Great Advice on Self-Care

I LOVE this post from Curvy Yoga’s founder, Anna Guest-Jelley.  I’ve been having the same problem with adding, or re-adding, some things into my routine.  I’m re-posting it with Anna’s permission.  Check out Curvy Yoga’s blogs for more good information.

Show Up, Slow Down and Settle Into Self-Care

FEBRUARY 27, 2014

Show Up, Slow Down and Settle Into Self-CareI’ve recently added a new dish to my self-care menu: Abhyanga, or the Ayurvedic practice of oil massage.The idea is that you spend some time each day (or most days), applying seasonally appropriate oil to your skin. The oil is said to pacify/nurture the body, and the massage is a practice of bodily connection as you lovingly move your hands over your body, taking the time to help the skin absorb the oil.Or, rather, that’s the intention.

Because here’s how I’ve been doing it: “Oh, crap. I forgot Abhyanga again and now I’m ready to go to bed. Well, here. Where’s that coconut oil?” I get a little in my hands and then here’s my application process: Slap it (almost literally) on my feet, legs torso, arms, chest and done.

Abhyanga done. Check and mate.

RUSHING VS. NOT

What often happens to me if I’m adding another element of self-care to my routine is that I either forget it or resist it. Or forgetting is my form of resistance. Or all of that on different days.

And then when I do, I make it another weapon with which to beat myself about the head (in this case not literally).

So rather than just accepting that – hey – I’m just not doing it today and that’s okay, I choose to do it the most haphazard and, honestly, punishing way possible. I WILL get this oil massage done, even though I don’t want to and I’m pissed and my inner critic is screaming at me. I will grit my teeth and put it on as fast as possible before moving right along.

This might be a wild leap here, but…I don’t think that’s the point.

CREATING A NEW ROUTINE

Adding self-care to your routine, whatever it may be, can be challenging. It’s just like starting any new thing: It takes some time for it to become consistent.

What I suggest (to me as much as you, if not more) is that we take kindness as step one. Without kindness, we get a rushed and angry massage – something that I’m pretty sure doesn’t sound appealing to too many people.

With kindness, though, we get a chance to try again. That could look like rethinking your plan for the day and making a little more time, or just acknowledging that starting a new thing is hard, you didn’t do it today, and tomorrow you’ll adjust accordingly to start fitting it in.

WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS US

Many people push back against this approach, deeming it lazy, undisciplined or just not enough to actually form a habit. But what’s interesting is that research is increasingly showing us the opposite.

People like Dr. Brené Brown and Dr. Kristin Neff are showing us the power of self-compassion and how when we’re not in a place of shame (like feeling like we’re terrible people because we forgot Abhyanga – again), that is the only way we can create sustainablechange.

Note the emphasis on sustainable, because that’s important. Yes, people can create temporary change with a more bullying/strict approach. But for most of us, we can only sustain that level of intensity for so long. And when we lose it, we often go right into shame, using it as evidence against ourselves for how we are the slackers we thought we were after all. And then the whole process repeats.

What creates change that lasts is change that is integrated with self-compassion – acknowledging that, yep, we’re human, and we’re not the only people on the face of the Earth who have figured out how to beat the “system” called human nature.

It’s when we approach our self-care with the realization that we’re people getting used to something new, and that takes time, and has ebbs and flows, that we build towards what we’re hoping to create – and enjoy the process a little more along the way, too.

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When “It is what it is” Isn’t What You Want

For the last 10 days or so I’ve been dealing with a lot of fatigue and muscle weakness in my legs. I’ve been describing the weakness as having quad muscles of jello.  I’ve become used to dealing with periodic fatigue — if one ever really becomes used to waking up only to find even a shower requires too much energy.  But this type of leg thing doesn’t happen very often.  My “usual” leg issues involve restless leg in the evening (medication mostly controls it), muscles tightness/”mild” spasticity (what I call Twisty Leg because it feels like it feels like I’ve got on pantyhose with one leg that has gotten really twisted) and Legs of Lead for when it feels like I’m walking through cement.

