxiety. Think of so many famous, brilliant people who hurt themselves because they can’t match their self care practices to their growing success. Many of my outreach yoga students are terrifically energetic and don’t practice the healthy boundaries of self care. This makes for a hard life. So one more time, I’ll take the expert role and say the opposite is also true. When we practice self care and keep our systems running cleanly, then that energy can really move. It’s like anything electrical--we get the wiring right and bam, we have light! Let’s say there is something really great you want to achieve in your life and you are confused and kinda miserable because you still haven’t done it. My advice is to forget about that thing for a while. Instead focus on building great self care habits and practicing them until you have a solid routine. Get scientific and impersonal about it and notice what makes you feel wired together correctly and how that can evolve. Make studying and practicing self care your way of life. Once that happens then the genius stuff is easy, natural and I’ll even say, unavoidable. It’s exciting and scary to think about it in this way right? Writing it down makes me feel so in awe of our capacity to do amazing work in this world. We don’t have to make it up, we just have to harness the energy of life through our delicately loved systems and stay grounded through the ride. With the right self care, maybe we even get to enjoy it.
My friend and fellow teacher Kelly recently gave me a sweet shout out in her great yoga newsletter asking if I would share my morning routine. It’s funny to me that I’m getting known for teaching people how to upgrade their mornings. When I was a kid I remember wanting to throw my pillow at my mom when she would throw open the blinds. In my past relationship I was the sleepy one who needed to be coaxed out of bed with a cup of coffee.
So how did I become a morning person?
First, I started eating an earlier lighter dinner. This is a huge teaching in Ayurveda. Basically we have no digestive power after the sun goes down and if we cram in a bunch of latenight calories then we are going to sleep like crap and wake up feeling like our head is full of sand. This teaching made a lot of sense to me so I decide to make dinner by 6pm a priority, which meant skip the 8pm glass of wine or ice cream for dessert.
Suddenly a 10pm bedtime didn’t feel so hard. I began waking up earlier, ready to live another day. Also, I lost over 20lbs and my eyes got a lot brighter and I stopped feeling anxious all of the time. Eating earlier and lighter is a hard habit to ground in our dinner-friendly culture but give it a try if you want to see real results.
The second thing is that I finally started to face my FOMO. I’ve written about this in other articles but for a long time in my life I squeezed as much into my weekly schedule as possible. On some level, I thought if I said yes to everything that was offered to me I would save myself from feelings of alienation and loneliness. Guess what? It didn’t work. It only put a weird kind of plastic wrap over those feelings and the over-extension left me tired and disconnected.
Now I spent most weekday evenings--the ones when I don’t teach--at home, hanging with Poncho and writing in my journal and reading so many good books. The feelings of loneliness show up sometimes. They tell me that I should be out and that I’m missing out on my real life. I acknowledge their presence but the more I listen to them, the less I believe. I’m alive and vital and need time to rest. So I ask the lonely feelings what kind of tea they want--chamomile or sweet rose? They choose the rose usually and settle into bed next to me. Being ferocious takes a lot of work and when offered they welcome the rest too.
With those two things cleared up, the morning part is easy. This is how it usually goes…
5:45am My alarm goes off if I am not already awake. I stumble to the kitchen, put on a kettle of water and crawl back into bed (the best snooze button ever). Poncho is still asleep.
5:53am Kettle whistles. I jump up to turn it out off. Then I scrape my tongue, do a forward fold, scan my email from my phone, read a page in the awesome daily reader my friend Justin gifted me for 2015. I drink hot water from a quart jar until I am ready to poop.
6:05am I poop and appreciate that my body has learned this habit so nicely.
6:10am Brush teeth, wash face, spritz on rose water, massage jojoba oil into my skin, snort nasaya oil.
6:15am Meditate, feel the big and small of the universe and my place in it (in the present moment). Then breath work--alternate nostril breathing and breath of fire. Poncho is still asleep but starting to rouse himself.
6:30am Exercise! Sometimes yoga where I fire up Spotify, start with sun salutations and then see where it takes me. Sometimes jogging with the dog and then stretching in my kitchen while I make breakfast.
7am Light breakfast while I listen to NPR. Lately I’ve been making myself a hot chocolate with cocoa from my Guatemala trip and turmeric and cayenne and cream and maple syrup. Note, make sure you vitamix your hot chocolate if you want it to be frothy and the most delicious ever.
7:15am Feed Poncho. He’s grateful, I think. Then shower and do a quick massage with sesame oil + whatever essential oils I’m feeling (right now it’s jasmine and vanilla). I put on something cute, blow-dry my hair, and apply a little sparkly eyeshadow.
7:30am Get online and start my work day! I’m usually in a great mood by this point so the exclamation point is warranted.
And that’s it. But please understand this doesn’t happen every day. On Tuesdays I call my mom at 7am and take Poncho for a long walk around the Basilica. On Thursdays I meet my friend Erin for 6:30am yoga and chai tea after. On Fridays I give myself an oil massage, water all of my plants and then head to a meditation group.
But while it’s not perfect I do have a daily and weekly structure to my mornings that gives me energy. I replicate it the best I can when I travel and modify it when I have house guests. When I compromise it too much I notice. I begin losing my sense of control over time and start feeling like I have to prove myself to the world, which drains out more energy.
