Self care has become a buzz word in recent years; perhaps as a consequence of how we are all so busy and as a reflection of how unsustainable the pace of modern life is. Some may see it as having bubble baths or massages, whilst for some it may be meditation, going for a walk, gardening or going on a yoga retreat. It doesn’t matter what the action is but it strikes me that the key thing here is TIME; time and space to slow things down, to be quiet and to listen.
I think one of the key things preventing us from looking after ourselves is our inherent tendency to put others first. We might feel that it’s selfish or indulgent to prioritise our own mental and physical wellbeing over those around us – our children, our partner, our friends or our colleagues. However the key point here is that we have to care for ourselves in order to care for others, just as on aeroplanes we’re instructed to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. How can we be good parents, partners, friends or employees if we are ill, exhausted, distracted or irritable? And what example are we setting to those around us if we are dragging ourselves through life – coping and surviving – rather than thriving?
Over recent months I’ve come to realise this relates to our sense of purpose – our why – our raison d’etre. If we have a clear vision of what we are inspired to do with our lives then we are motivated to look after ourselves so that we can go out and serve the world. In yogic philosophy we call this idea of selfless service seva – a Sanskrit word meaning work performed without any thought of reward or repayment. In ancient India, seva was believed to help one’s spiritual growth and at the same time contribute to the improvement of a community.
So ask yourself: what brings me joy? What motivates me to be healthy? How do I want to be of service? What can I do to look after myself so that I am able to be of service? Service doesn’t need to be a radical concept; it could simply be to care, or be a role model, for other beings such as children, the elderly or animals. It could be your job or what you do in your free time. It’s something that fulfils you, brings you joy and gives you a sense of purpose so that you feel that you have value and you are therefore worth taking care of. Then your self-care rituals become part of a lifestyle that supports and sustains your raison d’etre.
For me, self-care is the practice of giving myself time to stop, to check in with myself and reconnect – away from my laptop, my to-do list, noise, caring for others and being on-the-go. I find this space on my yoga mat, though I have to make a conscious effort to carve time out for myself. Sometimes it doesn’t always happen! I am forever having to remind myself of the importance of being kind to myself and prioritising my own wellbeing so that I can better embody the yoga teachings. If we have a tendency to over-work, over-give, over-commit, it’s very easy to slip back into old patterns, and so time on my mat is an essential way of me checking-in with my state of wellbeing.
That’s the magic of yoga. The practice gives us time to slow down. It gives us space to look inward and to listen – to really listen to how we are doing and what we need at any given moment. That sense of space is so important so that we stay in touch with who we really are underneath the external layer of spinning plates. We cultivate self-awareness which becomes a platform from which we can live our lives more mindfully and wholeheartedly. We start to recognise what we need as individuals in order to flourish – what nourishes, restores and refuels us – and we learn to let go of things that do not serve us.
So for this New Year, I encourage you to regularly make time for yourself. Whatever your responsibilities and commitments, by creating time for your own wellbeing you can go out into the world and bring joy to the lives of others.