When I’m in a fatigue phase, Legs of Lead are not uncommon.  But, this weakness in the quads is rare.  Had it once very early on the MS path and again during a flare up involving saddle anesthesia.  Unlike Twisty Leg or Legs of Lead, Jello Quads requires me to really pay attention when I’m going down stairs or walking longer distances.  Yesterday, I was the woman in the crosswalk at the store who looked like she was taking her sweet time when, in fact, I was hurrying as much as my legs would let me.  As a driver, I am notorious for letting pedestrians cross (in crosswalks, at corners or driveways) and then complaining when they appear to continue sauntering instead of “putting a little giddy-up” in their step.  After yesterday, I will be more kind in my thoughts — at least I hope I will.

Except for this past Monday, Quads of Jello hasn’t been a constant state.  Sometime I wake up with it.  Other times it hits later in the day.  Even had a few 24 hour periods without it.  But on Monday things were different.  I was both exhausted and untrusting of my ability to walk much.  Taking the cat for her daily outside excursion involved two separate trips around the yard and nothing more.

For the most part, I’ve come to terms with the usual stuff.  Sure, I still have my days of frustration, especially when all the usual stuff hits at the same time or when medication that helped in the past isn’t helping now.  But thanks to my yoga and meditation practice, the frustration and accompanying funk doesn’t last long.  Eventually I remember, “it is what it is.”  By that, I mean, I may not like the current symptoms, but I cannot wish them away.  The only thing I can change is my relationship with/response to what is happening.

Problems-do-not-cause-suffering-quotes

Practicing “it is what it is” has been more difficult lately.  I had to cancel all my yoga classes on Monday.  I HATE cancelling classes and this was particularly difficult since I knew there’s be no classes next week (Memorial Day).  I have flowers that need to get into containers or the ground.  But lifting the bag of potting soil seemed outrageous.  Suffering isIt isn’t even that they needed to be planted.  It was that I wanted to plant them  I LOVE playing in the garden almost as much as I LOVE practicing and teaching yoga. These disappointments get intensified by the fatigue and although Monday wasn’t an entire day of “woe is me,” there were moments — no hours where even remembering “it is what it is” wasn’t helpful.  Because what is was, wasn’t what I was wanting.  Behold, the definition of suffering, at least from the Buddhist perspective.

I think the difficulty in finding solace in this concept this time is because Quads of Jello is new and thus, unknown: How long will it last? Will it get worse? Is this something that is going to become a “usual”? Crap, is this going to effect my teaching more than just this past Monday?  All questions that reflect fear and worry about the future.  Fears and worries that I’ve had years to come to peace with when it comes to the usual stuff. Fears and worries I came to peace with via my yoga mat and meditation.

So, even though Quads of Jello isn’t what I ordered, I’m going to continue my yogic and meditation practice.  Trusting that eventually, the peace will come.

Be Your Own BFF

I’ve found myself using the title of this post in recent classes as a way to discuss the practice of ahimsa.  (If you are unfamiliar with the world of texting/tweeting “BFF,” it stands for “Best Friend Forever.”)  Ahimsa is one of the Yamas included in the Eight Limbs of Yoga (see last post).  Below are translations/interpretations from a couple different sources:

  • non-violence; avoidance of harm (literal translation)
  • consideration for all living things, especially those who are innocent, in difficulty, or worse off than we are (TKV)
  • embracing reverence and love for all, we experience oneness (NJD)

I call ahimsa the Queen of all Yamas because if one walks a path immersed in ahimsa, the remaining four yamas occur naturally (truthfulness, non-stealing, wise use of energy, non-hoarding).  While “yama” is translated as “our attitudes toward the environment” or “guides for dealing with the external world,” it is important that we also apply them in our relationship with self. 
  


So what does it mean to be your own Best Friend Forever?  Well, it means you treat yourself with consideration, reverence, and love.  You are kind to yourself, while at the same time, being completely honest with yourself.  You cut yourself slack for mistakes and forgive yourself when you do something you are not proud of.  It also means avoiding activities/thoughts that would bring harm or violence to yourself.  This includes everything from diet to checking the internal critic that can pass judgement on every thought and deed.