I’ve been working little by little to have a better morning routine over the past couple of years so please don’t fret if yours is more like Poncho’s or if you just want to throw a shoe at your alarm clock. You can always try eating earlier, lighter dinners for a week and notice how your mornings might get easier. Or play with a little light exercise before breakfast and check in with your mood. Something tells me it'll be better than with no exercise.
Remember that small and consistent changes are effective. Remember that time is more elastic than we think (thanks Einstein!) and that if we take charge of it right away, the quality of our days will shift. Remember that you are worth taking care of from the moment you wake until the minute you fall asleep. If you ever doubt this then just imagine me and Poncho offering you a cup of tea, throwing open the blinds, and nodding our heads with the trueness of it all.
Where you are you stuck in your morning routine? Maybe I can offer some advice. Let me know!
This weekend I started writing a post about my recent relationship history. I outlined the nitty-gritty ten month trajectory of how I went from being with a partner to being single. I wasn't sure exactly why I was writing it all out and so I'm not surprised now that I accidentally deleted it while cleaning up my unsaved drafts. (Note, I was doing this in preparation for this blog to be transferred to my new beautiful WordPress website in this next month. Stay tuned for redirection to that site and lots of other fun changes).
For the sake of this entry, let's just start that right now - I do not have a partner for the first time in almost four years. At first this realization was a relief and then it was sadness and then it was exciting and then it was panicky and now it's mellowed to something like contentedness with a twist of possibility and the occasional venture into doubt. Overall, I feel great about my life -- better than ever. I've lived enough to know a few things about the healing process and I'm happy to report that I'm trusting life. Sometimes, when I am taking Poncho for our evening walk, I like to look up at the sky and laugh at how how utterly impossible it is to really be alone in our ecosystem of complete connection.
But sometimes it's more complicated especially when the unstructured days of the weekend roll around, this other nagging feeling sets in. My mind begins getting all worked out about any empty spaces in my schedule. Some like to call this "fomo", fear of missing out. With my fomo, the usual response is to start planning activities. Living in a city like Washington, DC the possibilities are really endless. There are so many great activities, often free, and beautiful public parks and incredible yoga classes and fun social things to do like eat delicious brunch or go see great music or just sit on someone's porch and take in the day.
My external thought on this: I'm only living this life once and I have to take advantage of as much as I can.
This is a nice and often-true thought but there's more to it than that.
There is also a behind-the-scenes whisper more like: If I pack it all in, then I won't have to deal with this lonely feeling residing at the back of my heart.
I wish I could say this was a totally new single-lady pattern but truthfully, there's always been a background lonely feeling. It's been there since I can remember, has disappeared when I'm falling in love and then reappeared once I've settled into a relationship. I've worked to cover it up with a variety of substances (some kind of peanut butter ice cream treat has always been a favorite method), but I've also worked hard to push it back by saying yes to as many things as I could. More times that I care to remember, I've crammed in way too much--sometimes even consciously double-booking myself. This has made me disappoint people by having to cancel last minute or show up late, given me anxious stomach aches, and many times made me not actually enjoy the activity I'm doing because I get worried about what has to happen for me to get to the next place.
But lately a funny thing has happened now. I've spent these past 10 months really cleaning up my daily routines, diet, home space and relationships. Obviously, it's really changed me. as a result, it's much easier for me to see my purpose for being on this earth as someone who uplifts. As I feel into this purpose, I see myself as truly valuable. This feels not so egoic because as I see my value, I see others more clearly too. We are all valuable, full of possibility as human beings, non-negotiable, period--can we agree on that?
So now, when the weekend comes and with it the fear and loneliness that I will miss something vital and defining, I'm reacting differently. Jjust like always, my loneliness start to whisper scream at me that I need to plan more, do more, spend more, eat more, or else!!! Why did I miss that amazing show!?! How have I not tried out that new restaurant yet?!?
I SHOULD BE ON AN LIFE-CHANGING HIKE THROUGH THE WILDERNESS RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!
But now I'm braver. So when all that starts, I stare down the loneliness and ask--or else what? You know, it never have any kind of answer that makes sense. Actually after all that screaming, it usually tires itself out pretty quickly and leaves. Once it's quiet inside my head, I do whatever it is I need to or want and I enjoy it more, from a very different place in myself.
Crazy huh? Honestly, I would rather not share it out loud because it feels so revealing, but I sense I'm not alone on this one. Our culture teaches us that we can buy and eat and look a certain way so we can avoid having to feel these tricky feelings. Yet despite so much ridiculous consumption, we are an under-nourished people. We are under-nourished because we have become habitually, unconsciously disconnected from what really sustains us--which are knowledge and practices that prove our own worth. When we don't know our value, we lack the strength to stare down our own fear before it causes us to make decisions which harm ourselves, others or our ecosystem.
What I love about Ayurveda is that it doesn't claim to know what is best for each of us. I've been lecturing on it a bit lately (let me know if you want me to give a talk somewhere!), and people are surprised when I don't give them a list of should and shouldn't. Instead, I ask them to start paying attention to how they feel and notice when something doesn't make them feel good. From experience, I know that we may have to feel the negative side effects quite a few times before we make a decision to change, but I trust that will come for all of us if we stay with it. I really do. The secret is consciousness, the methodology is knowing that we each deserve to feel good in our lives and the practice is sticking with it, no matter how loud the fomo may be that day.