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.
The most essential and basic teaching of Ayurveda is that you should live in a balanced state. You can tell if you are balanced by how you feel. If you feel energetic, rested, enthusiastic and of purpose in this world, then you are probably in balance. If you are dragging, achy, anxious, heavy, or just down on yourself, then you are out of balance. I like this because it’s not terribly personally--just a matter of paying attention and collecting facts. If you are out of balance--and many of us are due to the imbalance nature of our culture--then you have a choice. You can put yourself back into balance by making healthier decisions or you can let the imbalance get worse. If it gets worse then it becomes harder and harder to treat. Finally you can reach a point where it’s untreatable and the body shuts down. I recently watched my dad go through that process and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
The tricky nature of imbalance is that when we go out of whack, we usually begin to crave things that cause us to go further off track. Think of all your stressed out friends who say yes to one more thing. Think of your family members who are depressed and spend their time sedentary in front of the TV. If you aren’t careful the imbalance will suck you in and make things worse. This is why self awareness is so important. Witnessing ourselves and our patterns without judgement is the main tool for change as we are taught in yoga. It’s quite simple yet considering it’s been passed on for 5,000 years, I would say it’s also effective.
This conversation is important to me because I’ve been really craving baked goods this week. This isn’t too out of character for me because I’ve always liked the sugary taste. Growing up, I loved eating donuts at my dad’s house on Sunday mornings and my mom’s renowned peach cobbler during the summer months. Since cleaning up my diet in the past year, I've stopped keeping baked goods in my house and rarely buy them why I go out. I notice the intense rush of cheap sugar gives me a little acid reflux and puts my digestion out of balance.
Ayurvedically speaking, the sweet taste is grounding and something we should use when we feel disconnected in some way, in moderation. Too much will burn out our energy and drag us down into a foggy state of body and mind. I like this about Ayurveda. It never tells us that something is good or bad but rather it gives it’s qualities and then we get to decide how to use them. It’s a reminder that everything can be either a weapon or a tool, depending on how we use it.
I suppose I’ve needed to ground in these weeks after my father’s passing. As much as I can, I’m taking good care of myself. Simple, nourishing food + deep sleep + early morning meditation is a pretty good formula for me to stay balanced during a hard time. I’ve added in some healing bodywork this week and hope to do more when I travel to Guatemala at the end of the month.
But still, there is this desire for a big rush of sugar, this need to imbalance further. I see the cookie at my favorite tea house and I want it deeply. I know enough to know that my body doesn’t really want it. When I have true bodily hunger, I crave high-nutrient vegetables and good fat. Hunger for emptier calories always comes from the more emotional parts of myself. It’s me as a seven year old eating a donut on a Sunday morning with my dad or bowl of peach cobbler as I sit tucked into my family table. It’s the feeling of being safe and connected in the world--such a primal thing.
Yet knowing this doesn’t stop the cravings from coming. As we all know, when cravings are present they’re pretty loud. My whole body starts tenses as I make this decision. It’s an option to buy the cookie and eat it in my car. This is how I eat when I don’t really want to admit what I'm doing. I barely pay attention to the taste and feel like it’s something I need to keep hidden. After I’ll get angry at myself and swear that I will never do it again (until the next time). I’ve done that plenty and know how that story goes.
I know I can use my self awareness here so I take a breath and weigh my options. Denying myself the cookie will leave me feeling wanting and restless. This causes it’s own type of imbalance. I decide to buy the cookie, looking the sweet guy behind register directly in the eye. I put the paper-wrapped bundle in my purse and go home. I eat it after lunch--which is a baked sweet potato topped with good butter, sunflower seeds, homemade sauerkraut and sprouts. I put half of this much-considered salty oat cookie on a nice plate. I take a deep breath and a few bites. Of course it’s good but it's just a cookie. I eat it and miss my dad and feel overwhelmed. I eat it and feel like someone who is really learning how to take care of herself. I eat it and know he would be happy to see me keeping my balance.