It is often easier to treat others this way than the self.  Maybe this is due to Western culture’s promotion of worthiness being tied to something outside of ourself.  I say Western, because apparently, this is not a universal problem.  In The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield shared the following antecdote:

At an international Buddhist teacher meeting in 1989, the Western teachers brought up that in the practice of Western students, the most prevalent  problem was that of self-hatred, unworthiness, shame, and self-criticism. “The Dalai Lama and other Asian teachers were shocked. They could not quite comprehend the word self hatred. It took the Dalai Lama ten minutes of conferring with Geshe Thupten Jinpa, his translator, even to understand it. Then he turned and asked how many of us experienced this problem in ourselves and our students. He saw us all nod affirmatively. He seemed genuinely surprised. “But that’s a mistake,” he said. “Every being is precious!”

While we all have an inner critic, those who have experienced domestic or sexual violence can have an especially loud and mean one.  I did.  The physical wounds heal long before the mental ones.  This is where yoga can be especially helpful.  Learning to watch the flow of thoughts, even the critical ones, without judgment, long enough to recognize they are not the truth.  I still remember the first time I realized my internal voice was my own and not my mother’s.  It happened while on my mat and the thought was one of loving kindness. That was the moment yoga hooked me.

Practicing ahimsa makes living with a health condition easier (I didn’t say easy).  When I realize I’m pushing myself or holding back due to health, I remind myself that I wouldn’t have those expectations of my BFF.  I wouldn’t expect her to push herself to beyond her limit.  I wouldn’t deride her for having a “woe is me day” every now and then.  I would try to understand her fears and definitely, celebrate her victories.  

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that I think the mat is the perfect place to work on ahimsa.  Here are some scenarios where you need to be your own BFF:

1) Your mind just won’t settle.  Seems like every other breath your mind is wandering off and you find yourself thinking, “Focus for crying out loud.  Why in the world can’t I just focus on my breath for even 10 lousy seconds!”  We are human.  It’s going to happen.  Be gentle and as the saying goes, “if you have to bring yourself back to your breath 100 times, make sure you don’t stop at the 99th time.”

2) The person on the mat next to you is practically kissing the floor during lizard pose, while you are barely bending forward from the 90 degree knee variation.   

As a teacher, I LOVE this pose for the practice of ahimsa.  It is a hip opener, so it is held a bit longer.  Unless you have great hip flexibility, you are going to encounter a lot of sensation.  Because we often carry emotional baggage in the hips, the strong sensation/resistance can invoke an emotional response.  And because we all want to be “that flexible,” it often brings out our competitive or envious side. Talk about needing a little self-kindness in a pose!

I never teach this pose without mentioning ahimsa; encouraging students to remember everyone comes to the mat from a difference place; reminding them that I don’t give prizes for being the last one in a pose, so work at the level of physical or mental sensation that is right for this moment.  I don’t refer to it as Lizard Pose, but as Bowing In.  As we bow in, we honor the sensation and resistance we encounter with love and attention.

3) You are low on energy.  You can either skip your asana practice or pick a practice that matches your needs.  Author and Kripalu yoga teacher, Stephen Cope, wrote that there was a time in his life where the asana his body needed most was Savasana (relaxation pose).  I try to remember that during periods of fatigue.  Other options include practicing in a chair, doing a shorter practice, and/or focusing on the other limbs such as breathing or meditation.

Early on, I made the mistake more than once, of heading out to my local studio, when a short home practice would have been more appropriate in that moment.  I either spent a lot of time in child’s pose or left half way through class. All because I wanted to be a “real yogi” in a “real” class — listening to my ego instead of my body.

4) You’ve done a particular pose a hundred times without difficulty. But, today, your body is different.  Do you push yourself into pain? Do you find the version that fits you today?  Whichever action you choose, what do you tell yourself about your choice?

I think you get the point.  Whatever your ahimsa challenges, watch out for judging the fact that you are judging.  That can be a vicious cycle.  I like to follow the advise of yoga teacher, Judith Hanson Lasater:

A practice I have been enjoying for some months now is to “make peace with the present moment”. That means that when thoughts arise followed by thoughts of judgment I tell myself that the whole process is part of my practice: the original thoughts and the secondary or following thoughts as well. I do this by saying to myself, “how human of me to have a thought of X”. This helps so much when I look at the behavior of others as well.


What are your ahimsa challenges?  How do you work with them? 

Namaste,
Deb